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Shift away from tutoring content to coaching skills

On my mission to help my son Judah through this tricky period in his schooling I reach for the work of Dr Jeanine Jannot.

I decide on my step 1 and 2 in helping Judah:

Step 1- Shift away from tutoring content to coaching skills

Every first instinct in me was to fight fires. I sat with Judah at night in those first days to pick up a half -understood math concept, a history textbook with missing notes, an accounting balance sheet not balancing and became the tutor: First I would wrestle with the content (because I don’t have all of his subjects in my head) and then reteach the concepts (hoping my knowledge of dyslexia would seep into my teaching of algebra).

This kind of tutoring might make a difference to the cycle test. It might also, (providing that I drop everything else and become an expert in all grade 9 curricula) get us through the end of term exams.

But then what?

What happens when I return home leaving Judah to his schooling? I realised I’d need a different plan.

The next night we discussed how to identify the gaps in his understanding. We quickly found one in maths to illustrate: What is the difference between rational and irrational numbers?

We tried Kahn Academy. In the past I’ve not understood why Judah doesn’t use this incredible resource more often. It turns out that much depends on his ability to find the relevant tutorial videos: Judah must learn the skill of accurate searches.

The content is not under the heading of ‘Number systems’. What other key words can he use? Using ‘Natural systems’ get’s him way off track into the science curricula. We try and try again and I get a glimpse of a skill I can help with that will serve other gaps in the maths work.

Once we found the most useful video, we were only 7 minutes from clarifying the misunderstanding. And suddenly I saw clearly too: I don’t need to be Judah’s maths teacher.

The gradual shift away from tutoring content to coaching skills began.

Step Two: Take a whole-child approach

I considered Dr Jannot’s idea that a decline in a student’s performance leads to a tipping point at which seven common bad habits or skill shortages are clear.

  • Organization—They have trouble keeping track of their belongings and can’t find things when they need them.

  • Time Management—They don’t know how to prioritize tasks or estimate the time they need to complete work.

  • Study Habits and Skills—They don’t study in places, at times, or in a manner conducive to learning.

  • Mindset—They have a negative attitude toward school. They avoid challenges. They get frustrated easily and often.

  • Stress—They worry a lot. They complain about headaches and stomach aches and get sick a lot.

  • Sleep — They stay up too late, and struggle to wake in the morning.

  • Screens — They have trouble self-regulating screen time.

With this in mind I decided that to help Judah, I must see him as more than just a brain.

We began by considering his ability to be organised. I added my understanding of dyslexia and looked at a lack of organisation as “An overloaded mental desk space or short term memory (so common for people with dyslexia)”.

Trying to ‘keep in mind’ what the housemaster said at the meeting, and what homework the English teacher set, clogs up short term working memory which in turns leaves no space for the deeper reflective thinking that is a strength of the dyslexic mind. Every time Judah writes something down he is making mental space for his strengths!

We decided to start with three of the organisational tips Dr. Jannot gives:

  • Keeping a pocket schedule: a simple piece of paper with a column of things to do today and a column for later. Each evening Judah crosses off what got done and starts a new piece of paper for tomorrow.

  • Keeping a master schedule: we print out a basic monthly calendar and he fills in test dates, weekends away, exam dates and social events. We keep circling back to it, letting it create a framework within which we work.

  • Keeping a weekly planner: On a Sunday night, Judah plans the week to come not only in terms of school commitments and extra curricular activities but also chunks of time available for work and play.

I’m delighted to let you know that Dr Jannot will be my guest on the Wonderfully Wired podcast airing 1st of July.

Over the next weeks we will test many of Dr Jannot’s tips and suggestions. Let me know if you’d like me to share more of Judah and my journey here.

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