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.
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?”
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.
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.
I’m excited to share with you a handy tool for college students.
This was taught to me by a real live student (shout out to Harrison!). He is a sophomore in college and interned with me over the summer.
I LOVE this tool that he makes for himself, and I wanted to share it with you all — including a tweak or two that I’d make to it.
Check out the video, and then PLEASE forward it to any college students you know could benefit from this handy little one-page organizational tool.
For more time management and study solutions for students, parents and educators, please sign up for the Anti-Boring Approach to Successful Studying CourseHERE
Especially reading books that you don’t necessarily choose for yourself…and at an assigned pace that isn’t natural for you. So it’s important to have some tricks up your sleeve for how to read large quantities, ESPECIALLY if you are a college or grad student.
This week I discuss creating a roadmap for finding important information and main ideas in books. Once you understand the structure of how an Author writes, it is easier to dive in and start reading efficiently.
Watch to find out how!
Just to recap so far:
Tip 1. Pay attention to the table of contents
Tip 2. Pay attention to “where” the Author puts their main ideas.
Stay tuned for Part 3 in this four-part series next week.
For more time management and study solutions for students, parents and educators, please sign up for the Anti-Boring Approach to Successful Studying CourseHERE
I get it: as a parent, you want what’s best for your teen, and you’ve hired me — an academic life coach! — to help your teen learn the skills necessary to be a success. However, are their ways you might undermine the very coaching you are paying for? Read on:
Parent To the Rescue
Because I do most of my coaching on Skype, I’m able to see some of my clients during their off period while they are at school. The other day I got an email from a student saying that he might be late because he’d accidentally left his iPad (the source of his webcam) at home, and he needed time to problem-solve an alternate method of calling me.
To my surprise, he showed up right on time after all, on his iPad no less!
Evidently, his father had rushed the iPad over to school in time for our session. According to this client, this was the third time this week that a parent had delivered something that he forgot at home.
Now, I don’t blame these parents in the least. They’re spending good money on academic coaching, and don’t want it to go to waste because of their son’s forgetfulness. However, by diving in to help their son fix the problem, the parents inadvertently interrupted him as he tried to problem-solve his mistake. They also taught him that it’s ok to forget things because they are always available to rescue him.
Advice From a 3-Year-Old: Worry About Yourself
The video that I posted at the top of this entry is perfect advice to parents: “Worry about yourself!” This young gal wants desperately to buckle herself into her car seat, and she rejects her father’s incessant interference in her process. She is clearly not figuring out the buckling mechanism, but gosh darnit, she is hell bent on trying! And she’d prefer that her father go off and do his own thing. “Go drive!” she commands him.
In the case of my client, what might it have looked like for the father to “worry about himself” rather than readjust his day to deliver his son the iPad? How did the father’s habit of “worrying about his son” undermine an opportunity for the son to practice self-sufficiency and learn from his mistakes?
Making a New Plan for Self-Sufficiency
During our session the son came up with a great plan for remembering to pack his backpack. Several sessions ago we’d established what we fondly called the “Yay! I’m Done with Homework Ritual!”, which includes the following steps (as written by my client):
Put all my stuff in the correct folders
Put the folders/binders in my back pack
Put my backpack by the door
After carefully recalling each moment of forgetfulness, he realized that, although he was doing a good job of putting his backpack by the backdoor, he was actually leaving some assignments next to his backpack rather than in the backpack. The next morning he would be in a hurry, and grab the backpack, but not the items next to the backpack. Hence: forgotten work.
He also realized that he charges his iPad overnight, which means he can’t pack it in his backpack during the “Yay! I’m Done with Homework Ritual!” This client came up with the idea of leaving his backpack near where he charges the iPad, and in fact, putting the iPad in his backpack while it’s charging. So the new ritual reads as follows:
Put all my stuff in the correct folders
Put the folders/binders in my back pack
Put my backpack where I charge my iPad
Time Will Tell
Now we will need to see whether my client can follow through with this ritual. Time will tell. I’m going to ask his parents NOT TO REMIND him about the ritual, so that his success is entirely dependent on whether he remembers to do it! If he doesn’t remember, I will process that with him, and we will go from there.
How Donnel Learned His Lesson the Hard Way
Another client, Donnel, is a senior in high school with newly diagnosed ADD. He drives himself to my sessions, and so is completely self-sufficient in this regard. Early on, though, he totally forgot one of our sessions and didn’t show up. Luckily, I offer one “freebie”, and so I didn’t charge him; however, I did make an agreement with Donnel and his mom that, were this to happen again, Donnel would owe his mother $85 for the missed session.
