How Can I Help My Child Succeed? Note-taking.

Despite what you might have heard, taking notes is still in fashion!

Help your children take notes from the beginning, and they will benefit throughout their academic career.

Even with today’s technology, note-taking continues to be one of the best methods for learning and retaining information.

There are several reasons for this.


Taking notes keeps you engaged with the material longer.  If you really want to learn something and really want to remember something – what do you do?  You rehearse it.  clockYou say that phone number over and over to yourself until you’ve got it; or you connect the numbers to some image to help you recall.  In any case, you spend more time with the information.  Note-taking does the same.


Taking notes requires you to abbreviate the information and, if done correctly, consolidate the ideas in your own words.  This gives you practice answering potential questions before they are even asked.  If you have only read the material and done nothing with it, you will likely have a more difficult time writing a paragraph answer or essay answer to a major question.  Even short answer questions might pose a problem.  Many times students have told me something along this line, “I know the answer, but I just don’t know how to say it.”  (Or write it)  Note-taking eliminates this problem!  You will know how to say it or write it because you have already taken the time to practise this. (Bye the way, if you don’t know how to say it or write it – then you don’t know it.  Sorry.)


There seems to be fairly clear evidence that the kinesthetic action of writing or printing notes on a piece of paper wires the brain differently.  It helps you remember!  Taking a writingpen or pencil and writing notes forces you to slow down, think about what you are writing, and network your knowledge as you try to be concise.  If you look at this carefully, you will recognize something amazing – these points are exactly the same points called learning – taking a broad view, gathering lots of information, looking for connections within and between bits of information, summarizing the findings and drawing conclusions, and writing them down for future reference.

It is the writing that most students don’t like.  It seems like so much work.   Remember what I mentioned in the last blog. (The Agenda)  Doing the “leg-work” really helps in the long run.  You will end up saving time; but, more importantly, you will have gained much more from the learning experience.  Oh, and raise your grades if that seems important.  (Hint – it is, although not the most important in my opinion.  Focus on the leg-work and your grades will rise anyway.  However, the most important factor is that you will learn more!)

Taking notes the old-fashioned way with a pen or pencil and a notebook or binder full of paper is the best method in my opinion.  Ask your child to give it a try.  Help him or her see that it really isn’t all that difficult.   Using a good reading system helps.  Have a look here:  Reading for Speed & Comprehension.

Having said this, there are lots of programs for taking notes, and they can be useful particularly for some students who have very weak printing / writing skills.  (I would encourage you to help your child develop those skills separately, however.  Don’t give up – especially if they are under 12 years old! Even old dogs can learn new tricks.  New brain research has proven this.)evernote

OneNote and Evernote come to mind.

If you use one of these programs, you still need to “do something” with your notes.  At the very least, type them out yourself.  I would still recommend handwriting / printing some answers during your self-testing sessions to help you prepare for quizzes, tests, and exams.  You can wholesale copy and paste information into these programs, but did you learn anything from that?  Be brutal with yourself and make sure that you read the material, rehearse the material in some way, and that you are able to manipulate the information to answer questions in your own words.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  I have seen students who spend a lot of time gathering information for an assignment, storing all these amazing documents on their Google Drive, but they have no idea what is actually there.  They have only read the titles or seen the pictures – copy/paste; copy/paste; copy/paste!  Fun – maybe, but a waste of precious time.  Read the material, make executive decisions, and then choose only the most relevant for your assignment or unit.  Once pasted, you will still need to work with the material.  That is the goal.  So my point is that technology can be a very helpful tool, but it does not replace your brain or the necessity to play around with the mad scientistinformation and familiarize yourself with it inside and out.  If it helps, think of yourself as the mad scientist who is manipulating things to make new discoveries.

Take notes in class from teacher lectures.

Take notes from your textbook. (Yes, this includes math.)

Take notes from blogs.

Take notes from videos, podcasts, and movies.

Take notes from short stories, novels, and plays.

Don’t worry.  You will get better with practice.  Find techniques that work for you.  There are many methods for taking notes.  I used some of the recommended styles but adjusted them considerably for my own purposes.  My notes might not make any sense to anyone else – but they don’t need to.  They made perfect sense to me, and I can look back to notes I took thirty years ago, and they still make sense.   That point is important.  If you choose to use abbreviations or symbols, make sure you will remember them!  If you can’t read your notes in a couple of months before the exam, that’s a problem.   Once you learn a few symbols, you can write more quickly in a kind of shorthand and get all the relevant information you need.  But remember, you don’t want to note everything anyway.  You want to synthesize the information.

Learn to have fun taking notes.  Remember it is YOUR education.  Wow – what a gift it will be.

For more tips or personalized programs, check out the website. 

Better yet, get in touch.


Website:      Free Student Survival Guide.

Video:  How Can I Help My Child Succeed? Note-taking.

How Can I Help My Child Succeed? The Agenda!

How can I help my child succeed? 

I hear that a lot. For this reason, I decided to do a short series of blogs and videos on this specific topic. Last week, I wrote about The Learning Space.  This week, I am writing about The Agenda.

The Agenda – Student Planner – Calendar – Diary …

Whatever you prefer to call it, this little book can be an enormous help.

Students often debate with me about the value of using an agenda.  Often they think it is a waste of time.  In fact, you will find that students of all ages tend to think that most “leg-work” is a waste of time. funny-2029437_640

Yet, doing some of the preliminary work actually saves time in the long-run.  Of course, the additional benefit is that you retain more information as well, get the assignments done on time, and have the luxury of adding value to your work!

Far too many times a student has forgotten that her or his major assignment was due in two days, or worse, the next day.

“Why didn’t you write it in your agenda?” I ask.

“Because I figured the teacher would keep reminding me,” or “I never do that,” or “I have a good memory….usually.”  You can imagine the multiple other answers that I’ve heard over twenty plus years.  I am sure you have heard some yourself; or, dare I say, used some yourself.  Shhh.

Please, use an agenda!

Electronic versions are fine, but you have to make sure that you have access to them when you need them – at any location.  Does the school allow you to access your cell phone during class?  Will you have your computer with you on the bus?  Whichever device you use, make sure that you can get to it at all necessary locations. The electronic versions have lots of bells and whistles; however, make sure you don’t waste time highlighting, setting alarms, formatting, and so on when none of this will actually help you in any way.

I love book-form agendas.  They are inexpensive, and you can carry them anywhere.  Making changes in a book is so easy.  Yes, I have tried the electronic versions, and setting up the calendar takes longer than in my book, and making changes is a real pain.  I quickly went back to the book.  Oh, and my book never crashes!

When using an agenda, be sure to help your child fill in the missing bits.  For example, if a task is coming due on October 15th, what day(s) will the research be done?  What day will he or she write the rough draft?  When will the editing and final draft be completed?  Just putting in the due date is not sufficient.

The agenda should be used to track non-academic activities, too.  Family plans, sports, birthdays, tutoring sessions, etc.  In this way, your child won’t be surprised by events that could interfere with his or her academic performance.

It is a good idea to write in nightly homework time even if the student is generally good at sticking to the stated time.  Block that time off, and place a check mark beside every block that is successfully done.  In this way, students are giving themselves a “pat on the back” for a job well done and motivating themselves to maintain an excellent track record.  Speaking of which, this helps them to monitor how consistent they are in studying. Remember that being pro-active and taking on responsibility for YOUR education is essential to reach your highest achievement level. school-2

The agenda or student planner – aptly named – is the ultimate plan.  Having a plan motivates you to execute.  Without a plan, often study times, due dates, test papers, and so on fall by the wayside – especially as the term, semester, or year progresses.

