Saturday, January 18, 2014

7 Mistakes to Overcome When Kids Struggle in Schools

Here are 7 mistakes parents and kids can make when children are struggling in schools.  Sign-up for more homework tips on Stowell Learning Center's homework page.

30% of ALL students struggle with some aspect of learning. Most of these struggling students have average to above average IQ scores. In other words, they have plenty of ability, but something isn't working quite right.

These students CAN be in regular or honors classes and learn as easily as the rest of the class, BUT it takes the right kind of outside help in order for them to really thrive in school.

Here are the 7 heartbreaking mistakes parents make when their child has difficulty with school.

I hope this is helpful to you as you work on solving the "puzzle" of learning difficulties. 

Mistake #1
Waiting Too Long Before Looking for Help

Panic is not what most parents want to do. School can be hard and some students take a while to get adjusted to the workload, the new ideas, and the routine.

But if a child has trouble keeping up...if they struggle with the foundational elements, then something is probably wrong.

For students who are not keeping up, school is a very painful place. They begin to believe they aren't very smart. Their self esteem gets little piece each and every day.

And coming home is no fun either because they spend hours doing homework that takes other kids just a few minutes.

School should not be a struggle for most students. It can be challenging, it can be some work, but it shouldn't be a constant struggle.

Reading, writing, and spelling are easily learned by most children. If your child keeps working harder at those subjects than other students, then there is something that should be done. The sooner the "fixing" process is started, the sooner the student can relax and enjoy school.

And the sooner the family can relax and enjoy life again.

Students who struggle with homework for more than a few weeks need help. 
Mistake #2
Assume A Learning Problem Just Isn't That Big A Deal

"School isn't everything."
"He can read, he just can't spell."
"He does well at math; it's just reading he has trouble with."

These are all signs that there is a larger learning issue going on.

Learning problems don't get smaller if you ignore them. They always get worse. If it lasts for a few weeks, it needs attention. It won't go away, but it will get worse.

And these days, being a good learner is essential to getting and keeping a job. Having the ability to read, write, spell, and comprehend, will allow people to gain new skills as the job market continues to change.

Your child's future employment is now directly connected to their ability to have a FULL set of efficient learning skills.

Mistake #3

Think Students Will Grow Out of Learning Problems

This is just like #2 previously. Parents believe that maturity will take care of learning issues.

Learning problems are caused by the way that the brain processes information. It's not a matter of trying harder, or waiting until they get older.

Until the brain is trained to process information differently, the same learning problems will continue to persist year after year.

There are specific programs that are designed to make those changes. They aren't a "magic pill" or a "quick fix." And they aren't inexpensive.

But the technology and understandings are now available for any student who wants to make those changes.

Mistake #4
Assume That The School Will Fix It - Trust the School To Solve the Learning Problem

This is probably the most devastating of all the mistakes. Parents believe that the school's job is to fix learning problems.

Parents take test results to the school and think that something good will happen.

Whether it should or shouldn't be, solving learning problems is NOT what schools do.

Schools focus on getting curriculum taught so that students can pass standardized tests.

Schools are not trained to fix learning problems, they aren't staffed to deliver that kind of service, and they don't have the budget to do it.

It takes specialized training and specialized programs to make the permanent changes that result in actually solving learning problems.

Mistake #5
Buy Into The Myth That Nothing Can Really Be Done to Permanently Fix Learning Problems

Old thinking, old research, old patterns insist that learning problems will always exist.


Brain research over the last 25 years has destroyed this myth. Unfortunately, schools and colleges just haven't caught up.

Having a learning problem is like riding a bicycle with flat tires. All the effort in the world won't make riding it any easier.

Schools focus on WHAT students learn, not HOW they learn. In other words, it is their job to teach knowledge and curriculum. They may provide support for struggling learners, but they don't actually correct the underlying issues causing the problem.

Some tutoring places teach better techniques for riding a bike that has flat tires.

But the BEST approach is to fix the tires!

Once the tires are fixed, there is no need for someone to hold the seat.

We KNOW it can be done because we change lives every day.

Mistake #6
Misread The Signs

Trouble reading "My child doesn't have learning disabilities, Dyslexia, or anything serious like that; they just have trouble with spelling."

This is a VERY common mistake.

Here are some typical signs that parents misread:
  • Trouble spelling
  • Trouble reading
  • Taking much longer on homework or class assignments
  • Difficulty making / keeping friends
  • Clumsy
  • Disorganized (yes, really!)
  • Difficulty getting thoughts written down on paper
  • Trouble copying from the board
  • Not being able to follow directions
  • Confusion with knowing left from right
  • Says "Huh" or "What?" a lot
  • "Lazy"
These may not seem like signs of a learning problem, but they do show "holes" in the underlying processing skills that are needed for efficient learning.

