How Do I Pay Attention? Seven tips.

How do I pay attention?

A lot of students struggle with this one.

Paying attention is essential to learning from lectures and presentations, but you need an attention span to get the most out of your reading as well.

Often students will ask me, “But how do I pay attention?”

Or they will say, “I just can’t pay attention.”

If you have difficulties paying attention, don’t despair!

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There are some active steps you can take that will help you improve.  It will take some effort, I’m afraid; however, the best rewards come from some degree of effort.  If you put your mind to it and follow through, you can improve your attention span. (In other words, if you don’t apply the techniques, you won’t see any change.)

First:          Stop telling yourself that you can’t pay attention.

Second:     Make a commitment to change.

Third:       Create a list of places / times in which you need to pay better attention.

Fourth:     Use a physical reminder.

Fifth        Ask yourself questions.

Sixth:        Get interested.

Seventh:   Practise “tuning out” extraneous noises.

Here is a little more on each of the points above.

Stop telling yourself that you cannot pay attention.  Negative messages only exacerbate the situation. They don’t provide solutions.  You need to be more positive and tell yourself that you can learn to improve. Just because you have limits now does not mean you can never change! Imagine if you just gave up the first time you tried to walk or the first time you tried to talk.  You didn’t know how to say words or string them together into sentences.  Imagine that you thought to yourself at the time, “Well, I simply cannot speak, so I’ll just keep babbling and grunting.”  I know this seems like a silly analogy, but it really isn’t.  Give up the lame excuse!

Making a commitment to change will help you stay on track. Write it down somewhere that you can see it – perhaps a sticky note on your computer or iPad (there are electronic sticky notes) or on your wall or notebook.  “I will improve my attention span.”

Creating a list of times or places in which you need to boost your ability to pay attention will give you a concrete (perhaps literally) starting point. (If your list is long, you might want to chose one or two places to begin.) For example, many people have no issues paying attention to a video game for hours, so that is not the place to start! You already pay attention.  You need to think of arenas in which your attention span is weak – perhaps in chemistry class.  That is where you will begin to make change.

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Use a physical reminder to “snap” your attention back to the task at hand.  For example, place an elastic band on your wrist.  When you notice your attention beginning to waver, give your elastic a little “snap.” (If you are in class you’ll need to do this quietly.) It is not intended to hurt – just to remind you that you are off track.  Of course, then you have to consciously focus on what you are supposed to be doing. Remember that you are taking action and control.

Another method is to simply place a “tick” on the margin of your notes every time you realize that your attention is getting away from you.

Be brutal with yourself.

Well, not literally, but take a very proactive approach to developing this good habit.  It always takes more effort to develop a good habit than to fall into a bad habit; but, once ingrained, you will find yourself following through automatically.

Ask yourself questions.  When listening to a lecture, podcast, video, or when reading gold_question_marktext – ask yourself questions (remember SQ3R – check that blog/video if not).  Asking yourself questions keeps you looking for answers.  When you are looking or listening for answers, you are engaged. (Don’t worry you don’t have to buy a ring or get married!  It’s not that kind of engagement.)

Remember:  You do not need fireworks to stay involved! With a little (or a lot at first) effort, you will surprised how fulfilling having a deeper understanding can be.  You will be much more satisfied not only with your performance but also with your ability to discuss topics intelligently as you continue to expand your horizons.

We don’t know what we don’t know.  Don’t you want everything you can get out of an education or, for that matter, your life? Increasing your ability to pay attention can help you achieve and excel.

Get interested.  When the teacher is talking, force yourself (make a concerted effort) to be interested – even if you aren’t.  In other words, fake it until you make it.  By making yourself focus even when you think something might be boring, you will begin to rewire your brain.  It’s true – particularly if you are young.  With effort, you can literally change the connections (synapses) within your brain and the concurrent chemistry that helps you think and respond – or not.

Cool.

I can change my brain.  Yes, you can!

If you take the same approach with parents, friends, even random conversations at parties, and so on, you will soon begin to realize that you are hearing more, incorporating more, and learning more.  Now, some of the data might be unimportant, but that can easily be released.  (Unless it is a horrible advertising jingle, and then you are doomed for days.)

