Posted in Personalized Learning, Strengths

Focus On Solutions, Part 2: Parents

The last article was about the benefits and effectiveness of focusing on solutions rather than blaming and punishing. Here is an example of how this might work between a parent and child.

Let’s say your child isn’t turning in homework. A blame-focused approach would be to label this as misbehavior, discover what your child did instead of doing homework, make threats, and determine some kind of consequence for the misbehavior. The interchange might go like this: “You are being so irresponsible. What are you doing during the time you say you’re doing homework? You are never going to amount to anything if you don’t learn how to play by the rules. I’m taking away your phone privileges until you take care of this problem.”

A solution-focused approach starts with the situation at hand, does not label or threaten, and invites the child to be part of the solution. The interaction might go like this: “When I heard that you weren’t turning in your homework, I felt disappointed. You must be a little anxious yourself about getting behind in your work. What do you think could be done about the situation?”

Your tone, facial expression, and posture are important; avoid sarcasm and indignation. If you are truly asking for participation in the problem-solving process, regardless of how old the child is, she will have useful ideas about how to do things differently. Sometimes the ideas can be quite silly and far-fetched. Accept those, too. If you collect four or five ideas from your child, add a couple of your own, and maintain a friendly tone throughout, you and your child are likely to come up with something that will work for each of you. A solution determined in this way has a longer lasting effect than a punishment does.

Children who have a Supportive Disposition or Interactive-Others Talent will probably enjoy solution-focused problem solving the most. This kind of working together meets their needs for interaction, for talking things over, and for being part of a team. Organized Disposition children will probably enjoy this process, also, especially if you make lists together of different solutions and check them off as you eliminate them.

Young people with a Spontaneous Disposition can enjoy problem solving if it doesn’t take too long, they are able to joke around, and if it can be fun. If your child has a Humor Talent, joking around is essential. Kids with Spontaneous Disposition or a Humor Talent need to be acknowledged for their cleverness.

Imaginative and Curious Disposition kids as well as those with Spatial Talent are likely to want to draw or scribble during the problem-solving process. The Imaginative and Curious kids might even want time to think things over and make final decisions at another meeting.

Finding solutions together is an effective way to share responsibility for the outcomes of difficult situations. Don’t be trapped into thinking that you must be in charge and know all of the answers for how to do things right. Don’t be tricked into thinking that it is your job to find out who is wrong and who should be punished. As you work together with your child to find solutions, you will be pleasantly surprised at the changes that occur!

In Part 3 we will look at a classroom example.

adapted from Discover Your Child’s Learning Style by Willis and Hodson, copyright 1999 – 2017
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Posted in Personalized Learning, Strengths

Focus On Solutions, Part 1

Whether you are a teacher in the classroom, a tutor, or a parent-teacher at home, your basic job is to coach your child or student toward successful learning experiences and nurture the eager, self-directed learner in your child or student.

Athletic coaches understand this principle. They coach their team members to accomplish their personal best and help them get to their next levels of accomplishment. Your role as a learning coach is much the same—advancing one step at a time as the student is ready to take it. To help you do this we offer our F.I.T.T.T. Principles.

The beginning of a new school year is a good time to take stock and review the F.I.T.T.T. Principles:

  • Focus on Solutions
  • Identify Goals
  • Track Successes
  • Take the Pressure Off
  • Teach to Their Strengths (the way they learn best)

Let’s begin with Focus On Solutions.

Solution-focused kids are much more likely to feel capable in a learning situation, while blame-focused kids are often afraid and withdrawn, resistant and/or rebellious.

Solution-focus keeps attention on how a problem can be handled in the present. Blame-focus brings up the past and tries to find out who or what caused the problem and what “should be done to” the person who caused the problem.

Kids who are raised with solution-focused problem solving instead of consequences or punishment develop the ability to keep going in the face of setbacks. Athletes are well trained at solution-focused problem solving. Every roadblock to the basket, the goal, or the finish line is faced positively and energetically to keep momentum going toward the goal. The belief is always that the roadblock is surmountable.

When parents see their kids’ school problems as surmountable— that there can be a positive way to work with them—they can stop negative patterns of interaction and teach their kids how to find win–win outcomes. They also put relationships with their kids on a footing that makes working with them not only more effective, but more fun.

Continued in Part 2

adapted from Discover Your Child’s Learning Style by Willis and Hodson, copyright 1999 – 2017
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Posted in Learning Styles

Small Changes = Big Results

Marcy stared at the worksheet on her desk and sighed. She just couldn’t figure out her homework instructions. Her mom told her to read the instructions again, although this never helped. Eventually, as usual, her mom ended up explaining what needed to be done. Every day Marcy struggled with her homework, and every day she ended up fighting with her mom about it.

When I checked Marcy’s learning styles, I discovered that one of her Modality strengths is Verbal. Because of this I suspected that she needed to hear her own voice in order to understand what is written. I encouraged her to read written instructions out loud – more than once if needed – and it worked! She began to understand the instructions well enough to complete most of her homework without any help. This in turn made her much more confident about approaching all of her work.

Jim could not memorize the math facts. His parents had tried flash cards, timed drills, offered rewards and taken away privileges. Nothing worked. Jim was miserable. Every Friday, the day of the math test, he developed a horrible headache and was sick to his stomach. His grades were beginning to slip in other classes as well as math.

Jim’s learning styles assessment revealed that he has a Spontaneous Disposition and is talented in areas involving Body Coordination. I suggested that he practice reciting the facts while bouncing a ball or jumping on a trampoline. This met Jim’s need for learning through movement; he began remembering more and more of the math facts and slowly his scores improved!

Lydia was having great difficulty with the concept of fractions. In our first tutoring session we sat on the floor – Lydia, mom, and I – and I brought out a set of foam fraction circles. These are cut into different numbers of slices, like you would slice a pie or pizza.

I asked Lydia to make circles out of the different parts. Each time she formed a circle she positioned it over another one she had already formed. Now she could see that they all made a whole circle – 3 slices of 3, 5 slices of 5, 2 slices of 2, etc. – and I could see the delighted look on her face!

All of a sudden Lydia burst out saying: “How come math is fun here?” Her mom was surprised to see such a change in just a few minutes of “playing” with the foam pieces.

Each person, child and adult, learns in a unique way. The idea that people are different in fundamental ways is not new. The ancient Greeks developed a system for classifying people into four types or personalities based on body chemistry, which was thought to determine temperaments, mental qualities, and abilities. Since ancient times people have been interested in finding out more about how these differences affect us. Over the years, it has become more apparent that fundamental differences, or styles, not only influence our behaviors, but greatly affect how we learn.

The work of researchers and educators has raised awareness of the importance of individual styles for learning. As a result, the terms temperament, modality, multi-sensory, emotional intelligence, and multiple intelligences have become familiar to parents and teachers as well as the crucial role of learning styles in educating our young people.

The examples above demonstrate that often it doesn’t take much to shift a student from non-success to success for a particular area of learning.

Small changes can make a big difference. Stay tuned for more examples!

copyright 2020 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis
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Posted in Personalized Learning, Reading

When Students Have Difficulty Learning to Read

If your child is having trouble learning to read, it means that child is either not developmentally ready or is not a print learner or both. Please, don’t jump to labels – like learning disability or dyslexia. And please don’t force it. That will only lead to the student deciding that reading is too hard and “I’ll never get it,” or “I’m too stupid to learn,” or “I hate reading and never want to read.”

These beliefs and feelings can last for years and continue to haunt people as adults.

Also, please note that most reading-spelling programs and curriculum are very poorly put together and too confusing for non-print learners. There is a way to teach reading that works and even makes it fun!

#1: Do not introduce sight words (words that don’t make sense) and ask kids to memorize random words for reading and spelling. Begin with sounds and 3-letter words and stay there until the student is confident.

#2: When kids aren’t ready to learn to read or while they are learning, use audio books. I once had a 2nd grade homeschooled student who was traumatized by the idea of reading so she started listening to audio books. She loved them and she would draw the most amazing pictures of the characters, setting, etc – those was her “book reports.” She had a talent for drawing so this approach also acknowledged this gift and gave value to it. Over the next few years she listened to hundreds of books and had whole sketch books full of her reports. Meanwhile, she became relaxed and gained confidence in herself, and by 7th grade she had become a reader!

#3: Student: “You mean some words just don’t make sense, and it’s not that I’m not smart enough? No one ever told me that before.” I’ve been asked this question by countless students, as well as adults attending my workshops. YES! Many words just don’t make sense – don’t pretend they do. Tell your students right off that English is weird and that a lot of words don’t make sense phonetically. Tell them we need to learn tricks to remember the weird words. Once they can sound out 3 and 4 letter phonetic words, begin introducing sight words (like was, what, come) and make a game of it.

#4: The first time an adult literacy student said to me (many, many years ago!), “Oh, I get it, the letters go together to make a word – you put the sounds together and you get a word – no one ever told me that before,” I couldn’t believe my ears! Didn’t everyone know that words are made from putting letter sounds together? Well, they don’t! So… imagine being a child, not understanding this basic concept, and wondering what the point is of doing all those letter / sound identification worksheets – you already know the alphabet and the sounds – what does that have to do with reading words in a book! If that link hasn’t been made, then all those worksheets are a waste of time and become irrelevant busy work activities.

#5: When students have difficulty with reading, please don’t insist that they must read for a certain period of time each day, unless they are able to “read” by using audio books of their choosing. Another option is to read together – meaning that an adult reads while the student follows along – again this works best with books that are of interest to the student. Sometimes students also like to pick out books at the library or bookstore that might be above their reading abilities but are about topics of interest and have a lot of pictures. This allows them to still interact with books and have the delight of choosing the books, before they are able to actually read them. This helps build a love for books and shows students how valuable books are for gaining knowledge – as long as there is no judgment or reproach from teachers or parents.

As with all other learning that is developmental, respecting a student’s timetable for learning to read is one of the most important gifts a teacher or parent can give a child!

copyright 2020 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis
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Posted in Learning Styles, Personalized Learning, Strengths

The Importance of Personalized Learning

Personalized learning allows all students to have a customized learning experience that leverages their strengths and interests, and accommodates their distinct learning needs. All students thrive when their unique aspirations, gifts, and cultural backgrounds are addressed.

The development of a personalized learning approach includes:

  • Aligning curriculum with students’ interests, strengths and aspirations
  • Delivering targeted instruction for all learners including gifted, English language learners, students with learning differences, and those in the “middle of the pack”
  • Identifying areas of struggle for all students and providing the scaffolding needed for all young people to learn challenging academic content
  • Creating flexible learning environments that incorporate a variety of instructional approaches, including the use of technology
  • Developing self-knowledge, meta-cognitive, and self-advocacy skills
  • Connecting learning to real-world experiences

As a result of personalized learning approaches, learners feel understood and safe. When students feel safe, they are better able to learn, to persevere through struggles, and to become lifelong learners.

Discover Your Students’ Power Traits for Learning:

Your students’ power traits are made up of five dimensions – Talents, Interests, Modality, Environment, and Dispositions. These five areas affect how your students learn and behave in the classroom and/or home school. If you have your students’ power trait information you will be more effective in facilitating their learning.

Approach Struggling Students Through Their Strengths:

  • Almost any learning difficulty can be seen through a strengths mindset.
  • Your “A.D.D.” student probably has an Imaginative or Curious Disposition.
  • Your “Dyslexic” student probably has a 3-D Talent and a Picture Modality strength.
  • Your “Hyperactive” student probably has a Spontaneous Disposition and a Movement Modality strength.
  • Your bored and unmotivated student probably has untapped Talents and Interests that need to be encouraged.

Self-Portrait™ Power Traits Assessment:

The Self-Portrait™ assessment gives you the tools you need to truly implement a personalized learning approach that creates confidence and eliminates failure for both students and teachers.

Learn More:

Copyright 2021 by VKHodson & MPelullo-Willis, Reflective Educational Perspectives, LLC / LearningSuccess™ Institute •,

Posted in Learning Styles: Interests

Interests: Our #1 Motivators – Part 3

What other benefits are there when young people engage in their Interests?

  1. When kids are pursuing Interests they are focused, energetic, and enthusiastic.
  2. Pursing Interests provides a counterbalance to daily stress-creating activities. Participating in free-time activities they choose can be restorative and crucial to mental and physical health. Pursuing Interests is a vital part of healthy living.
  3. When young people are acting on behalf of something they love or respect, they feel purposeful. And having a purpose is the surest way to feel connected to life and worthwhile as a person.

“We are meant to work in ways that suit us … This work, when we find it and do it—if only as a hobby at first—is a key to our true happiness and self-expression.” —Marsha Sinetar

Besides providing an outlet for your child’s enthusiasm and helping to build confidence and self-direction, Interests can be used to make school work more interesting and motivating. For example, if your child is crazy about dinosaurs, he could choose a book about dinosaurs for an assigned book report. If she loves creating computer graphics, she could do a history or literature assignment in that format. For someone who loves to perform, suggest demonstrating knowledge through a skit or by composing lyrics to a song. If a student loves games, suggest creating a game for the topic being studied.

And here’s one more benefit:

The more you acknowledge and support students’ interests and follow their areas of delight, the more tolerance they will have for topics and activities that aren’t as interesting to them.

So remember:

  1. Encourage the Interest – tennis, horseback riding, soccer, etc.
  2. Figure out what the student needs to learn the particular area of difficulty – a different program, manipulatives, a video, a game, etc.
  3. Don’t punish or try to motivate by taking away the Interest.

copyright 2020 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis, adapted from “Discover Your Child’s Learning Style by Willis and Hodson
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Posted in Learning Styles: Interests

Interests: Our #1 Motivators – Part 2

In Part 1 I talked about Interests being our #1 motivators. Engaging in our interests makes us happy, energizes us and wakes up our brains! When we are truly interested in something we will work long and hard and stick with it until we “get it.”

Feeling confident and believing you have gifts is what keeps a person – child or adult – motivated and moving toward goals. If the things you do well are taken away from you until you “get better” at something you don’t understand and cannot learn in the way it’s being presented, then you’re in a no-win situation and out of luck!

So what can be done to help a student improve in an area of difficulty without threatening to take away something he/she loves (e.g. no more dance lessons until your spelling improves)?

I recommend this three-pronged approach, whether you are a teacher in a classroom or a parent homeschool teacher:

  1. Encourage Interests and treat them as something important in the child’s life.
  2. Figure out the best way to work with the difficult skill (like spelling or math or ?) – what does the student need – what are the ways he/she learns best?
  3. Don’t use Interests as punishment.

One of my past students came to me when he was in 2nd grade for reading tutoring. As I worked with him I found out that he was really good at drawing but he said he wasn’t interested in it anymore. His parent reported that he used to draw “all the time.” As I got to know him better I saw that he was so discouraged with school that he wasn’t interested in anything any more, not even drawing.

Years earlier I had discovered from other students who were good at drawing, that the drawing could be used to increase reading comprehension or to organize thoughts for writing. So as we worked on this student’s reading I began asking him to draw a page or a chapter. From the start he drew these “reports” as cartoon strips, showing the chronology of the story. His drawings were amazing, with great detail and accuracy.

The result: his reading comprehension improved as he regained his love of drawing.

In this case the student’s Interest (drawing) became the vehicle for improving the area of difficulty. But what if the Interest is tennis or horseback riding or soccer or animals and the area of difficulty is math? In this case the strategy would be to follow the 3 steps above:

  1. Encourage the Interest – tennis, horseback riding, soccer, etc.
  2. Figure out what the student needs to learn the particular math concept – a different program, manipulatives, a video, a game, etc.
  3. Don’t use the Interest as punishment.

What other benefits are there for children to engage in their interests? Stay tuned for Part 3!

copyright 2020 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis
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Posted in Learning Styles: Interests

Interests: Our #1 Motivators – Part 1

Interests are our #1 motivators. Engaging in our interests makes us happy, energizes us and wakes up our brains! When we are truly interested in something we will work long and hard and stick with it until we “get it.”

This goes for adults as well as kids. In fact, interviews with the families of people who are accomplished in various areas – such as Olympic winners – reveal that very often the “winner” had a sibling who was more talented in that area. But the “winner” had such an interest that he/she worked for hours, practicing and improving his/her skills.

