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Navigating Math Anxiety

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Tuesday, November 23, 2021

graphic finish line top of mountain

“I don’t even know where to start!” Many of us have heard these words flow out of someone dear to us. Cue the anxiety, stress, and trickle of tears.

Before we officially list math among the blacklisted four-letter words, let’s talk strategies. How can these strong emotions be validated, navigated, and shifted into productive motion? The best place to start is at the finish line.

Make Connections and incorporate Background Knowledge

Asking a student to verbalize everything they can think of about the goal, format, unit, context, etc. for a given problem can be immensely helpful with starting the exercise successfully. For example, if a student is asked to solve an equation, then hopefully they could identify (from their class notes, resources) that the goal is to get an answer in the form of “x = _____”.  In other words, get “x” by itself. We can do this by using opposite operations on both sides of the equation. This process requires making connections between steps and using model problems and notes provided by the teacher, but the first step is knowing where you are going. Running in the wrong direction just makes you tired.

In another example, perhaps a student is asked to calculate the speed in miles per hour of a person riding a bicycle. Since the answer (goal) will be in miles per hour (which is a rate) then there is a good chance that division will be used at some point in order to create those units. For example, 10 miles divided by 2 hours equals 5 miles per hour—the operation actually formed the units in my answer.

This concept also helps students identify if their answers are reasonable. Going back to the example of the individual on a bicycle, if a student is picturing a possible speed in miles per hour (the finish line) and they end up getting 11,482.58 as their answer, then there is a chance they will pause and consider that this is much higher than expected. Similarly, unless they are studying vectors in a physics class, the answer to this type of problem should stay in the positive number realm, so -7.83 should also raise some eyebrows. “Did I lose track of a sign somewhere in my work? Did I apply an operation in reverse? Did I type something incorrectly into my calculator? I had the finish line in mind and this answer appears to be outside of the entire stadium!”

While keeping the finish line in mind is immensely helpful, there is also much to be said about taking time to “stretch” before taking on a set of math exercises. This process varies from student to student, but it could literally be stretching one’s muscles, doing breathing exercises, striking a few yoga poses, or watching one (and only one) short YouTube clip that makes you laugh…anything that helps reduce stress in the body and prepares you to focus on the task at hand (with a side of hope for good measure).

“MATH, you might be tough … but so are we!!!  See you at the finish line!!!”

Adam Craig is the head of the Math Department at Landmark School.

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Tips for a Successful Transition Back to In-Person Learning

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Monday, August 16, 2021

By Elizabeth Lutsky '93, MA, BCET 

organized, neat workspace

Back-to-school is an exciting time of year, but can also be a stressful one, especially now! After a year of online and hybrid learning, transitioning back to in-person school may seem overwhelming for some students and their parents. Here are a few helpful strategies to ease the transition. 

Time management

Time management is an essential executive function (EF) skill that plays an important role in a student’s overall academic success. After a year of non-traditional school filled with late starts, rolling out of bed just before Zoom class, and maybe even wearing pajamas to class, developing a routine is more essential than ever. 

  • Chores/Responsibilities: Implementing chores and responsibilities around the house provides an opportunity to practice the essential skills of follow through,  accountability, and time management. Simple tasks, such as making one’s bed each morning, loading and unloading the dishwasher, sorting the dirty laundry, or tidying up one’s bedroom, all require executive function skills.  
  • Sleep Schedule: Reinstate reasonable bedtime and wake-up times. Identify what time your student needs to leave the house in the morning in order to get to school on time. Work backward from there to determine the best wake-up time by subtracting the amount of time needed to eat a healthy protein-filled breakfast, get dressed, and pack up with time to spare. Keep in mind that students should have an average of 8–10 hours of sleep a night. Ideally, all technology should be turned off and stored outside of the bedroom an hour before your student plans to fall asleep in order to promote good sleep habits.  


Setting up a well-stocked, functional workspace before the school year begins is another great way to hit the ground running. Buy-in is essential, so get your student involved in the process.  

