When you watch most people working, you notice that they are doing many things at once: what is often described as multitasking. Recent research has shown that while such an approach seems to be highly efficient to the person using it, quality and quantity of results are actually less than when concentration focuses on one task at a time.

A recent book, The One Thing: The Surprising Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, pays attention to the important implications of concentration by noting that in addition to such focus, you also need to:

1. Work toward the right goal.

2. First focus on the activity that leads most effectively towards accomplishing the right goal.

Intrigued by these observations, I adjusted how I worked with others to follow these directions. Quickly, the people I assisted began to accomplish extraordinary things.

Wanting to learn more, I decided to study the methods of a world-renowned math teacher, Fayad W. Ali, Ph.D., who earned his doctorate from Rushmore University. You might recognize him as the author of 64 math texts or for the astonishing results that his Trinidad and Tobago math students accomplish in qualifying exams.

You might expect that such a gifted teacher would attract only the brightest and best-prepared students. While Dr. Ali often privately tutors such youngsters, his classroom charges are ordinary students, who accomplish extraordinary test results that are often unequaled elsewhere.

Dr. Ali noted that each student has different learning needs. Consequently, he focuses each one on what must be done next to master an aspect of mathematics. In doing so, he scorns the kind of “one approach fits all” methods that many teachers use.

One student described how Dr. Ali accomplishes such clarity on each element:

“Rather than just working examples for students to copy, he showed us formative steps to strip down any question to its minimum and then apply the proper skills to solve it. Thus, he broke down the fear of math that many students experienced, allowing us to grow and flourish.”

To enhance learning, Dr. Ali also engages his students as assistants through study as peer collaborators. Here is how one student described how this is accomplished:

“Among the Form 6 students, he concentrated our study into small peer groups. It was his idea that students face different challenges. Hence, during these sessions every aspect of the subject was brought to the group’s attention to be addressed with critical thought to produce accurate solutions. Consequently, all areas of weakness and strength were improved and ultimately mastered.”

Dr. Ali has another appreciation for math that many other teachers lack: he sees literacy as being inextricably intertwined with numeracy. For example, someone who can’t read effectively won’t be able to answer a word problem.

Here is what one of his students had to say about other implications of this view:

“Dr. Ali believes that through excellent comprehension of language all math problems are made easier, a most unusual perspective. He stresses that upon reading a question, a student must be able to visualize and totally understand what is being asked.”

Most students also find math texts to be unbearably dense and hard to fathom. How might a simple solution be applied to enhance how well students can read and apply mathematical tools to everyday problems?

Dr. Ali’s solution was a brilliant one: he developed a new series, Barton books, that use stories to teach math and how to apply it. Due to the low literacy of some students, he writes the texts to include images that duplicate the meaning of words that readers may not know. The result is an appealing, lively set of materials that students eagerly read and apply.

Each book concentrates on just one idea, such as how to tell time. Each part of what needs to be learned is explained in the easiest-to-understand order during the story, so that a student is doing just the one, most important thing first.

We are fortunate that Dr. Ali has provided us with such clear examples of how to explain anything that we want others to accomplish. To be more effective, we should:

1. Find out what each person knows now and how he or she thinks.

2. Communicate at the level that person can most helpfully use.

3. Break down what is described into the optimal sequence for that person.

4. Put each portion of what needs to be learned and applied into a story that contains easily understandable examples of how to use the new knowledge.

5. Allow plenty of time for mastery to develop before switching to the next element that needs to be learned.

6. Keep the process easy and fun.

It takes a genius to turn a field filled with pretentious, equation-filled pyramids of concepts into something that those who feel anxious about math can appreciate and enjoy. We are fortunate that Dr. Ali is such a genius.

What one thing should you be doing now to enable others to accomplish much more?

What are you waiting for?

Author's Bio: 

Donald W. Mitchell is a professor at Rushmore University who often teaches people who want to improve their business effectiveness in order to accomplish career breakthroughs through earning advanced degrees. For more information about ways to engage in fruitful lifelong learning at Rushmore University to increase your effectiveness, I invite you to visit