Practice “tuning out” any noises or activity around you that does not add to your learning experience.  Obviously, you will ultimately want to do this in class, but you can start at home if that’s easier.  Pick one person to talk to or one activity (dare I say homework) and do only that.  No texting, phoning, fidget spinning, singing along with beach-handstandsyour favourite tunes, or handstands – just focus.

How do I pay attention?

You pay attention.  (Are you thinking of making an excuse? Go back to step one.)

Yes, there is a wee cost, but the benefits are well worth it.  As with anything else, the more you do it the easier it becomes.

Try these suggestions, and don’t give up even if you fail a few times (or a few hundred times).  Keep resetting and genuinely giving yourself a chance to improve.

Be proud of any honest moves forward.  You will soon see that the pride of improving yourself is much more valuable than money, candy, or any other material reward.

Let me know how you do.

Tutors help.  Seek out a mentor or educational coach that can guide you.

Don’t be shy to take advantage of my free information meeting.

Get in touch, and I will set it up for you.

Website:  www.tutoringcentral.com

This week’s video: How Do I Pay Attention?

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I’m Stupid. That’s Why I’m Here!

I’m stupid.  That’s why I’m here! face-40056_640

If you are a tutor, I’m sure you have heard this comment.

In over twenty years of tutoring, I have never found this comment to be true.  While it is true that many parents seek out a tutor when Sally or Johnny is having a problem at school, tutoring is not only for those with a delay or challenge.  Not only that, but the students who do have some academic difficulties are quite smart in other ways!  Now – let’s not be wearing rose-coloured glasses.  Sometimes their behaviour might bring us to that no-no word “stupid.”  (By the way, it is a good word at times.  Take note, Word Police!) The occasional stupid action or statement (I’ve made many myself.) does not make a stupid person.

Last week, another student made the claim that he is only here at tutoring because he is stupid.

Now, he likes sports and knows quite a lot about them, so I asked him if he would not bother with a coach when he is a professional ________________________.

“No!” he claimed and looked at me as if I were crazy. “Even the best players have coaches.”

“Yes, in fact the very best athletes often seek out several coaches – and the best coaches, depending on their sport,” I pointed out.

In fact, there are plenty of analogies with sport.  If the coach gets frustrated with you, do you give up the sport?

If the coach gives you some new approaches and drills to try, do you throw your hands up and quit?

How often do you do the same drill over and over and over and over….?  (Have you done the same with your algebra?)

A tutor is an educational coach.  He or she can help you reach your academic goals.

I have helped lots of students who are behind, but I have also helped many students who are straight “A” students or those who have mixed results.  In fact, most of the techniques that work for a student with issues will work just as well for an excellent student.

Taking good notes, for example, will help the “A” student stay an “A” student and it will help the “D” student improve.  (Or the IEP “B” student working three grades below age/grade level begin to catch up.)

Using a reading program rather than “blind reading” will help any student – even a PhD candidate!

Learning to listen more effectively….  Well, you get my point.

While there are strategies that are more specific to a particular problem, the common study skills are just that – common to all.

(Unfortunately, their use is not as common as they should be.)

Let me recap in a different way. mistake-2344150_640

You are not stupid!  (Although, let’s be honest – all of us do stupid things from time to time.)

You can make change – perhaps with a little help.

You can work to achieve YOUR very best results.

A tutor can help you get those results.

Calling yourself stupid is either something you’ve picked up from others, a cry for help, or a way of giving up.

Don’t give up!  I know that you can reach a lot further than even you can see at the moment.  We don’t know our strengths until we try our very best.

  • Did someone tell you that you can’t read, so you need someone to read for you?
  • Did someone tell you that you can’t write, so you need someone to write for you?
  • Did someone tell you that you will never be able to do math without a calculator?
  • Did someone tell you that you are stupid?

Well, tell them all to (careful now!) have another look at you once you have taken control of your own education.

Don’t use any of these claims as an “out” so that you don’t have to work hard.  Take up the reigns and get moving forward for yourself.  Picture 21

Website: www.tutoringcentral

This week’s video: Yes you can!