  • Find the right spot: A desk in a quiet, well-lit area, such as a bedroom or den, is the  ideal space. Think about choosing a space that will adequately accommodate books, a computer, and an assignment notebook with enough space leftover to work comfortably. A comfortable chair, good lighting, and drawers for files and supplies are also important to consider. If your student’s bedroom is not an ideal space for a desk, setting up a portable workspace is always an option. Remember that whatever space you choose, couches and beds are off limits. Research suggests that  studying in an environment similar to the one you will be asked to recall information in optimizes retrieval. Research also suggests that in order to promote good sleep habits, it is important to keep our bed as a place for relaxation. When we hop into bed, our brain knows it is time to rest and unwind, while sitting at a desk sends a  signal to our brain that it is time to be alert. Besides, who likes sleeping in eraser shavings anyway? 
  • Declutter the space: Start by getting rid of unnecessary or potentially distracting  items. It is best if the workspace does not double as an arts-and-craft nook or a slime-making station.  
  • Stock Up: Avoid wasted energy or valuable time searching for a pair of scissors or a stapler by creating a well-stocked workspace. If you have chosen to work in the kitchen or  dining room, it is important to use a portable caddy. Poppin and Like-It are two great  choices. Here is a complete list of supplies with many items to consider.  
  • Weekly Desk Clean-Out: In order to maintain an effective workspace, a weekly clean-out should be scheduled and put in the calendar as a recurring event. Sunday afternoon is often a great time for this activity so that you are set and ready for the week ahead. Work together with your student to make sure that all of their supplies are fully stocked and back in their designated places. Even though it may seem easier in the moment to do this exercise for your student, try to let them lead the way and guide them without judgement. This is a great opportunity for students to flex those EF muscles.

liz lutsky headshotElizabeth Lutsky '93 received her undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and went on to earn her master's degree in learning disabilities from Northwestern University. Since 2002, Elizabeth has worked in private practice as an educational therapist, helping children with language-based learning disabilities develop the skills and strategies needed to overcome their learning challenges. Elizabeth is past president of the Los Angeles Branch of the International Dyslexia Association and is currently serving as an advisory board member. Throughout her career, Elizabeth has worked in various educational settings as a special education teacher, learning specialist, and reading coach. Elizabeth enjoys helping her clients understand their strengths and challenges as they strive to become confident, independent, life- long learners.

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Tags:  Back-to-school in-person learning time management workspace

Landmark Student Turns Hobby into a Career

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Ambitious, confident, creative, determined, talented. These adjectives perfectly describe Matthew “Matty” Kaminsky ‘21. Although he’s only a senior in high school, Matty is an accomplished photographer with an impressive résumé—and a roadmap for his future.

Matty began dabbling in photography as a seventh grader. He used his father’s camera to take pictures on family vacations. As he got more serious about photography and his talents became obvious, Matty landed an internship at Alexa Media, in his hometown of Lexington, Mass. “I did a lot of still photography and editing. It helped me get the feel for editing,” he recalled.

Fortuitous Timing

His hobby turned into a career during the fall of 2019. He was flying in a World War II bomber at an airshow, taking pictures from the air. A few weeks later, that same plane crashed in Connecticut, and he tweeted his pictures. “I never thought the photos would end up anywhere, but several news stations contacted me and asked to use them,” Matty said. That exposure resulted in a contract with Wicked Local, and his photos have since appeared in the Boston Globe and on WCVB-TV and CBS-Boston. 

Matty monitors Twitter and radio apps for opportunities to take breaking news photos. News organizations often reach out to him when he posts news photos on Twitter. He’s photographed house fires, a standoff involving a SWAT team, a drowning, and other incidents. Many of these events are traumatic and can be difficult to witness.

“I have to keep the mindset that this is what I want to pursue and it’s going to be intense, and I’m going to have to see tragedies and people in pain,” he said. “It makes me feel lucky and gives me perspective that I haven’t experienced those types of situations.”

Matty’s most powerful shot occurred in January. “There was a significant house fire in my town, and it was about -7° outside. You could see the intensity on the firefighters’ faces, and you can get really good shots when people are taking their jobs so seriously.”

