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Honest Teacher: Study Proves What We’ve All Known — Best Friends’ Grades Are Linked

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This sponsored column is written by Peter Bui, founder of The Honest Teacher. An Arlington native and former teacher, Peter offers private tutoring services that focus on the individual needs of students and emphasize the core values of confidence, independence and resilience.

I remember studying with my best friend in school. Sometimes he’d get the higher grade, sometimes I would, but for the most part we were getting the same overall grades.

When we were driven to do well, we studied together — or at least separately — and then quizzed each other. When we weren’t motivated, it was easier to divide up the work and get through a class with a friend than alone.

I still hear about this today with my students. They have study dates where they will work together at one of their friend’s house. Sometimes they distract each other, but sometimes they help each other stay on task, do homework, and study.

So for the most part, they are working together on schoolwork rather than independently. If there are any missing links in their knowledge, then the gap will be filled by their friend and vice versa.

study from the Ben Gurion University in Israel found a strong relationship between the grade of one student and their best friend.

“Best friends” were defined as individuals with the most social interactions between them. If a “best friend” did well, then it was likely the person did well. The study also found evidence between copying homework and not doing well on tests — another no brainer like the link between the grades of friends.

But the fact that there is a definite, statistically significant correlation makes the old adage “having the right friends is important” even more critical.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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Honest Teacher: Five Minutes a Day

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This sponsored column is written by Peter Bui, founder of The Honest Teacher. An Arlington native and former teacher, Peter offers private tutoring services that focus on the individual needs of students and emphasize the core values of confidence, independence and resilience.

The classic approach to learning facts is rote memorization, simply repeating information over and over again to increase retention. Although there is value in this approach, a more effective system was tested by H. F. Spritzer in 1939. His spaced repetition method was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology but didn’t receive attention until the 1960s. It was in the 1980s that spaced repetition was used due to the advent of computers.

The basic principle for spaced repetition is founded on Hermann Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve. As time passes, the likelihood of remembering something greatly decreases over time. As reminders are given, the chance increases back to 100% but this time the decrease over time occurs at a slower rate. Spaced repetition maximizes this phenomenon to promote long-term retention. A fellow colleague once told me the 10-24-7 rule: reminders should come 10 minutes later, 24 hours later, and then 7 days later. The increased time between reminders is key.

This method challenges typical studying methods like cramming. Cramming, also known as mass presentation, may feel effective at the time since the student is doing something, but most of the information is not retained the next day. Studying the same information every day might not be effective as well since interest and novelty is lost through sheer repetition. Students usually have a test less than one month apart so a reminder 1 month after the initial introduction of material might not be appropriate.

Hopefully, while in class, teachers will refer back to material presented and connect it to new information rather than simply moving on. Giving students this first reminder will be key to allowing them to recall it the next day. The next reminder could come at home when students are working. Simply looking at the material again is a reminder. When teachers don’t give any written homework, students usually consider this as having none. This should be an opportunity to look over notes. When I ask my students, before a test, how many times they’ve looked at the notes, they usually reply twice, once when they received it, and the second time as we study.

When there is a feeling of needing to study, usually when the test is the next day, motivation is high and the ability to remember everything seems possible, which actually is an impossibility that students reject if they want to believe that they can still do well. In addition, the prolonged duration that most students spend cramming makes studying feel like a hurdle and leads to avoiding studying on a daily basis and thus more cramming in the future. Cramming becomes a vicious cycle.

The best approach would be simple, quick, and effective. It is not the duration of time spent studying or reminding that is effective but rather the frequency and duration between times that is effective. Even 5 minutes of reminding per subject could be effective if the student is looking over notes from that day, the day before, and a week earlier. Just reading the notes may be effortless enough that daily studying doesn’t seem annoying. This may be a difficult habit to build at first since there is not an immediate need to study but will pay off in the long run.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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Honest Teacher: Understanding Motivation to Get Results

Honest Teacher Peter Bui logo

This sponsored column is written by Peter Bui, founder of The Honest Teacher. An Arlington native and former teacher, Peter offers private tutoring services that focus on the individual needs of students and emphasize the core values of confidence, independence and resilience.

According to Dr. BJ Fogg of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University, there are three core motivators: sensation, anticipation and belonging. Each motivator has two sides: pleasure/pain, hope/fear, and acceptance/rejection. What is more intriguing and insightful about Fogg’s approach to motivation are his challenges to the current paradigm of motivation.

