The Gifted Learner

During infancy, the brain experiences a large amount of growth. There is an explosion of synapse formation between neurons during early brain development.

This rapid period of synaptic growth plays a vital role in learning, memory formation, and adaptation early in life. At about 2 to 3 years of age, the number of synapses hits a peak level. But then shortly after this period of synaptic growth, the brain starts to remove synapses that it no longer needs.

Once the brain forms a synapse, it can either be strengthened or weakened. This depends on how often the synapse is used. In other words, the process follows the “use it or lose it” principle: Synapses that are more active are strengthened, and synapses that are less active are weakened and ultimately pruned.

The gifted child seems to have an increased cell production that also increases synaptic activity and thought process. The neurons in the brain of the gifted child seem to be biochemically more abundant and, as a result, the brain patterns that develop are intrinsically able to process more complex thought.

To encourage higher order thinking, there is no substitute for stimulating curriculum and inspired instruction. Gifted learners need learning experiences that are rich. They need learning experiences that are organized by key concepts and principles of a discipline rather than by facts.  They need content that is relevant to their lives, activities that cause them to process important ideas at a high level, and projects that cause them to grapple with meaningful problems and pose defensible solutions.

The desire to provide optimal and appropriate educational challenges for the gifted child has prompted many parents to consider alternative forms of education. The choice to withdraw gifted learners from the traditional classroom for all or part of the school day is gaining popularity nationwide, as parents of gifted learners seek to find more personal solutions.

Academic Achievers Academy was created to answer the needs of the gifted learner. Master teachers plan and research diligently to tailor a curriculum to match each child’s unique strengths and interests, and implement careful, thoughtful educational approaches. Both short- and long-term educational goals are essential to your child’s educational success. If your child is not thriving in a traditional classroom, perhaps it is time to consider a more customized, hands-on alternative.

Posted in Early Elementary, Early Learners, gifted, homeschool, Kindergarten Prep, One-on-one Academy | Leave a comment

How to Be a Better Test-Taker

The Reality
Many capable, hard-working students perform poorly on exams because they’ve overtaxed their “working memory” – mental scratchpad on which we combine information from our long-term memory with the specific of the problem in front of us, in the service of finding a solution.

The Problem
“When students are anxious about how they’ll do on an exam,” says Sian Beilock, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, “their worries use up some of their working memory capacity, leaving less of this cognitive horsepower to apply to the task at hand.”

How To
Dr. Beilock, the author of “Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To,” offers two interventions that can free up working memory in students caught in the grip of test anxiety.

The first involves shifting how they interpret their bodies’ cues.  Faced with a high-stakes situation, almost everyone has some physical symptoms of stress: sweaty palms, racing heartbeat.  But people interpret these cues differently, with important consequences for their performance.

In a study published last year in the journal Emotion, Dr. Beilock and four coauthors found that with students anxious about math, the more stress hormone they produced, the worse they did on a test; students with low math anxiety did better the more cortisol they produced.  “The first group,” she said “felt the rising anxiety in their bodies and reacted by thinking, ‘I’m really nervous about this test.  I’m afraid I’ll fail.’”  They choked.  “The second group told themselves something like, ‘I’m really psyched up for this test!  I’m ready to go!’”  Dr. Beilock recommends consciously adopting positive self-talk.  Remind yourself that damp palms and a pounding heart accompany all kinds of enjoyable experiences: riding a roller coaster, winning a sports match, talking to someone you have a crush on.

A second approach involves a simple exercise just before a test.  For 10 minutes, write about your feelings regarding the exam to clear your mind of test-related concerns, freeing working memory that can be applied to the exam.  In a study published last year in the journal Science, Dr. Beilock and her co-author, Gerardo Ramirez, said the technique worked both in the lab and in classrooms.  Used by a group of ninth graders facing a biology final, the expressive writing test effectively eliminated the relationship between test anxiety and poor test performance: even highly anxious students performed just as well as non anxious classmates.

Plan B
Cognitive scientists have not yet settled on how to expand working memory, but there are ways to make it more efficient.  We can hold only four facts or ideas at a time in working memory, but we can pack more information into those four slots by engaging in chunking: linking multiple pieces of information into a few meaningful groups.

More room can also be created in working memory by making mental operations automatic.  Practicing a necessary skill until it’s second nature – say, memorizing a set of basic equations – relives the working memory of the need to perform yet one more task during testing. Of course, the more you practice, the better you will do.

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Private School Entrance Exams: ISEE, SSAT, HSPT

If you are just beginning on the private school application journey, you may ask, what are these tests? How do they differ? How important are they?

Here’s a short overview:
The ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) is the most common entrance exam required by LA private schools for grades 5 and above. The ISEE is offered by the ERB (Educational Record Bureau) which also administers the CTP (Comprehensive Testing Program). Your student may have taken the yearly CTP in school. Where the CTP is content specific and curriculum based, the ISEE tests the student’s achievement and reasoning skills.

The SSAT (Secondary School Admissions Test) is requested by some Los Angeles private schools and required by all boarding schools. Both the SSAT and the ISEE tests math and verbal skills; both the ISEE and the SSAT are divided into grade appropriate levels (Lower, Middle, and Upper); and both the ISEE and the SSAT are scored on a curve against the other grade-level test-takers on a 3-year rolling norm.

Some differences between the two tests are that the SSAT penalizes for incorrect answers (1/4 point) but the ISEE does not; the SSAT has 5 answer options, the ISEE has 4; the SSAT combines the math scores into one score and the verbal 2, the ISEE presents all 4 scores separately.

Other differences to note are the reading passages: The SSAT passages are a mix of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and the ISEE passages are non-fiction, science and history. The questions in the SSAT reading passage may be more complex and allow for more creative thinking and the ISEE reading passages are more straight forward and detail oriented.  Both tests contain questions about inferences, main ideas, attitude, tone and vocabulary.  In the verbal reasoning section, along with synonyms, the SSAT includes analogies, and the ISEE includes words in context.  Since the SSAT does not give the test-taker any word context, students with a robust vocabulary will probably excel on the SSAT verbal section.

The math portions of both the ISEE and the SSAT includes numbers and operations, measurement, probability, data analysis, algebra and geometry. The ISEE math is considered more difficult as it also may include algebra 2, trigonometry and pre-calculus. The ISEE also provides less time per math problem. Students strong in math will usually do better with the ISEE math portion.

Both tests require an ungraded essay, the SSAT at the beginning of the test, the ISEE at the end, and both tests are long, averaging 2 hrs. and 45 minutes. Both tests are scored as a percent, a scaled score, and a percentile rank.  Ultimately the ISEE receives a stanine from 1-9 in each area. Scores of 5 or above in each category are considered competitive, although each school adjusts to its own set of factors in weighing the importance of these scores.

The HSPT (High School Placement Test) is the entrance exam requested by Catholic high schools. It has only one level (Upper) and 5 sections, 3 verbal and 2 math. The HSPT is similar in content to both the ISEE and the SSAT but the questions tend to be less intensive and complex and it is much faster paced. The math includes arithmetic, exponent rules, order of operations and math fluency. The verbal is mostly synonyms, the reading is from humanities and history, the language section focuses on grammar, spelling, punctuation, parallelism and subject/verb agreement. Although the material itself is less difficult than the other exams, the timing is by far faster.

Certainly, none of the private school admissions tests is easy. They are cumulative achievement and reasoning tests based on many years of academic foundations. However, preparing to take these exams can actually present an exciting opportunity for a student.

Every student is different. Every student will have their own areas of strengths as well as areas in need of improvement.  Preparing for the ISEE, SSAT, or HSPT presents an opportunity for a student to not only learn test-taking technique but also to address possible deficits in their educational foundations. If done correctly, test prep can be a game changer for many students.

Working individually with a private test prep tutor allows for a thorough and customized academic review. In a student’s life, there will be many exams. Learning a way to approach them is invaluable.

 

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Anxious Children and Learning

Anxiety and depression are treatable, but 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are getting neither treatment nor accommodations, according to the Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report.

Because anxiety is a normal response to stress factors, parents often believe that even severe and disabling anxiety symptoms are just a phase, and on average, there is a two-year lag between the time children develop anxiety and the time they get help. “It’s bad for these children’s brains,” he said. “Having your brain’s thermostat miss-set is not good for your brain.”

“Anxiety can manifest itself along a continuum,” said Rachel Busman, the senior director of the anxiety disorders center at the Child Mind Institute. The report shows that there is some overlap with physical illnesses, such as chronic headaches or stomach aches, often coordinated with school. “That could be a kid’s way of saying, ‘I’m anxious,’” she said.

Anxiety often causes a child to act out., Dr. Busman said, that child may start throwing things, or running and hiding, and that “bad behavior” may represent the fight or flight response of anxiety. “We’ve also seen kids who have intense social anxiety and their way of managing it is to be class clown,” she said.

If your child’s anxiety is starting to affect their interest or performance in school, they may need to step out of the traditional classroom to an environment where they can learn at their own pace and in their own way.

Your child is one-of-a-kind. Traditional classrooms are not.
Academic Achievers Academy provides a safe nurturing alternative that allows each child to thrive.

Posted in Early Elementary, Early Learners, homeschool, los angeles independent schools, One-on-one Academy, Parents, Private School Admission | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Importance of GRIT

According to CCRS (research predictor of post-secondary and career success) the predictors of future success for middle grades students include meeting the benchmark scores on cognitive assessments, such as the Grit Scale, which measures student characteristics (e.g., focus, interest levels, commitment, and follow-through) that have been shown to predict student ability to continue the pursuit of academic goals despite uncertainty, risk of failure, or feelings of frustration.
High scores on the Grit Scale are correlated with positive outcomes at multiple levels.
In the middle grades, high scores are correlated with higher student GPAs, and one study asserts that, in adulthood, high scores also correlate with fewer career changes over time (Duckworth & Quinn, 2009).
Achievement Oriented vs. Dependency.
The ability, drive, desire, and follow-through to complete the task. That is the value we stand by and the value we hope to instill in our students.
Academic Achievers’ CORE values include GRIT: Guts, Resilience, Initiative, Tenancy
To take on a challenge when you don’t know if you will succeed, takes Guts.
The ability to spring back from set-backs takes Resiliency
Being self-motivated and stepping up takes Initiative.
To persevere, especially when things look difficult, takes Tenacity
Grit is necessary for success at any level.
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An Alternative: Academic Achievers Academy

In a perfect world, you send your child off to school and they return smiling, stimulated, curious, and capable. Because school is their job and they feel confident, accepted, and passionate about the work they are doing. As a parent, you trust that the environment is safe, that your child is treated kindly, and that real, innovative learning is taking place. You trust that your child is building the life skills that support a healthy social and emotional development process. You trust that even within a large group of children, your child will be taken care of, challenged, supported, and appreciated.

In a perfect world, this is our public school system, where every child has equal access to the best possible education, with every possible resource within a caring and safe community. In a less than perfect world, this is our private school system, with more resources, higher teacher to student ratios, and a more individualized curriculum.

But what happens when even a private education is not right for your child? What happens when children are bullied in school and are in danger every day they attend? What happens when your child has to miss too many days due to illness, travel or other extenuating circumstances. What happens if your child is highly gifted, but can’t be placed in a classroom with children 4-5 years above their age? What happens when the schools cannot or will not accommodate your child’s needs? What happens when your child hates going to school and their learning is greatly impacted?

In a perfect world, your child would have an individualized education: one-to-one tutelage with a master teacher/mentor.  No two children are the same, so why would the same education be right for every child?  The mass-market approach to education may not be the most productive learning environment for your student. Academic Achievers Academy is creating a unique option. A homeschool facility where each student’s curriculum is custom created to their specific interests and pace.

A homeschool facility may not be for everyone. But you’ll know if it’s right for your child.

Posted in Academic Coaching, Early Elementary, Early Learners, homeschool, Los Angeles tutoring | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Starting School? How’s it Going?

Whether you just started Kindergarten like Prince George, or 11th grade, here are a a few tips that will keep you on the road to a smooth school year.

  1. Organization is key.  A designated study space will go a long way towards keeping you focused on your goals. Color coded file folders will keep your English papers from your math papers, your AP US History from statistics.
  2. A calendar is important.  Get a large calendar and mark  your the due dates from all your different class syllabuses.  Working backwards, give yourself triggers as to when your research should be completed, when you should have an outline or a first draft. The more self-motivated you are, the better the results will be.
  3. Clean out the backpack. Whether in pre-K or college, nothing says Disorganized like a messy backpack.  You may find papers that you thought you lost are actually crumpled and stuffed in the bottom of your backpack.
  4. Sleep is important.  Nutrition is important. Whether M&Ms or Red Bull, what you put in your body will affect how well you will process and retain information and no one functions well without enough sleep.
  5. Take study breaks.  Set an alarm to allow you time for a run, a nap, or some socializing, but then dive right back in.  You’ll feel in control and have some strong work to show that you’re getting ahead.
  6. If you fall behind, or get confused, don’t just muddle along. Get help right away.   Material builds as the year goes on and you don’t want a shaky foundation. Get on track right from the start and you will be on your way to a very successful school year!
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