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ASC: About Us - Our Team

Coaching and Brain Based Learning

Coaching and Brain-Based Learning

By: Chelsey Finney & Cody Rogers


Picture of Dayna GrahamBased primarily at the Exchange District Campus, Dayna Graham serves as Red River College Polytechnic’s Adult Learning Facilitator. Through her role, Dayna helps to administer several student services and resources at the Academic Success Centre (ASC). These supports range from academic coaching, tutoring, review workshops, facilitated study groups, prep programming for incoming students, as well as partnership with diverse Red River College Polytechnic programs.

We wanted to sit down with Dayna and gain insight into her role as an academic coach and passion towards education and learning. We were excited to learn about what she values most about coaching and brain-based learning, and its role in helping students succeed at Red River College Polytechnic.


Q: What encouraged you to take on this role with the Academic Success Centre originally?

Dayna: I had been working at the ASC under a different role. This job posting came up and I applied because I really liked working in this area. I really liked Student Support Services - the community attracted me to the work.


Q: Which Learning Scientists’ strategy is favored most amongst students?

Dayna: That’s such an individual piece. Students might blend strategies together or they might not even have the name of the learning strategy, yet they are doing it. But one thing I see most of, and it’s almost “form follows function” because of the way the college is designed, is spaced-practice. We’re not an institution where you have a 3-hour course one night a week, and then you don’t touch that course for another week; so your brain may drop the material. Our students have 3-6 credit hours where they are in a class or lab, which is dispersed throughout the week. They are coming across the knowledge in shorter and more frequent periods.

Students are juggling sometimes 6 courses at once; they can’t devote all their attention to one course alone. They might have 2 or 3 assignments due on one day. So, they do a little bit often and they may structure their time as:

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday = they are working on assignments and study guides for 3 specific courses

Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday = they are working on the other 3 courses’ assignments and study guides

So, I would say spaced-practice would be the most popular. There’s also the whole muscle building of repetition where you’re doing something over and over again. You’re strengthening your ability to recall and pull up that information in a heartbeat. From a coaching standpoint, spaced-practice fits nicely into time-management strategies. When students are looking at a large project, it’s breaking it down into manageable pieces that make sense. It also lends to milestones where they can check in with their instructor to see if they are on the right path. It’s nice to build in natural pauses, so students can see how they are doing on a project. I think the nature of our education system at Red River College Polytechnic really leans toward working on something shorter and more frequent, so the student can dive deeply into the material with a strong focus.

When I coach students, I always talk about spaced-practice. It allows students to study for shorter periods of time and often, so they don’t find themselves as easily distracted. It enables them to balance a few things at once and to push through procrastination.

It’s like a runner training for a half marathon in spring.They have to do the long runs in winter. If they don’t want to run in minus 40° at 7:00 AM, it’s easy to procrastinate. If they just say “okay I’m going to go for 10 minutes, you get out the door and you do it, and you enjoy it and you’re in the flow”.

That’s what I try and get students to do, a little bit of something if they’re procrastinating on assignments.

“Often it’s the anticipation of something we don’t like, not the thing itself”.

Once you overcome that anticipation, it’s not as bad as you think. The message I share with students is “don’t give yourself an option”. The minute you say “do I want to? Do I not?”, you are opening the door to whatever willpower you’ve used up to override what you need to do. Doing a little bit is an upward spiral of confidence and accomplishment and positivity.


Q: Every student need can’t be met through study skills workshops. So, how does the Academic Success Center prioritize which workshops should be developed first and foremost?

Dayna: We used to have a long bank of study skills workshops. Our new method is to reduce it to 3 that we know are in high demand; and also offer subsequent workshops in other categories. Instructors can request customized workshops (e.g. essay consultations, memorization techniques for courses with a lot of terminologies), along with certain staff tutors who are knowledgeable about the topic. The 3 workshops that we have are:

  1. Active Study Strategies: Study Smarter, not Harder
  2. Habits of a Successful Student
  3. Academic Writing in College

In terms of how we decide which to prioritize, we’re always looking at student and instructor needs, using environmental scans, and how we can offer something in various ways. But we also want to keep the workshops manageable.

To me, the help desk mirrors the workshops. It would be nice to host the workshop(s) while having students aware of the help desk. After the workshop(s), students can touch base with the help desk regarding their own questions. We can’t capture everybody through the help desk, but we can capture everyone in class. This way, as students gain one support, it can dovetail down to them being able to access other supports.


Q: Which is the newest workshop?

Dayna: Probably the Academic Writing in College workshop. We’ve always offered one in writing, but it’s become more formalized. The Habits of a Successful Student workshop is another new one, which highlights time management and habit-forming skills.


Q: In your self-written bio, you mention a commitment to sports. How has this contributed to your preferred style of coaching?

Dayna: At the Academic Success Centre, we see students’ strengths as well as their gaps. They can come here for additional tutoring, for workshops, and a help-desk. They could be really strong students, but want to bump their marks up to an A or A+ still.  Having said that, we see students who are experiencing difficulty with content or with soft skill-sets that academic coaching can provide. The connection I see with students who seem really upset, in both a sports and academic context, is: “this one test, this one assignment, this one day doesn’t define you as a student, as an athlete, as a person.”

Big successes come from small habits. Small skill-building that you do scaffold those smaller pieces over time, which define us. The big, over-arching goal of students getting their diploma or the grade they want in a course or landing their “dream” job. All of that becomes a tertiary goal. If students can just focus on their day-to-day, “this is what I’m doing to do for this assignment/test”, all of a sudden they think, “Wow, I know all the content I need to write my final!” Instead of thinking just about the final, students build on these smaller pieces they’re not even quite conscious of.

Another piece from sports (and on a more personal level), the ones I do are not team-related. A few years ago, I was competitive in triathlon which is that’s individual-oriented. But I was still part of a team; I trained with a team and had a coach. There was a community who I worked with to achieve my goals. I think the connection with the ASC and with the college is that students aren’t alone.

It is the student writing the test, preparing the pieces of a project; wherein the weight is on them to prove they know the course content, but he/she is not alone in this. They should look at their team, their instructor who is on their side. Their instructors are not there to make things hard, just the sake of doing so, they are preparing the students. The E.A’s, their peers, the Library Staff, student support services, and the ASC are all on the student’s team as well. That’s a really strong connection, “your achievements may be isolated in some terms, but you can get help to be strong, to perform”.