Confusing Signs of Nonverbal Learning Disabilities

after a piece at by The Understood Team

[O-G reading tutor in Columbus OH  614-579-6021: see below]

Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (NVLD) may be difficult to understand.  How about a kid who is very talkative, but can’t hold a conversation? Or a child who can rattle off math facts but has no idea what they mean? A student who reads well, even spells without difficulty, but can’t remember what he’s read to talk about it?

Here are six points to consider.


Children with NVLD can have great vocabularies, quickly picking up words and phrases they read and hear.  But then, oddly, they may struggle with casual conversations, especially if the topic isn’t interesting to them. They also may not recognize that another person is not interested in what they are talking about.  In addition, they may not know about taking turns and giving another person a chance to speak.


For example, a child may bombard teachers or parents  with questions.  They may demand information about a new toy, without playing with it to find out how it works.  Kids with NVLD often have poor visual-spatial skills.  They prefer talking rather than exploring the world around them.


Frequently NVLD kids are very good readers; they are good at sounding out letters and words (decoding) and even reading sight words. They are frequently good at spelling. But reading comprehension can be a challenge, and also holding on to meaning.  Finding the moral of a story, picking out significant details  may be a struggle.


Since math is based on visual-spatial concepts, kids need to picture how two, and another two, come together to create four.  They  memorize swiftly and may easily rattle off “two plus two equals four” without understanding how the words connect to the concept. They might also have difficulty understanding numbers in columns, and math problems that include “borrowing” and “carrying.”


These NVLD children have great rote memory skills.  They can memorize lots of information without work. But explaining and sharing this information can be a struggle.  For example, they might go around a classroom repeating the same thing to many students, even to those who aren’t interested. NVLD children can’t see nonverbal cues, such as posture changes, eye-rolls, sarcastic responses.


NVLD children have lots of strengths, but these strengths can hide underlying challenges.  Teachers and parents who are aware of these contradictions have taken the first step toward helping their kids use their strengths, build social skills and improve their reading comprehension abilities.

Be aware that the difference between NVLD and autism spectrum disorders can be tricky.  Visit helpful sites — especially the terrific — to find out more.


Orton-Gillingham reading tutor in Columbus OH: 614-579-6021, or email

Quick Fixes Don’t Work

Louisa Moats on dyslexia:
“Quick fixes don’t work.

[W]e should abandon the expectation that serious reading disabilities can be fixed or remediated in a few short lessons per week over a year or so.

If evidence is going to drive our thinking, then all indicators point to this: screen the kids early; teach all the kids who are at risk, skillfully and intensively; and maintain the effort for as long as it takes.

Meanwhile, nurture the students’ interests, aptitudes, and coping strategies and trust that most are going to make it in real life.”

Orton-Gillingham reading tutor in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021; or email 

How Parents Can Build a Word-Rich Life for Dyslexics


by Kyle Redford, Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity Education Editor

[O-G Reading Tutor in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021, see below] 

A confession:  I get a significant thrill from reading research that confirms my personal suspicions.  This happened recently when I dug into some studies about reading and achievement.  According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), not only does the amount of reading “for fun” outside of school directly correlate to academic achievement, but there are numerous other studies to demonstrate that there is no better way to increase vocabulary than independent reading.

The NAEP study does not distinguish whether the higher achievement scores of students who read more reflected an increased exposure to more words or the specific act of decoding, but I would argue that it is the former.  It is hard to imagine that the mechanics related to reading are responsible for these academic gains.  We know that good thinkers need words, and reading is a gateway into the world of words and ideas.  Therefore it would follow that how one gathers words is less important than how many words one gathers.

What does this mean for dyslexics?  Reading is harder and slower for dyslexic students. Consequently, they typically read less.  If they are to keep up with their peers academically, then it is imperative to find additional ways to expose them to as many words and ideas as possible.

This is a challenge.  Dyslexics often encounter a gap between their reading level and their intellectual level.  This can turn them off of reading altogether.  They don’t want to read “baby books.”  Some handle this by faking engagement with thick sophisticated titles while others decide that they don’t like to read at all and avoid it completely.  Both can be disastrous responses.  Fortunately, there are a few tried and true tricks for building word power for elementary students with dyslexia.

