Category Archives: Learning Skills

What’s a hat worth? Why customer service has no price

With customer service , it’s the little things.

Left my hat at the restaurant the other. I left it because I broke routine (not good): I usually hang my hat on my chair in a restaurant, but this time too many people kept bumping and knocking it on the floor, so my wife grabbed it and set it by her against the wall. Of course we both forgot it. Back home, of course, “Where’s my hat!”

So I called the restaurant. “Can’t hear you, too much noise,” the guy said. So, I repeated, louder, “I left my hat. In the back right room, against the wall. Ask our waiter. He knows. “Two seconds later, “Sorry, no hat here.” Click.

So I called back. Same guy. “I need my hat. Please ask the waiter where our table was, and it’ll be right there.”  Nope, he’s done with me: “Call back after two O’clock, and maybe the cleaning crew will find it.”  Click.

Ten minutes later, I walk into the restaurant straight to our table, and the guy sitting by the wall kindly reaches down and finds my hat.

Mr. Restaurant Manager, you just lost a client.

My thoughts for the manager include:

  • If you don’t care about my hat, do you care about the quality of my food? Or the accuracy of the check?
  • You have no idea why that hat is important to me. You didn’t need to ask, but you ought to have assumed it since I took the time to call you.
  • Since you asked, here’s why: rushing and discombobulated (and breaking habits) I left my favorite hat in a cab at the airport. (Won’t use that cab service again: they just kept my hat). My wife knows I love that hat. Without asking me about it, she bought me another one and carefully packed and brought it back to me onboard another flight. That hat is her expression of love.
  • I want my hat back.

The Little Things Matter

So, Mr. Restaurant Manager, that hat is more important to me than that okay meal I had at your place. Nice place, enjoyed it. Very busy, must be popular. Hope you stay that way, but you’ll have to stay that way without me.

If you think I’m petty over my hat, perhaps, but here’s a thought about “a little thing” from a member of an organization that truly needs the little things done right or lives will be lost:

Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Viet Nam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task–mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs–but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

From commencement address to graduates at his alma mater, University of Texas at Austin by former SEAL, Admiral William H. McRaven.

Our Students, Our Service

I hope that at The A+ Club, we are getting the little things, as well as the big things, done right. I hope so, and if we’re not I should hope to hear from our clients. We can’t nor do we want to do everything, as our service has a specific scope, purpose, and price. But…

We sure want to do the things we do– right. Especially the little things, because I know that they can matter the most.

I hope our students take this to heart, as well. Think over Admiral McRaven’s advice: big success starts small.

Did you make your bed today?

– Michael

PS Here for my hat from National Geographic store. I love my hat! (And my wife.)

Distractions & procrastination: can you pass the marshmallow test?

Would you take the one marshmallow now or wait for two later?

Don’t let the marshmallow be a distraction!

Procrastination is all about putting off for later something you don’t want to do in exchange for feeling better now.

In the classic Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, Professor Walter Mischel offered young children a sort of opposite problem: feeling stress now by putting off something you want in order to get more of it later.

He gave children a marshmallow and then told them that if they didn’t eat it now, in fifteen minutes they’d get another one. But if they ate the first one, they wouldn’t get another one at all. (Here for How to give the marshmallow test.)

Seems kinda cruel to me, and if I were a kid in the experiment, I’d have eaten the 1st marshmallow then held the researcher for ransom for five more — and now.

Impulse control v instant gratification

The point is, however, that the ability to withhold the impulse for instant gratification is a powerful life skill. Children in the experiment who were able to hold off for two marshmallows were found, ten and twelve years later, to be “significantly more competent” than other adolescents and scored higher on SAT tests.

Continue reading

Teaching it twice: ask your teachers to explain it again & in a different way

Can a teacher really expect you to learn it the first time?

Teachers forget that what they’re teaching they already know and that it’s usually the first time you’ve ever heard it.

This is why when a teacher is making sense to you it’s probably because  you already know it. At the A+ Club we call it, “PK” for”Prior Knowledge.” Learning is the process of turning new information into PK, and it takes explanation, practice, and application.

