This is the one that just drives parents and teachers crazy.

There are students that actually do their work, and then don’t turn it in.  When you ask them, “Why?” they usually answer with a shrug of the shoulders and say, “I don’t know.”

Huh?  I mean, “The dog ate my homework” makes more sense than, “I don’t know.”

They went to all the trouble to do the work.  They did the hard part.  They might have spent hours doing it.  All they had to do was transport the work from home to school and the teacher.

What happened?

Usually, this behavior is tied to a whole string of skills that we group under the heading Executive Function.  Executive Function is usually associated with study skills, but it actually involves much, much more.

John has a term paper he’s known about for 6 weeks.  It’s due tomorrow and he hasn’t started it.

Samantha digs through her backpack each and every day to find school assignments that she knows are there, but can never quite find them.

Justin find books, assignments, pencils, ruler, compass, paper, pens, notebooks…but never in one place.  They get left in classes, in the library, his locker, his room at home.  He is a walking “pig pen” of school related items.  He pretty much never has what he needs right when he needs it.

Diane can never keep her assignments straight.  How many questions was she supposed to do?  Was it the evens or the odds?  Was it for tomorrow or next week?  Was she supposed to write just the answers or was she also supposed to explain?

Marko has a group project assignment with three other students.  He hopes it goes well because he has no idea where to start or what to work on.  He doesn’t even have the other students’ phone numbers.

Executive Function skills are part of the learning skills continuum.  They are essential to good learning.  They include: organization, time and materials management, sequencing with time for planning, and formulation of plans and strategies for behavior.  They are functions of the frontal lobe of the brain.

Here is the hardest part about Executive Function:

These are skills that are needed in school, often before they are fully developed in the student, and skills that many students don’t develop automatically. These are life skills that can be taught, but rarely are. They are just assumed.

Executive function is each person’s own personal CEO. It guides and directs his behavior, helps him organize, plan, and make decisions.

It reasons, strategizes, and evaluates. Everyone makes mistakes-lots of them-but thank goodness we have executive function, because this part of our thinking allows us to evaluate what went wrong and make adjustments and different decisions in the future.

Executive Function allows us to be flexible and adjust to change, to change our mind and take a different course of action, or to think about things in different ways.

Students who wait until the last minute to do assignments, don’t turn in assignments completed, or wait too long before studying for a test may have under-developed executive function skills.

When do these skills normally reach maturity?  At around age 25!  That’s after most students are out of school.

The good news – Like the other skills we have talked about, Executive Function can be trained, strengthened, and improved with specialized programs designed to develop those skills.

When you hear of kids that drive their parents and teachers crazy because they do work and don’t turn it in, or they exhibit the other behaviors listed above, realize there is hope.  They aren’t “bad” or unmotivated.  They just need more training in Executive Function.









“Comeo n,”saidB et sy.”W eha vet opic kudth iscor n.W edon ‘thavea no therc anof boqc o rn.””A reweg oin gtoe atdo dcor ntha t’sbe enont heflo or,”a skedSusan. “W ec answas hit” sai d Be tsy.T hech ilp rene nttow or k.Itto okalo ngti meto dic kubth ebopc orn.Th enth eyto okt hecor ntoth ek itche nan pwa she bit.

If this is what you saw when you looked at a written page, could you accurately answer questions about what you read? 

What if it looked that way just some of the time?  Or just when you were tired, like in the evening when it’s time to do homework?

Please Note – The above passage is not just gibberish.  It actually follows patterns and has a very real, literal translation!

But it’s a LOT of work to try to make any sense out of it.  For me, just when I’m starting to pick up a few words, I lose it again.  And I know what it’s supposed to say!

What if someone told you that you just aren’t trying hard enough…that if you really put effort into it, you could get it?

About 30% of school kids with average and above average IQs have some kind of difficulty with underlying learning skills.  Reading, writing, math, comprehension, and a whole host of academic skills are made possible by dozens of these underlying skills.

