Archive for February, 2013

AD(H)D Case Study- Joanna: Part 3 of 3

Joanna, a 14-year-old honors student, met me when it became apparent that she was struggling with test preparation and and overall study skills. Her History class presented the most immediate issue, though her academic inconsistencies had impacted every course.

Unlike Paul, who gets lost in the abstract, Joanna is an extremely concrete learner. She has trouble seeing how moving parts of a lesson fit into the bigger picture. She tends to study material in a rote manner, rather than conceptualizing the context or asking bigger questions. Joanna also consistently struggles with expressive language; an issue that was apparent in our first few sessions, when Joanna floundered for the right words and often stopped mid-sentence.


Joanna swims competitively and excels in math and computers. She is a hard worker who spends many hours each night completing her homework.


  • Joanna had to begin practicing metacognitive skills. Metacognition involves stepping outside of an assignment to consider questions such as “What does this mean”, “Why does it matter”, and “How does this fit into the larger scheme of this lesson?”
  • To bolster her test preparation skills, Joanna needs to anticipate questions she thinks her teacher will ask. In tutorials, I modeled these skills by periodically stopping and asking her questions. As a more concrete learner, she prefers answering questions that have definitive empirical answers (e.g. math problems), so this was an uncomfortable exercise at first.
  • When studying for tests, Joanna needs skill- building strategies like creating timelines and making flashcards to help synthesize the material. Much of the material overlaps; it was important for her to realize that not all moving parts contain tons of new content. We made flashcards for terms that appeared in her text, review sheets, and class notes. She seemed relieved when she saw that some of the terms repeated.
  • Joanna already knew that she learns best when material is organized spatially. We needed to find a way to organize content and digest it in ways that extended beyond her previous way of study, which was to simply stare are her review sheet. To this end, we used blank pages and a ruler to create timelines of important historical events. For instance, we made a new sheet for each geographic area when she was studying imperialism in India and Africa.
  • To strengthen Joanna’s confidence in expressing herself verbally, I encouraged her to continue speaking when she stopped mid-sentence. It was important to reinforce the idea that she did not need to be perfect. I also showed Joanna how I use and to improve my own vocabulary. By using these tactics, Joanna enhanced her language retrieval and expressive language skills.


Joanna soon began to approach her assignments with increased critical reasoning skills. She is now aware that stopping and asking herself questions about what she is reading is essential to putting the parts together to form a cohesive whole. She is also starting to convert material she needs to learn in a more spatial fashion. She almost seemed to enjoy creating timelines for her history class, and the information itself is easier to digest when she makes it consistent with her learning style. Lastly, Joanna has embraced strategies especially suited for more concrete learners, like flashcards. As a result, her grades and confidence have shown marked improvement since we began working together.

In Summary

  • People with learning differences, like Joanna, aren’t always low achieving students
  • A common strategy, used in both Paul and Joanna’s cases, is reassuring the student that overcoming a fear of imperfection is vital to success
  • By creating hands-on study materials, concrete learners can adapt their strengths in learning to any subject presented to them
  • Using a tutor can help a student permanently change their academic approach and output


Today’s post was written by Susannah B., MA, a learning specialist, education consultant, and Veritas tutor who specializes in maximizing the success of people with Attention Defect Disorder  and learning disabilities from an elementary to post-graduate level.

By Katie | Thursday, February 14th, 2013 | No Comments »

AD(H)D Case Study- Paul: Part 2 of 3

As mentioned in the first post of this series, students present teachers with myriad learning styles and learning differences. In order to take a closer look at the ways tutorials can be customized for students, consider the following case study based on my work with a 16-year-old high school junior named Paul.

Paul initially met with me during the summer that preceded his junior year, after his parents and advisor had expressed concern. He was becoming frustrated and would often “spin” for days when he attempted to complete writing assignments.

When Paul sits down to write, he second guesses himself to the point of erasing any progress he makes. He can remain in this paralyzing loop for days. He also has little tolerance or attention to detail; he thinks abstractly and tends to see only the big picture. His ideas are strong, but his teachers note that his work lacks organization for a student of his age and high intelligence.


Paul received a cognitive evaluation approximately two years ago to assess his strengths and weaknesses. The report states that Paul falls in the “very superior” range in his verbal reasoning ability. He is extremely intellectually curious; he loves to read and appears mature in his analysis of the world around him.


Barf Method

As the school year loomed and my time with Paul progress, I structured our weekly sessions to include more creative writing assignments. These helped him practice being wrong, preventing what I refer to as “analysis paralysis”. He simply needed to write without fearing imperfection. I call this type of writing the ‘Barf Method” (a term coined by Harry Bauld, my former prep school advisor, and author of the book On Writing the College Application Essay). In the Barf Method. the student practices  ”free writing” about any topic for a short period of time (20 minutes or so). Instead of writing a neatly formulated list of ideas, the student writes a messy draft that allows for run-on sentences and random tangents.

Post Line vs. Outline

I have noticed in my work that to less linear-minded people like Paul, the thought of writing a traditional outline is confining and can result in procrastination. The perfectionist wants to wait until he or she has strung together the most impressive, finely crafted choice of words. With Paul, this approach was resulting in tears, frustration, anger, and feelings of incompetence.

After the free write, I asked Paul to mine what he just wrote for any raw material that might be expanded on in the first draft, or “post line” (the opposite of an outline). Following his “barf out”, I asked him to evaluate what he just wrote and then try to write a more linear, formal outline based on the raw goods.

Paul also tends to get hung up on details when he struggles to readily craft a brilliant turn of phrase while beginning to write. For both Paul and anyone who gets stuck because of perfectionist tendencies, I recommend including a sentence as a placeholder thesis; the sentence can approximate the ideas he wants to convey, but it does not have to be perfect. I reassure him that he can refine the thesis later, and rewriting the whole draft will help him refine it.

Transition statements can be equally problematic for Paul. When he fumbles for the right words, I provide starter prompts. Sometimes the prompts are as simple as “next” or “for example” or “in conclusion”. The point is to keep moving.

Paul’s challenges involved some cognitive inflexibility, such as a defiance or a patronizing attitude when we work together, so I have found it especially important to respect his process so that he does not feel overwhelmed by tutoring.


After several months of working with Paul, I received an email from him stating that he not only enjoys writing, but also wants to write for the school’s literary magazine. He is now an avid journal keeper, and this fluidity in his expressive writing makes writing his academic papers less daunting. Though he still sometimes gets “stuck” finding the perfect word, he is beginning to allow himself to start anywhere in his thought process to write the draft.

In Summary

  • Though measuring in the ‘very superior’ range in verbal reasoning ability, Paul struggled to produce when it came to writing assignments
  • Reducing the pressure of perfection through free write exercises may help students such as Paul overcome their frustration
  • Introducing  a”post line” helps some students escape the confines of a creating a traditional outline


Today’s post was written by Susannah B., MA, a learning specialist, education consultant, and Veritas tutor who specializes in maximizing the success of people with Attention Deficit Disorder and learning disabilities from the elementary to post-graduate level.

By Katie | Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 | No Comments »
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This work by Veritas Tutors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported.