How to Find the Theme of a Book Quickly So You Can Write That Essay Already!

Does your heart sink when you notice that the essay prompt asks you to find the “theme” or the “purpose” of the book you’re reading? Do you often think to yourself, “I have no idea!!” and then BS your way through the essay?

Well, I have a hint for you! Of course, the best line of defense is to listen during discussions in class, take good notes, and also talk to your teacher. But if none of that helps, this trick will take you the rest of the way. And who knows, maybe what feels like BS might be pretty smart stuff after all!?

Hey there, don’t have time for the full video? No worries, I’ve got your back, here’s a summary:

I received an email earlier this week from a senior in high school that was having a difficult time with a prompt she received in an AP English class. She needed to find the purpose of a novel so she could write an essay about it. Another way we can look at this is: What is the theme, or meaning, of the novel?

How to Find the Theme of a Book Quickly, Gretchen Wegner, Essay Writing, Purpose, Meaning

So I wanted to give you all a little trick I use with my clients. See when I’m coaching I have very little time to help a student push through work on their essay, so I have to make quick decisions how to help a student find the theme or purpose of a book when I haven’t read it myself. As such I’ve developed a bit of a trick. I like to use a list from the Center for NonViolent Communication that’s called the Needs Inventory.

Universal Needs Inventory, The Center for Nonviolent Communication, Gretchen Wegner, How to Find the Theme of a Book, Purpose, Meaning, Essay Writing,

What I have found is that it can be really helpful to look over this list with a student and ask, “What are the universal needs that are represented by the characters in this book?” For example, is there a need for order because things are really chaotic, and the characters are trying to create order but it’s really hard. I’ve found that students can pretty easily find 1, 2, or 3 needs that are really active in the book, and then find concrete evidence why those needs are a big deal in the book and how it plays out for the characters. Then you can use this to write an essay about how the theme or purpose of the book was about “insert universal need here”.

If you found this tip useful and you’d like more tips for writing essays or understanding the theme or purpose of books, click here!

How to Feel More Confident As a Student

Are you the kind of student who does OK at school? Parents and teachers sometimes nudge you, telling you that you’re not quite living up to your potential because your grades could be even higher than the B’s they are now?

I have a client like that who was tired of feeling that he could probably perform even better at school if he were only more motivated. We worked together for a quick eight sessions — and then he took his final exams. Voila! What he told me amazed me, and shows that just a few skills can make some major changes in a student’s self-esteem. Watch the video, where I tell you the full story of this client and what he discovered.

Hey there, don’t have time for the full video? Don’t worry I’ve got your back, here’s a summary:

I’ve been trying a little experiment that I want to tell you all about. I have a few clients who may have a learning disability of some sort but are extremely high functioning. They average decent grades, typically B’s but A’s as well sometimes. The reason they come to me, especially the client I am focusing on in this video, is that he and his family felt that he wasn’t living up to his potential in school. He said that he didn’t feel motivated to put in a lot of effort and that he felt he could be more motivated, but he wasn’t sure how to get there. So what him, his family, and I decided to do was to run him through The Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying in only eight sessions, just to get him setup with the time management, organization, and studying skills he needed to be able to really give school his all.

At the time I recorded this video I’d just heard back from him, and for reference, he’s a junior in high school, about his final exams. Now in the past, he’s always just coasted through school, as we talked about above, and that included his exams. However, exams have always caused him anxiety as he’s felt he should be doing more but wasn’t sure exactly what to be doing to prepare for them, and lacking the motivation to do anything. This year, on the contrary, he said he went in feeling like he was ready and that he knew what he was doing. His confidence was a LOT higher this year around, now that he had the skills he needed to really put forth his best effort. And while his grades have only had minor improvements from the short time we’ve worked together, he told me,

Gretchen Wegner, The Anti-Boring Approach To Powerful Studying, How to Feel More Confident As a Student, Studying, Time Management, Confidence, Self-Esteem, Tools,

And that’s the important thing here. His confidence and self-esteem as a student have skyrocketed. With just a few short sessions and a handful of tools and skills he’s gone from “doing okay but having low self-esteem” to “doing okay with high self-esteem.” That’s what we, as teachers and parents, want for the children we love, to see them feel good about the hard work they put in.

So if you want to access these tools and skills for yourself, click here, and see how they might be able to change your life.

A Destructive Myth That Makes Students Miserable

Hey there, do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by how much there is to do at school? Does it feel impossible to do it all alone?

This is a video I made last summer, but it’s just as relevant as ever. I’ve seen TOO MANY of my clients buckle under the stress of thinking they have to do school by themselves. That your work doesn’t count unless you accomplish it all by yourself.

This is a destructive myth! And it’s unrealistic, too. Watch the video to hear more.

Hey there, don’t have time to watch the whole video? Don’t worry; I’ve got your back, here’s a summary.

One of the biggest and most DESTRUCTIVE myths in our education system is that people must do everything themselves. I have a friend and client who’s a grad student, and she’s doing a presentation on some research she did in a recent class. We were talking, and she said, “I’ve been discouraged, though, (she was sick the previous week) since I fell so far behind, but this morning I met with a profession on campus who gave me lots of great ideas and feedback I want to incorporate. […] I get overwhelmed at how to incorporate and communicate all my ideas. […] I’m glad this woman was a resource that I could use, though. Basically, I can’t write these alone, which is kind of discouraging, but good to know.”