In his lecture, which can be found in the link above, he corrects “motivate behavior change” to “facilitate behavior change.” A subtle yet dramatic difference in interpretation. Trying to motivate someone to change their behavior is often quite difficult. It requires a constant injection of one of the core motivators. However, if behavior change is truly the goal rather than a change in motivation, facilitating the behavior change by utilizing, as Fogg states, the “current motivation” is much more effective at long-term change.

Motivation comes in waves rather than always being high. Although there are individuals who are always highly motivated, most people typically reside in the low areas of motivation with peaks of high motivation. These areas still allow for behavior change but only the easiest kind, such as tasks that require very low ability or effort. Social media has both a low level of ability and provides belonging, a core motivator. It becomes clear based on Fogg’s framework why so many people choose to use it when they are bored or have low motivation. So how do we harness these natural waves of motivation to produce positive behavioral change?

At times of low motivation, structured behavior, tiny habits and baby steps are still possible. Structured behavior is behavior that is daily and routine. School provides a great deal of structure for students but can vary from class to class, which then takes longer for some students to build the feeling of routine. Habits and routine take time to build and also require occasional reinforcement.

Tiny habits require trusting that they will grow naturally into larger habits. A tiny habit can be as simple as “flossing one tooth” which then grows into “flossing all your teeth.” Starting just one homework assignment when a student comes home could grow into completing all the assignments.

Baby steps are important for providing effective, long-term change. Making a commitment like running every day is a daunting goal, but making it into walking outside once a day will have a longer lasting effect and result. Reading notes for the most difficult class is a baby step towards consistent study habits, which can lead to focusing more in class due to the lowered need for ability or effort in order to comprehend the new concept.

At natural high points of motivation, reducing barriers to behavior is the most versatile tactic. After a good day of school, try getting all the homework in a pile or maybe just having a tiny habit like quiet time. When these natural high points occur is still unknown, but as students develop their own routine, taking advantage of these high points can provide a great deal of change.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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Honest Teacher: What Educators and Parents Can Learn From Smartphone Games

Honest Teacher Peter Bui logo

This sponsored column is written by Peter Bui, founder of The Honest Teacher. An Arlington native and former teacher, Peter offers private tutoring services that focus on the individual needs of students and emphasize the core values of confidence, independence and resilience.

It’s no surprise that kids and adults can become addicted to apps. According to CNN as of March 2014, Candy Crush, a popular matching game, has around 93 million daily users who play the game over one billion times. Each person makes the choice to play the game approximately 10 times a day. Imagine if every student made a choice as often to learn, focus, persist, organize or study.

The user experience for successful apps are designed specifically to elicit repetitive behavior to have the user continue to use the app. Dr. BJ Fogg, founder of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University, has created a model to help designers pinpoint the reasons why people stop performing particular tasks. The Fogg Behavior Model is a simple equation that identifies when a behavior will be carried out based on three factors: motivation, ability, and triggers.

Triggers are signals telling the user to do the action. There is an activation threshold for triggers, a trigger will fail or succeed to produce an action depending on the amount of motivation and ability. Motivation can vary from low to high like ability. Low ability would be an easy task while high ability would be difficult for the person. Let’s look at the case in which the person is highly motivated and the task is easy to do, triggers are most likely to succeed in producing a behavior. Likewise, if the person is not motivated and the task is difficult, triggers do not succeed. Frustration may arise from a task that the person is highly motivated to complete but is very difficult to do and annoyance may come from a task that is easy to do but the person isn’t highly motivated.

So now let’s apply it to organization, an area and skill of school work that can get ignored. Students who stay organized are often highly motivated and find the task of organizational maintenance easy. Triggers like receiving homework or a test notification are immediately followed by filing the paper away or writing down the test date.

So what can be done for students whose behavior is not initiated with a trigger? The immediate adjustment can come from simply lowering the difficulty of the task by increasing the simplicity of it. For example, using a binder requires more effort, some papers are not hole punched and even opening the clips can be complicated. As opposed to a folder or accordion file in which the papers can simply be put into a pocket.

The easiest, simplest filing system is the backpack. I will see students simply stuffing papers into their backpack, the trigger succeeded in producing the action to organize but motivation was low enough that students found the simplest method to fulfill the task. A conflict of interest arises when students are more motivated to have a lighter backpack and then a myriad of solutions to resolve the issue may occur. Finding the appropriate level of simplicity while maximizing effectiveness is key to maintaining the repetitive behaviors of organization.