 

Read for Pleasure

Read for Pleasure

Reading for pleasure can help improve your grades but it also introduces a more positive feeling about learning.

The more you read, the more you will be able to read, and reading something you like can get you there faster.

Of course, don’t be afraid to expand your horizons as your reading skills improve.  Jump out of your comfort zone every once in a while.

Read at least twenty books this year! (Yes, you can.)all-bong-122923

Think of this, if you read at an average speed of 300 words per minute (WPM) and only 15 minutes a day, you will have read about 20 books (1 512 000 words) in one year!

There is no easier way to help build vocabulary, increase speed of reading, and improve comprehension.

Did you know that reading too slowly can hamper your understanding (comprehension) of the material just as reading too fast does?

It’s true.

However, it is also true that speed is relative to the person.  At this point you might be reading fairly slowly in order to understand – and that’s just fine as long as you make an effort to “up your game” over time.

Tips to pick up the pace

When you are reading silently, try to break yourself of the habit of moving your lips or sub-vocalizing.  Place a finger on the vocal area of your throat to see if you are doing this.  These habits really slow down your reading speed.

Use your finger, a ruler, a pen on the margin, a bookmark, etc.  to help “scan” the sentences.  Scrolling down the page with one of these devices can force you to keep moving and can help your eyes scan more effectively until they are trained.  I still do this if I’m tired or if I need to read a lot of material fairly quickly.  It just helps keep me on track.  Oh, and I have never had trouble reading (thankfully), so the method works for everyone.  (I have seen a number of professors use the same method when trying to read through a massive number of essays or reports.)

Work at expanding your vocabulary.  When you are reading and come across words you don’t know, spend a little time looking up the meaning.  Use a dictionary in book form or online.  If you are using a Kobo or Kindle, you can search the word easily on the device. You can even keep your own personal dictionary.  Do this especially with words that keep recurring.  Authors will tend to use their favourite words more than once.  Paying attention to these new words and then seeing them in various places throughout the text or novel will help you retain their meaning.

But – won’t this slow me down? kindle-785681_640

Yes, it will temporarily.  As your vocabulary increases, however, so will your reading speed for a larger variety of material over time because you will already know more and more of the vocabulary.  Just as when you began learning to read as a child, you didn’t read in “chunks” or “phrases.”  You read word  for word until things got a little more familiar.  This is the same idea. You don’t have to look up every single unfamiliar word either.  As mentioned before, focus on words that keep showing up  and words that you can’t decipher well enough from the surrounding words and sentences (context).

Talk about it! 

Try to have a conversation about your reading.  Talking about what you are reading will help you remember, but it can also aid in appreciating various interpretations.  Not everyone will see the same facts or stories in the same way.  Obviously it is fun to chat with someone who has read the book (or story or blog, etc.) but you can often have a great conversation with people who haven’t read the same information.  They will likely ask questions or have a completely different take on what you are reading and discussing, so don’t be shy.  Of course, you shouldn’t force someone to listen if he or she doesn’t want to. If you are talking to someone who is not familiar with the book or topic, it is a great time for you to work on improving your ability to consolidate information and make it presentable so that they do want to listen.  Not only will this enhance your own retention, but it will give you practice for any future written assignments or presentations. Talking about your topic so that the listener’s eyes don’t glaze over is good practice.  It will help you when you need to do presentations in the academic world.

That’s the Goaldarts-155726_640

And that’s the goal.  reading for pleasure might not have a direct effect on your school studies.  For example, the Grisham novel might not have any historical or scientific relevance, but the fact that your reading speed and your ability to understand more broadly and deeply has improved will have a positive effect. The idea that you can now discuss the themes, plot, and characters in a presentable way will bring you rewards.

Learning to have fun while improving yourself is essential.

Reading is still the best way to get you all of the benefits.

If you want more personal attention and help with reading, writing, math, and/or study skills, do not hesitate to get in touch.
I offer free information meetings online or in-person.  I would love to help you, or your child, reach your academic goals.

Website:  www.tutoringcentral.comreading-button

This week’s video:  Reading for Pleasure.

