## Algebra: the Hurdle

High school algebra is a huge hurdle for so many teens. In recent years we have seen a significant weakness that seems to hold many STRIDES’ algebra students back: Fractions.

Go back in time and think about when your high schooler was in 4th grade, tackling fractions for the first time. Far too often, the student learns the process of moving the numbers around on a page without understanding what fractions mean. Often your elementary age child was a bit confused, but managed to make passing grades by rote memorization of the process. Now, years later, concepts that should have been learned in elementary school are fuzzy, or even absent. In algebra class the high schooler sees unexpected letters and negative numbers, and also equations with a line(!) and numbers and letters above and below. The brain rebels, and may even panic—What is this!!!

At this point, our instructors at STRIDES take a step back into fractions. We use three-dimensional plastic fraction squares alongside the simplest 4th grade fractions. (We tried circles, but students don’t progress as well.) Working on a whiteboard flat on the table (Home Depot sells a 4 x 8 foot sheet that they will cut to the size of your desktop), we start with adding simple fractions, keeping the fractions squares next to the written problem. As the students (and parents!)

Even students (and parents) who hate fractions find working with the colorful squares less stressful because they actually make sense. But don’t forget to put them back in the plastic case so you’ll have them for next time! And if you would like a demonstration of this process, feel free to give us a call: 864.246.9898.

## Strategies to Overcome Test Anxiety

Your child knows the material at home, but fails the test over and over. What to do about test anxiety?

Not all anxiety is harmful. Researchers divide anxiety into good anxiety (drive to succeed) and bad anxiety (paralyzing panic). Here are some tips to help your child:Think of anxiety as a bad habit, and find test-taking strategies that work for your child.

Everybody is different, so don’t expect big sister’s strategies to work. Over-learn the material, but don’t cram right before the exam. Get a good night’s sleep, some exercise,and take a snack if possible. Some say fruits and veggies reduce stress.

BEST strategies for the student:

• During the test read directions carefully.
• When others finish first, don’t panic; keep a steady pace.
• When tensing up, relax, take deep breaths, and focus on the next step rather than the panic.

BEST strategies for the parent:

• Celebrate small successes with your child.
• Ask the teacher what can be done in the classroom to lower anxiety.

Everyone experiences some anxiety. If your child’s anxiety is interfering with performance, talk with the teacher or guidance counselor about making a separate testing time available or even a longer testing period. Partnering with the school, you may be able to resolve the problem of test anxiety.

## “Time’s Up!” Nooooooooooo!

Four years ago we worked with Marc, a 3rd grader, and he rose to 2nd grade level. Sadly, mom took him out early. This summer, his dad brought him back.

We tested him at 2nd grade — exactly where he’d been four years ago!  A cheerful and hard worker, Marc put his best efforts into every tutoring session this summer. When he heard “Time’s up, see you next lesson,” he would beg for another 10 minutes–he knew this was really working for him.

After a summer’s hard work, he tested at the end of 4th going into 7th grade. He has continued to attend, even cheerfully coming in on Saturday to make it to every lesson. Marc got his glasses on Friday, and he immediately moved up to the 5th grade level.

## Frustration

Frustration! We all get it, and our kids are just like us. Here at STRIDES Systematic Tutoring parents (and kids) tell us that frustration with homework is one of their major headaches. Here are some ideas:

Start with a snack after school. Your child’s brain uses a lot of calories in a school day, and sometimes the lunch and snack times are inconvenient for keeping that brain supplied with the glucose it needs. Many kids eat at 11am, leaving a five hour “calorie-gap” until they hit your front door at 4pm.  As soon as you touch base with your child, have a nutritious snack on hand.

Visit your school’s Online Portal. Your child’s assignments are listed to help plan study time. Be available for help, as needed. If your child “just can’t get it,” try segmenting the task into manageable parts, then work through them step by step. Learning to break down a task will give your child an invaluable tool for success in the classroom, and ultimately, in the broader world.

Reward with short breaks. Are Legos a favorite pastime? Make a deal: when half of the math assignment is completed, the mini-engineer gets 15 minutes of Lego time. This constructive activity will relieve stress, and the rest of the homework will almost finish itself.

One more task: YOU keep YOUR cool. Homework often frustrates parents, too, but you can be a good example of how to control emotions when faced with a difficult task. Soon the homework will be done and it will be time for some FUN!!!

Gail Everett, Ph.D.

STRIDES Systematic Tutoring

We Solve Learning Problems!

