Did you know that WHERE you study can make a difference in how well you get prepped for a test? More about that topic in a moment.
But first — wow!! We had over 180 educators (and parents!) sign up for the Study Cycle 101 Masterclass yesterday. I was particularly impressed at the countries that were represented: Peru, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, Beirut-Lebanon, Canada, Australia, Canada, and more!!
It’s not too late to sign up if you’d like to watch the recording, and then participate in tomorrow’s Practice Labs! (Hint: During the masterclass I’m giving out a $100 discount code to my upcoming Art of Inspiring Students course, so if you’d like access to that, make sure to sign up. The discount is good through Friday evening).
But now — given it’s Wednesday! — I bet you’d like my weekly video tip. 🙂
What does research teach us about the best ways for teachers to teach and students to study?
Guest experts Yana Weinstein and Megan Sumeracki, otherwise known as The Learning Scientists, school us on what research shows is is the best ways to learn, including some surprising myths about what doesn’t work.
Together with Gretchen and Megan, they discuss:
The hilarious way that the Learning Scientists podcast got started
Stories from the classroom of what students at the college level struggle with in regards to learning
Find out more about the Learning Scientists Podcast at their website, www.learningscientists.org. Here is more information about each of them individually too:
Megan Sumeracki (formerly Megan Smith) is an assistant professor at Rhode Island College. She received her Master’s in Experimental Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis and her Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Purdue University. Her area of expertise is in human learning and memory and specifically applying the science of learning in educational contexts. She also teaches a number of classes from first-year seminars and intro to psychology to upper-level learning and research methods courses.
Yana Weinsteinis an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from University College London and had 4 years of postdoctoral training at Washington University in St. Louis. The broad goal of her research is to help students make the most of their academic experience. Yana‘s research interests lie in improving the accuracy of memory performance, and the judgments students make about their cognitive functions. Yana tries to pose questions that have directly applied relevance, such as: How can we help students choose optimal study strategies? Why are test scores sometimes so surprising to students? And how does retrieval practice help students learn?
Do you ever notice that you are more likely to be more productive at certain times of the day and less productive at other times?
I was just blown away by the self-awareness of one of my clients. Sixteen-year-olds, and especially boys, aren’t always known for their keen self-awareness. But this young man pointed out five things that he’s learned about himself that help him be “way more productive” when he comes home from school. So productive, in fact, that he might be willing to postpone playing video games to get work done.
Check out this video (made five minutes after this young man’s session, so the content is fresh!) where I summarize the brilliance that he shared with me.
Hey there, don’t have time for the full video? No worries, here’s a short summary:
Every once in a while I’m just stunned by the self-awareness that the teenagers I work with have. Today, in particular, I was talking to a 16-year-old boy and he brought up, on his own accord that when he first gets home he keeps trying to remind himself to just sit down and start on his homework because he’s way more productive. Specifically, he listed the following reasons why he finds this to be true:
See, he noticed that when he first gets home he has more energy for doing his homework than later on in the evening. On top of that, he still has his ADHD meds in his system when he gets home, and they help him to remain focused. These are two great insights into his own productivity, but he has a few more. He also noticed that when he first gets home and has the house to himself the peace and quiet of being alone helps him to focus, a very astute observation. Furthermore, when he first gets home he says he can better assess how long his homework assignments will take. He’s fresher and has the energy to actually do his homework at the rate he thinks he can, but if he waits until later he’ll have less energy and be less focused so he underestimates how long homework will take him. The final thing he noticed is that when he first gets home he can better remember what he needs to do for homework; however, I really wish he’d write it down instead, but we’re still working on that.
I hope you found these observations to be as interesting as I did, and if you feel like you could use some more tips and tricks on how to be more productive, please consider checking out my course, The Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying™.
Do you ever need to email your teachers because something they did or said is confusing, and you need clarification?
One of the skills I work on with teenagers is how to communicate respectfully with teachers without sounding like you are blaming or accusing them. This is a HARD lesson for many teens to learn and takes some practice.