 

 

 

 

Become an Excellent Listener and Get Positive Results!

Become an Excellent Listener and Get Positive Results!

Pardon, what did you say?sound-159915_640

Listening is not simply hearing.

I am sure that you have experienced many times when you “heard” something, but you did not pay attention to it and have no idea what the person said to you.

Of course, we can’t pay close attention to everything we hear each day, or we would go crazy.  We need to sort the important from the unimportant.  We need to “weed out” those bits of information that aren’t going to help us.

When you are studying, however, you can learn certain tactics to help you get into the zone so that you don’t miss the bits you really need.

You can train yourself to be a better listener.

Be Attentive

Sit up straight and look alive!  Don’t just “look” alive, but be alive.  Sometimes it takes a little effort to engage yourself in a particular topic or to listen to a speaker that does not automatically entertain, but you can train yourself to do better.

I know in today’s world that everyone wants splashes of colour, musical backgrounds, dancing ponies, and so on in order to learn; however, not only are these not necessary – they are often more distractions to learning than helpful additions.

Okay, I might be exaggerating a bit, especially with the dancing ponies, but you get my point. Not every teacher, not every class, not every book, has to “force” you by being entertaining ad nauseam to get you to learn.  The learning is actually your job!

Oh my God!  He said it.  I have to DO something!

Yes.

Learning is up to you.

Not entirely, of course; but you are the main component.  So, here comes another horribly shocking fact.  If you don’t want to learn, you won’t.  If you find a subject boring, then that is your fault.  You need to do something about it.

Go into every class and every course with the attitude that you are going to get the most out of it.

You are going to be alive!

Make Eye Contacterik-lucatero-310633

If you are listening to a teacher, or even a student’s presentation, always try to make eye contact.  Your eyes are like a window, but they also reflect in some sense.  You probably have experienced this yourself sometimes.  You are talking to someone, and he or she keeps looking away or staring into space.  When this happens, you get the distinct feeling that they are not particularly interested in what you are saying.

What happens then?

Well, you abbreviate what you are saying, or you simply stop.  The speaker does not have any motivation or encouragement to keep going if the “listener” is not listening.

Social cues are very important.  If you are not attending to the teacher, he or she will know!  Trust me.  It doesn’t matter how large the class is either.  You might think you are “lost in the crowd,” but you are not.

Not only is it a courtesy to make eye contact and engage with the speaker, but you will learn a lot more.

Once the teacher knows you are not prepared to listen, your grade begins to fall.  The teacher might not even be conscious of this effect, but it will happen.

Not only that; but, if the classroom is filled with many non-attentive students, the teacher will not be encouraged to give as much as she or he would in front of a more positive group of actual listeners

It’s human nature!  We all need a little support to reach our best performance.

Help your teacher, and she or he will be able to help you even more!

(Note:  Don’t stare, of course – but make frequent eye contact.)

Be Open

While you listen (and make eye contact), think of possible questions rather than interrupting with your opinions (at first). You want to give the speaker – whether that is a teacher, professor, other student, etc. – a chance to present all of his or her ideas and explanations before making too many judgements.  Of course, you are always going to be thinking about what you agree with and what you don’t, and these thoughts can formulate your questions. But you want to remain open to new ideas, contradictory thoughts, opinions that you might automatically disregard under other circumstances but that could change depending on this presentation or argument.

Sit Near the Front

You will want to be able to hear the teacher / presenter.

You will have fewer heads bobbing in front of you and being distracting.  (Or entirely blocking the view.)

The instructor will notice (note above) that you have come to learn.

It will be easier to make eye contact and focus on the lecture rather than other students, movements, windows, etc.

Remember, you want to be in control.

Listen for Verbal Cues and Watch for Non-Verbal Cues

There are lots of possible verbal and non-verbal cues, but here are a few.

Repetition – If a teacher is repeating a point several times, it is likely because he or she sees this as important.  In other words, worth noting.

Slowing down – speaking very carefully.  (Don’t forget this.)

Speaking more loudly. (I’m driving this point home to you.)

Literal verbal cues such as saying, “Here is the clincher!” or “This piece is important.”