Those skills usually develop automatically in humans, but in about 30% of BRIGHT people, some of those skills are missing or inefficient. 

A few of those skills cause written pages to look like the passage above.  Other missing skills will make the letters shimmer, vibrate, or look as if they are running off the edge of the page.  Still other skills involve auditory information, comprehension, or organization.

Many of the missing skills are subtle.  It means that the learner is receiving inaccurate or sporadic information.  The person doesn’t know when what he understands is accurate or when it’s not.

So why is it that these kids don’t do their work?  Three reasons:

  1. Because they can’t.  They aren’t getting enough accurate information to do the assignments.
    1. Because they have tried and failed too many times.   How many times would you fail at something before you quit trying?  Most adults have very little tolerance for “games they can’t win.”  And yet these kids live in this environment day after day, week after week, year after year.  It takes a real toll not just on the kid, but on the whole family.
    2. Because it takes too much energy.  To get the same results as everyone else, these kids have to work 10 times or even 100 times harder.  And even then they don’t know if it’s really right.

Here is what these kids have learned to live with:


There is nothing worse for school kids than being embarrassed.  And by consistently not doing their work, they put up with that feeling of embarrassment each and every day.  After a while, when teachers say, “Take out your homework,” these kids get “the look” from teachers.  The other students just know. 

But the pain of embarrassment is what they’ve learned to live with.

These are bright kids who believe they aren’t very bright.  They constantly disappoint teachers, parents, peers, and especially themselves.

And so they copeThey act brash, or uncaring, or too cool.  It’s much better than acting humiliated because they can’t do the work or they can’t get it right.

While there are permanent answers now available, schools and tutoring don’t really solve the problems.  There are a growing number of practitioners that do.  There just aren’t very many…yet.

For now, while families look for help, help them treat these bright, capable kids with the kindness and patience they need.  And then help them find real, and permanent solutions.


Posted by: malibulearning | September 28, 2011

Baffling Behaviors – Part 1: Laziness

“Trigger words.”  In your work, are there certain words that, when you hear them, something connects inside of you?  The word may be quite ordinary, but when you hear it, your training and experience tell you that something deeper is happening.

In working with struggling students, we have developed words and phrases that we listen for.  When we hear one of them we know to look deeper, to probe around, to check specific skills.

For us, LAZY is a huge trigger word.  As soon as we hear it we know that there are underlying skills that need help.  BUT, here’s what parents see:

Slouching over his food at the dinner table, Mark has become a constant frustration to his parents.  They love him dearly and know how smart he is, but he just doesn’t seem to care about anything…especially school.  They’ve tried talking to him.  He kind of grunts so they know he’s heard them.  Finally he agrees to “try harder,” and then goes back to the old, “I don’t care about anything” lifestyle.

School has always been a struggle.  Now it’s worse than ever.  It used to be that he got his assignments wrong all the time.  Now he seldom even turns in assignments.  He’s flunking everything except PE.

And that posture just confirms everything that mom and dad are feeling.  He doesn’t care!  He’s just lazy.

What none of them know is there can be other reasons for these behaviors.

Often parents don’t call us for help when they believe their child is “just lazy.”  All they see is “I don’t care,” or “I’m too cool to do anything.”

“Lazy” seems like a behavior / attitude issue, not a learning problem.

But here’s what’s really happening. 

There is an entire continuum of skills (underlying skills) that make learning (and life) much easier.  In good learners, these skills are automatically in place and work together, almost invisibly, to allow reading, spelling, comprehension, etc.

But in about 30% of bright children (and adults also) some of these skills are either missing or inefficient.  Those students can keep trying and trying and trying, but they just don’t ever quite “get it.”

