Do you ever wonder HOW you can teach your students new skills more effectively?

It’s our job as educators to teach them how to learn, take better notes, and study for exams, but it can be tough to know whether or not our lessons are making a positive impact. 

Today we’ll analyze the most popular video from my YouTube channel and break down a few of my most effective coaching techniques that actually work with students. 

We’ll talk about the value of visuals, hand-eye connections, collaboration, and so much more. Let me know, do you use these coaching skills in your sessions? What have I missed that works for you? Reach out and let me know!

To watch today’s video (the recommended option!) click the image below … or, continue on to read the transcript.

How does an academic coach, or any educator working one-to-one with a student, guide a student towards specific skill-building? In the case of today’s video, I want to analyze my most popular YouTube video titled “Memorizing Definitions.” In this video, it’s very clear what the skill is. And I noticed when I watched the video again recently that I do some really good modeling about how to coach students through academic skill-building. So I want to watch the video again with you, and break down some of what I noticed to help you be an even more effective coach. Let’s take a look!

Just so you have some context, let’s just hear the beginning of the video:
“Hey, everyone, Gretchen Wegner here. I just got off of a call with a young man who informed me that this formula technique that I taught him for learning and memorizing definitions last week totally worked. He scored way higher on his quiz than he ever thought he could. So I wanted to share this technique with you really quickly. For him, the class was a marketing class, so that’s the example we’re going to use. But you can do this with anything where there are words and definitions you need to learn.”

Okay, so let’s pause, because I want us to note that when I was working with the student, we had a very clear goal, right? We were working on how he could pass a quiz where he needed to learn a lot of marketing definitions. So if you have not yet learned my consent burger process for helping make sure that you’re working on something with a student that they really want to work on, head on over to I have all kinds of goodies there to help you understand how to be a better academic coach and study skills mentor.

Let’s keep watching. Here is one of the definitions he was working with–he had to learn the phrase “code of conduct,” and he needed to know that those were unwritten rules about a particular group of people and how they should behave. I think it’s helpful to notice here that I was using a whiteboard. So I was being very intentional. To have a visual, some people like to use Zoom’s whiteboard for virtual coaching. And I just think there’s something very powerful about having props and things that are in my space that I can hold up for the students. So I want you to note that I was doing that during my session with this young man.

I also want you to note that I purposefully kept some parts of the whiteboard hidden. Having some kind of surprise is a very useful technique when guiding students through any kind of learning. The first thing I asked him to do is take a look at that, and figure out how many different parts there are to this definition. We definitely noticed that unwritten rules is one part, and then particular group, that’s another part, and then how they should behave is a third part. So we knew there were three things we needed to wrap into what I like to call a mathematical formula. Okay? This is really important, students need clarity. Notice that I broke that down into finding one, two, and three, and I even used my fingers to show the three different parts so we have a visual marker for what we’re looking for.

Now, I asked him to come up with formulas, and then I also came up with mine, so I’m going to share mine first and then I’m going to show you what he did. This I think is really important because I train folks how to start their businesses as academic coaches, and I train school-based people how to be better academic coaches inside their small groups on campus. One of the things I have noticed in my own coaching that really takes your coaching to the next level is when you are willing to actually do the work side-by-side. The student and you each do the same task, and then you compare what you came up with. It’s easy to miss this. Sometimes we just want to tell the student what to do, and then have them do it. But when we take the time to do it ourselves, the student learns a lot by watching how we make academic choices for ourselves.

So in mine, I decided to use “unwritten rules” because that’s the basic definition it seems of Code of Conduct here, and then do an arrow, which we often see maybe in geometry proofs, but anyway, I kind of make up my own symbols and my formulas. But then I decided I was going to have a specific group, and then have it be divided by how they behave. And that for me, that shows this definition. It also shows the three major parts of the definition.

Now, let me show you what this young man came up with. Okay? Aren’t you curious? Aren’t you interested to see how what he came up with is going to be different than what I came up with? I know I am, even rewatching it, super curious. I’ve noticed with students, it’s really fun to have that moment of comparing, and you’ll notice what I’m about to bring up is a screenshot of the whiteboard that he has on his end. Back when I was seeing students, I would send them a whiteboard as a welcome to coaching gift because I wanted them to have something that matched what I have, so we could actively work on things together.

So let’s see what he came up with. This is his whiteboard. You can see here that he’s got “Code of Conduct equals,” and it seems like he really got into doing blank plus blank–that those were the formulas that made the most sense for his brain. I like to tell students, “your unique brain is going to come up with something different than my unique brain. And I love to show you what my brain comes up with. So that you just get some ideas. But what’s more important is how you see things through your eyes.” And a lot of times, it’s the first time students have been invited to have a particular preference and point-of-view around how they see knowledge and how they put together ideas, and build self-esteem. Looking at what he has here, “unwritten rules”, and then plus “particular group,” and “how they’re supposed to behave.” So that worked for him.

And you’ll see, I know this is a little hard to read, but here he’s got terms “organizational corporate,” and then “bodies of people” plus “particular purpose.” And then here for this term, he had “problems/ issue” plus, and then the next part. So that really seemed to work for him–the breaking definitions down into two distinct parts. When I asked him why he thinks this worked for him…

–Okay, this is a super important question. It’s a habit I developed over years and years and thousands of coaching sessions, towards the end of the session, when something works, to ask a student to notice about it, we do something together, and then we notice about it. And it’s this noticing that is arguably even more important than the actual doing of the thing, because it’s where the student starts to understand themselves much more as an intentional learner. It is a moment of very powerful metacognition. So I invite you coaches out there, whether you’re a classroom teacher who thinks of yourself as a coach, or whether you actually work one-to-one with students in some capacity, always save time to notice about what we did together and why it worked.–

…his answer was that he’s such a visual learner that on the test, he could think back to the whiteboard, and he could think back to “blank plus blank,” and it just really brought it all back to him. For every person, it’s going to work a little differently. In my case, for my particular brain, the reason why this process works is that I think about what’s the relationship between the different parts of the definition, and that process of thinking about it a little longer is what burns the neural pathways in my brain in a deeper, stronger way. But give it a try. See what it’s like in your note-taking or on your flashcards to create formulas.

[Video resumes] Okay, I let it go a little longer. I should have stopped it just a bit back there, but I really appreciate how I explained more overtly what was happening in my brain and why I chose what I chose.

So again, it’s not just the students saying what’s happening for them, but it’s also what’s happening in my brain. There’s a modeling there. That is really a powerful thing to do, and it mirrors the student, right? Like, we’re both talking about what’s happening in our brains. And so often, many people who’ve been trained as life coaches, for example, think they can’t actually share what’s happening inside themselves. But really, especially when we’re academic coaching, we’re working on knowledge, and how we interact with knowledge, how we build knowledge–it’s a creative task. So it can be very helpful to peel back and show what’s happening in our brains, and then get curious about the student’s ideas.

If you try this, I would love to hear how it goes!

I hope that was interesting for you. It was actually really interesting for me to unpack what I was modeling in the video, and to take a moment to think “what does good coaching actually look like? And how can you actually learn from watching some of my best coaching?”

I’m actually really curious: would you like to see me do more of these kinds of videos? If so, please put a comment down below and say, “Yes, Gretchen, I would” and then tell me why. Why was it helpful to you to see me breaking down some of the thinking behind the thinking in the video and the habits that I was modeling without perhaps even realizing I was modeling them? Let me know why that would be more helpful. And if enough of you say you want it, I’m happy to do a lot more of these kinds of breakdowns.

Thanks so much for being a valued follower, and I’ll see you in the next video.