Several month later, Donnel missed the session again without giving me 24 hour advance warning. As promised, his mother charged him $85 (a debt which he has finally paid off a few weeks ago). Although I know it was annoying to Donnel to have to owe his mother, it was well worth the money.
As the final weeks of senior year have ramped up, he has consistently given me 24-hour warning since then, which is a great feat for a young person who struggles with attention deficit. By being held accountable for his own forgetfulness, he has learned to put all activities on the calender, check the calendar regularly, communicate ASAP to people affected by schedule changes, and (perhaps most importantly) that he’d rather live debt free. Not a bad set of lessons.
Being a parent is not easy!
So why make it harder for yourself by worrying about your kid. Take this wise little 3-year-old’s advice (it’s just so cute and profound, I can’t help but post this again):
A couple years ago I gave a talk called “Parenting for Academic Success” that I gave for Diablo Valley College’s New Horizons Program.
It was the beginning of the school year (just as it is now), and these 50 parents were HUNGRY for help on how to support their 8th graders as they move through high school and into college. Given that we’re at the start of another school year, it’s worth reviewing the main point that got the most nods and “mmmmmhmmmmmms” from these eager parents.
Learning Styles: Figure Them Out for the Whole Family
Each of us learns in a unique way. We have preferences for how we like to learn, and which learning styles are most/least effective for us. Often, parents’ learning styles are different than their child’s, a discrepancy which often causes arguments between parents and children about how to study.
Take, for example, an experience from my own teen years about doing math homework with my dad (who is a mathematician). I always wanted to know how to do a problem; dad always wanted to tell me why the math works the way it does. This drove me crazy!! Clearly, my father and I had a different way of learning and loving math. I wanted step by step instructions; he wanted the big picture theory. (Side note: While I was telling this story at my talk, a dad in the front row burst out laughing; evidently he and his daughter have exactly the same problem!).
Dad and I muddled through our homework together okay, but it was always tension-filled (for me, at least). I wonder how it would have been different if we had a language with which to talk about our differences. It can be highly effective for families to learn about each others’ learning styles and then introduce “learning styles language” into their family conversations:
Take a learning style assessment all together. There are tons available online.
Share the results with each other. Know who in your family is more visual, more kinesthetic, more verbal, and so on.
Build learning styles language into family conversations. For example, at dinner talk about your day from the reference point of learning styles. Perhaps tell a story about how your boss expected you to do a project in a way that felt unnatural to you. Discuss how you advocated to get the same project done, but in a way that suited your learning style better.
Ask kids questions about how they learned what they learned in school that day, and note the successes that come with kids are learning in ways that are natural to them.
As parents, practice some learning styles that are outside your comfort zone, and encourage your kids to do the same. After all, just because we have preferences for how we learn doesn’t mean we can’t grow in other areas. And the more you’re willing to model hard work and growth, the more your student will be comfortable learning in ways that don’t always suit their preferences.
Advocacy: Role Play How to Ask Teacher’s For Help
Once students know their learning style and understand the importance of studying according to that style, they will have an easier time getting help from their teachers and their parents. They can more easily name their learning challenge and ask their teachers and parents for exactly what they need.
Instead of “help me with my math homework,” (to use my own story as an example), a student might say, “Can you walk me through the steps for solving this problem?” or “Can you watch me do this problem, and tell me where I go wrong?”
If you know your child is having a hard time, suggest they go talk to the teacher — but FIRST make sure they are equipped with the right language that will get them what they need. Spend some time at diner role-playing the requests they might make of their teacher the next day. Make it easy and quick, but do make sure your teen practices saying things outloud.
Learning styles aren’t just visible at school or at work; they are all around us! Incorporating more discussion about learning styles into your family discussions will pay off over the long run, as kids become more and more comfortable talking about, trouble shooting, and advocating for their learning styles.
How do you prefer to learn? Has your method of learning every clashed with someone else’s? Let me know in the comments!
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My client Jasmine is in 7th grade, has ADHD, and is an organizational disaster. Last week I asked her to organize her accordion folder by class; this week she had failed to do so. Papers were everywhere, in all kinds of disorder.
And then…I pulled out a tool that changed everything (dun dun duuuuuun!): my label maker.
Whereas before she was a happy but distracted kid totally disinterested in organizing, suddenly she was a changed child: sitting up straight, typing in all her little labels, cutting them out, putting them in all the correct slots in her file.