And, yet, how often have we heard comments such as these:

  • No dancing until your spelling improves.
  • Memorize the math facts and you can go back to art classes.
  • Bring your grades up if you want to play tennis.

But we never hear: No spelling until your dancing improves or you can’t do math until you get better at tennis!

I know, you’re probably thinking: But spelling and math are important – dancing, tennis, art are not!

Well, here’s the thing: YES THEY ARE! Actually dancing, tennis, art and other passionate interests ARE more important than spelling and math if those are the things that will help students feel confident and believe that they have gifts to contribute. Especially if spelling and math are not being offered to the student in ways that work for his/her learning needs.

Feeling confident and believing you have gifts is what keeps a person – child or adult – motivated and moving toward goals. If the things you do well are taken away from you until you “get better” at something you don’t understand and cannot learn in the way it’s being presented, then you’re in a no-win situation and out of luck!

Please note – I am NOT saying that math and spelling (or other academic skills) are not important.

But if you take away Interests as a punishment, or because you think this will motivate the student – think again! You will only succeed in creating resentment, possibly even more dislike or downright hatred for the skill in question, and very often plant the seed that the area of Interest is not important – leading to general discouragement and lower motivation for anything at all.

In this scenario the child loses every time.

So what can you do to help the student improve in the area of difficulty?

Stay tuned for Part 2.

copyright 2020 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis
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Posted in Learning Styles: Talents


A Talent is a natural skill that makes it easy to learn something or to do something. People might not always be interested in their Talents, and that is okay. When a Talent is also an Interest, it becomes a powerful motivator that can be incorporated into a student’s curriculum.

Talents can be the foundation for all learning and working activities. Sometimes people minimize their Talents because they come easily. Yet Talents can determine subjects of interest, career goals, and even study methods.

These are the Talents we have included in our Self-Portrait™ learning strengths assessment:

  • Music: playing an instrument, composing, having an ear for rhythm or notes
  • Math-Logic: math patterns, logic puzzles, math concepts, can show an aptitude in technology / electronics / engineering
  • Mechanical: fixing things, figuring out how things work can show up as aptitudes for machines, cars, building, home repairs
  • Word-Language: vocabulary, languages, have a way with words, perhaps writing
  • 3D Talent: drawing, designing, sense of direction, reading blueprints, architecture
  • Body Coordination: activities that require coordination come easily such as sports, dancing, skating, climbing, building
  • Self-Care: self-care, independent, introspective, confident, interested in self-improvement
  • People: making friends, understanding people, put people at ease, comfortable with people in general
  • Nature: at home in nature
  • Humor: knacks for telling jokes, finding humorous twists
  • Animal: generates trust and rapport with animals

To learn more about the Self-Portrait™ assessment go to

Copyright 2020 by VKHodson & MPelullo-Willis, Reflective Educational Perspectives, LLC / LearningSuccess™ Institute •,

Posted in Testing

Testing: Let me count the ways!

My last two blog posts have been about testing, and whether traditional testing is appropriate for all students. Many educators have long recommended different ways of teaching and testing, so as to empower all children to learn to the best of their abilities.

So what are ways of testing that tap into different learning styles and needs, and ensure that teachers and parents have a more accurate measure of students’ knowledge and skills?

Here are a few examples:

  • audio or video reports
  • drawings, collages, photo essays, infographics
  • putting on performances, skits, puppet shows
  • writing play or movie scripts, making props and sets
  • building or crafting, including models, diagrams, totem poles
  • making up songs, poems, recipes, mosaics, eulogies, time capsules
  • designing posters, brochures, maps, surveys, contracts, awards, timelines, flags
  • researching family trees or history timelines
  • planning trips
  • audio or video recording of discussions or “interviews”
  • creating photo journals or scrap books
  • student-created tests, quizzes, or games
  • portfolio assessments

Real learning requires interaction, hands-on involvement, integration of subjects, encouragement of learning styles and talents, and time for the questioning/discovery process to unfold.

The possibilities are endless – happy testing!

copyright 2020 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis
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