Many Ways to Read

We all agree that children benefit from exposure to stories for their content, structure, and new vocabularies.  But reading independently is not the only way to gain access to stories.

Read Aloud:   There are few things as powerful for encouraging a love of reading as a well-read story.  This goes for all children.  It is never too early to start reading books to children (and, surprisingly, they are rarely too old to enjoy the act of being read to).  In Naked Reading: Uncovering What Tweens Need to Become Lifelong Readers, Teri Lesesne cites Becoming a Nation of Readers, a study that was commissioned to examine reading in the United States, to make her own case for why teachers should not abandon reading to their classes once their students become independent readers.  According to the study, reading aloud was the single most effective activity for building to eventual success in reading.

Listening to Audio Books supports learning a love of literatureListening to books read aloud allows students to have access to stories that are out of their reading range but within their comprehension zone.  Even the most rigorous high school English teachers understand the power and potential of reading aloud to their classes.  It also gives teachers an opportunity to model oral reading skills like fluency, proper pronounciation, and oral expression.  These conditions serve all students, but they are critical to dyslexics.  Dyslexics particularly benefit when they visually track with the reader as much as possible.  “Reading along” gives the listening student an increased exposure to the look of words and makes explicit the process of converting letter combinations to sounds.  In classrooms, using an “Elmo” gives the entire class a way to follow along with the text.  In one-on-one situations, something as simple as sitting next to the child serves the same purpose.

Reading aloud also helps develop the building blocks of reading comprehension.  Students are able to discover new vocabulary, formulate predictions, and make outside connections.  When children are read to they usually ask questions.  Their questions help to clarify what they are taking in and allow them to make meaning with someone else.  It’s like having their own built-in book club.  Having access to a discussion partner actually gives them an advantage over their silent-reading peers.  Many more able readers will rip through stacks of books without pausing for reflection or questioning, thus reducing the potential for grasping many of the ideas or cultural / literary references in the story.  Students who are read to actually have a unique opportunity to discuss and question along the way.

Books on Tape, Audio BooksThings to think about with read aloud:  Read aloud is powerful because of the opportunity to model reading fluency and expression.  Consequently, the reader should be comfortable and familiar with the text.  Previewing allows the adult reader to know the overarching architecture of the story and the personalities of the individual characters so that they can employ appropriate voice and tone.  This is not a time to ask your child to alternate with you while reading.  That oral practice is important, but at a different time, with a book that is leveled to his reading ability.  This reading time is an opportunity for your child to really engage with a story that he could not read on his own.

Recorded Books:  Listening to audiobooks is a way to deliver words and ideas to a child with limited access to an adult reader.  Recorded books are wonderful, particularly when authors or professional actors read them.  Listening to stories being read aloud by master storytellers goes a long way to cultivate a love of literature.  The drawbacks are that the child cannot ask questions or engage with the recorded storyteller and it is more difficult to follow along with the words.  Additionally, recorded books also make it more difficult to maneuver around the pages (relocating a passage or a reference requires skill and patience).  Despite these drawbacks, recorded books remain a great supplemental way to keep a dyslexic reader well supplied with rich stories.

Bringing Dyslexic Children into the
Conversational World of Adults
Talking with Adults is a great way for dyslexic children to increase their vocabulary, fluency, and confidenceBeing included in adult conversations at the dinner table, in the car, or while the family is discussing an important issue benefits all children.  It is particularly valuable, however, to dyslexics.  They are the hunters and gatherers of the oral world.  Because it is harder for them to access knowledge by reading written information, they typically develop strong listening skills.  Engaging in sophisticated discussions helps them build their knowledge and word banks while developing transferrable conversational skills.  Talking with adults challenges children to use higher-level critical thinking skills and vocabulary.  Dyslexics crave context.  Conversations with adults offer children a context for ideas and words, two currencies that they will trade in throughout the remainder of their lives.