Listen for the words in the following list:

Most importantly, therefore, to summarize, as a result, on the contrary, first of all, for these reasons.

All of these (and more) are key words or phrases that should make you perk up your ears!

If your teacher is writing on the board, listen (and take notes).

If your teacher is deliberately making eye contact with several students as she or he is making a point, this is probably important.  Make sure you “zero-in” on what is being said.

If your teacher is gesturing dramatically (my grade 9 math teacher used to smash the chalk on the board whenever something very important was being delivered) – concentrate on what he or she is saying because these actions usually indicate important material.

There are always exceptions to the rule.  A teacher might become suddenly passionate about something completely unrelated to your algebra or essay writing assignment; however, if you are paying attention to these verbal and non-verbal cues, then you can sort the salient data from the chaff as you hone in on what is being said.

Avoid Classmates Who Like to Distract

It will be very difficult for you to follow all the advice given above if the classmates that are near you keep fidgeting, whispering, passing notes, texting, showing you their latest YouTube video finds or funny Facebook pictures, etc.

Get away from them during class.

Enjoy their antics, their great personalities, their humour, and their judgments and comments for the lunch hour or after school.  They could be the best friends ever outside of academics, but you need to take control when the learning is about to happen.

Remember that you have the power to take control of your learning.  Using these tips will help you become an excellent listener and get positive results.

A personal educational coach can help you or your child achieve the best results.

I would love to be your coach.Boy books

Website: www.tutoringcentral.com

For more tips, check out this week’s video.

Listening Well

Book Learning / Hands-on Learning

You can be BOTH.

Yes, I have this discussion over and over with my students.

Every so often, students challenge me to explain why they should bother learning from a book (or any text information) when they are going to be working “hands-on” anyway.

There is this pervasive idea in society that if you are a “book learner” you can’t possibly fix your own car or cook a decent meal, or even build a bookcase for your own books!

Alternatively, if you are a “hands-on” learner, you can’t learn anything from books or from writing – so why bother!

I totally disagree.

Why limit yourself.

Most true “hands-on” learners have learned a lot from books or other text information.  Many of them are very good at writing down directions or explanations as well.  Also, they continue to look for new information either in books, online blogs, or other places.  Of course, they use videos, pictures, and other available resources, but they don’t completely ignore text information.

Many “book learners” are very good at repairing things or creating with their hands.  There are many artists who are voracious book readers.  They don’t limit themselves unless they, too, have bought into the myth that one can’t cross over that invisible line.

I suggest to my students to be open to all learning experiences.  You can learn how to do something directly from a person in the field.  Then, you can look for more information to confirm or find alternative ways to approach the same task, making decisions yourself about what works best.

You might even find a combination of techniques that works better not only for yourself but also for others.

Book learners, if you have been reading about a particularly interesting topic or just come across something in a novel – like making cheese, you could access a professional in that field to try doing it yourself.

I know, I know, I hear you groaning and thinking that this is not true.  We all know bookworms who seem to have difficulty doing anything with their hands other than turning pages – or clicking a mouse.   The truth is that if you never actually try anything else than you will be clumsy and awkward (and probably embarrassed) until you’ve tried it over and over and over and over…..

Here is a related statement that is going to make you yell at me:  “Children are not that great at using electronic devices.”

Well, they aren’t automatically.  Why are they so good at video games, social media, texting, etc?  Because they are constantly practising (i.e., doing), spending hours and hours trying and retrying.  If you spent the same amount of time on any exercise or task, you would become a professional as well.

You CAN be both a book learner and a hands-on learner.  You might lean one way or another.  We all have preferences, but there is no need to limit yourself.

Jump into any learning opportunity that interests you with no fear!

A small video on the same topic:  Video

Ronald J. Johnson

www.tutoringcentral.com

 

Listening is Good Too!

Many teachers and educators spend a lot of time focusing on reading, writing, taking notes, etc.  All of these skills are admirable focus areas, but listening seems to have been lost in the mix.

Listening is a great skill to practise for both students and teachers.