A self-taught photographer, Matty attended a summer camp at Boston University last summer to help him fine tune his skills and expand his knowledge. “I feel very accomplished, especially for my age,” Matty said, humbly. “Most people are surprised when they find out I’m still in high school. They think I’m in college or out of college.”

Applying Lessons Learned in the Classroom

Matty applies executive function skills he learned at Landmark to organize his file management system. “They really help with labeling photos and maintaining folders.”

Matty will attend Curry College in the fall and major in photojournalism. He plans to continue taking action photos of law enforcement and first responders in college and beyond. Given his skills and experience, he is well on his way to a promising career.


Take a look at Matty’s website.

Top Landmark360 Posts

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Tuesday, March 23, 2021


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We compiled our most popular, topical, and timely blog posts in each of the main categories: College Prep, Learning, Learning Disabilities, Social-Emotional Topics, and Teaching. Please share them with friends, family, and colleagues.


Futures Reinvented

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Tuesday, November 24, 2020

By Susan Tomases

group of students at table

The pandemic has thrown much into question, not the least of which is the value of a four-year higher education experience with a questionable future of gainful employment or the funds to pay back six-figure loans. There are an abundance of gap-year programs these days, but COVID-19 has prevented many from providing opportunities for participants to travel or deliver service locally, nationally, and especially internationally. 

With colleges and universities experiencing a downturn (Smalley, 2020) in applications and shrinking state and federal funding resources, options for high school graduates and others looking to expand their education beyond the classroom, attain adaptable life skills, and even kick start a career feels bleak. 

Is this the post-secondary reset that many pundits predicted?

For students with dyslexia and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the options seem even more limited. However, there is a fascinating phenomenon indicating that a whopping 35% of American entrepreneurs have dyslexia. This bodes well for students with these learning differences. According to an article from the American Management Association, people with dyslexia excel in oral communications, problem solving, delegation, and spatial awareness (American Management Association, 2019). So it was no surprise to learn that there is a program tucked away in the corner of a renovated mill building in Amesbury, Massachusetts, cultivating the creativity, drive, and motivation of recent high school graduates and even some veteran professionals with dyslexia and/or ADHD. Meet InventiveLabs, run by successful, forward-thinking entrepreneurs Rick Fiery and Tom Bergeron. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, inquiries to InventiveLabs have nearly doubled. Despite other post-secondary programs that are remote or hybrid, they offer a daily, in-person gap-year program focused on entrepreneurship and career preparation. InventiveLabs used the spring and summer of 2020, finishing up in December, to review applications, interview candidates, and implement extensive health-and-safety protocols. 

“The online college experience for students with dyslexia and/or ADHD was not appealing and didn’t work—in fact, it was thoroughly demoralizing for these bright and creative people” co-founder Rick Fiery said. “The average age range of our inventives (participants) is 20–24 years old. The program is ideal for innovators who may have struggled in school in the past due to an unconventional learning style as a result of having dyslexia and/or ADHD. We have found that this makes them uniquely ingenious, out-of-the-box thinkers. InventiveLabs offers a two-term program for students looking to start a company or pursue a gap year to figure out what they want to do next. We offer our inventives individualized opportunities for exploration, personality tests, YouScience, we brainstorm  passions, strengths, and weaknesses, provide mentoring, resume building, guidance on courses to take to fill in the gaps, and so much more. At the end of the program, our inventives have an educational path.”

The InventiveLabs state-of-the-art facilities, program, and leaders serve their participants holistically by offering computer and gaming lab spaces, woodworking and digital printing workshops, and other maker’s spaces all located within their 10,000 square feet of learning area. There are even two kitchens in their headquarters where a professional chef teaches health, nutrition, and cooking. Inventives are housed nearby in apartments where they live independently. 

Life as we know it, post COVID-19, is unclear but we have hope that there will be more empowered and prepared entrepreneurs to influence our workforce, economy, and culture in the future thanks to programs like InventiveLabs. 

Susan Tomases is the director of Marketing and Communications at Landmark School.