There are certain lines of questioning that are more likely to lead to rich conversations.  Asking for a retelling of events, or a summary of a day or an event, can help children practice two things that are challenging for dyslexics:  their word retrieval (remembering the best word to describe things) and sequencing (ordering events).   But in order to teach critical thinking skills, children need to be also asked for their opinions.  When children are asked how they feel about an issue, why they thought a problem occurred, or why they did or did not like something, they start to think differently.  Formulating reasons for their opinions requires children to make connections between their life experience and the experience of others, make predictions, and organize their thoughts.  Curiosity is another wonderful outcome.  When children become accustomed to being included in adult conversations, they realize they need content in order to engage productively.  That leads to questioning, increased awareness of their world, and an ambition to collect and absorb more information.  Most importantly, talking with adults offers children an opportunity to practice their oral expression, clarify application of new vocabulary words, and ask questions in a safe environment.  Teachers can always tell which of their students are included in family conversations.  They have an oral agility, comfort and confidence that distinguish them.


Radio offers a great way to learn for dyslexics and non-dyslexics alike.


The world of public radio is an amazing wealth of information about politics, culture, and current events.  Aside from the periodic story with a mature theme, children can start listening to public radio early on…and it helps.  Listening to radio news stories allows children to build knowledge and oral vocabulary by offering up complex words in a meaningful context.  Dyslexic children love being experts on content.  Through listening, the same child who struggles with mechanical skills during a school day is also capable of strutting his knowledge about an election or a cultural debate during discussion time.  NPR can be wonderful in this regard because it takes the listener deep into the subject and usually assumes very little working knowledge about most topics, making it a perfect introduction to many complex subjects for curious young people.  Programs like Talk of the Nation, Science Friday, Morning Edition, or Fresh Air (depending on the interview subject) can provide children access to thoughtful content and current debate connected to real world issues and cultural events.  Older children will be enriched by programs like All Things Considered, Wait, Wait; Don’t Tell Me, This American Life, and World News Reports from Public Radio International (PRI).  Radio is also wonderful because it is a shared experience.  Children who are listening at the kitchen table or, much more likely, in the car can engage with other listeners about the subject and ask questions or practice expressing their opinion.   Like most things that are good for dyslexics, listening to public radio is something that would benefit all students, young and old, solid reader or struggler, but it particularly enriches a student who craves real world content but lacks easy access through independent reading.

Vocabulary Building

Standardized tests, humanities teachers, and the culture at large reward those with a strong vocabulary.  On a subtle level, vocabulary is often used as an unconscious gauge to determine someone’s level of intelligence.  But much less subtly, having a strong working vocabulary helps one make meaning from the oral and written word.

It should be no surprise that dyslexic students struggle with written vocabulary.  Often complex words are challenging because of difficult pronunciations.  Dyslexic students may even know the written word when used in a context or read aloud, but on a written word list it means nothing.  Teachers often deliver vocabulary in unimaginative and problematic ways, but the good news is that there are many ways to supplement vocabulary instruction that will help every dyslexic child get more out of word studies.

Illustrating WordsIllustrating New words:   Vocabulary instruction is best when it involves having students draw a symbolic or realistic representation of the word.  It requires them to make meaning from a word in a way that memorization of a definition does not.  One can’t fake a picture.  The first step in generating an illustration involves grasping the meaning or the context of the word.  It doesn’t require artistic skill, but it does require thinking deeply.  Creating the image also stores the word’s meaning in a different part of the brain, generating a visual association.  Having students make pictorial flashcards can be a helpful strategy.  Making a little drawing next to the word and its definition is another good practice.

Standardized Test Preparation:  Publishers of test prep books are starting to catch on to the power of imagery to create additional associations for memorizing words.  There are many vocabulary book/flashcards available now that are organized around images and cartoons.  These tools can be helpful for dyslexic students preparing for standardized tests.

Acting Out a Word:  Dyslexics also benefit from acting out words.  Having to bring a word to life is a little like a game of charades.  The beauty of the game is that is requires the actor to understand the word in a deep way.  Acting out the meaning of a word is particularly helpful to a child who is a tactile learner (one who learns through using his body), but everyone benefits from creating additional associations for words.

Writing a story using vocabulary words:  It is amazing what a random word list can do to spark a child’s creativity.  When students are asked to use all the words on their vocabulary list to write a story, not only do they need to understand all the words in context, but students often come up with some very imaginative tales.  Dyslexics remember things much better when the information has a context or a narrative attached.