And you need to build that knowledge in steps, turning each new thing into the Prior Knowledge you need to understand the next.

Some teachers are good at engaging students in this process; others not so good. But don’t depend on good teachers alone: please, please don’t let your teachers get in the way of your learning. It’s your grade, not theirs, so don’t just accept “I don’t get it.”

The Most Important Thing in the World (to a teacher)

Teachers love their subjects and speak its language. To them it’s the most important thing in the entire world, and you’d better know it, too, or else your life will be ruined, or worse.

They forget that you have six other subjects and personal interests that have nothing to do with their subject. And you ought not forget that you don’t pay their salaries. You’re not going to get your teacher fired, and your not going to reduce their pay if they’re not doing a good job.

What you can do is take control of the teacher yourself.

Take control of your teachers!

As Master Teacher Liddy Allee-Coyle, reminds us, teachers need to be reminded that students don’t always follow what they’re saying.

By the time you’re hearing it, the teacher may have taught it three times that day, or if it’s the first, the teacher may not yet have figured out the best way to present it. Either way, teachers are going to do what they always do, and if that isn’t what you need, then you need to speak up.

Here are some things you can do to get in control of your teachers:

  • Insist that  your teacher explain it slowly, clearly, and in different ways. Say,
    • “Please repeat that, only use different words this time.”
    • “Can we practice that together before we move on?
  • Ask your teacher to allow the students to explain it to each other.
    • Maybe your neighbor gets it and can say it in a way you’ll understand.
    • If you can’t explain it to someone else, then you don’t get really it yourself.
  • Insist that your teacher allow you to learn it and not measure you on that learning just once on a quiz or exam.
    • If it’s so important, don’t they want you to really learn it?
    • Remind them.
  • Above all, ask them to explain it again, and differently, this time

Remember, it’s your education, your grades, and your future at stake here. Don’t give in to not knowing.

Just ask your teacher to say it one more time.

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Why homework matters: top five (5) reasons you probably should do your homework

Sorry, but homework really does matter.

Annoying, yes. Boring, usually. Important for your academic success? Very much so.

See below for some important reasons why you probably should be doing your homework. Continue reading

Three Simple Ways to Make Memorization Easier from The A+ Club

While it is best to retain information through a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter at hand,

sometimes that’s asking too much.

Particularly for young students who cannot yet choose their field of study, passing a test might call for some rigorous and effective memorization. The A+ Club from LLC helps students learn the executive function skills many lack through our online tutoring and mentoring programs in a variety of subjects. Expert educators also offer advice and strategies, such as the following memorization tips, to help students help themselves.

Check out some of The A+ Club’s tips for retaining information: Continue reading

“Roam schooling” & online tutoring: learning without barriers?

globe_learningIs online tutoring & digital learning really going to work?

Fluff or substance? Revolution or fad? Where is online tutoring and digital learning going to take us?

When I was in K-12 school in the 1970s, mostly, education was being turned over. The students had no idea, as it was just happening to us. But what is education today was largely defined by the research, theories, experiments, and, mostly, fads of that period. Continue reading

Goal Setting by Nick Goodall

Scoring Soccer Goal

We humans are goal-oriented creatures

– we work best when we have a target, something to aim for. Despite that, the majority of people don’t have clearly defined goals, and the majority of people aren’t achieving what they want, either. Goals are what can set you apart – in your studies and in your life – so taking the time to set, stick to and celebrate them is beyond profitable.

“Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.” – Fitzhugh Dodson

Taking the time to map and work out the following three phases is something which can excel you on your journey. A*’s become that much easier, as does school, simply by being clear about what you want and then taking the time to get there.


The first step is to create them. Easy to do, easy not to do. I wrote a comprehensive Guide to Goal Setting, but here I’ll outline a few key principles:

  • Your goals. It’s important to aim for what you want to achieve, not what someone else wants. Your goals should inspire and motivate you to take action in order to make them a reality.
  • Specific goals. The clearer you are, the clearer the target, and that makes for straightforward achievement. Try to include numbers, such as a certain mark on your next test.
  • Time-bound goals. The all important question: when? To quote C. Northcote Parkinson: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” In other words – the more time you have, the longer it’ll take to achieve your goal. Push yourself!