Having a plan helps students stay calm.  While they might not love, or even like, every assignment, at least they will not panic at the last minute. Over the years, I have seen many students who thought they were just naturally nervous find strength in having a plan and sticking to it.

Knowing is better than not knowing.

If you have a good agenda or planner, use it effectively and always.

If you don’t have a planner, go get one today!  Okay, maybe tomorrow – but no later.

Here are a few options: agenda 2

Student Planner: Weekly Academic Organizer

Student Planner: Stop Talking and Start Doing 

Student Planner 2017-2018 (Academic Year)

Let me know how you make out.  If you have any questions, please – ask away.

Also, don’t forget how useful an academic coach can be!

Web site:

This week’s videoThe Dreaded Agenda!

How Can I Help My Child Succeed? The Learning Space.

All parents would like to see their child succeed in school – and in life, of course.

Having said this, sometimes they don’t know how to help Johnny or Sally with their homework or with school in general.

(Don’t panic, this tip will work with all other names as well!)

I have decided to write a series of blogs (and make videos) to help parents discover ways to help their child or children.

I must warn you that these tips are not magical or “rocket science,” so if you have no problems dealing with your children and their homework, this might not be the series of blog posts for you.

However, I have had many parents call over the 20+ years of my tutoring, and they are really struggling.  Some of these parents are teachers, too!  At first glance, this might seem odd, but remember that at home they are just “mom” and “dad.”  The relationship with your child is not the same as with your students.  There are so many emotional hurdles when your boy or girl is having academic challenges; so, no matter who you are, you are faced with many of the same issues.

This week, I am focusing on The Learning Space.Homework_(4015200817)

In your home, you need to find a learning space – a quiet place where studying can be done without interruption.


I hear that all the time.  (As far as I can tell, I am not crazy.) I do understand that this can be a tall order for many.  Still, when one really wants to achieve something, it is amazing what can be done.

Look for a corner in a bedroom, or the dining room, or the basement perhaps.  You don’t need an entire room.

Have  a desk or table in this location and a comfortable but firm chair that encourages sitting up.  Having a solid writing surface is important.  Lying down on the bed and writing upside down is not recommended – although I know this happens a lot.  The chair needs to be comfortable but not too comfortable (note bed above).  If everything is conducive to sleep, guess what happens.   Good posture, believe it or not, can not only help the body, but it can help the mind as well. (Remember in my earlier posts that I have reminded everyone that the brain is, in fact, part of the body!) You probably have a perfectly good table or desk you can use right now, but I have provided affiliate links that can help as well.

Modern No Tools Student Desk    student desk

Provide good lighting.  With the proper lighting, students don’t become sleepy as fast.  You know yourself that if you are reading – even a very interesting book – in dim light your eyes will begin to droop.  Imagine trying to focus on geography or science in poor lighting.

If possible, have some shelves or drawers to keep all the basic study tools: pens, pencils, dictionary, math set, rulers, etc.  It makes it a lot easier and more efficient if the student does not have to spend half of his or her homework time finding things.  If you don’t have room for shelves or drawers, a basket might suffice that can slide underneath or a set that sits beside the desk. (It can even be stored in a closet or elsewhere when not in use.)  I know you can be inventive!

Storage unit

HomCom Standing Storage Unit.




One more note about music.  There is a lot of debate about whether or not music helps or hinders a student’s performance.  In my experience, at least 90% are hindered by it – mostly because it really isn’t being used to assist but rather to avoid.  If your child is singing along to the lyrics or can’t hear when the smoke detector goes off because of the volume of music – there is a problem.  Music at very low levels, preferably without lyrics, can be useful.  It can provide a kind of “white noise” that blocks other more distracting noises, particularly from outside. (Because I know that you have already handled the inside noises within your control.)   You can also use devices to provide white noise or simply turn on a fan that gently burrs in the background. Of course these are used to help people go to sleep, so you will have to judge what sounds block the background noise but don’t make you sleepy! Back to where we started, make sure that the location can be quiet.  If it is not always quiet there, make a plan such as, “Nobody goes into the living room during homework time except to do homework.”  Other children, dogs, pet crocodiles, and – yes – even annoying parents need to respect the quiet time.  Turn off the television, the music, the jackhammer (construction will need to happen later), and all other distractions.