She was feeling discouraged that she couldn’t do it alone, but that’s the myth. Think about this: Professors have their undergrads helping them, researchers have their teams, and authors have editors. If the professionals have assistance, why should students feel they must work alone? As I told her, you don’t have to. Don’t fall prey to this destructive myth. You can always ask your professors, or teachers, or parents, or friends for some help. You can revel in the community, and enjoy the help and insight of a team of people rooting for you as the spokesperson for your ideas.

Q&A: Math Mistakes, Gap Years, Distracted Studying & More

Gretchen Wegner | Megan Dorsey | College Prep Podcast | Q&A | Q/A | Math | GAP Years | Scholarships | Early Action school | Studying | Study | Universities | Communication |

It’s another Q&A Show! Here are the questions that we tackle in this episode:

1. Weird Mistakes in Math. My math teacher is a little confusing, which gets me doing weird things that complicate matters on simple problems. Mom thinks it could be that I’m making it complicated in my head, and I can see that, but I don’t know exactly. Thanks for the offer, and I think I’ll try it, ~ Ella, Middle School Student

2. Gap Years and Scholarships. I have been a fan for years and really appreciate your podcast. My daughter is a senior, and she was accepted to her highly selective Early Action school, so things are looking good and the pressure is off! Now we’re waiting for the other schools to respond from the regular decision round. My question is about applying for scholarships when you are planning to take a gap year. My daughter has not told any of her schools that she is planning to take a gap year, but she will ask the ones that she is deciding between if it’s OK after she has all of her acceptances. We already know that the Early Action school is a very pro-gap year and I think the others will be fine with it too, they’re all private liberal arts schools. As she’s been looking into scholarships, she has found that they all apply to students who are going to start college this fall. So, if she applied and received one of these scholarships, would she then have to tell them she’s taking a gap year and then have to re-apply for it next year? If so, there’s no point in going through that, and maybe she should just wait to apply for scholarships next year.

3. Distraction When Studying. I got distracted every time I sit to study. I need some suggestions. ~Aish

4. Sports Communication. I have heard you mention in 2 previous podcasts that you have a student you are working with that is interested in Sports Communication. My son Sam is a junior, and he is interested in Communication, sports or political journalism or broadcasting, and we are also in Texas. He is homeschooled, and we do not have a high school counselor. I would love to know any helpful information you have found for this student and what this field looks like regarding universities, especially in Texas.

Click here to head over to the College Prep Podcast to listen to this episode.

How to Make Time Visible… and Feel Less Anxious Too

All too often, the teens with whom I meet tell me, “Oh, I don’t have much to do. I can remember it all in my head.”

Sometimes that’s true! But more often, we discover that they DON’T have their “to do list” as down as they think they do.

In this video, I share a story about a client who recently gave me this line, how I handled it, and what he discovered in the process!

Hey there, don’t have time for the full video? No worries, I’ve got your back. Here’s a summary:

With the start of the new semester, a client I’ve been working with a couple of years now was telling me how he was sure that this year he didn’t need to get any time management systems going again this year. So I shared some brain facts I have in my Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying and then I asked him, given the facts I shared and how the working memory needs things to be as clean and clear as possible if he’d be up for just practicing a planner to make time visible. So we devised a time tracking sheet that worked for him.

Gretchen Wegner | How to Make Time Visible | Reduce Anxiety | Time Management | Organization

After we created this blank chart, which we called the week sheet, he looked up everything he needed to do and what he needed to take care. After a little bit and it was all mapped out, some of which he needed to my help to be reminded of – mainly the major due dates for the future – I asked him, “How does it feel now that we’ve put all of this out there?”

Gretchen Wegner | How to Make Time Visible | Reduce Anxiety | Time Management | Organization

His response, I felt, was absolutely amazing. He said, “Before it felt fine, but now it feels better. I couldn’t actually tell how much anxiety I was feeling before, but now that we have it all mapped out in that chart, I don’t have to struggle to remember anything anymore and I didn’t realize that was causing me anxiety, but now that I feel better I realize it was.” I thought that was so smart of him, as a junior in high school, to be able to articulate that kind of understanding of his experience.

If you want more tips to reduce anxiety or time management, then I have tons of them in the Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying, which you can learn more about by clicking here.

3 Tips to Make Worksheets More Than Just “Busy Work”

3 Tips to Make Worksheets More Than Just "Busy Work" | Gretchen Wegner | Megan Dorsey | College Prep PodcastWorksheets may seem like useless “busy work,” especially to bored students.

But actually, they are great tools to help you score well on tests if you use them in the right way.

Tune in to find out more about how to:

  • Be less bored when filling out worksheets
  • Turn worksheets into quizzable study tools so that you can better prep for tests
  • Make sure you’re answering all the questions correctly so that you can…
  • Use your worksheet as a quizzable study tool,
  • and more!

Learning how to maximize worksheets as a learning tool is an underutilized habit for both students and teachers alike, which makes this a particularly important episode. Click here to listen to this episode!

How to Prep for an Essay When You Don’t Know the Prompt

Argh! It’s annoying having to prep for timed essays when you don’t know the prompt, isn’t it?

