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Re-thinking the Academic Three R’s

August 24, 2021

Despite what social media might have you believe, the academic Three R’s, Reading, (w)Riting and (a)Rithmetic, are still the foundation for all learning. Without these essential skills, students will not have the building blocks for the higher-order thinking that drives 21st century skills like computation, communication and collaboration.

This back-to-school, students of all ages might struggle to meet grade level standards. The natural reaction might be to load up on more practice — make up for lost time during virtual learning! While that’s an understandable response, the reality is more might not be better. Instead, students might need something a little different.

Consider the Cognitive Three R’s

For students at risk of falling behind, we’d strongly encourage you to consider the Three R’s from cognitive science, that is Reasoning, Remembering and (Self-)Regulation. These essential skills are at the core of all academic performance. Understanding and addressing the cognitive Three R’s will be the most efficient way to accelerate mastery of the traditional, academic Three R’s.

1. ReasoningWriting-Drawing 2

There’s no single right way to learn but all too often new concepts are presented to students in only one way. And if it’s not the way a student learns best, there’s a good chance they’re going to struggle. Every student has a strongest reasoning skill: verbal, abstract or spatial. And every concept can be presented in a way that favors a student’s strongest skill. Identify which of a student’s reasoning skills is strongest, and then teach to the student’s strength. You’ll be happy to know this approach works across subjects.

Memory Strategies 52. Remembering

Students have grown up relying on their calculators and Googling everything. It’s easy to believe that spending time memorizing vocabulary, formulas and key facts is no longer important. Not true.

Learning is and always will be an incremental process. If the foundational information isn’t firmly in a student’s memory, it’s a lot harder to learn the next concept. For example, reading and writing begin with sight words but quickly require mastery of new vocabulary, spelling and subject-specific facts. All math relies heavily on math facts, but knowing properties and formulas is also critical. It’s true that if a student has knowledge gaps accessible tools will help, but using strategies that ensure retention will be far more effective for the long-term.

3. (Self-)Regulation

How a student manages emotions, thoughts, and behaviors (like getting homework done!) determines if they are able to “show what they know” in and out of the classroom. You might be surprised how many students with strong Reasoning and Remembering struggle with Self-Regulation. Their often inconsistent performance can easily be mistaken for a student who doesn’t understand, is disengaged, or lacks persistence. Students who struggle with Self-Regulation often don’t need more practice. Rather, they need an environment and organizational tools that allow them to focus so they can show more by doing less.Homework Tips 6

We understand there’s a lot of apprehension that there will be larger than usual learning gaps this back-to-school season — that all teachers are looking for the most efficient way to help all of their students. For some students more practice will be the answer. However, for many more students, particularly the most vulnerable, more of the same type of practice isn’t likely to move the needle far enough or quickly enough. But there are targeted approaches that will.

MindPrint can help measure and support the cognitive Three R’s for all students ages 8+. Schools and tutors should email us for more information. Parents can sign-up directly on our website. MindPrint is always here to support teachers, tutors and parents to help the students they love, so every child can reach their full potential.


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