Connecting Ideas Builds Context and Supports Reading Success in Dyslexics

Context, Context, Context
If there is an overall theme to building word power for dyslexics, it is this:  context matters.  Dyslexic students understand and remember information by relating facts to larger ideas.  In order for information to be understood and remembered, it needs to be attached to an idea.  It’s no wonder that studies indicate that students who read a lot do better academically and have superior vocabularies.  Stories are wonderful for offering a context that supports memory and meaning for all students.

It is sobering, but not surprising, to know that how much time one spends reading influences academic achievement.  However, it is also a great relief to know that there are many ways to gather words even when reading is not easy.  Dyslexic children usually need additional support in their quest to find a way to gain access to the world of words, but in most cases, all that is required is an alternative path.


Orton-Gillingham reading tutor in Columbus OH: 614-579-6021. Or email

Help Kids With Tricky Homework

by Bob Cunningham at

[O-G reading tutor in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021]

At a Glance

  • It’s common for parents to have trouble helping kids with math homework.
  • Math is a process. It helps to walk through the process with your child.
  • Having examples of a similar math problem can help your child complete tough math homework.

Your child needs help with math homework, but you’re not sure how to do the math problems yourself. Does this sound familiar? You’re not alone. This happens a lot to parents.

Keep in mind that showing kids with learning or attention issues that it’s OK not to know the answers can be a good lesson. Here are some suggestions for approaching math homework with your child.

The Most Important Tip for Math Homework

It’s important not to spend more than 10 to 20 minutes working through math homework that neither you nor your child knows how to do. Spending more time than this will probably just be frustrating for you and your child without providing much benefit.

Try the steps outlined below. If they don’t work, it may be better for your child to get more instruction from a teacher in order to complete the homework.

5 Things to Do When Helping With Math Homework

Here are things to keep in mind when helping your child with tricky math homework.

  1. Start by acknowledging that not understanding what to do can be stressful.You can also say something positive to acknowledge that your child is trying. For example: “I’m proud that you know what the homework is and brought home the proper materials.”
  2. Ask your child to show you an example. This could include a math problem he did in class or a sample math problem from a textbook that includes the answer.
  3. If your child can’t find an example problem, try typing one of the homework problems into an internet search. Your child’s worksheet, textbook or notebook might have a title or math term to search for online. Your search will bring up a list of websites designed to help with math. Try a few sites if the first one doesn’t help.
  4. Once you’ve found a sample problem either from your child or online, ask how the teacher said to do the problems. Having a completed example in front of him can help your child recall any instructions and class discussions.
  5. Use the sample problem to figure out the process to follow to solve the problem. Make notes of each step your child remembers as you work your way through the first problem together. This reminds your child that math is a process. The list you create also gives your child something to take to the teacher to show his efforts, even if he doesn’t come up with the right answer. The teacher can use the list to correct the process so that your child can solve the problem in the future.

3 Things to Avoid When Helping With Math Homework

Here are three things to avoid doing when your child asks for math homework help.

  1. Try not to begin by asking your child what the teacher said to do. If your child remembered that, he likely wouldn’t be asking for your help.
  2. Try not to contact the teacher right away. Kids with learning and attention issues might give up easily or get angry if they’re not sure what to do. But it’s important for them to try to think of ways to approach the situation before going to the teacher.
  3. Try not to write a note that just says your child didn’t understand the assignment. Give the teacher information about what your child has trouble with, such as adding fractions. This can help find the “missing piece” to solve math problems.

For more help with sticky homework situations, here are tips on how to win homework battles. And visit Parenting Coach for ways to work with kids who give up too easily.

Key Takeaways

  • Try not to spend more than 10 to 20 minutes working through math homework that you and your child don’t know how to do.
  • It’s good to take notes while you’re trying to help solve a math problem.
  • If the process helps your child solve the math problem, great! If not, he can show these notes to his teacher for more instruction.

About the Author

Bob Cunningham


Orton-Gillingham reading tutor in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards, 614-579-6021. Or email

Anxiety: Why It’s Different From Stress

By Peg Rosen at

[for O-G reading tutor in Columbus OH: 614-579-6021; see more at the end]

At a Glance

  • Anxiety is not uncommon among children with learning and attention issues.
  • There’s a difference between anxiety and stress.
  • There are steps you can take to help your child manage anxiety.