Just creating goals will make you part of an elite few, so congratulations if you’ve come that far. However, this is just the beginning, and coming up is the most important phase:


This is the critical part – progress. Without it you’re but a sitting duck, looking at your target without moving towards it.

Saying it’s the most important doesn’t mean it’s the most boring and effort-intensive, because if you’ve set some inspiring goals – this will be a walk in the park. In fact, being productive – progressing – is a fundamental key to lifelong fulfillment. If you don’t produce, you won’t be happy, so taking the time to produce what you want is well worth your while. There will be ups and downs, but the long-term satisfaction is better than any quick-fix you may find.

Do this for long enough and you can move onto phase 3:

Achieve (and Celebrate)

This, contrary to belief, is not the most rewarding part. The most enjoyment is to be found in phase 2 – progressing, but here you can relax (for a short while) and celebrate your achievement!

It’s important to not linger too long, for you’ll get bored pretty quickly, but it’s a good idea to celebrate the things you’ve done. People often sell themselves short of what they’ve accomplished, but whatever goal you’ve achieved – it’s a great accomplishment.


Thought it was over? Well, almost – just repeat the first 3 phases. Once you’ve celebrated, you can go back to the drawing board and dream up some new goals to inspire you yet again!

If goal setting is something you’ll stick to (for life, preferably), I can guarantee the astronomical rewards. Whatever your goal – straight A*’s, make a million or run an ultra marathon – remember that’s it’s possible, for truly anything is within the limits of your imagination and the laws of nature.

Be Ambitious!

Nick Goodall is a student of life, self-development addict and author of The Student Manual, a fluff-free guide to help students awaken their potential and take on the world.


The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Prior Knowlege (PK), relevancy & teacher expectations

grades_F_MH900399544“Why’s that teacher do that?”

Ever had a teacher that makes no sense? Ever not understood why the grade was what it was? Ever wanted to just given up on it? As a teacher, every day I wrote up my lesson plans starting with two reminders:

1)  Never Assume Prior Knowledge (PK)!
2) Learning = Relevancy!

The first was a reminder to myself that students may not know all the words coming out of my mouth. I was always reminded of the importance of using words kids know whenever we’d have another non-teacher, adult speak to the class. They always used words and references that the kids hadn’t a clue about. The second reminder was to scold myself into always trying to make whatever we did in class meaningful and relevant to the kids. I did nothing in class without first explaining to the kids why were were doing it. If a student sees no purpose in what is going on in class, it will be very difficult for the student to find success.

Only the most motivated, grade-oriented children can get away with it. Most kids just turn off the teacher like a bad TV channel when it no longer seems important or they don’t know what the teacher is saying. For teachers, these are difficult to attain and maintain on a daily basis. For students, the only way to get a good grade is to keep up with the teacher. It’s impossible to do, though, if none of it makes any sense. It’s like that great Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson in which he compares what the owner says to the dog with what the dog hears: Owner says: “Okay, Ginger, I’ve had it! You say out of the garbage. Understand, Ginger?…” Dog hears: “blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah GINGER…”


“PK!” for Prior Knowledge was a constant slogan in my classroom. Learning is the act of taking New Knowledge and turning it into Prior Knowledge. (Then students get graded on that learning, which is where grades are supposed to come from; please our The Learning Process page for more on how grades don’t always measure learning.) If a student hears a word or concept from a teacher that has no place in the student’s mind, whatever the teacher is doing and everything else that follows it  will be lost. If the math teacher is speaking Chinese, and the student has no PK in Chinese, there will be no learning. Simple, right?