More Resources:


Smalley, Andrew, “Mounting Uncertainty for Colleges and Universities: States Facing Challenges as COVID-19 Radically Reshapes Higher Education.” National Conference of State Legislatures, Sept. 23, 2020, https://www.ncsl.org/bookstore/state-legislatures-magazine/covid-19-brings-new-uncertainty-for-schools-at-all-levels-magazine2020.aspx. Accessed Nov. 1, 2020. 

“New Research Reveals Many Entrepreneurs Are Dyslexic.” American Management Association, Jan. 24, 2019, https://www.amanet.org/articles/new-research-reveals-many-entrepreneurs-are-dyslexic/#:~:text=A%20staggering%2035%25%20of%20U.S.,at%20London's%20Cass%20Business%20School, accessed Nov. 1, 2020.

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Differences Among Learners, Real and Not

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Friday, April 26, 2013

Submitted by Annie Murphy Paul

The idea that students have particular “learning styles”—visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc. — is a popular and persistent one despite the lack of scientific evidence to support it. (For a great summary of the research, see this blog post by UVA cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham.)

The apparent weakness of learning styles theory does not mean, however, that students don’t differ from one another. They clearly do. But let’s focus on differences that have empirical support. Scott Barry Kaufman points out one such set of differences in one of his recent columns on the Scientific American website—that is, differences in working memory.

As Scott explains, “Working memory involves the ability to maintain and manipulate information in one’s mind while ignoring irrelevant distractions and intruding thoughts. Working memory skills are essential for everyday intellectual functioning.” And learners vary in the capacity of their working memory, a fact that teachers can take into account:

“In an educational setting, helping students overcome working memory burdens can be particularly helpful. Over the past decade John Sweller and colleagues have designed instructional techniques that relieve working memory burdens on students and increase learning and interest. Drawing on both the expertise and working memory literatures, they match the complexity of learning situations to the learner, attempting to reduce unnecessary working memory loads that may interfere with reasoning and learning, and optimize cognitive processes most relevant to learning.

Cognitive Load Theory can be particularly useful for students with working memory deficits who are otherwise extremely intelligent and competent as it allows them to more easily demonstrate their brilliance.” (Read more here.)

For learners with such working memory deficits (and for all of us when we’re learning something new or difficult), reducing cognitive load can lead to big improvements in performance. We can do so by breaking concepts and problems into smaller steps, weeding out extraneous information, presenting information in multiple modalities (e.g.,  supplementing written text with pictures or aural information), and simply slowing the pace of learning so that we don’t become overwhelmed.

To quote Dan Willingham: “People do learn differently, but I think it is very important to say exactly how they learn differently, and focus our attention on those differences that really matter.” What are some other evidence-based distinctions we can make among learners? Read Annie Murphy Paul's blog and weekly newsletter, The Brilliant Report.

annie murphy paul headshot

Annie Murphy Paul is a book author, magazine journalist, consultant, and speaker. 

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Tags:  Annie Murphy Paul auditory cognitive load theory cognitive process Daniel Willingham John Sweller kinesthetic learning learning style Scientific American Scott Barry Kaufman The Brilliant Report visual working memory

What Does the Brain Have to Do With Learning?

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Submitted by Dr. Matthew H. Schneps

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about "brain-based" learning, and the role neuroscience plays in education. It makes sense to think this way because when we learn cells grow, connect, disconnect, or die. Learning is the process by which the brain rewires itself.

What then can neuroscience tell teachers and students about how to make learning most effective? This turns out to be a very difficult question to answer. The brain is extraordinarily complex, and neuroscience is only beginning to touch upon questions that relate to what happens in the brain during classroom learning. But the fact that we don't understand this hasn't stopped many from promoting all kinds of myths about how the brain works, often to justify and support methods for teaching that are not really backed by research.

One of the most common myths about the brain in education has to do with the capabilities of its right and left sides. People talk all the time about being "left brained," or "right brained," and use this to explain why they can do some things, and not others. But, if neuroscience can tell us anything at all about learning, it is that the brain is almost fluid in its adaptability (a process called plasticity). The brain can grow cells to direct the burden for learning to whatever regions are able to accommodate the task. In an extreme case, where people with severe epilepsy have had half their brains removed, they are able to recover functions thought resident in the side of the brain no longer there.

