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How to get better grades

PAC speaker provides brain-boosting tips to students and parents

Sometimes, no matter how hard a kid studies, he just can't achieve those high grades. Not to worry, Terry Small has the answer.

The former teacher and now full-time speaker provided more than 100 parents, students and teachers with brain boosting techniques during a presentation hosted by the Don Ross Secondary School Parent Advisory Council Tuesday, Feb. 16.

Small spoke about the latest brain research and how these findings have important implications on how to study more effectively. He believes that all individuals possess the capacity to be brilliant. A genius is simply an individual who sees things that others don't see - on this point Small is emphatic.

"You are all geniuses."

Small explained that humans have approximately the same number of brain cells, but it's the connections we generate between these cells that are most important. The statistics are staggering: we use only one per cent of our overall brain capacity.

Small said students can achieve better results with less studying time just by changing the way they think about their brains, and he offers a fresh approach to study skills. But effective studying starts with the development of a study strategy.

Parents are encouraged to get engaged in their child's learning.

"The research shows us that when parents play an active role in developing the study strategy, grades go up," said Small.

Helping kids set realistic goals and scheduling a study time can take the struggle out of homework. The simple act of writing information down, whether a goal or notes from a class, increases recall by 50 per cent.

"Our brain thinks in pictures," said Small. "You can increase your retention of information by 13 per cent when you add one additional colour to your class notes."

Engaging the brain more effectively can be done by using all three neural pathways: auditory, visual and kinesthetic. Reading aloud, and while standing up, makes for more active studying. In fact, throughout the presentation, Small encouraged his audience to take a brain break every 20 minutes. One-minute breaks, of cross-lateral body movement can double your immediate brain capacity. Breaks are important because they re-energize the brain before it starts to wander.

"Have you ever read to the bottom of the page and then suddenly stopped wondering what it was that you just read?" he asks.

Small reassures students and parents that this is normal brain behaviour. Distraction is a way for our brains to organize and filter incoming information.

"Our brains are programmed for on thing and that is to keep us alive."

The brain's number one job is to ensure that we have food, sleep and pleasure. Everything we do is considered by our brains as either a threat or an opportunity. This stimulus and response mechanism is hard-wired into our brains, and understanding how it works can help us manage our brains more effectively.

"If you want to figure out what information to study for your test, you need to think like a teacher," said Small.

He encourages students to use a question and answer form of note taking. Asking a question triggers that stimulus response mechanism and enhances the learning. Studying with cue cards - answers on one side, questions on the other - is a fast way to get information into long term memory.

Small is a popular and entertaining presenter as well as an expert when it comes to study skills. But even the expert reminds us that these are tools that need to be applied in a consistent manner. The research findings suggest that 99 per cent of our brainpower remains untapped and is there for us to harness. The brain, like any other muscle in our body, needs to be exerted on a daily basis in order to promote mental fitness.