Well, we don’t need to exaggerate for the daily examples of how a lack of PK can leave a student lost in what the teacher is trying to teach. Advancing across every subject there is some idea, word, or concept that is necessary to know in order to understand the next thing. Additionally, those words and concepts must be understood in context, or in the situation in which they are being used by the teacher. You can understand every word in chapter five of a novel and still have no idea what’s going on there if you haven’t read chapters 1-4.  In my history classes, I stressed maps, because knowing where some place is is fundamental to learning more about it. While most kids hated doing my maps, those who could not recognize places on maps were always those who had trouble developing other, relevant information about a place. In other words, geographic PK is fundamental for learning history. Without it, the rest becomes “blah blah blah.”


The reason why generally kids do better in subjects they like is that they already know more about that subject, i.e., they bring more PK to it. We all know that “know it all kid” who has a an answer to every question and whose hand is constantly in the air. These kids are excited and eager to share what they know because they already know it and it’s easy for them, and they can grasp what the teacher is saying. When you already know it, it’s more relevant. Obviously a student who speaks Chinese will find more relevancy in our math class that’s being taught in Chinese than the other students who don’t speak Chinese. But same thing for every kid in every other class: if you know it, it’s more meaningful.

The very best teachers will always build on student PK and relevancy in order to bring them to new learning. I loathe teaching strategies that are designed to teach through student’s perspective. Makes me want to scream when I hear that teachers need to “speak their language” or appeal to the experiences. I find it condescending and demeaning to kids, and, besides, if we are going to teach them through their own world view, should they be teaching us? Instead, we need to bring kids into the relevancy of our topics by developing PK and NK through genuine learning. One of my proudest moments as a teacher was a near screaming match amongst my 9th grade history class arguing over Pre-Pottery Neolithic Natufian society. That they found relevancy in the PPN period mean that they had not only built PK on the topic, they found it meaningful and, thus, relevant.

Teacher Expectations

At a minimum, students cannot learn and cannot be accurately measured, aka graded, on their learning if they are unaware of teacher expectations. The greater the relevancy the more the students will identify and follow teacher expectations. Regardless, a teacher who can develop student engagement but does not clarify expectations will show lower results than from a teacher who is clear in expectations. All the content relevancy in the world is useless if grading expectations and due dates are unclear. The best teachers have who is explicit and consistent expectations, especially on due dates, assessment guidelines, and general instructions.

I always enjoyed giving open ended assignments, because it drives the kids who are good at following instructions nuts, while empowering those who are less particular about instructions. The kids who were totally disengaged, of course, didn’t know where to begin. But the kids who wanted instructions felt constrained and would often plead, “What am I supposed to do?” Whereas the other kids loved it: “What, I can do what I want on this?” Yeah. But to get the good grade on everything else, you’d better follow instructions.

So here’s the crux: some teachers are better at developing PK, relevancy, and setting expectations in students than others. Some kids find some teachers better than others, and some kids are better at some subjects than others. When we ask kids about their “best” and “worst” classes and “favorite” and “least favorite” teachers, usually the teachers align with the classes they enjoy, so the “best” class is also the “favorite” teacher, or the “worst” class is the “least favorite” teacher. We do hear about a “worst” class with a “favorite” teacher, but we rarely hear about a “best” class with a “least favorite” teacher. To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, we can’t fool all the kids all the time, just some of them some of the time.

Now, the student responsibilities

When students come to us for help, we often hear all about the problems with the teacher or the subject. Usually they’re right. Kids make great critics. But if a teacher is deficient (“I hate her”), if a subject is irrelevant (it’s “stupid”), it doesn’t matter. Ultimately, it’s the teacher grading the student, not the other way around. If, as I’d like it to be, students hired, fired, and set teacher pay, then students could have lots of say on the whats and hows of teaching. But that’s not going to happen.

So we work with our students on engaging their classes with what they have. You’re in the class. Done. What’s your goal? Well, if it’s to get a bad grade, you don’t need any help. But if you want a better grade, then let’s talk some strategies on how to take advantage of what your teacher is offering, primarily those expectations for good grades. If you end up liking the class, great, but that’s not the point. The point is to make it meaningful for what it is, and to get out of it what you need: better grades. Once you clarify your teacher expectations, engage the learning the teacher wants from you, seek help where you need it, and make it important enough to do the work, your grade will go up. It’s up to you.