Recently I got this GREAT question from a student who stumbled across my videos on YouTube:

A junior in college named Yaya asked, “I have a timed essay coming up in January and don’t know the prompt. However, I do have the readings which are 4 different articles, and all kinda surround Angela Duckworth’s idea of Grit. Any ideas on how I can prepare for such essay??”

Yes! I DO have an idea. Watch the video for my complete answer to Yaya.

Hey there, don’t have time for the full video? No worries, I’ve got your back, here’s a summary:

The problem we’re looking at this week is how do you prepare for an essay when you don’t know what the prompt will be? For Yaya, this was causing her stress, and that’s completely understandable, after all, how do you prepare for something when you don’t know what you’re preparing for?

Well, the first thing we can do is look at the 4 articles she was assigned to read. We can note that they all revolve around Grit, and there are some themes we can see right away just from reading the subtitles, such as “The limits of grit”, “Is grit overrated?”, “how grit helps with perseverance and passion for long-term goals”, etc. So when you start reading you should be looking for these themes and marking down stuff like, when is their passion showing up, what are some limits to grit, when are long-term goals brought up, etc.
Gretchen Wegner | The Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying | How to Prepare for an Essay When You Don't Know the Prompt | Essays | Writing | Academic Life Coach | Academic Coach | Academic Coaching

Then I’d create a chart like the one above. I’d list each of the readings and the themes, and I’d annotate every time I found the themes and I’d fill out the boxes. This way, I have a good understanding of the building blocks of each of these articles. Once you understand the core themes of the articles you should be very well prepared to write any essay on these readings.

An added step you could take is to consider or ask others, what some potential essay prompts from these articles could be, and then practice making an outline for them. Just from reading the titles and the subject matter, I could make an educated guess that one potential prompt they would give you is, “Analyze Grit, is it a good thing? If so why or why not?”

I hope this is helpful to you all, and if you want more tips like this, click here to check out my course which has a lot of tips for preparing for essays.

Every Student, Teacher, And Parent Should Memorize This ASAP

Hey Y’all, I’ve got a very special video for you today. I strongly believe that every student, teacher, and parent out there should memorize what I call The Study Cycle. It needs to be a part of the daily language in classrooms and households. Normally I keep this video locked up in my paid online courses, but today I’m releasing it for you to watch for FREE!

Check out the video here. And then — if you’re a teacher, tutor, school administrator or academic coach, please considering joining me for my upcoming course The Art of Inspiring students to Study Strategically. We start on February 27th. You will learn everything you need to know to ensure that students have the tools they need to rock their learning with or without you!

Hey there, while I HIGHLY recommend watching this particular video in full, here is a summary:

The Study Cycle is composed of 3 steps and is the most effective, efficient, and anti-boring method I know for studying. So before we begin going over the steps, I have a little image here, which we will be referencing.

 

The Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying | The Art of Inspiring Students to Study Strategically | Gretchen Wegner | Teacher | Teachers | Tutors | Academic Life Coach | Academic Coach | Academic Coaching | Academic Coaches | Tutors | Tutor | Study Skills | School Administrators | Parents | Parent | Student | StudentsWe start with the basket of knowledge and skills at the bottom of the image, this is what we need to learn, and we need to get this into your beautiful brain at the top. So step 1 is encoding the information from the basket into our brains. In this step, we are getting the information into our brains, whether we are teaching it to ourselves or it’s being taught to us.

Step 2 of The Study Cycle, which the majority of students skip, is practice retrieval. This is the process of getting the information out of our brains and assessing what we actually learned. By doing this, we get two very important pieces of information. The first is what we do know, what we actually did learn in step 1. The second is what we didn’t encode in step 1. What we didn’t learn, or encode, we put back into the basket of knowledge.

Then we have step 3. Step 3 is one of the least practiced steps, but just as important or more important than the other 2. Step 3 is to encode the information we assessed we didn’t learn in step 2 in a NEW way. The important thing is NOT just to try to re-encode it the same way you did in Step 1, but to encode the information in a new way.

My course, The Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying, for students, and The Art of Inspiring Students to Study Strategically, for Educators, both are filled with a wide variety of tools to help students encode information in new ways. So check them out, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Eight Reasons to Apply to Canadian Universities

8 Reasons to Apply to Canadian Universities & 4 Reasons Not to | Megan Dorsey | Gretchen Wegner | Whitney Laughlin | College Prep PodcastDid you know that you can save more than $20K a year by going to Canadian Universities, as compared to American ones?

There are many other reasons why American students might want to consider Canadian universities. Join us as guest expert Whitney Laughlin, Ed.D maps out the reasons why you ought to consider Canada for higher education.

  • Differences and similarities between the Canadian and American university systems
  • 8+ reasons benefits to choosing a Canadian university over an American one
  • 4 reasons why you might NOT want to consider a Canadian university
  • how to get scholarships in Canada
  • and more!

The free resources we mentioned on this episode include the Canadian government’s website about their university system, an informative newspaper article about the Canadian university system, and this index of colleges and universities.

Whitney Laughlin, Ed. D is an independent college consultant who works with families to choose the perfect college for them in either Canada or the United States. Check out her website to find out more about her college and career counseling services, workshops, and nonprofit consulting work.

Click here to head over to the College Prep Podcast to listen to this episode.