The underlying, foundational skills simply don't fully develop in 30% of the population.

The good news is that these skills can be developed completely, but only through a deliberate course of remediation.

Mistake #7
Ask The Wrong People For Help

Tutors, schools, pediatricians, and psychologists have their own specialties. Fixing learning problems is not really their field.

Standard testing doesn't usually diagnose problems with underlying skills.

And there aren't a lot of places that know how to "fix the tires." But the number is growing all the time.

Those that do know how to make real and permanent changes can completely make-over the lives of both students and families. It looks like a miracle when it happens!

Can't Think of Anything To Write?

 Struggling with ideas on writing assignments. Here are some tips from Stowell Learning Center. Sign-up for your own homework tips on Stowell's webpage.

How often does a short writing assignment turn into hours or days of sitting in front of a blank piece of paper?
Please know that you, and your child, are not alone! Professional writers sometimes have this very same thing happen to them.
Below you'll find a three-step process for getting ANY writing assignment started. Making this a part of every writing assignment will make ALL writing easier.
This is REALLY get a tool that will change writing assignments forever!

Here's to having the best school year ever,

Can't Think of Anything to Write About

"I can't think of anything to write about!" whines Casey as he sits staring off into space hoping for inspiration to hit. And the 20-minute writing assignment just became an hour.

Even though teachers usually give some kind of a prompt or topic for students to write about, the minutes tick away for many students as they are "blank" about what to write.

Here are a couple of very simple strategies that will help:

1. It is easier to answer a question than to just write from scratch, so turn the topic into a question. For example:
2. Visualize the answer to the question you asked. List three to five things that you pictured. These become your details. For example:
3. Use words from the question to write your topic sentence. For example:
Many students find they have lots to say once they get started with writing. It's that initial getting started that's so challenging. Using these three steps will give students a structure to "jump start" the process.

Here are some ideas from Stowell on dealing with stress when holidays, busy schedules and school collide. You can join Stowell Learning Center's homework tips by visiting the website.

 "Cyber-Monday."  Apparently, the internet was loaded with amazing deals for the consumer that were available only on Monday!  I can just imagine all those cyber signals pushing and shoving through space to be the very first in line to make their purchase.
I don't like crowds well enough to participate in Black Friday, but I'm always amazed by the intensity and stress involved, at least for those who get highlighted on the news!
Since we are in the gift-giving season, I thought I'd share a gift for the whole family that won't break the bank or break your neck in crazed crowds!
In fact, this gift enhances family life and learning!
Use the technique below before doing homework, when you need to re-fresh after a break, even in the morning before school begins.
Here's to having the very best school year ever,
The world has become a pressure cooker with the burden of stress growing daily.  Your mind and emotions are bombarded daily with information that reinforces a perceptionof just how stressed you should feel.
And this time of year all that stress is magnified as schoolwork "collides" with all the holiday activities.
Science has show that our health can pay a serious price for our stress.  So can your child's learning!  So, what should you do?
Recent scientific research has proven that you can learn not only to manage your stress, but even to prevent much of it before it happens.
Here is a simple technique to Freeze Frame and change our stress patterns:
  1. Take a time out so that you can temporarily disengage from your thoughts and feelings - especially stressful ones.

  2. Shift your focus to the area around your heart.  Breathe in slowly through your nose and imagine the breath around your heart.  Breathe out through your mouth and imagine the exhale flowing out of your solar plexus (the "pit of your stomach").  Breathe this way several times.
  3. Make a sincere effort to activate a positive feeling.  This can be a genuine feeling of appreciation or care for someone or something in your life.

  4. Ask yourself what would be an efficient, effective attitude or action that would balance and de-stress your system.

  5. Quietly sense any change in perception or feeling and sustain it as long as you can.
This technique, developed by the Heartmath organization ( is used widely by children and adults and has been a simple and tremendous tool for our students.
Having a learning or attention challenge can be very stressful as students try so hard, yet continually fail to meet the expectations of themselves and others.  The heart-breathing technique can help them shift their feelings of frustration, discouragement, and overwhelm, opening up the mental resources they need to move forward with calm positive focus.
Here are some ideas for keeping your child focused during the large holiday beaks from Stowell. Sign up for homework tips through Stowell Learning Center

Happy Holidays!  The calendar has finally caught up with the TV commercials!

So what does that look like for kids still in school for another two to three weeks and families still dealing with homework?
Younger children get increasingly excited.  Teens get busy with social events.  Class routines get disrupted with art projects, assemblies, and special program rehearsals.
All good stuff! 