We give our kids the tools they need to succeed even in classes they don’t like. We help them track their assignments, we offer on-demand tutoring, we review essays, and we arrange for study sessions. Even with all that, it’s up to the student. But when they do figure this out, it’s magic, and grades go up.  Well, not magic, but it’s so great to see!

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

The Learning Process

Or, where do grades come from?

Where do grades come from? Click here to view my Learning Process flow chart. Grades and learning are not necessarily related… Ideally they are, but what, really, do grades measure?

Have you ever considered what, exactly, do grades measure?

They measure something, but can they really measure everything? And of what they do measure, is it fair, is it meaningful, and does it represent what we really want students to achieve?

At the A+ Club we work with students to appreciate what grades are really about. The first thing to understand is that grades do not measure, do not indicate intelligence. Nor do grades necessarily measure learning. Whatever schools have done to lead any students or parents to believe this need to just disappear. Of course students have different intelligence. But they also have different skills Good at math, bad at drawing. Good at football, bad at reading. Good at singing, good at science, too. Whatever, these are all different types of intelligences, as intelligence is purely contextual. I do wish I was a math wizard like my astrophysicist brother. Ain’t gonna happen, so I do what I can with what I’ve got. That doesn’t mean I can’t get a good grade in Physics. So how would I go about getting a good grade in Physics if I’m bad at math?

I love this c.1910 French vision of the future of education. Would that it were so easy!
I love this c.1910 French vision of the future of education. Would that it were so easy!

First some vocabulary:

  • Assessment: a measurement of something, such as a grade on an exam.
  • Grades: assessments of student performance based upon certain criteria, hopefully not arbitrary
  • Learning Expectation: what a teacher expects students to learn
  • Relevancy: the idea that something is important or meaningful
  • Prior Knowledge (PK): what you already know
  • New Knowledge (NK): new things you learn
  • Internalization: the process of turning NK into PK

Grades as measurements

If we consider that grades measure something but not everything, then we must first consider what it is that grades measure. If a teacher gives a grade for “participation,” what does that mean? Is it an impression? A concrete measurement. Or is it a measurement of a process, such as a requirement to show the steps taken to answer a math equation as opposed to just answering the equation. When teachers outline assessment expectations in advance, we call this a “rubric.” Ideally, every little grade has a clear rubric or clear understanding by students about its expectations.

Just about every student has a story about getting a zero on something because they forgot to put their name on an assignment. It was done. It was even done well, and the student learned. But the student got a zero. So, what’s the grade about? Well, putting your name on the page is part of the grade. (Some teachers throw out un-named assignments; I always keep them, as it killed me that a kid did the work but I can’t reward it because I don’t know who it is!).

The next lesson here is to follow instructions!!! Students who are impatient with process often skip the instructions and then miss out on important steps that lead to low scores. You may have had one of those teachers who puts a “trick question” into an exam just to see if the student read everything, such as “skip the next two questions for extra credit.” I get the idea and have tried it myself. Ultimately, though it is not fair, but the sentiment is true: “read me,” screams the test!

Grades reflect so much more than just learning. A few things that go into most school assessments that are so basic we don’t often think about them. But if we do, we are more cognizant of what it takes to get a good grade:

  • timeliness
  • completion
  • name
  • instructions

If you really consider it, there is far less “learning” in a grade than there is “process” and just meeting teacher expectations.

Student Success

At The A+ Club, we employ these ideas very simply:

  • are you aware of what is expected of you?
  • what learning is expected?
  • are you being graded on timeliness and completion?
  • what process is expected?

That last, process, is behind most low grades. Many kids believe they could just ace the test and get a good grade without having done any homework. Often enough they are correct in this. But hardly always, and it is always the case that students are graded on process as much as learning. The trick is for students to make it meaningful enough to bother to do it, or, better, to want to do it. The best teachers make everything meaningful to students, but that’s a rarity. Instead, kids have to take up relevancy upon themselves.

Our job at The A+ Club is to provide kids with the tools and strategies to make their work meaningful, if only to get a higher grade.

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.