Always Write These Two Things In Your Planner

Did you know that the WAY you write something in your planner can have a big effect on whether you actually follow through?

My client recently discovered that there are two things he needs to write in his planner for every major assignment — the WHAT and the HOW of what he needs to do.

Check out the video to find out more.

Hey there, don’t have time for the video? No worries, I’ve got your back, here’s a short summary.

I LOVE it when I get blown away by the concise way my clients articulate something they’ve learned in our sessions. I had a college student who was a freshman in college and in high school, he’d never used a planner. So we were working on making sure he planned out his assignments. In this instance, he came to the session and said he had an essay assignment, but not to worry he was great at writing essays. I asked him to take it out and just review it, and it turned out, while the essay was simple itself, the process for completing was a bit more complex than he had thought.

This led my client to realize that when he’s writing an assignment into his planner he needed to add 2 very important details. He needed to note, not just WHEN he would work on the assignment and when it was due, but also HOW he would complete it. For his essay, he needed to plan out a few different topics to discuss, as well as take the time to go to the library and research the topics chosen. So in his planner, he put down when he would figure out his topics, and when he would go to the library to research them, and when he would do the final writing.

It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t just want to plan around WHEN you will do something, you also need to plan out HOW you will complete what you’re working on when you plan to do it.

If you’d like more time management tips, click here to find out more about my online course.

How to Make Sure You Follow Through On a Plan

Do you ever get a good idea about something you want to do in the future? But you don’t act on it right away, and soon enough you forget the idea… and nothing ever happens?

Recently, I was working with a client who had a very good idea about how to make sure he studies well for his next test! Check out the video to find out how he almost sabotaged his good idea… until I made sure he did one little thing that prompted him to follow through.

Hey there, don’t have time for the full video? Don’t worry; I’ve got your back, here’s a summary:

Recently I was working with my client, preparing his study plans for his final exams. He had the idea to study with his friend, which I thought was a wonderful idea. So I asked him, “when are you going to study with her?”, to which he replied, “Oh I don’t know, but I’ll study with her.” He was procrastinating, so I suggest he send her an invitation to study right now. He laughed and agreed, saying, “you got me if I do it now I’m more likely to follow through.” This is a perfect example of how the “team” part of my “Tools, Team, Routine” triangle I teach in the Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying.

The Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying | Gretchen Wegner | Studying | Team | Final Exam | Procrastination | Study | Tools | Client

The “team” part of “Tools, Team, & Routine” is not just him studying with his classmate, but also utilizing me as a source to make sure he doesn’t procrastinate contacting his classmate and setting up the time to study. It’s usually other people’s presence that helps us take action on difficult tasks. I know this is true for me, as I always save my hardest tasks for when I’m working with co-workers. It’s a great help to have someone there to help us not procrastinate.

If you’d like to learn more about “Tools, Team, & Routine” or just want other amazing tips on how to follow through on a plan, check out my course here.

How to Get Past Debilitating Roadblocks

Do you ever experience huge roadblocks that make it impossible for you to finish a big project you started?

Recently, I had a client who was working on his first major research project ever. As often happens with students who struggle with executive functioning, there was a supposedly simple task in the research process that seemed insurmountable to him.

In this video, I walk you through how I helped this teen move through his roadblock.

Don’t have time for the whole video? I have your back, here’s a short summary:

It’s so common when working on a large project to hit a roadblock, some task in the project that simply seems insurmountable. So we tend to procrastinate, which is exactly what my client was doing, procrastinating.

The client I was talking to recently, a 9th grader, was working on his first massive research project and what might seem like a very simple task, had become a roadblock for him. He was stuck on the task of transferring his notes into his main rough draft. He knew how to do it, but in his mind, it just seemed like too much, he was suffering from cognitive overwhelm. Not only was he stressing about the task, he was also procrastinating which was just making things worse.

The solution for this is actually pretty simple. With my client I just sat with him while he copied and pasted, over and over, from his notes to his rough draft, acting as a force to help him do what he knew had to be done, but couldn’t seem to force himself to do. Whenever you run into a roadblock, it’s often best to simply ask someone you know, reach out, and have them help you push through the roadblock.

Anyways, I hope you found this tip helpful. If you did, and you want more free tips and resources, click here to check out The College Prep Podcast.

Are My Scores and Grades Good Enough?

Gretchen Wegner | Megan Dorsey | The College Prep Podcast | Scores | Grades | Graduation Rates | SAT | ACT | Colleges | Schools | Admissions Junior year it’s time to start compiling your list of colleges.

However, how can you tell if your grades are high enough to be considered by the schools on your list?

Megan introduces us to a cool online tool that provides a host of valuable information about what schools you qualify for and why. During this episode, she walks us through this corner of the College Board’s website, showing you how to use their data to build your college list, including:

  1.  Graduation Rates
  2. % Admitted
  3. Class Rank of Admitted Students
  4. SAT / ACT of Admitted Students
  5. (nice to know) What that school finds important in evaluating applications.

Your goal in using this website is to have an honest, fact-based idea about the admissions process at each school, as well as to build a list of colleges that will result in multiple admissions and allow you some choice about where you want to go.

Click here to head over to the College Prep Podcast to listen to this episode.