The long-term change is in motivation, of course this is the more difficult, but I will attempt to address the different perspectives on motivation in my next post.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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Honest Teacher: Sometimes Teachers Don’t Know the Answer

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This sponsored column is written by Peter Bui, founder of The Honest Teacher. An Arlington native and former teacher, Peter offers private tutoring services that focus on the individual needs of students and emphasize the core values of confidence, independence and resilience.

Sometimes teachers don’t know the answer, most of the time they won’t admit it.

Students, parents, and administrations trust that teachers know what they are teaching. But sometimes, a teacher takes that trust for granted and it’s hard to admit it when he  doesn’t know the answer.

A great teacher will prepare or at least have an understanding of the material on such a deep level, that he is able to teach the lesson to anyone. But not everyone can be great.

A good teacher will try his best, he knows the material and will explain it in multiple ways, hoping one way is the key to having students get it. A bad teacher is one that’s faking it and just trying to get through the lesson.

Faking it can be an invisible catastrophe. Confusion results from a lesson not delivered well and the confusion turns into frustration when an assignment is given. Multiple assignments and a consistent feeling of being lost ultimately turn into boredom. The boredom creates a vicious cycle of tuning out and more confusion.

Students who are bored in class don’t realize the long-term consequence and believe they are simply bad at a subject on the day of the test when they haven’t done well. Difficulty in math isn’t an inability, sometimes, it’s a symptom of a moment of confusion that was never clarified.

Bad teachers fake it because they will have to work harder to improve (something they require from their own students). Inability and laziness are typical excuses a poor teacher might use to redirect attention away from themselves for fear of losing their job.

Sadly, bad teachers will find new jobs. They will float from school to school doing damage to students’ education wherever they go and they get away with it. By the time the administration realizes, several years can pass and plenty of lives have been affected. The only people witnessing on a daily basis the teacher’s skills are the students, who either don’t know better or don’t have the voice or power to change it.

Not all teachers fake it. The best teachers will admit when they don’t know something and tell students he will get back to them. This humility is crucial. It shows students that not everyone has the answer. Even a teacher is a student sometimes and there’s always something new to learn. Intelligence is continually learning/growing and not static.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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Honest Teacher: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly of First Quarter Woes

Honest Teacher Peter Bui logo

This sponsored column is written by Peter Bui, founder of The Honest Teacher. An Arlington native and former teacher, Peter offers private tutoring services that focus on the individual needs of students and emphasize the core values of confidence, independence and resilience.

The Good

Summer vacation was a blessing, a respite from the hours of instruction and following exhaustion, and every September was a fresh start. My expectations for the new year depended on the one before. If I had a good previous year with good students, then hopefully I’ll be lucky again. If I didn’t, then I was just thankful the previous year was over and there was the possibility of something better.

The Bad

So what’s a bad year? Well, I could say there are no bad years, since teaching is a rewarding profession that makes a difference in people’s lives, but that would be a lie. Some years were better than others and a bad year was one where the exhaustion outweighed the reward. A bad year was one where I was enforcing rules more than inspiring students, when I paid more attention to the things they did wrong than the things they did right. In that mindset, any year could have been a bad year.

The Ugly

One late October, after the enthusiasm of the new year wore off, I found myself scolding students rather than being patient. It was the second month in and I was done, frustrated that they weren’t behaving as I expected and annoyed it wasn’t easy like in previous years.

The next day I realized the ugly truth of berating students: it was cathartic but ultimately ineffective, they started to tune me out. I then realized the the ugly truth of summer vacation: it was a reset button. Some students had to get used to the expectations of proper behavior again. I thought I’d never say it, but I didn’t like summer vacation anymore. Well, just not as much.

The Better

It wasn’t fun being angry and I had eight months left, I had to find a better way. I was teaching psychology at the time and my research led me to Negativity Bias and Decision Fatigue. The misbehaving students had a greater effect on my mood than did the other students because of the brain’s negativity bias, the tendency for things of a negative nature to have more of an impact.

I was also tired by the end of the day and suffered from decision fatigue. The long day of decision making had worsened the quality of my decisions hence the scolding. To combat the negativity bias, I began smiling and laughing more to stay positive.

In order to manage the decision fatigue, I ate often to maintain my stamina and decreased the the number of decisions I made throughout the day. For example, I began using generic statements like “let’s make a better choice” to redirect students rather than choosing specific words for each situation.

The willpower and mental energy I saved every day, I put towards reinforcing my new habits of mind. By the end of the year, any year could have been a good year.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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