At one point I heard her giggle, and she passed over the label maker to me. “Can I print this one out? Pleeeeaaaaase?!” On the label were the words: “I am awesome.”
“Of course,” I responded… and soon she had a new sticker gracing the front of her planner as well.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether she actually maintains her organization system. However, we’ll tackle that next week. I’m thrilled that she actually HAS an organization system to MAINTAIN thanks to the label maker.
Have you tried a label maker in your own household? Did it drastically shift your ability to organize? I’d love to hear about it! Please comment, below.
P.S. Do you know a student who could use some help organizing? Forward them this article!
Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t trade live, in-person interactions for anything!
So I was surprised when, after my first three coaching sessions on Skype, I realized there are some coaching tasks that work BETTER virtually than in person.
1. I get to be IN the kid’s study space…without ever leaving my home! Take my recent Skype client, Roxie. The computer in her house is in a room with a couch, which Roxie playfully calls her “couch of learning” (see it in the background, there?). Seeing a kid’s study space helps me better envision how to support her in being an effective learner. Plus, as we are discussing better study habits, the client is sitting in the room where she does her studying… reinforcing these habits in the exact location that she will need them. My own mini version of place-based learning!
2. The student and I can literally be “on the same page.” When we meet in person, the student and I have a white board that helps us be visually “on the same page.” When we meet virtually, I use a Google Spreadsheet as our visual space. When we meet in person, the white board gets erased at the end of the session; however, when we meet virtually, the Google Spreadsheet saves all our work. Both the student and I (and their parents!) have a running track record of the work we’ve done. See the pictures below for some examples of how I use the spreadsheet.
3. Virtual coaching forces me to be a more active coach. In order to keep the student engaged for the full hour of the session, I have to think of more activities for my client to do. Every five minutes I’m asking my client to do something new; when we’re in person, there’s a lot more gabbing and a lot less doing (although I imagine this will change; skyping is helping me learn new habits that I can transfer to the in-person coaching session).
Here are some examples of what Roxie and did in our last session:
We always begin our session with a “show and tell.” Here Roxie is proudly showing off her entire research paper organized into paragraphs on rings!! Evidently she kept on telling her mom, “I haven’t lost a single card!” Roxie struggles with organization, so this is a huge feat!
We’ve been working on study methods that are more fun. Last week I asked Roxie to draw pictures for all her science key terms. The above picture describes the wet environment in which most fungi thrive (see the raindrops inside the house? See my big grin as I listen to her explain the drawing?).
Google Spreadsheets now includes a drawing tool. I love asking kids to draw pictures and then guess why they are relevant. To that end, I asked Roxie to use her drawing tool to create an eye, ear, hand, and lips. We then discussed how each “sense” is a study technique, and I asked her to label each of her drawings. Finally, we applied these four techniques to planning for an upcoming geography test:
First, I had Roxie fill out the yellow column by identifying different tasks her teacher expected her to do. Although we didn’t have time to fill out the whole chart, we at least brainstormed some possible study techniques for how she might remember the various resources that the rainforest provides. By the time we finished, she was surprised that there were so many interesting options for how to prepare for the test.
At some point in each session, I have kids insert data into a graph so that they can watch their grades improve as their habits become ingrained. Here Roxie boosted her grades by a) using a homework folder to ensure she always turns her work in, b) ensuring she does her homework at a consistent time each day, c) packing her backpack the night before so she doesn’t forget anything important, and d) making sure her locker stays clean. As a result, check out these upward trending lines:
Roxie and I live on opposite sides of the country. I never, in my wildest dreams, would have expected that coaching from afar could be as effective and satisfying as it is.
If the upward trending lines above aren’t proof enough that virtual coaching is effective, here’s another story: at the end of yesterday’s session, we’d covered all the info I’d intended in five sessions. I asked Roxie to chat with her mom about next steps.
The email I received the next day reported the following: Roxie loves the study tips and wants one full more session to make sure her skills are rock solid. Then she wants several more shorter check-ins, to make sure she’s following through with all her great new habits. What a smart idea!
A final thing I love about Skype: virtual sessions can only work with clients who really want to work with me. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be motivated to stay engaged with a computer screen for a full hour. What a pleasure it is, for me to work with clients who are so dedicated to their own growth. At the ripe ol’ age of thirteen. Go Roxie! (Which, by the way, is not her real name.)
This is just a quick blog entry to celebrate one of my academic coaching clients. I’ll call him Oscar.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked into his bedroom last Wednesday evening. A transformation had occurred around Oscar’s desk.