## Magnet Schools

Last week a parent called STRIDES Tutoring to ask about magnet schools. Many parents find the concept confusing, but it’s merely the effort of public educators to reach all students by using new approaches. A magnet school is a public school, so your child may attend free. However, you must apply for your student to be accepted, and some magnet schools have a long waiting list.

Each magnet school provides a unique program. For instance, Blythe Academy of Languages, a Greenville elementary school, offers immersion classes in French or Spanish. Another purpose of magnet schools is to increase diversity. They do this by attracting students from elsewhere in the school district. Our Greenville school district has eleven magnet schools. Spartanburg has only two, but all Anderson schools are magnet schools.

Most educators and families find the idea intriguing, but do magnet schools do well with basic skills, such as reading and math? Let’s compare Greenville magnet schools on reading (language arts) at the elementary level: Blythe and Stone have only 12% of students reading below grade level, but East North reports 22%. Looking at middle schools, Beck reports 25%, and Hughes jumps to 33% reading below grade level. High school magnet schools are judged on graduation rates, ranging from 70% at Carolina to 86% at J.L. Mann. Choose wisely!

If your child is interested in a magnet school, do your homework first. Start at this site to find and compare magnet schools: http://greenville.k12.sc.us/Students/main.asp?titleid=magnet

Dr. Everett

## Test Anxiety

Do you recognize the following scenario? You and your child study test material thoroughly at home. Your child knows the material well, but fails the test over and over at school.

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, your child may suffer from test anxiety. Don’t worry; not all anxiety is harmful. Researchers divide anxiety into good anxiety (a drive to succeed) and bad anxiety (paralyzing panic).

• Think of anxiety as merely a bad habit that can be broken by finding test-taking strategies that work for your child. Everybody is different, so don’t expect big sister’s strategies to work for little brother.
• Over-learn the material, but don’t cram right before the exam.
• Ensure that your child gets a good night’s sleep, sufficient exercise, and a snack before the test, if possible. Some people say that fruits and veggies reduce stress.
• Teach your child to watch the time carefully. If they’re drawing a blank, they can skip to the next item. They don’t need to panic if others finish first.
• If your child is tensing up, he needs to relax, take deep breaths, and focus on the next step rather than panic.
• After the test, make a note of strategies that were helpful or not helpful.
• And of course, celebrate even the smallest successes with your child!

Everyone experiences some level of anxiety. If your child’s anxiety is interfering with performance, talk with the teacher about what can be done in the classroom to lower anxiety.

Happy testing,
Dr. Everett

## Bottleneck Learning

My friend Janet home schooled her daughter who had Down syndrome. Janet recently shared with me a valuable learning picture that’s useful for all parents of students with memory limitations.

Picture a bottleneck

Janet visualizes her daughter’s memory as a bottle with a narrow neck. The bottom of the bottle, with plenty of storage, is her Long Term Memory. The neck of the bottle, with very limited space, is her Short Term Memory.

Janet found that she needed to dribble facts like the alphabet into her daughter’s mind very carefully. Otherwise, the bottle would fill too quickly, and the facts would bubble over the rim, lost from her memory. Very little would be retained over time unless Janet carefully measured the flow into her daughter’s mind.

Form realistic expectations

When her daughter was a preschooler, she brought her Sunday School verse home to memorize. Janet chose just eight words of the verse. If she had taught nine words, her daughter wouldn’t have been able to retain any of them. But with eight, she had a verse to say with her friends that next Sunday. And as she matured, that number grew slowly.

What’s the point?

Janet knew her daughter’s learning habits. If your child is having trouble learning, rearrange the learning situation. Small changes make sweet success.

Happy learning,
Dr. Everett

What is the normal age for reading to begin?

Just as in other areas of development, this isn’t a “One Size Fits All” attribute. In some areas of Europe, schools don’t begin to teach reading until age 8, but U.S. schools usually expect reading to start in kindergarten, and certainly by first grade. A few precocious readers learn the alphabet before age 2. At STRIDES, we have also taught intelligent late bloomers who weren’t ready until age 10.

Will it hurt a child to learn early, even at age three?

Starting early is fine, as long as the child is interested. If a preschooler suddenly loses interest, it’s best to stop for several months, or even years. Forced reading at an early age may build resistance to reading or academics in general.

What resources should I use for my early learner?

I recommend mini-lessons (10-12 minutes) for the curious and insistent preschooler. A good set of books is the “Bob Books,” with short words and repeating sentences. The classic Dick and Jane readers (now reprinted) are also excellent resources, and they have charming pictures and stories that children still love today.