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NEALS Blog February 2020

17 Feb 2020 6:46 PM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

Beyond Skill Building

by Vaunie Graulty, Miss Hall’s School (retired learning specialist)

As learning specialists, we offer students the chance to develop skills and strategies that will lead them to academic success. In our sessions, we teach our students to structure their time by using planners. We teach note taking and study techniques. We teach tools for becoming better readers. We teach active listening and participation. The list goes on and on. But that isn’t all we do, not by a long shot! Skilled learning specialists are also shaping the personal growth of their students. And when they succeed, we celebrate with them.

Some students, and even their teachers, may see us merely as homework helpers, but I bet you, like me, hope and expect that our work goes much deeper and its impact is much longer term. We don’t do for our students; we guide them to do for themselves. “Give a fish, and a person will be hungry tomorrow; teach him to catch a fish they’ll be richer all their life.” Give a rod not a fish. Put the student in charge of their learning. 

Besides test scores, how can we measure impact? Try asking the student! It’s been amazing to me how much a quiet student has to say on paper. I am a big believer in “powerful questions.” These can be used in two ways: 1. To coach students to self-reflect and ultimately self-coach. 2. To evaluate their own growth: cognitive, personal and academic. 

I was first introduced to “powerful questions” by Jodi Sleeper Triplett when I took her course on AD/HD coaching. Over the years, however, I’ve discovered her techniques work for every student regardless of whether they have AD/HD.

The student begins each session with a self-reflection. It will take time for students to believe in themselves enough to answer questions positively, but they WILL, with time and practice. They will also become self-starters, comfortable with the opening routine. Try asking students to WRITE their answers; for some this is easier. Self-reflecting in a Learning Journal develops voice, strengthens self-awareness and builds confidence. 

  • What is your plan for today?

  • What are your personal strengths? How do they show up at school and outside of school?

  • Which of your traits will help you to do this task* really well? (*paper, study prep, presentation etc.)

  • A “gremlin” stands in the way of progress or forward movement. He is an obstacle that impedes success. We all have gremlins. What are yours? 

  • Sometimes we feed our gremlins by encouraging them with negative self-talk or inaction. Talk about how you do that. 

  • What is the smallest step you can take to get started with your assignment?

  • What have you accomplished this week that has made you feel really good?

  • What are you concerned about regarding school?

  • Talk about a situation in which you experienced disappointment or failure and explain what you learned from it.

  • What do you know about your learning style? What kind of study techniques work for you? What does not work? Have you ever had any testing or psycho-educational evaluation? What did you learn about yourself from that?

  • If you could wave a magic wand and make a change in your student self, what would it be?

  • What motivates you? Talk about both internal and external motivators.

  • What acknowledgement would you like to give yourself today?

  • Teachers want you to do well; they are really in a partnership with you. What are your responsibilities as a student? Theirs as a teacher? How do you contribute to the relationship?

  • How are you your own best friend?

In my experience, students like to look back through their journals now and then. By the end of the school year, they are proud of how much they write, and they learn from re-reading their entries.  Students finish the year better able to talk with their teachers about how they learn. They can partner with the teacher. Students also discover the power of talking themselves through a challenge by asking energizing and affirming questions like the ones above. Self- coaching is the goal. Of course, this is a life skill! 

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