Except when it comes to homework! 

For the next couple of weeks, it will be hard for kids to settle down to do homework and harder to find time to fit it in.
This is NORMAL!
Below you'll find three suggestions to making this time of year easier.
Here's to having the very best school year ever.
3 "Golden Keys" to Keeping Students on Track During the Holiday Season
  1. Keep your Homework Routine
    If your homework routine has begun to fall by the wayside, re-establish it and make it non-negotiable.  Students fight things less when things are "set in stone."  Have a set time and place for doing homework.

  2. Acknowledge; then Move Ahead
    Kids will naturally be more distracted and excited at this time of year.  We can't make them not feel that way and really don't want to "s" the excitement.  So it's important to acknowledge where they are and then move forward to what they need to do. 

    Here's how this might look:

    For a younger student:
    "You're super excited aren't you?  This is a fun time of year.  Right now, it's homework time.  How about if I help you get started?"

    For an older student:
    "You're anxious to talk to Sara about the party Saturday night, aren't you?  It sounds like it's going to be really fun!  Right now, it's the time we've agreed on to do homework.  Why don't you put a reminder on your phone to call Sara as soon as you're done?"

  3. Make it Fun
    Take advantage of the season

    For example, if you're studying times tables, spelling words, or vocabulary with your child, you might write each one on an index card and then separate them into Santa's naughty and nice piles.  Be a little silly.  Put the cards the student knows in the "nice" pile!  "Yea!  That one gets a present this year!"  "Awesome!  This one goes in the nice pile!"

    The ones the student doesn't know go in the "naughty" pile.  "Boo, he was bad this year!"  "No presents for him!"  This takes the emphasis off of the student not knowing certain facts or words and puts the blame, in a fun way, on the fact/word itself.  Be sure to go back and practice the cards in the "naughty" pile to try to move them to the other pile.

    Other examples:
    "How about if you try these cookies I've been baking after you finish this assignment?"

    Play Christmas music in the background.

    Read a Christmas/holiday story for the nightly reading.
Be creative, have fun, acknowledge and enjoy the excitement, all the while sticking to your homework routine!  Happy Holidays!

Word Problem Strategies for Struggling Students

Here's a homework tip from Stowell Learning for students struggling with math word problems. You can sign-up through Stowell to receive more tips. 
Do you and your child dread math word problems?  Many parents report that even if their child can do the rest of the math homework, the word problems often pose a huge "hurdle" that neither parent nor student want to "leap over."

There are two main causes for this fear:

  1. The child has a reading problem and word problems require reading,


  2. The child (and parent) is trying to solve the problem by picking out the numbers or key words without really understanding what the problem is about.

Word problems are the application of math; the part that makes math something real and relevant.

They used to be called story problems and that's how we have to think of them - as a story. You don't just pick out the pieces you want from a story. If you do that, the story won't make sense. 

Word Problem Strategy
  • Read and visualize the story. (Do one sentence at a time if necessary).

  • Have your child talk about what he/she pictured. Who was in it? What were they doing? What were they trying to find out?

  • Use the chart below to think through the information. Have your child say what he's thinking as he goes. This helps him reason through the information and develop the language that he eventually internalizes and uses on his own whenever doing word problems.

(What do I know?)
(What do I need to know?)

(Solve the problem)
Here, write the relevant information in a few words as possible.
Write the question you have to solve for.
Do the math. Be sure to label the answer.

Here is a simple problem as an example, but this strategy works with word problems of almost any level and helps students understand what they doing.

Problem: Sara and Kaitlyn were on the same swim team. On Friday morning, Sara swam 19 laps and Kaitlyn swam 23 laps. How many more laps did Kaitlin swim than Sara?

Visualize and verbalize (make a mental movie of) the story:
"I picture two girls in a swimming pool swimming laps. They both swam a lot of laps, but Sara got out after 19 laps and Kaitlin kept going until she completed 23 laps. I have to figure out how many laps Kaitlin did after Sara got out of the pool.

(To solve this, you might have to guide your child in recognizing that until Sara got out of the pool, the two girls swam the same number of laps. The difference is the number of laps Kaitlin swam once Sara got out. Whenever you are finding the difference, you will subtract the smaller number from the larger number).

WHAT do I Know?
What Do I NEED
To Know
Now Solve The Problem
S: 19 laps
K: 23 laps
How many more laps did Kaitlin swim than Sara
          4 laps
Have your child verbalize or write the full answer to the problem:
"Kaitlin swam 4 more laps than Sara."

*As with many of our tips, this takes some time at first, but the more you do it, the more independent and confident your child will get with word problems.