White noise

White Noise Machine, Portable Sound Machine with Timer, 9 Natural Soothing Relaxation Sleep Therapy System.



Have fun setting up your child’s learning space!

Get your son or daughter involved in the creation of a good learning area.  In this way he or she will feel ownership of the space and the learning that is going to happen there.  You might be surprised at what a difference this can make.

Students who feel that they have some control over their environment and their learning will put a lot more effort into it compared to those who feel “put upon” and not part of the whole process.

Let me know how you make out in setting up your learning space.  I am always interested to hear from you.

Watch for more blogs and videos here about how you can help your child succeed in school.  Next week, it is all about the agenda.

Web site:

This week’s video:  The Learning Space.

Topic Sentences – Location, Location, Location!

Topic Sentences – Location, Location, Location!

At the beginning.

In blogs, videos, and my courses, I have often mentioned that the topic sentence of a sunrise-1756274_640paragraph should be at the beginning of the paragraph – often the first sentence.

While this is true in many cases, it does not HAVE to be the first sentence of a paragraph.  When writing essays for grade school or secondary school, teachers generally expect the topic sentence of body paragraphs to come at the beginning. The concluding paragraph has a restated or modified thesis statement at the beginning, and this serves as its topic sentence. Of course, the introductory paragraph is a bit of an exception.  It often starts with a “grabber” and/or focus statement, and the thesis statement (serving as the overarching topic sentence) comes at the end of the paragraph.

Discount coupon for Essay Writing Course.

For most stand-alone paragraph writing exercises in school, the expectation is for a topic sentence at or near the very beginning of the paragraph as well.


Having said all that, topic sentences can come at any point within a paragraph – even in academic writing at times.

At the end.

You can place the central idea at the end after several supporting sentences that have end-812226_640made the case for your argument or point of view. This can be especially useful in argument paragraphs because it leads the reader to your conclusion drawing them in with your amazing proofs and supports.

You knew you were amazing, right?  Of course.

Placing the topic sentence at the end of your paragraph can be effective in expository paragraphs as well. Leaving the central idea until the end can have a dramatic effect that attracts the reader to keep reading.

Of course, even if your topic sentence or central idea is withheld until the end of the paragraph, you still need to ensure that you have unity and coherence.  All the supports that come before the topic sentence need to be relevant and transition from one to another in order for the whole package to have the desired impact on the reader.  Remember that you have to “lead” them to your central idea and convince them with your message.

Nowhere – and everywhere.

Even more bizarre!

Some paragraphs don’t have the central idea explicitly stated at all! nowhere

This is often the case with narrative writing (relating a sequence of events) and sometimes descriptive writing.  This is especially true in fiction writing where many academic rules are “stretched” or broken.  You can imply the central idea with descriptions, action, dialogue, and so on. This is not to say that you never use topic sentences in fiction, but one topic sentence might serve several paragraphs rather than just one.  The continuity is important and, frankly, trying to generate a new topic sentence in the midst of a “flow” of description does not always make sense.

There you have it.  Topic sentences are not as stable as you thought.  They can move around from place to place.  Sometimes there are a couple of introductory sentences before a topic sentence as well.  Generally, I wouldn’t say the topic sentence comes in the middle of a paragraph, but it can be within it.

Still, for most academic writing, I recommend sticking to having the topic sentence at the beginning of most paragraphs.  It will serve you well.

When writing fiction, you have more freedom – but keep in mind that you still need to help the reader find your central idea using whatever techniques you choose.

Do you want to write more?  Do you want to improve your writing? Contact me, and I will set up a personal program for you. reading-86070_1920


This week’s video: Topic Sentences

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