There’s a math test tomorrow and 14-year-old Katherine should be studying. Instead she’s in bed. “I’m not taking the test! What happens if people see I can’t do it? What if I fail again?” she cries to her mom.

Anxiety is a sense of fear and worry. And it’s easy to understand why Katherine and other children with learning and attention issues are more likely to have anxiety than other children. Many have to work harder to keep up with their classmates. Other kids may bully them. Kids with learning and attention issues may not have the coping skills or maturity to handle these difficulties.

But anxiety can be managed. The key is noticing the signs and providing the tools your child needs to keep worry in check.

Read on to learn how anxiety is different from stress—and what might cause anxiety in kids with learning and attention issues. You’ll also learn when to get help for your child’s anxiety.

Anxiety vs. Stress

Stress and anxiety are closely related but are not the same thing.

  • Stress is a natural and normal response to a challenge. Our heart pumps faster and our palms sweat as we get ready to act.
  • Stress can make us feel nervous, angry, frustrated—even anxious.
  • Stress can have a positive effect. For example it can “pump up” a child to study for a test.
  • Stress can also be overwhelming. Feeling stress every day for a long time can take a toll on your body and mind.
  • Anxiety makes a kid feel worried and afraid. “What if?” is a common phrase for anxious kids.
  • The anxious feeling is often out of proportion to the real or imagined “threat” (for example, a child crying in terror because she’s afraid to enter a birthday party).
  • Anxious children may expect that something bad will happen and not believe they’ll be able to handle it. (That bee’s going to sting me and I’m going to die!)
  • The bad feelings associated with anxiety can come from something specific, like algebra. Or anxiety can be a more general sense of uneasiness that affects much of everyday life.

Common Causes of Anxiety

Just about everyone feels anxiety at some point. But kids with learning and attention issues may have extra reasons for feeling worried and afraid. These include:

  • Anxiety about not being able to keep up: Kindergarten is often when children with learning and attentions issues first show signs of anxiety. They may notice they can’t do what their friends can do. As they go through grade school, their anxiety may get worse if the skill gap widens between them and their classmates. Kids with anxiety issues may just generally be hard on themselves.
  • Anxiety about feeling different: Much of childhood is about fitting in. Children with learning and attention issues may worry that someone will notice if they get extra time on tests. They may fear someone will see them in the resource room. Teenagers may fear the other kids will find out they take medication or see a therapist. Children with social skills issues may want to be part of things but are afraid of being rejected.
  • Anxiety about the future: Teens with learning and attention issues may fear what’s after high school. “If I can’t pass a math test, how will I ever take an SAT?” Or they may worry they won’t be able to live away from home. They may avoid dealing with these issues by not taking tests or refusing to talk about their plans after graduation.

When Anxiety Becomes an Issue

When anxiety stops a child from enjoying life, that child may have an “anxiety disorder.” The most common forms of anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: Your child may seem “anxious by nature.” She’s worried about anything and everything. She fears someone will see her counting on her fingers. She won’t go in the backyard because there’s a beehive next door. She may have nightmares or trouble sleeping.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD often follow unusual routines or rituals. They believe that doing this will stop bad things from happening. For example, your child might wash her hands every time she thinks about something she’s afraid of.
  • Panic disorder: Your child is often terrified when there’s no real danger. At these times, she may find her heart beats fast; she has chest pain and difficulty breathing and may feel nausea or even a fear that she’s dying. Your child worries about having another episode and may even change her behavior because she’s so fearful of having another panic attack.
  • Separation anxiety disorder: Fear of separating from a parent is a natural part of childhood. It is considered a disorder if your child can’t get past this stage, continues to cling, and can’t separate easily from you at school or elsewhere.
  • Social anxiety disorder: Your child may be fearful of social situations. If you force her to go on a playdate or to a party, she may cry or throw a tantrum. She may be very shy around strangers and avoid playing with classmates.
  • Phobias: Your child may be extremely afraid of a particular thing, such as bees, the dark, or doctors. Her phobia may prevent her from getting involved in activities and cause her to scream or act out in other ways.

When to Seek Help

When anxiety stops your child from functioning or enjoying life, it’s probably time to find help. Your school psychologist might suggest someone who specializes in helping children with learning and attention issues. The therapist can work with you and your child to manage the anxiety. He may also refer you to a physician if he thinks medication will help.