Profs. Kurt Fischer, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, and I developed a resource for teachers (funded by the Annenberg Foundation)that has videos about such ideas, including dyslexia. Visit “Neuroscience and the Brain,”www.learner.org/courses/neuroscience.

If you are interested in science and dyslexia, please visit www.LVL.SI.edu, where you can join our community, and voice your ideas.

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Dr. Matthew H. Schneps is the director of the Laboratory for Visual Learning at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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Tags:  brain based learning brain rewiring Laboratory for Visual Learning Matthew Schneps neuroscience

Preschool Daydreaming, Lifelong Learning

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Thursday, May 29, 2014

Submitted by Dana Allara

girl with spray paint can

The theme music to the preschool years is a seemingly never-ending chorus of “Why Mommy? Why? Mommy, why?” Young children are passionate explorers who seek out understanding and revel in the wonders of their world—they are intrinsically motivated and love learning. What can preschool parents do to keep this thirst for knowledge and inquisitive spirit alive as their children enter the elementary school years and beyond?

Encourage daydreaming! Really. Daydreaming.

Dedicated preschool parents often feel pressured to fill every moment of their child’s day with an age-appropriate, stimulating and educational activity.  One of the most valuable things a parent can do during the preschool years in order to foster intrinsic motivation is to step back and open up space for genuine downtime. Encouraging your child to spend time daydreaming, imagining, thinking and reflecting is a gift to her both intellectually and emotionally.

Daydreaming is an internal experience that involves high-level cognitive processes in which the child is in control of his own thinking. He can delve deeply into one aspect of the imagining, or the wondering and he decides when to move on to a new thought as well as what mystery to explore next. Self-directed, creative ideas are critical for academic success in later years. A daydreaming child can replay ideas, rework them and gain deeper understanding at his own pace. On an emotional level, children who are encouraged to daydream become more self-aware and begin to build a positive self-image as a thoughtful person who has creative ideas and enjoys intellectual pursuits.

Parents of preschoolers can encourage daydreaming in both structured and unstructured ways. When daydreaming happens naturally, parents can purposefully respond in a positive, enthusiastic manner. When a child hears her mother say, “I can see you dreaming over there! I am sure you are discovering amazing things!” the child knows that thinking and imagining are valued by the parent and that great things can come from going within. Creating environments in which daydreaming comes naturally can be as simple as afternoon quiet time or taking a car ride without bringing the electronics along. The magic of the inner life of daydreaming is that it is the child who focuses his attention and pursues his own dream, true self-motivated exploration and learning. One daydream-friendly car trip led to a long stretch of silence from the back seat. Eventually mom asked, “What are you thinking about back there?”  The enthusiastic young boy replied, “I taught myself to wink!” This downtime allowed this little boy to persevere on a challenging task that involves creating new brain connections.

Moms, dads, and teachers can also construct special dreaming or thinking times. Some families even set aside “think-breaks” in which everyone is invited to take a few minutes to think on a particular topic. Nurturing these thinking and imagining skills helps to build a positive self-image and fosters abilities in introspection, creativity, and intrinsic motivation.

The child who daydreams develops a rich inner-life, experiences the joy of discovery, and enthusiastically engages with challenging material. The intellectually-interested preschooler of today grows naturally into the intrinsically motivated student of the future.

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Dana Allara is a parent coach and founder of Personalized Parenting.

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Tags:  Dana Allara daydreaming elementary school years high-level cognitive process imagine inquisitive spirit intellectual pursuits intellectually interested intrinsic motivation

Debate = Empowerment

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Thursday, May 14, 2015

Submitted by Caleb Koufman

landmark high school debate

When most people imagine the extracurriculars offered at a school for students with language-based learning disabilities​, such as dyslexia​, debate club is usually not among them. Just like any presumptions about their disabilities, though, students ​where I work as a teacher ​proved this one wrong, too.