How to Learn Foreign Languages Faster & Better

Gretchen Wegner | Megan Dorsey | The College Prep Podcast | How to Learn Foreign Languages Faster & Better | Learning | English | Students | Vocabulary | Grammar | Word | Writing | Language | Does foreign language learning seem awfully slow? Tune in as Megan and Gretchen reflect about 10+ ways to learn languages, including English, faster and more effectively.

Today’s episode is a response to a listener named Hassan, who lives in Iran and is studying electrical engineering. He wants to know how to learn English faster. This advice will be for students who want to go “above and beyond” the language learning they’re already doing in their classrooms.

Some of the suggestions Gretchen and Megan include:

  • Daily practice of vocabulary and grammar
  • Sign up for a “word a day” SAT service, and practice incorporating that word in your daily life.
  • Speak with native speakers as much as possible. Finds ways to “immerse” yourself.
  • Listen to TV, radio, and podcasts. Talk about them with friends in the language you’re listening to them in.
  • Watch the “close captioning” so that you are seeing the language as well as hearing it
  • When there are words or phrases you really want to learn, put them up in your bedroom in visible ways, so you are surrounded by them
  • Practice writing  more in that language, and get someone to help you improve that writing by editing it for and with you
  • Get grammar support by googling “best online grammar practice.”
  • and more!

Click here to head over to the College Prep Podcast to listen to this episode.

Are Your Homework Plans Realistic?

Do you should on yourself when making plans?

During most of my coaching sessions with teens, we spend at least some of our time making plans for the next week. We break big projects down into smaller parts; we decide what study tasks will be done on which days before the test.

However, invariably my clients will make plans that they can’t keep! They tell me what they think they SHOULD say, rather than what they can realistically accomplish.

Here’s one way I handle that during our sessions:

Hey, don’t have time for the full video? I’ve got your back, here is a quick summary:

As you can imagine I do a LOT of planning with teenagers. Close to, if not more, than half of my sessions are planning out the next week or month based on what homework they’ve been assigned. Typically we look at what assignments they have upcoming and then planning backward to figure out what they should be doing each day/week/month as necessary.

During these planning sessions, quite often we’ll make a plan and my clients will say, “Sure I’ll do that”, or my personal favorite, “Sure I’ll do that Friday afternoon.” The vast majority of my clients and students I know, don’t want to do ANYTHING after school on Friday, even as a teacher I don’t. They are saying what they think they “should” say, instead of being realistic and making a plan they will actually follow through on.

Gretchen Wegner | The Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying | Homework | Plans | Planning | Clients | Assignments |

The way I handle this is by asking them, usually a few times, “Are you “shoulding” on yourself? Are these plans actually realistic?” I try to make sure they understand they don’t have to “should” on themselves. It won’t benefit them to make a plan they know they won’t follow through on, or that they will just end up procrastinating for later. So we revise the plan using my triangle, “tools, team, and routine”, to make a more realistic homework plan.

If you want to know more about the triangle, “tools, team, and routine”, you can find it in the “Overcome Procrastination” section of the Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying.

7+ Books That Megan & Gretchen Should Read

Gretchen Wegner | Megan Dorsey | Books | Educators | Parents | Read | Success | Reading | The Art of Inspiring Students to Study StrategicallyDo you ever buy books that are important professionally but never get around to reading them? Megan and Gretchen both have books on their shelves that they haven’t read yet.

Listen in as they list these books, and explain why they’re important for educators and parents to read. Maybe doing this podcast will also inspire Megan and Gretchen to actually get reading!

Here’s the list:

Click here to head over to the College Prep Podcast to listen to this episode.

The Art of Inspiring Students to Study Strategically

Gretchen Wegner | Eda Chen | Natalie Borrell | The Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying | The Art of Inspiring Students to Study Strategically | Students | Educators | Teachers | Educator | Teacher | Student | Study

This week on the College Prep Podcast with Gretchen Wegner and her co-host Megan Dorsey:

Meet two amazing educators teaching students study skills in creative and cutting edge ways. Gretchen interviews Eda Chen and Natalie Borrell about how the unique ways they’ve integrated the Anti-Boring Approach in their work.

Together they discuss:

  • why it’s important that educators equip themselves with specific study theory and strategies
  • the creative ways they are incorporating the Anti-Boring study tools into the work they’re already doing as life coaches for teens, including
  • Eda’s plan to include study skills and career coaching into her work with foster students, and
  • Natalie’s plans for bringing her lively in-person workshop to schools all over Ohio.

Natalie Borrell is a licensed School Psychologist and Academic Life Coach in the Cleveland, OH area. She works with teenagers who want to become better students, but need some direction on how to do so! She uses Gretchen’s Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying in her work with individual clients and a hands-on workshop for high school students. Check out her website, and also her Facebook page.

Eda Chen is the Owner and President of Elan Advising. It’s an education and career consulting company based in Davis that works exclusively with high school students, college students, and recent grads. They use life coaching techniques to teach executive skills–like time management, emotional resiliency and more. They also help their clients with college and graduate school applications and job hunting. Eda‘s a UC Davis alum and grew up in Dallas. You can find her website here. She’s also on Twitter and Instagram: @elanadvising.

Click here to head over to the College Prep Podcast to listen to this episode.

Inspire Struggling Learners to Study Harder, Learn More & Raise Grades

“I’m lazy,” teens often tell me when I meet them for the first time. Parents often confirm this. And so do teachers, when I email them to get more info about how a client is doing in their class.

I know students often feel lazy. And they certainly seem lazy to parents, who watch their teens get sucked into the vortex of their phones.

But what if students are not lazy at all. What if — God forbid — it’s the adults around them who are helping to create the conditions for this apparent “laziness”?

Let me explain:

As an academic life coach with a glimpse into hundreds of classrooms throughout my career, I’ve noticed two different tendencies amongst the students who seek me out:

  1. Some students try really hard. They stress themselves out keeping up with their school work. Despite their best efforts, these kiddos still perform poorly on tests. Argh! Why?!
  1. Other students seem apathetic, perhaps even lazy. They can’t motivate themselves to learn, despite teachers’ best intentions to make curriculum interesting and their parents’ best efforts to keep them on track.

I’m guessing that YOU are the kind of educator who has also noticed this trend… and is doing what you can to reverse it. 

You are sincere, creative and a hard worker. You’ve done your darndest to design a curriculum that will be motivating and effective for students.

So why are students STILL struggling so much?!

What are we missing as educators that hold them back?

As an academic coach I’ve spent thousands of hours talking to stressed out and/or unmotivated students, and one pattern has emerged from these conversations that are striking —

Students don’t know how to study. Everyone TELLS them to study, schools and parents EXPECT them to study, but no one has actually taught them how.

“But that’s not true!” you might be thinking. “I tell my students exactly how to study for my tests. I give them study guides, quizlet sets and teach fun mnemonics! Why isn’t that enough?!”

I don’t doubt this is true. Many educators ARE giving students a zillion resources to help them study. However, this is what I’ve learned in my hours coaching teenagers from around the country:

The way adults talk to students about their own learning may be backfiring!

That was true for me, at least, for the years that I was a classroom teacher. Once I became an academic life coach, I discovered that I needed to unlearn a number of bad habits about how to talk to students about learning and studying.

Although my actions were intended to help students become more engaged, proactive learners — instead they created the opposite effect.

Students became passive learners, dependent on their teacher’s creativity and curriculum development expertise to guide their learning. They didn’t know how to teach themselves. 

Now that I am an academic life coach, I’ve been unlearning these bad habits. I’m watching my student clients transform their learning, lower their stress level and raise their grades in unprecedented numbers. I’m also watching the teens who seemed lazy perk up and start taking action.

If I can do this as a coach, you can do this too — as the incredible teachers, counselors, tutors, and coaches that YOU are.

So, what are these bad teaching habits to which well-meaning educators fall prey?

Here are the top four bad habits that I discovered in myself and have observed in other educators:

  1. We overuse the word “study,” assuming it communicates something of value to our students.
  2. We teach specific strategies (like flashcards) that worked for us when we were students.
  3. We focus on “learning styles” as the way to discover how to study effectively.
  4. We break learning down for students into bite-size, motivating chunks and provide clear instructions for students.

Well hold up, you might be thinking! Aren’t these the tenets of good, progressive education? How can they possibly be bad teaching and tutoring habits?

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I feel your pain. I was surprised, too, to discover that certain “facts” of good teaching in which I’d been trained sometimes do more harm than good. Why might that be?

Let’s take a closer look at each of these bad habits that are plaguing well-meaning teachers, tutors, and academic coaches:

Bad Habit #1 – Educators overuse the word “study.”

Imagine the following scene:

It’s Wednesday, 4th-period chemistry. The teacher writes on the board, “Study for test on Friday.” Students make a mental note, “Ok, I better study for that test”; some even write “study” into their planners. Parents, coaches and tutors see the word “study” in the planner and follow up by asking, “Have you studied for the test yet?” The student responds somewhat impatiently, responds, “Yes! Yes! I’m studying.”

Think about it: How many times was the word “study” used? Was anything of value about the learning process communicated in these brief interactions?

I’d argue NO! This entire conversation about studying is largely meaningless. How do students decide what they need to DO to study?! How will they know when they’ve been successful studying, and are ready to take the test?

Because students aren’t actually taught the theory behind effective study and the strategies associated with that theory, they often go home and do one of two things:

  1. They try to “study” the best way they know how, often by rereading the textbook and reviewing and highlighting notes. Some make flashcards, though this technique is often a time-waster too (more on that later). Or…
  2. They simply don’t study, either because the actions I’ve described above are unmotivating and uninspiring or because they don’t believe they need to study.

When test grades are published, student’s spirits are dashed. “But I studied!” they say. “How come I got such a bad grade?” The answer is — because they studied in ways that felt effective but are are not actually effective.

As an academic life coach, I am on a mission to banish the words “study” and “review” from the English language. Ok. I know. That’s pretty impossible. But what if educators, parents, and students used it a lot less? How would you talk about test preparation with students if you weren’t allowed to use either the word “study” or the word “review”?!  Too often the use of these words allow us to live under the illusion that we are communicating something of value about the learning process, when truthfully we are not.

What should teachers, tutors, and academic coaches do instead? 

  • Quick Tip: Start noticing when you use the word “study” and what you are actually trying to communicate. Play around with banishing the word “study” from your vocabulary for a day or two. What might you say instead?   You might even include your students in this game! See how this experiment forces you to talk about learning in new ways. 
  • Advanced Tip: Want to know the 3 words that I use with my clients instead of the word “study”? Watch the FREE demonstration video that’s embedded here. You might even print out the graphic of the 3-step Study Cycle that I provide in my e-book, post it somewhere visible, and practice using those words with your students instead.