Children with learning and attention issues have reasons to feel anxious. That doesn’t mean their anxiety can’t be managed. Learn about signs of anxiety and stress so you can identify these feelings in your child. From there you can work with your child and possibly a therapist to keep her worries in check.

Key Takeaways

  • Anxiety is a feeling of worry or fear.
  • Children with learning and attention issues often have anxiety about keeping up and fitting in with their peers.
  • When anxiety stops your child from enjoying life, it may be time to get outside help.

Peg Rosen has written for numerous digital and print outlets, including ParentCenter, WebMD, Parents, Good Housekeeping, More, Fitness and Martha Stewart.


Reading help in Columbus OH: Orton-Gillingham instruction.  Adrienne Edwards, 614-579-6021 or email

Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institutes

[O-G tutoring; in NW Columbus OH : 614-579-6021 ; see more below] 

2016 Summer Teacher Institutes

Teaching with Primary Sources

The Library of Congress is now accepting applications for its week-long summer institutes for K-12 educators. Held at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., this professional development opportunity provides educators with tools and resources to effectively integrate primary sources into K-12 classroom teaching, with an emphasis on student engagement, critical thinking, and construction of knowledge.

The Library is offering five programs this summer. Four of the programs are open to teachers and librarians across all content areas. One focuses on primary sources in science, technology and engineering. During each five-day institute, participants work with Library education specialists and subject-matter experts to learn effective practices for using primary sources in the classroom, while exploring some of the millions of digitized historical artifacts and documents available on the Library’s website.

General Institutes – open to K-12 educators across all content areas:

June 27-July 1
July 11-15
July 18-22
July 25-29

Science, Technology, and Engineering Institute 

recommended for K-12 educators who teach science, technology, or engineering, or collaborate with those who do

June 20-24

Tuition and materials are provided at no cost. Participants will be responsible for transportation to and from Washington, D.C., and any required overnight accommodations.

Applications are due February 29 and require a letter of recommendation. Read more:

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email

Succeed with Seven (7) College Tips

by Calvin Olsen at

[for O-G tutoring in Columbus OH: 614-579-6021]

Everyone knows how to succeed in college: Show up to class, master the material, earn good grades, and graduate.

Simple, right? Of course, it’s more complicated than that. While most students know the broad outlines of what a successful higher-ed experience looks like, few discover until they’re fairly advanced in their college careers (if ever) the day-to-day tips and tricks that will help them achieve their goals.

To help you advance along your learning curve, here are seven practices you can do right now to make the most of any college course.


Many professors, especially those leading discussion-based classes, consider students’ participation when calculating final grades. Their reasons for doing so vary, but most of the time it’s to counter the weight of the large assignments (in other words, participating generally ups your grade). Some professors may explain their participation policies in detail, but even then the participation component may be downright scary to a shy or underprepared student.

While it is important to engage with the professor and the material while you’re in class, don’t assume the only way to gain participation points is to raise your hand every day. No professor wants you to chime in about everything, so striking a balance is important.

When you’re not answering or asking questions, it’s a good idea to let your professor see you participating. On most days, it may be enough to provide physical proof that you are engaged. Sometimes simple acts like having the required texts and materials out to reference and taking occasional notes go a long way. Be aware of your body language, too. How you sit speaks volumes about how you feel: If you look like you are participating and actively listening, it’s likely that you actually are.


The best way to lose all your participation points (and probably fall into participation debt) is to be seen — and not even caught — staring at a screen as your professor takes mental notes during class. There’s an easy fix for this: Lay off the technology.

Although laptops, tablets, and smartphones allow you to type more quickly, take pictures of the board, and access Wikipedia for some quick (and probably shallow) knowledge, science shows that writing your notes by hand improves conceptual knowledge, which is the type you want to work on.

Besides, let’s be honest: Anything with a screen is just an expensive temptation. Only a handful of people on earth will fault you for finding Angry Birds more intriguing than ancient Mesopotamian agricultural practices, but that game keeps you from being mentally present in class. Put it away, and prove your participation.

And get over the idea that you can be sneaky about it. Your professor knows when you’re texting, and, among other tells, your classmates take sporadic glances at your laptop when you’re on social media (they tend not to when you’re typing notes). Spend a few dollars on a notebook and some pens — they may very well amount to the biggest ROI of the semester.