It is my job to encourage students to question lessons and provoke discussions in a polite and articulate nature​ despite whatever learning difference they may have.​ ​After persistent student requests, and a bit of uncertainty on the part of the faculty, senior faculty member Bruce Stoddard and I started a debate team as an extracurricular activity at the school.

Junior ​William Cassilly and sophomore ​Kenneth Deluze comprised the first-ever​ debate team ​at Landmark School​. It was such a pleasure to witness any anxieties about debating melt during the initial speeches. Suddenly, finding their confidence, Kenny started slamming his fist onto the desk in front of him like a Manhattan courtroom lawyer as he accused the other team of conceding a point that they forgot to address, and Liam calmly and inquisitively cross-examined his opponent like a Southern legislator before making his final arguments during the final focus. ​

Despite what most people may think about students who inherently struggle with language, these students ​can be uniquely​ skilled at the most important aspects of debate.

​They value presentation and preparation and authentically appeal to judges. With strong verbal and logical reasoning, our debaters are able to diminish the effect of their learning disabilities and present a strong and confident demeanor at the podium. ​Despite their challenges with reading and writing, many of our students ​often ​have an affinity for compelling public speech and the ​new debate club allows ​them​ to realize this. ​ ​

The experience of learning how to debate requires acquiring new skills that are often outside of any student’s comfort zone. In general, most people dread public speaking. But debating also requires knowledge of how to take notes in shorthand and write persuasive cases that cite scholars, scientists, advocates, lawyers, judges, politicians, literature, and legislature. The most important part of debate, though, is the experience of confronting an intimidating challenge and succeeding. Debate is empowering to students, and we hope to watch the program grow in the future to incorporate more people with varying levels of experience.

This week we will be attending our​ third official debate at a competitive private school nearby. ​The topic is whether or not high schools, universities, and professional sports teams should ban the use of ethnic group images such as mascots and team names. There's no telling who will win or lose but the debate is sure to be inspiring, competitive, and the start of a new and exciting tradition.

caleb koufman headshot

Caleb Koufman is a faculty member at Landmark High School.

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Tags:  Caleb Koufman compelling public speech confidence debate debate club disabilities dread public speaking dyslexia empowerment exciting tradition extracurricular activities Landmark School language-based learning disabilities learning differences logical reasoning persuasive cases

Asking for Help

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Tuesday, March 25, 2014

By Nicole Subik

Why is it that many of us view asking for help as a sign of failure?

If you are traveling from Point A to Point B and stop to ask for directions along the way, does that mean that you failed? Didn’t you make it to Point B? I call that success.

College students often struggle with seeking out help, and when they do reach out, they are frequently in what I call a failure mindset. They see signing up for a tutoring session as a last resort. And sometimes, quite frankly, students ask for assistance too late in the semester for it to salvage rotten grades. In those cases, to keep with the journey metaphor, they are too far off the course to make it to Point B without a major detour. Honestly, that is a frustrating situation for everyone—students, parents, and college personnel.

I would like to suggest a paradigm shift. Tutoring—probably the most popular and widely available support at the college level—should be seen as a place to stop along your journey, a place to replenish, get direction, and gain knowledge. Tutoring should be something you seek to help you get to your destination, not a refuge for when you are already broken down and out of fuel.

In order for college students to make the most of their tutoring sessions and other academic supports, they must buy into this paradigm shift. Arriving to a session with a failure mindset shuts you off from the interactive process that is so vital to this proven one-on-one interaction. The same goes for academic coaching, an increasingly popular support for college students who want help with time management and study skills.

Parents, teachers, and college personnel can help students seek out help early and consistently by not only making sure students are aware of resources, but by framing those resources as positive and natural parts of the educational journey.  Before they even go to college, start talking about supports available. The more we can lead our students away from asking for help only when they are in serious trouble, the better off they will be. Successful college students are proactive, not reactive about seeking out academic support.

About the Author

nicole subik headshot

Nicole Subik is a Learning Specialist at Villanova University's Learning Support Services

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Tags:  academic coaching educational journey failure mindset Nicole Subik study skills time management tutoring Villanova University’s Learning Support Center


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