Friday, February 27, 2015

Teenage Brains

Are you a parent of a teenager? Does your teen act impulsively, experience mood swings, or consistently make poor choices? Does he often seem self-centered or lack the ability to empathize? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, join the club. As any parent of an adolescent will tell you, teens can be less than easy to get along with, and will do things that often make you shake your head and wonder what on earth they could be thinking. Over the years, we've come to believe that this is just typical teenage behavior, but research now suggests that the answer may have less to do with "hormones raging" and more to do with the teenage brain itself.

Adolescent brains are most commonly referred to as "immature," a term often used to describe adolescents themselves. This is because the brain is literally still maturing as children hit their teenage years, and typically doesn't reach its full potential until the mid, or even late 20s. In an average human brain, nerves are insulated by a fatty substance called Myelin, which allows them to properly conduct impulses between the brain and other parts of the body. Without this insulation, signals are slower to move. Myelin development begins at the back of the brain, with the Frontal Lobe being the last portion to receive proper insulation. What does the Frontal Lobe control? You guessed it: Basic executive functions such as impulse control, reasoning, judgment, planning, and the ability to empathize.

This explains, at least in part, why teenagers act the way they do. While this information can be worrisome, especially where good decision making is concerned, there are a few benefits. For one thing, the changing brain means that a student's I.Q. is still quite malleable into the teen years. An aptitude test done in the 3rd grade will not necessarily have the same results when done 8 years later. It then makes sense why some experts refer to this stage of brain development as "use it or lose it" time. The teenager's neurological hardware is essentially being rewired, which is an ideal time for learning. Therefore, whatever teens focus their mental energy on will solidify and become easier. This is good news for the student who is spending his time studying music, reading, focusing on academics, or playing sports. Not so much, however, for the student who plays video games and does nothing all day. Take care to make sure your teenagers engage in stimulating, healthy activities during this important stage in their development. Once it's over, it's much more difficult to re-wire the brain, and thus un-learn potentially harmful behavior.

There are, of course, a variety of factors that can contribute to a child's behavior, brain development being just one of them. Even though the human brain is oftentimes confounding, scientists are learning new things every day, but we don't have all the answers yet. We encourage you to learn more by visiting the links below: - NPR interview with Dr. Frances Jenson, author of "The Teenage Brain." - Research done by the National Institute of Mental Health. - segment on the teenage brain.

Learn anything new? Anything you want to know more about? Share your questions or comments below!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Keep That Regular Tutor Regular

Students always enjoy a day off school, especially when it is a snow day that has followed a holiday. Days off provide a respite and time for the body and the brain to renew itself from the academic grind. But students know that the key to academic success, especially in difficult subjects, is consistently studying and completing homework. Students having difficulty in school especially need to develop those consistent study habits to master the material for that specific class. If this is a sequence class that leads to another class in the same subject area, like Algebra I that leads to Algebra II or Level I of a foreign language that leads to Level II, consistently learning those concepts or learning subject-matter vocabulary is extremely important.

This same philosophy should be used when hiring a tutor to shore up academic weaknesses for a student who wants a better grade in a subject. The tutoring schedule should be consistent—that is, at least weekly, or twice weekly if scheduled—for the optimum results.  This schedule should be adhered to with minimum cancellations or re-scheduling.  This will ensure that the goals set by the student to improve in that class will be attained. Developing excellent study habits can only lead to better grades.   When all these factors are working harmoniously, student success is imminent. But, be very careful when the tutor helps the student achieve this academic success, and the student’s progress is phenomenal. It is very tempting to adjust the tutoring sessions and turn that brilliant, consistent tutor into a homework tutor. That you do not want.

When a regular tutor turns into a homework tutor, he or she is requested only to come when the student has homework. The parent calls to postpone sessions. Either there was no school the day before, or the student doesn’t have any homework. Here it is easy for the student to slip back into bad study habits that brought on the academic problems in the first place.  The student postpones assignments until the tutor returns.

However, the primary reasons for having a tutor, besides explaining the difficult concepts of the subject matter, is to help the student develop good study habits and maintain that good, consistent study pattern.  The tutor then continues to explain those important concepts, helping the student understand the material. From this, test scores are raised, which eventually raises the student’s grade. The student has then developed the fundamental concepts that will help him or her make the connections to future concepts studied in the class.

This can’t be done if the regular tutor has turned into a homework tutor. So, keep your regularly scheduled tutoring sessions, even if there is no homework scheduled for the next class. The student and the tutor can work on new concepts or review previous materials from that class that may appear on a semester or final exam. This can be specific material or unique vocabulary that must be mastered as a baseline for the subject. Also, future projects can be started or continued without procrastinating until the last minute. And, with the plethora of online academic websites, the student can always practice concepts in that particular subject in a more challenging way. The student already knows school- recommended websites that can be practiced. Even the tutor can assist with more grade appropriate, content specific websites.

Meeting on a regular schedule with the tutor benefits the student. Goals and objectives are reached. Grades rise. A confident feeling about the subject matter in the class will develop. Regularly practicing specific concepts will promote better academic performance.  For junior high and high school, that translates into better grades and a higher GPA.  Keeping a regularly scheduled tutoring session is like exercising regularly. The body benefits more from regular exercise that it would from exercise only done when a person feels it is needed.  Don’t turn your regularly scheduled tutor into a homework tutor.  Maintain that consistent tutorial schedule.

Written by Louis E. Blount, a TFS tutor. Louis tutors English, Spanish, Writing, SAT prep, and Organization and Study Skills. He also works as an Academic Coach. Louis tutors in Fairfax County, specifically in Annandale, McLean, Falls Church, Fairfax, and Vienna. View his complete profile here: