Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Coaching As I See It

I remember a time when I was between jobs and wasn’t working outside the home. At a cocktail party I was asked the defining question, “So, what do you do?” In all seriousness, I reached for some business cards my husband had printed for me which stated, “Domestic Goddess.” You can imagine the lively conversation which followed. Now my business card says, “Learning Coach” and it promotes conversation as well, because most people don’t quite know what that means.

Simply put, I work with clients on a 1 to 1 basis with the aim of ultimately helping them improve their professional, scholastic or personal life. Some clients need help with changing some behaviors, improving self-perception and/or increasing achievement by learning some new skills.

A good coach helps the client to identify areas which need working on and then set goals for himself. We also discuss former roadblocks to progress and barriers to his learning. This is important because the last thing a coach wants to do is present the client with the same strategies which obviously didn’t work in the past.

A Learning Coach must design a plan for the client to help him achieve better results in such a way which compliments him. Every client or student doesn’t learn in the same way so identifying the learning style of the client and basing strategies from that vantage point, gives you the greatest chance of maximizing his learning potential.

In the case of a client wanting to improve upon or learn a new skill, I approach it from a “Constructivist” point of view. Constructivism applied to learning theory states that learners learn best when they construct knowledge for themselves. As a coach, I guide and facilitate the process by providing the client with activities to participate in. He is no longer a passive recipient of information but a creative explorer. The client engages in hands on learning where he can test his ideas and draw his own conclusions.

Taking a Constructivist approach taps into the client’s natural curiosity and helps to keep him engaged and motivated. In the end what I’ve really done is help the client learn how to learn.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Reading Comprehension

Life beyond chicken nuggets and Wii!

While the eleven weeks of summer vacation is a break from school, it doesn’t have to mean a break from learning. In terms of reading, once students learn decoding, they can decode anything but they can’t understand what they read if they have a narrow view of the world. Let’s face the fact that the entire purpose of reading is comprehension. So this summer, let your focus be helping your child gain “knowledge”—specifically “knowledge” which ultimately can be applied to reading comprehension.

Beyond, sounding out words and properly identifying new vocabulary, being able to bridge gaps in reading by making connections to the subject matter is crucial to comprehension. When authors write they leave out information and expect the reader to fill in the blanks with acquired background knowledge. To test this element of background knowledge being tied to reading comprehension, a study was done with preadolescent children. One group was made up of poor readers who knew about baseball and the other group was made up of good readers not having much background knowledge about baseball. The study revealed that the group of poor readers having background knowledge about baseball did far better than the good readers did when answering comprehension questions about the reading passage.

That brings us to the question “How is a student supposed to acquire all of this background knowledge?” One way to acquire knowledge is to turn off the TV and the computer and explore the world. Parents might be surprised to know that on average only 5% of the classroom time for a third grader is spent on topics of Science and 5% of classroom time is spent on topics of History. That means much of the learning your child needs to acquire about life, needs to come from home. You are your child’s best teacher.

This summer, make it a weekly ritual to visit your local library and select books on a variety of topics. Read books to your children as well as have your children read to you. Select books which expose your children to Science, History, Geography, Music, Art, Civics, Theatre and the like. Plan a field trip once a week to give your child a more hands on experience with learning. The experience doesn’t have to cost much to be educational. For example, take a walk in the woods and see how many different types of leaves you can identify. Go to a zoo and make your own scrapbook with photos your child has taken and factual data he has collected. Explore a different culture by locating the country on a map, learning some of its history and points of interest for tourists, then finish by making an ethnic meal. Who knows, maybe your children may actually like eating Spanakopita, wearing a toga while discussing what days were like for children in ancient Greece!

There is a whole world to explore out there beyond chicken nuggets and Wii. Your children may experience initial symptoms of withdrawal from life as they know it, but isn’t it worth creating a life to be experienced and remembered? Here’s to the summer of ’09! Read well and prosper!