Marsha Glines, Ph.D is the only person on the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorder’s team who is not a therapist or behaviorist – she is an educator who brings a diagnostic standpoint to the Center. Her role is best defined as that of an academic coach. “I believe very strongly that learning should be empowering and meaningful,” she says. “Everyone learns differently and not everyone can learn through traditional classroom methods.”
The frontal lobe of our brain synthesizes and organizes information. “We have more than 100,000 neurons in our brains, so we each receive information differently than anyone else,” Dr. Glines says. “This means we also process the information we receive differently from each other.”
These information reception and processing systems are called metacognitive skills. Figuring out someone’s metacognitive skills tells how the person thinks, which then can help determine their learning strengths.
When an individual has challenges with learning through traditional classroom methods, “My role is how to find the appropriate path to learning for this person. Part of that is really getting to understand the student. This involves analyzing how they look at a problem and adjusting my strategies to help them learn and understand.”
To better recognize how each client learns, she begins by observing the individual and asking questions to help figure out their learning process. In addition, Dr. Glines takes an informal “inventory” of the skills and methods the person has successfully used in the past. Putting this information together gives her a good indication of where the student is in terms of learning.
The process then turns to modifying and experimenting with this information to see what works for the student. “If they are struggling in algebra, for example, we need to figure out how to change up the way they study algebra to make it useful for everyday skills.”
“The goal of my work is to find meaningfulness and purposefulness in how we learn. I help individuals find what their strongest cognitive pathways to their brain are, how to understand these pathways, and how to learn with them,” she explains. Does the client do better by hearing a lecture? Are they a visual learner? Do symbols or colors combine with what they are hearing to help them learn? Uncovering these unique methods makes a huge difference in the person’s understanding and retention of information.
Once Dr. Glines knows these strengths, she creates personalized education plans for what would be helpful for this person’s learning method. To do this, she uses repetition, challenge, novelty, and movement. “Our brains are wired to respond to new things, so changing up our learning method helps us learn and retain information,” she says. “I might teach them how to use symbols to remember something. Tools like mind maps and graphic organizers work well for a visual learner, for example.”
Similar to mnemonics, using tools, such as color coding the papers that students take notes on, can help with processing and retention.
At one point, Dr. Glines worked with students in a Psychology class to help them remember the differences between the pioneers in the mental health field. “These historical figures can all blur together,” she says, “so we discussed what color they thought of when they learned about Freud. Let’s say it was red. They assigned the color red to everything about Freud, even down to taking lecture notes on red paper.”
“Maybe Jung was the color brown”, she continues. “So his information was keyed to everything brown. At test time, when they saw a question about Freud, they recalled that he was red, not brown.” This allowed the students to “see” their lecture notes section in their notebook, which jogged their memory and often allowed them to correctly come up with the answer to the test questions.
Along the same lines, spatial models, symbols, and even acting out the information can function like a mnemonic. “Instead of just thinking in language and words, this is a different way of processing information and memory. It taps into different pathways of the brain’s retrieval system.”
Dr. Glines might also incorporate technology into the student’s learning process. “There are devices like smart pens that can record a lecture as the student takes notes, then lets the student replay that lecture,” she says.
This can be especially helpful for individuals who have learning disabilities. The person may not be able to visualize a spoken word in a text form, for example, which makes taking notes extremely challenging. A smart pen can record oral notes, however. Later, the student can replay the lecture and even transform it from oral form to written text with the touch of a button. “A student can even tap a word in those notes, which then comes up to show them the meaning of words they find challenging,” she says.
Before any of these non-traditional learning plans can help an individual, though, they need to take ownership of what they value and what is important to them.
“What have you achieved and what do you hope to achieve? These are things you value and every decision we make is based on what we value,” she says. “These answers are empowering. Many people don’t take their school knowledge and think of how to apply it in real life, yet this is what gives ownership to the information we learn. If you can give the topic or subject meaning, you can learn and recall it much better.”
About Marsha Glines, Ph.D. (Academic Coach / Learning Specialist)
Dr. Marsha Glines has a national reputation in teaching and learning theory, special education, non-traditional program design and higher education curriculum development. Prior to joining the Lynn University community in 1991, Dr. Glines was the founding president of Beacon College and in October 2021 she was awarded an Honorary Degree Of Humane Letters from Beacon. While at Lynn University, Dr. Glines created and provided oversight of many academic alternative, innovative programs including: an undergraduate human service degree, the Advancement Program, the Lynn Educational Alternative Program and the “nationally recognized” Institute for Achievement and Learning.
Among her many achievements, Dr. Glines has published several pieces on post-secondary learning opportunities for students with learning disabilities and her work has been discussed in several books. In addition, she has conducted numerous training workshops both nationally and internationally and is a frequent presenter at various conferences on learning and higher education. She continues to teach remotely in Regis College’s undergrad and graduate education departments.