Here are just four of the common learning problems / skills that look like lazy:

  • Retained Primitive Reflexes.  These reflexes should have disappeared by about 12 months of age, but often they don’t fully integrate.  One reflex keeps people from being able to sit still in a chair (it makes them wiggle) while another is responsible for the “teenage slump.”  Reflexes are automatic.  They can’t be overcome by “force of will.”  They can be integrated using very specific training.
  • Poor working memory skills – can cause a student to miss steps and pieces of instruction.  It causes them to be very inconsistent in performance.But they look careless and lazy.
  • Poor visual processing – They might refuse to use a planner or say that lab charts or maps are stupid and then don’t complete them.But the reality is they can’t make sense out of what they are looking at.They may not even understand the visual organization of a common written page.
  • Poor phonemic awareness – This can cause a student to read a word at the top of the page and not recognize the same word at the bottom of the page.It looks as if they’re not trying.Others may be able to read enough to sound like they can read, but reading is so inconsistent and difficult that they no longer want to put in the effort – especially the older they get.

The hardest part is kids themselves don’t really know what is going on.  They don’t know that they have weak learning skills. They just know they do all they can and it doesn’t work…and they get called lazy.

There is hope – Brain research has proven that brains can make new neuro-pathways.  With the right kind of intense brain training, these skills can be developed, strengthened, and work just like “normal.”

Most schools and tutors don’t do this kind of work.  But there are a growing number of trained professionals who have been trained to help fix these learning skills.

So the next time you hear a parent or teacher use the word “lazy” to describe a kid, tell them the good news.  It can probably be fixed!

Posted by: malibulearning | September 21, 2011

Are MORE Students Struggling With School? YES! Part 3 of 3

Article by Jill Greenberg

In part 1 I discussed how “pushing” curriculum down into lower grades has caused students who previously didn’t struggle, to begin finding the work harder and excessive.  In part 2  I looked at the fact that we will always have 30% of students with average or above average IQs who struggle in school.

There is a third factor that is creating more struggling students.  It is a little more subtle than the other two.  It is the fact that more and more families are over programmed.

Families and kids are involved in sports ( almost all sports now have year round seasons), music, dance, cheerleading, church, volunteer activities, gymnastics, swimming, water polo, diving, surfing, drama and karate…the possibilities are endless.

Often students are participating in multiple activities.

Because of the increased workload, many students are enrolled in tutoring just to keep up wioth daily homework.

The falling dominoes – The combination of over programming and an increase in both the amount and difficulty of school work puts kids on a fast moving treadmill that that leaves them little time for being ,well, a kid.  Her are a few of the things that are being lost:

  • Play – We forget how important play is for all of us, but especially for kids.  When I was the director of the play therapy program at the Great Ormand Street Hospital in London, I used to tell the medical students that “play is a child’s work”.  Going out in the back yard and finding something to do is a very valuable experience.  Playing with the dog, building things, inventing games with the neighbor kids, are all part of the mental and emotional growth process.  Yes, even for teenagers.
  • Nutrition – more time away from home means more fast food which is the opposite of good brain nutrition.  Parents have less time to go to the store to buy food and less time to prepare it.  Energy drinks ( sugar and caffeine) are rampant among kids,  A trip to Starbucks insures that kids will have their sugar and caffeine at a younger age.
  • Downtime – There is less and less recovery time for kids to deal with th realities of life.  There is also no time to be disengaged and deal with setbacks.  “Hey, the team, the drama cast, the yearbook staff are all depending on you.”  It’s a lot of pressure that seems to keep going on and on and on without a break.
  • Sleep – There comes a point where homework is done late at night.  Getting an adequate night’s sleep may not happen even on weekends because there are so many activities.
  • Priorities – As more and more commitments are made, it is very easy to lose a sense of which things are truly important.   It seems like a marathon each and every day with the biggest priority just to get through all the activities.  Yes, parents often “help.”

Now factor in the 30% of kids who have average or above average IQs but struggle with school due to weak or missing learning skills.  They need more time to get the extra  assigned work done, but they have less time to devote to it.

The breaking point will come because of the student’s learning issues and the family will go into crisis.  We know that schools are not trained, budgeted or staffed to repair or teach those learning skills.  So the new family task is to figure out how to add more time to the schedule to fix the learning issues.