Listen in as I share a story about a recent young man (sophomore in high school) who caught himself writing some blaming language to his teacher, and figured out — all by himself! — how to correct it.
Hey there, don’t have time for the full video? No worries, I’ve got your back. Here’s a short summary:
One of the skills I end up working on quite often with students, that I hadn’t originally thought I would, is writing emails. And this week I was talking with one of my clients, and he needed to write an email to one of his teachers. He was walking himself through it, and while I usually walk my clients through the email writing process, this young man is a good communicator and his parents work hard with him to help him be a good communicator. Anyways, here’s something that he caught himself doing that I wanted to share with you.
As you can see above we have a little image of my client typing up his email and what he noticed was that he was starting to write “You were confusing in class today”, but he stopped himself and rewrote it as “I have confusion about what we were doing in class today.” And this is something he said his mom drilled into him last year ad nauseam, the importance of not blaming the teacher with your language; regardless of whether you think it was the teacher’s fault or not. We want to try and take ownership as much as possible in our email communications, as we will get better help from our teachers if we are generous with our communication.
So I just loved that he caught himself there and the truth is that “I have confusion” was very true, as he is confused, regardless of what the cause of the confusion is. And by checking his language and tweaking it so he took responsibility for his experience, he is much more likely to get help from his teacher now, and in the future.
Do you ever have the strong, stubborn feeling that you just DON’T wanna do your homework?
In a client session recently, a junior in high school reported in that she just couldn’t motivate herself to get her work done over the past weekend.
When I questioned her about what was in the way of taking action (I have a checklist I use to help students identify what’s going on when motivation flags), she pinpointed her “mindset” as the problem. So, I helped her investigate how she might shift her mindset to take quicker action in the future.
Check out this video, where I summarize our subsequent conversation:
Hey, don’t have time for the full video? No worries, here’s a short summary:
In the last week of September, I was talking with one of my clients, she’s a junior in a very rigorous high school, and she said that this was the first weekend she just didn’t want to do her homework. So we did a little investigating about what was going on in her brain that was making it so hard for her to take action on her homework. First, we investigated the idea of “I don’t wanna”, but I put “because” after that in order to see the beliefs behind the strong stubborn feeling of “I don’t wanna”. As a result, we came up with a list of beliefs that she had that were holding her back.
So the first was that there was too much homework, the second that it was too hard, and the third was that she didn’t know what to do. Once we had this list, we asked, a couple of questions of each belief. First, we asked, “is it true?” and as we were discussing it, my client said, “You know, there really wasn’t too much once I looked at it, but I hadn’t looked at it when I had this belief, so I just was convinced in my mind that there’s too much.” So in this case, asking “Is it true?” and then checking to make sure that’s actually the case, can help you overcome this belief. Similarly, the belief “it’s too hard” she couldn’t know if it was true as she hadn’t started yet, so once she started she realized it wasn’t, and if she first checked she’d have seen that it wasn’t too hard. Had the homework actually been too much, or too hard, she could have then asked herself, “What’s the next small action I can take?”.
Now, the reason these questions can help you shift your mindset and allow you to take action is that the statements, the beliefs, on the left of the image are what’s known as fixed mindset thinking. These are items that come from a place in the brain where we think that it’s always this way, this is the truth, the truth doesn’t change, and everything is locked in place. On the other side though, we have growth mindset thinking, which is based on the fact that our brains can be changed over time through practice.
Do you hate one (or more) of your classes? I don’t mean mild annoyance or frustration with difficulty. I mean absolute hatred of the subject you’re learning?
One of my clients truly detested a subject area she was learning, and we worked hard this year to convince the powers that be to take it off her plate. In this video, I describe how this one shift made a world of difference in her motivation at school… and why it might sometimes be appropriate NOT to force kids to suffer through a class just because it is a “requirement.” Especially in the case of this client, who tried HARD to like this class (she stayed in it for two years), it became apparent that a change was necessary.