Your classmates are one of the best resources you’ve got. Use them. Even in courses in which all the work is individual, having someone on your team is always a good idea.

Get to class five minutes early, and make a few acquaintances. The fact that you’re all taking a class together gives you common ground right away, and if you play your cards right, you’ll end up with at least one ally. Once you get to know your classmates, you can help one another brainstorm project ideas, share notes when someone can’t make it to class, or talk things out when the material gets complicated.


Depending on the course, a study group may be a huge help. As papers, projects, midterms, and finals approach, your classmates may be keen to join forces — though perhaps slow to organize — so be the one who gets the ball rolling.

Study groups also invite a creative approach. My personal favorite is dividing up large chunks of reading, so each group member can read a part of the assigned text closely and provide others with a detailed summary and notes. This is a particularly useful strategy you can use to prepare for class, since you’ll arrive with a broad view of the material and specific knowledge about at least one aspect of it. (Just imagine the participation points you’d get by correcting the professor on a quotation.)


You wouldn’t think using a tutor would be included on a list of college hacks, but the fact of the matter is that most students simply do not take advantage of the help available to them. The list of reasons for this academic neglect ranges from ignorance about available resources to pride in tackling a project alone, but there is always assistance to be found if you seek it out.

Most universities and colleges (and even some departments) organize tutoring resources for students. Knowing what these are and how to use them will make your life much easier.

The most common of these resources is a writing center, where you can take rough drafts of papers and receive feedback. Another option is a TA session, where an upperclassman or graduate student working for the professor (and who probably knows how to get a good grade from that professor) runs a review or lab tutorial. Then there are librarians — people who are uniquely qualified to help you navigate your college library and find more sources of information than you even knew existed and help you use it to blow your professor’s (and your own) mind.

There are many, many types of student resources (learning centers, language centers, and offices of disability services, to name just a few), so keep your eyes peeled.


If you have an extenuating circumstance — a real one, not “my plane ticket home for Christmas is for December 1, so I can’t take the final” — or a disability of any kind, your professor will certainly accommodate you as much as possible. Your professor is interested in you as a person and knows that life can be messy, so just give as much notice as you can. If you need additional help, reach out; however, if you’re asking for a deadline extension because you didn’t make time to complete your work, don’t — and instead accept the consequences of your own poor planning.

Telling your professor you’re “busy” is an insult. Five midterms, two papers, and a presentation in one week do not qualify a student as busy — especially not when she’s received detailed syllabi at the beginning of a semester explaining what to expect and when to expect it. Professors have hundreds of students, multiple classes to teach (sometimes at different schools), office hours to hold, publication deadlines they could be fired for missing, departmental assignments, and many more obligations.

If you still need an extension, then be gracious about the lower grade you’ll probably earn in exchange.


Grades are a motivation for most students, but not always in a beneficial way. The key is to keep yourself informed. Read the syllabus thoroughly so you know your professor’s grading policy, and use graded assignments as tools to increase your success in class. If you want to discuss a graded assignment, particularly one whose score is lower than what you wanted, do so in person with your professor or TA.

Regardless of how you feel about your grade, seek to understand before you seek to be understood. Most professors will tell you how and why you earned a given grade, and provide you with advice about how you can improve in the future. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that most professors won’t change your grade unless they’ve made an error. (Some reserve the right to change it in either direction, so be mindful of that, too.)

There is nothing wrong with disputing a grade, but there is a wrong way to go about it. Too many students show up angry or otherwise upset and demand a change rather than arriving ready to present a logical argument and receive instruction for the future.

Chances are, you won’t change your professor’s mind, but be prepared to make your case, and don’t get discouraged if your grade remains the same. You’re in college to learn, and part of that process can involve getting a bad grade here and there.


Are you ready to take Calvin Olsen’s advice and find a tutor? First, check out these tutoring resources, and then use the Noodle online and in-person tutor search to help you find the ideal instructor for your academic needs.

Calvin Olsen holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Boston University, where he received a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship. His poetry and translations have appeared in The Missouri Review Online, Tar River Poetry, Nashville Review, Catch & Release, Salamander.

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email