So, what’s the next blind spot I’ve noticed in educators (and of which I was also guilty)?

Bad Habit #2 – Educators teach specific strategies (like flashcards) that worked for us when we were students.

I’m guessing you are one of the many thoughtful teachers, coaches, and tutors who DO teach specific strategies for studying. Perhaps you suggest flashcards or provide mnemonics to help students memorize complex information. Maybe you hand out a study guide with suggestions for how to use it. Some teachers (I was one of these!) even build studying for a test into the curriculum, guiding students through the steps they need to prepare.

Yes! This is all good pedagogy!

Here’s the problem:

First, usually, we pick the strategies that worked well for us when we were students. But not all learners are going to rock the information just because they’re studying it in a way that worked for you.

Also, well-meaning educators often suggest strategies without explaining WHY these strategies tend to work. We assume that the strategy in and of itself is what will help the student study. But even the BEST strategies can fail if implemented in ways that ignore how the brain is built to learn. I know so many students who are bored to death by flashcards, but who use them anyway because they’ve been taught it is a successful learning strategy.

Many educators themselves don’t truly understand how learning happens in the brain. I sure didn’t, before I became an academic life coach. In our teacher education programs, we are taught strategies for engaging students, but we aren’t taught how this fits into a brain-based model for how learning happens.

When we teach strategies without teaching the underlying theory about why that strategy might work, we are creating kids’ dependence on the specific strategies. We are teaching them that the way to study is to throw a random strategy at the problem and hope you learn the information.

What should teachers, tutors, and academic coaches do instead? 

  • Quick Tip: When you hand students a new assignment, ask students to look it over and reflect: “What is the purpose of this activity? What am I supposed to learn?” and then “How does the design of this lesson help me learn this objective?”  The goal here is to help them start to distinguish between learning objectives and the strategies used to achieve that objective. 
  • Advanced Tip: Teach students the 3-Step Study Cycle. Once they understand each of the three steps, have them reflect about which step of the cycle they are in for each kind of assignment you offer. This tip might not make much sense now, but it will make more sense after you read the description of the 3-Step Study Cycle and watch the demo that I provide, both of which are available here for free.

Bad Habit #3 – We focus on “learning styles” as the way to discover how to study and learn effectively.

Many educators — myself included! — have espoused learning styles as an important factor in increasing student motivation and performance.

When I was a classroom teacher, I had students take learning inventories, and then I would use the results of this inventory to help individualize student learning. For example, I’d have students who tested as “visual learners” do history projects that were primarily visual; students who tested as “logical” thinkers could write an essay or create a chart filled with information.

When I was trained as an academic coach, I was taught to use these same inventories with my clients, and then apply the results to help the students maximize their learning.

In the last few years, however, I’ve stopped giving these inventories. I DO still believe that every person learns differently and that it is important for students to understand — and advocate for! — learning methods that reveal their strengths.

However, I’ve noticed that too much of an emphasis on learning styles makes students less inclined to learn in ways that are *not* their learning preferences. In recent years, brain science has backed up my observations, stating that the most effective learning strategies use all parts of the brain, regardless of whether the students has a specific preference for that strategy.

What should we teach instead?   

  • Quick Tip: Teach students that the brain needs to learn information in a multitude of different ways. If one method doesn’t seem to be helping them learn, then students should be flexible enough to choose a different learning strategy, even if it’s NOT their preference or dominant learning style. 
  • Advanced Tip: So that students understand the brain-based reasons why variety is important in learning, teach them the 3 Step Study Cycle (it only takes 5-minutes to teach, as you’ll see in this demo). Then brainstorm with them multiple strategies for studying the same content when they are on their own, using the Study Cycle as a guide.

Bad Habit #4 – We break learning down for students into bite-size chunks.

When I did my teacher training, I learned of the importance of breaking tasks down for students to help them be successful. I mastered the art of creating engaging, complex curricula for students, as well as how to break it into discrete, doable parts with clear instructions so that students wouldn’t get lost in all the details.
This is an important teaching skill! I don’t knock it, and I hope you continue to do it!

However, a side effect of this kind of teacher-intensive curricula is that it can accidentally foster dependence rather than independence in students.

Students depend on the instructions. They wait to be told what to do, for the adults to initiate action.
I can’t tell you how many of my clients have answered my question, “Why didn’t you take notes in class today?” with the, “My teacher didn’t tell me to.” Argh! I stifle my frustration at this answer with, “Your teacher shouldn’t have to tell you to take notes!! You should know what’s good for your own learning, and be able to take initiative on your own!”

The side effect of our willingness as educators to break learning into digestible parts is that the teens themselves don’t have to learn to do this for themselves. They’re off the hook and don’t need to understand how successful learning happens for them. Instead, they mindlessly follow (or resist) the teacher’s instructions, a habit that is not conducive to lifelong learning.

Even tutors foster passivity and dependence in students. I’ve had several students who’ve told me, “Oh, I don’t need to study for the Spanish test by myself; I’ll just do it with my tutor.”

When students rely on their tutors and teachers to guide their study process, they are abdicating responsibility for their own learning. So what should teachers and tutors do instead?

Here’s a quick tip you can apply immediately:

  • Quick Tip: After you teach a lesson, ask students to reflect on what they just learned and how they learned it. Ask them to notice the ultimate learning objective, and how you structured the learning to help them get there. Invite them to remember that when they are studying at home, they are in charge of designing their own learning process.*
  • Truly Highly Advanced Tip: Check out my list of 7 types of struggling students, including each student’s “study blind spot” and “study solution.” This will help you hone how you work with specific types of students to help them study more strategically, including which step of the Study Cycle each kind of student needs more practice with.

*You may notice that this tip is very similar to the one I made for Bad Habit #2. This is purposeful! It is helpful to ask students to seek out the learning objectives both (1) before they complete a worksheet or assignment and (2) after they have engaged in a learning activity. The more often you have them reflect about what kinds of learning strategies help them achieve what kinds of learning, the more self-sufficient they will become at being able to structure their own learning when they are at home studying.

Is It Really This Simple to Help Students Break Through Passivity and Become Strategic Learners?

Yes! In my experience, most students are eager to learn how to become more effective learners. However, adults make it seem so complex! When they are introduced to a simple, easy-to-understand model for how to learn strategically, they rise to the occasion.

That’s why I’m such a fan of the 3-Step Study Cycle. I teach it to all my clients now, and I’m watching them become creative, engaged, skillful learners as a result. In fact, just a week ago a college freshman who’d been getting C’s and D’s on most of his tests this semester, came to his session with his eyes beaming. Here’s a summary of our conversation:

Student: Guess what?! I got an A on the test!!!!!!!

Me: OMG! Seriously?! Wow!!! How’d you manage that?!

Student: I followed the study cycle. And I worked really hard to hone my notes*.  In the past, I could usually narrow the multiple choice answers down to two that seemed similar, but I never knew what the right answer was. This time I totally knew! It was clear to me because I’d taken the time to encode the stuff I didn’t know in new ways*.

I’m so proud of this young man for working so hard to understand how to study strategically and raise his grades. He clearly worked hard! In that respect, it’s not simple to become a strategic learner; it involves hard work!

However, it is simple to teach students how to study strategically. And in my experience, it all starts with a 5-minute conversation that I fondly call the 3-Step Study Cycle. I’m such a believer in this process I’ve discovered that I wrote up an instruction manual for how to teach it to students, and I’m giving it away for FREE:

Click here to download your FREE copy of The Art of Inspiring Students: How to “Trick” Struggling Learners Into Studying Harder, Learning More, and Raising Grades.

In this short instruction manual, you’ll receive:

  • suggestions for how to talk to students about the difference between homework and studying
  • an overview of the 3-Step Study Cycle, a brain-based model for effective and efficient learning
  • a video demonstration of how I teach the Study Cycle to students
  • 5 different sets of learning tools that help students apply The Study Cycle more effectively
  • the 7 types of struggling learners, and which study tools work best for which learners

Phew! That was a lot to take in! If you have questions or observations for me about any of these bad habits, please feel free to post below. I look forward to engaging with you.

Free ebook: The Art of Inspiring Students

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How To "Trick" Struggling Learners into Studying Harder, Learning More, and Raising Grades
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Easy Tips for Prepping for Finals Over the Holidays

Gretchen Wegner | Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying | Studying Tips | College | Finals | Holidays | Notes | Testing | Study Tools

This week on the College Prep Podcast with Gretchen Wegner and her co-host Megan Dorsey:

Thanksgiving is coming up soon, as are the winter holidays.

If you get started studying for finals now (or over the winter holidays, if your finals aren’t until the end of January), you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches later — plus, you’ll learn the information better! Today Gretchen shares:

  • How to put in more effort to studying without feeling like you’re working too hard
  • The importance of testing yourself using “spaced retrieval”, and a few simple ways to do this over the holidays
  • How to get yourself organized so you don’t waste time later finding important study tools
  • A crucial tip for how to use your notes so that you’re actually learning (rather than just faking it)
  • and more!

For more strategies about getting prepped for finals, check out Gretchen Wegner’s Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying.

Tune into the podcast by clicking here.

When Grades Are Low, Should Student Be Allowed to Continue Extracurricular Activities?

Megan | Gretchen Wegner | College Prep Podcast | Grades | Students | Activities | Grades

This week on the College Prep Podcast with Gretchen Wegner and her co-host Megan Dorsey:

Should parents take away student’s activities if their academic grades are not up to snuff?

Megan and Gretchen weigh in on this important question from a listener, about how to work with her middle school age daughter who loves to participate in a dance troupe, and who has made great strides in her difficulties with math but still continues to struggle.

Here’s the specific question from mom Alissa:

My husband and I are at odds about how to encourage our daughter to keep up the good work.  She’s a dancer and we told her last year that she could not audition for the dance company unless her math grade was a B and she had turned in all her work.  I was fine with that, but now since seeing her most recent test scores, he wants to make her continued participation contingent on her math grade.  I do not like that solution because it punishes not only her, but the other dancers.  I think she’s struggling with math and can use this year to figure out how to balance her life in the low risk environment of middle school. I also don’t want to set her up for such an epic punishment if she brings home a C or even a D.

Click here to listen to this free episode of the College Prep Podcast!