Over the holidays, this high school freshman got unbelievably organized! I wish I could take credit for the impressive systems he created, but actually — Oscar did it all himself.
The picture (above) shows his new-and-improved desk space, and I’d like to highlight a few of the lists he’d posted:
His high school’s final exam schedule
A list of due dates leading up to final exams
A list of long term projects that he needs to track
A list of writing tips I’d made for him
A list of what his current grade is in each class, and what percentage of the overall grade that each final exam will play
Go Oscar!!! This kind of organization, not to mention the clean desk underneath all the lists, is a great way to set yourself up to rock your finals.
One word of warning: Organization is only half the battle. For some creative types, it’s more fun to create systems than implement them. (Are you like this? I sure am! It’s why I work as an academic coach; I get to dream up all kinds of systems that other people get to implement).
Now that Oscar’s got a clean desk space, it’s time to buckle down and study.
P.S. If you’re a teacher reading this, please take note: it’s most helpful for students if they receive their final exams study sheets at least 2 weeks before finals exams are scheduled to begin! Most of my clients’ teachers don’t seem to be handing out the review sheets until 5 days before the final. If we really want kids to learn how to study for 7 major exams, we need to give them the time to strategize and plan!
There’s an area of my professional life about which I’ve been strangely silent on this blog: my life as an academic coach for teens.
I’m not sure why I’ve been so tightlipped about this amazing work; maybe I’m afraid others will find my musings boring. I mean — time management, organization, and learning strategies? For teens? Biiig whooop! Who cares?
But the truth is this: I care. Very deeply. So do the parents. The teens care, too (for the most part; they want to be successful. They really do.). The work we do is amazingly transformative, for the teens but also for me. It’s time I start telling our stories.
Academic Coach Versus Tutor: What’s the Difference?
But first things first. Most people have no clue what academic coaching is. “So you’re like, uhhhh, a tutor?” they ask.
And the truth is — not really. A tutor helps teenagers understand subject-specific content. Want help memorizing and practicing the quadratic equation? Talk to a tutor.
An academic coach, on the other hand, helps kids troubleshoot their learning process so that they can eventually learn the content on their own. The goal is self-sufficiency. Need to figure out why you didn’t get the quadratic formula when the teacher taught it in class (and how you might get it next time)? Talk to me.
Here’s another example: Want someone who knows a ton about US History and can help you answer the essay question? Talk to a tutor. Need help organizing your thinking and writing process so you can research and write the essay by yourself? Talk to me.
Maddy Learns a Writing Formula
This summer I had several clients who sought me out for extra help. Uhhh, well that’s only partially true. Their parents sought me out. Luckily, I’m gentle, fun, and full of good ideas. So by the end, the kids admitted it wasn’t that horrible. And they even learned a thing or two that they could actually use.
As one parent reflected:
The information you have provided is packaged in a much more user friendly way that Maddy can put to much better use.”
The information I packaged so well was, simply, this:
1. What are some basic writing formulas that help essays write themselves? (Maddy complained of working really hard on all her essays, but usually getting disappointingly low grades).
2. Given how much she detests doing homework and her busy sports schedule (but also, given her goal to get B’s her sophomore year), how can she plan her afternoons so there is enough time for both sports and homework?
Maddy left my office much more confident about her approach to writing as well as to time management. She was psyched about the strategies that would help her work smarter, not harder. I can’t wait to find out whether this school year feels different than last!
Conrad Learns How to Advocate For Himself
Another client I saw this summer was a young man. Headed off to college after four years attending the “resource” class in high school (that’s the fancy term for “special ed”). This young man and his parents were concerned that he’d flounder during the rigor of college.
When I met Conrad, I was surprised that he barely understood his own learning disability. We spent most of our time reading through his Neuropsychological Evaluation, translating all the scary psycho-babble into teen friendly language, and role playing how he might explain it all to his professors? After four short sessions, Conrad’s mother raved:
Honestly, you taught my son more in regard to his learning style than he learned in years in his high school’s Resource program or with private tutors!!! I wish I had used you earlier.
Again, it will be fun for me to follow up with Conrad and find out whether freshman year felt more manageable. He certainly left my office in higher spirits than he entered!
It’s All in the Organization
It turns out that a lot of my job revolves around helping kids be more organized — organizing their time, their stuff, and their thinking. Many teenagers just need a gentle but straight talking adult to help them troubleshoot their processes.
I feel so blessed to spend my days helping teens become self sufficient learners. I can’t wait to use this blog to tell more of their stories.