As a tutor, I need to listen to my students.  I need to truly hear (not just listen) their problems and what they feel might be solutions.  NOTE:  I don’t always have to agree, but I need to be aware and genuinely listening.

Not only does listening help me understand more about the academic (and other) issues that a particular student might be facing, but it also builds a much more solid and genuine rapport with that same student.  If students believe that you are engaged and willing to acknowledge their thoughts – take them into serious consideration – they feel valued and are far more likely to listen to you!

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Of course, students need to develop their listening skills as well.  Not everything they say is a stellar thought.  Not every story needs to be explored ad nauseam.  This, however, is simply another learning opportunity to teach students to self-regulate their comments when appropriate, weeding out the dross and getting to the essential components of what they want to say.

Often, students will tell me that they don’t understand a particular concept.  As I am explaining how to approach the task, they start talking – and often not even about the task at hand!  This is the fragmented world we seem to live in now.  It is important to get the student back on track and listening to the entire explanation.  Without focusing on the task fully and listening all the way through, he or she will be jumping into the assignment without the necessary tools.

When I redirect their attention and inform them that they must be quiet and listen to the entire explanation – first.  They usually have a sudden “A-ha!” moment.  “Now I get it!”

Surprise, surprise, when you have all the tools, things seem so much easier.

Of course, this epiphany does not necessarily mean that the student will take the time to listen fully next time, but it is a step in the right direction.

I do have students who have been with me for years, and they all have improved their listening skills – some of them to the point of being excellent listeners.  They know that their comments and questions will be received well if they have attended.

They know that I am listening.

I am writing this blog today because I am facing some listening issues with a few students.

What is the solution?  Well, we need to do some directed listening practice.  There are many ways to work on listening skills, but here is a case study as an example. (Note: No Bens were injured during this case study.  The name was chosen randomly and is not any of the real Bens that I have had over the years.)

Ben is having difficulty with a math problem from school.  I look over his work and at his textbook.

“Ben, have you read the directions and examined the examples provided?”

“No.”  (This is a very typical answer.  The other is, “Yes, but I don’t get it.”)

“Well, let’s go over the information together, Ben.  Let me hold on to your pencil for you.  I want you to listen carefully and say nothing as long as I have the pencil.  Once I return the pencil to you, you have the floor to start asking questions, suggesting solutions, or complaining about why you even need to learn math anyway.”

This “game” or physical, tactile model works well with most students.  They understand the concept easily and can manage to listen for a much longer period of time than their usual.

Now, to be fair, you have to keep your explanations and comments to a reasonable length and this will vary for different students.  You might have to stop part way through your explanation, give her/him the pencil and allow a comment or question – or ask if she/he understands so far, allowing a release valve.  If you have been listening to the student, you will know his/her limitations and requirements.

Listening is so important.  Let’s all try to practise our listening skills and help others to do the same.

Ron

Website:     www.tutoringcentral.com

YouTube channel:   Tutoring Central

 

The Time is Now!

That’s right.

There is no time like the present to get started using good study skills.

It doesn’t matter whether you are reading this in October 2016 – or later in the year or early next year, etc., etc.

The best time to start using solid strategies to help you succeed whether in school or in the workplace is right this moment.  (Yes, I tutor adults who want to reach the next level or a totally different career as well as younger students.)

A lot of people manage to “talk themselves” out of getting started.

     “Well, I’ll start next semester because it is better to start on the first day.”

                    “I might be able to start next month once I get rid of this pimple.”

                    “I’m waiting for the winter because then I don’t want to go outside that 

much anyway, so I can study more.”

And on and on and on!

So, my recommendation is to avoid this kind of chatter and start a new one that gets you going.

                    “This morning, I am going to start taking notes.”

                     “This evening, I am going to review my notes and do a few math questions.”

                     “I am going to read my next science chapter using the SQ3R method.”

If you want more help to get started, don’t be shy in hiring a tutor – like me!

www.tutoringcentral.com

If you aren’t ready for personal coaching yet, here is a link to a wee course you can do online that might help you along the way:

Become an A+ Student!

Here are the first three tips of nine that I have posted on YouTube.  Put them into action, and you will see a vast difference.