The good news – The learning issues can be fixed!  Families who will make the time to devote to the process will find that learning can be easy, which makes the entire school experience much  different.

We are living in different times.  As a professional, you see it.  There is more school work for kids and it is harder than it used to be.  The 70% of students who have no barriers to learning have to work hard just to keep up.  The other 30% (still with average or above average IQs) struggle in earlier grades and earlier in the year.  With so many families “over programmed” we see that lots of rich maturing experiences are being replaced by a “busyness” that may not be best for kids despite the best intentions of parents.

Jill Greenberg is the owner of the Malibu Learning Center where struggling students are trained to become comfortable, independent students.

Visit us at or call (310) 457-3707

Posted by: malibulearning | September 14, 2011

Are MORE Students Struggling With School? YES! Part 2 of 3

Article by Jill Greenberg


In part I I discussed how “pushing” curriculum down into lower grades has caused students who previously didn’t struggle, to begin finding the work harder and excessive as early as first grade.

Now let’s take a look at students who used to struggle slightly before the workload increased.  In order to understand this idea, take a look at the diagram below:

Student Population (average and above IQ)

        70%                          21%-25%           5%-9%              

No barriers to learning         Learning difficulties           Learning Disabilities

There are about 70% of students with average or above IQs that have no barriers at all to their learning.

There are somewhere between 5% and 9% of students who have diagnosed learning disabilities.  That means even though they have a very capable IQ, there are issues that get in the way of learning.  These usually show up as reading and spelling difficulties.  That means between  2,450,000 and 4, 410,000 public school students are diagnosed with learning disabilities.  These students usually don’t get tested until they are 2+ grade levels behind their classmates.

Additionally, between 10, 290,000 and 12, 250, 000 students fall into the “grey zone.”  It’s the “no man’s land that we hear politicians talking about.

These  are students who have the very same learning issues, just not as severe as those diagnosed “learning disabled.”  The difference is that they are not as far behind…the discrepancy between their potential and their performance isn’t as large, even though they still have to work much harder than their peers to try to keep up.

Often those students are called lazy, attention challenged, or behavior problems.  We might say things like “School just isn’t their thing.”  It is such a tragedy because these kids typically won’t qualify for help at school unless they are 2 or more years behind.  So if they work really hard and are only 1 ½ years behind their classmates, they don’t get extra help.

But the truth is, like the learning disabled, they have the very same weak underlying skills that can be taught, but aren’t addressed in school.  Schools assume that the skills required to make learning easy are already in place when children begin kindergarten.  Research tells us this just isn’t true for about 30% of students.

Roughly 15,000,000 students with average or above IQs are going to struggle with school even when the amount of work and the level of work are appropriate for their age.

We can have quite a debate as to whether or not it is the school’s job to fill in the missing skills for these 15,.000,000 students.  But whether or not they should be teaching memory, auditory and visual processing, attention, etc., schools are not trained, budgeted or staffed to take on this big job in addition to the huge job of teaching academic curriculum.

What happens when we take those students who are already struggling in school and suddenly “ramp up” the workload and make it more difficult?

You guessed it.  The problems multiply.  Suddenly it looks as if there are more students struggling.  Remember from part 1, many of the 70% who have no barriers to their learning are finding  the homework overwhelming.

So again, are there more students struggling?  Yes, and those who were going to struggle anyway are having more difficulties than before.  Those who struggled a little, now struggle earlier and more often.

These numbers remain relatively consistent.  We know that about 30% of intelligent students are going to have some degree of difficulty with underlying processing skills.  Moving the curriculum down and increasing the workload rather than teach the weak skills, simple exacerbates the problems.

In part 3 I’ll look at the third factor creating more struggling students.

Jill Greenberg, M.Ed. is the owner of the Malibu Learning Center where struggling students are trained to become comfortable, independent learners.

Visit us at     (310) 457-3707

Posted by: malibulearning | September 7, 2011

Are MORE Students Struggling with School? YES! Part 1 of 3

An article by Jill Greenberg

Do you notice how many students seem to be struggling with school over the last couple of years?  I don’t mean that there are some kids who struggle.

I’m talking about  the large number of families that are feeling the stress of just getting homework done.

After 15 years serving struggling students, I see a large increase in the sheer number of students who seem to be struggling just to “keep up.”

The news stories  seem to focus on “measurable outcomes”.  What we are sure of is that we see a large rise in the number of students who struggle just getting homework done.  Fourth graders are getting 2 – 3 hours of homework on a regular basis and it is putting stress on the entire family.

So what is really happening?                                                                                                                                                                                                          

I see 3 major factors that are making all of this struggling more acute than ever before.

The first reason that so many students are struggling is a change made by our federal and state governments.

There  has been a focused effort in political circles to improve our education test scores.  The No Child Left Behind act was the beginning.  It has set standards that schools must meet so that, in theory, no student “falls through the cracks.”

But the net result has been that teachers have come under tremendous pressure to increase test scores.  In doing so, teachers have increased the workload on students as they are held responsible for meeting the test scores.  So teachers pile on more work to try and make sure students really “get it.”

On top of that, the state decided to “push down” when curriculum is taught.  There is a reason that we waited until high school to teach Algebra.  But it is now being introduced in fifth grade.

But Algebra is the least of the problems.  Now Kindergarteners are being asked to read, write, and spell at age 5.  These are activities that many, if not most, are simply not developmentally ready for.  Can some kids do this? Sure! But they are the exception.

This is a little like trying to teach 4 foot tall kids to dunk a basketball in a 10 foot basket.  It is just lots easier and makes more sense if you wait until the kids are 6 feet tall.

What used to be high school curriculum is now being taught in junior high.  What used to be junior high school work is now being taught in the elementary grades.

In order to make this happen, the workload must increase. And students and their families are the ones  who are working like mad to keep up.

 I have some friends who have a tutoring service in Santa Monica who once said that they would always have business because there are so many students in private schools that are just too hard for them.  Well now it’s the public schools that are too hard for students.

The result? Average students ( with 100 IQs or higher) are now struggling to do work that is too hard for them.

So the answer to the question, “ Are more students struggling?” is Yes.  And, both kids and their families will continue to struggle as long as we demand more from them thenthey are ready to produce.

In part 2  I’ll look at how curriculum demands have affected students with learning problems.

Jill Greenberg, M.Ed. is the owner of the Malibu Learning Center where struggling students learn to become comfortable, independent learners.      (310) 457-3707

Posted by: malibulearning | August 31, 2011

A Call from a Parent

A mom of a teenager just called to see if I could help her daughter.

During our conversation she said:

“ I tell my daughter that she would do better if only she tried harder in school”.

“Do you really believe that she doesn’t even try?”, I asked.

“ No, of course she tries but she rarely succeeds.  The only other alternative is just too horrible to imagine – Telling her that she’s lazy is certainly better than telling her that she’s stupid.”

The problem for most parents is that they only see two possible reasons for a learning problem – being lazy or stupid.  They don’t even consider that perfectly normal or above average kids can have difficulties with information processing and that this difficulty makes academic learning so tough.  Underlying learning skills such as attention, auditory and visual processing, speed ,logic and working memory are critical for academic success but they have little to do with high level thinking skills i.e. intelligence.  Most importantly, these skills can be  trained to become more efficient and with permanent results.

Schools don’t have the knowledge or resources to do this training.  Tutors provide only temporary help with school work.  But there are a number of very effective and research-based programs that will go a long way to help a struggling student to become more comfortable and independent in the classroom.  Every day at the Malibu Learning Center we use these programs to help students who appear to be lazy, unmotivated or just not very intelligent.  With the right help these students can become better learners for their entire lives.

“Sometimes it takes more than a tutor.”

This year can be so much better for your child.