Tune in to the video to find out what class this was, and how letting it go turned things around for this client.
Hey, don’t have to watch the full video? No worries, here’s a short summary:
I have one client in particular with whom I’ve been talking about motivation in very specific ways lately. This young woman has been with for 3 years, and in the first two years were quite a struggle; however, this last year things have been going extremely well. There are three main reasons for this change. The first reason is that she’s not doing the dance team this year, which has increased her free time; however, this wasn’t as nearly as important as the other two.
Of the two other the first I’d like to discuss was the topic of last week’s video, “Why Working Out Helps You Be a Better Student“. As I discussed last week, this young woman enjoys working out, but more importantly, the cardio she’s doing this year seems to be helping her much more than the dance team did last year. And as we discussed in that video, there has been a marked increase in her motivation to complete her homework when she’s getting regular daily exercise as compared to when she isn’t.
With that said, the final and most important change from to this young woman’s school life that has drastically increased her performance was the removal of a class she simply detested. For her freshman and sophomore year, she was taking French, and she simply hated it. She hated the way the language sounded, she hated speaking it, etc. She simply didn’t like the language. Finally, the adults helping her, myself included, got the picture and she was able to drop French in exchange for taking Sign Language at her local community college.
You see, there’s something about when you absolutely hate a class and how it ends up tainting everything else. When you hate something heavily, it ends up draining your energy. So if you or a student who you know and love is in a situation where they simply can’t stand a class and it’s affecting their other grades as well, you might want to experiment with removing that course or changing it out.
Do you have questions about College Admissions? Want to know the secrets to getting into College and get all the tips and tricks others wish they knew?
Well, luckily that’s what I’m here to tell you today, along with guest host, Megan Dorsey – who some of you might recognize is from The College Prep Podcast, which we co-host weekly together.
This recording is from a webinar Megan and I did in the summer of 2015, so sit back and strap in, because this recording is packed full with information.
Now, as I said above Megan Dorsey and I co-host the College Prep Podcast, which is a weekly podcast where we discuss advice for everything ranging from College Admissions to Study Skills, and everything in between in the field of education. It’s aimed any students from Middle School up to University, so there’s a little bit of something for everyone in education still.
With that said, I’d like to give you a little information about Megan Dorsey. Megan is a former SAT essay reader for the College Board, a Texas Education Agency, a certified highs school teacher and counselor, and a successful educational consultant. She earned her B.A. from Rice University, her M.Ed. at the University of Houston, and her Certificate in College Counseling at UCLA. She went on to found College Prep, LLC, and now offers a variety of services to help families navigate all aspects of college admission, including:
My Vocabulary Success Coach
Online SAT prep classes
SAT and ACT private tutoring (in person or via Skype)
And if you need help with school, whether it’s raising your grades, studying, getting homework done, or managing your time as a student, please consider checking out my course, The Anti-Boring Approach.
Hey there, do you have trouble with tests? Do you study by rereading your notes or textbook? Even if you don’t, it’s very likely that you use the same method every time you study right?
Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that the way you’ve been studying is most likely being wasted. The good news, I have the solution right here, and I’m going to share it with 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.
We 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.
Back in July 2015, I presented a webinar, “5+ Oddly Effective Tools That Build Great Habits” with special guest Thomas Frank, from CollegeInfoGeek.com. This webinar was to help introduce high schoolers and college students to some unique and potent tools that they could use, and Thomas was excellent, showing us a wide variety of tools that were unique, creative, and very effective that everyone could add to their toolboxes.
So tune in to see what crazy ideas Thomas shared with us.
The tools demonstrated in this video are quite a few, and a summary wouldn’t do the video justice; however, I do want to give you all the links to the different applications and sites mentioned in the video.
Buffer is a social media management suite. It allows you to schedule posts, set up a queue of repeatable posts, etc. for Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.
IFTTT is an application that allows you to connect two different websites/applications. In the video, IFTTT is used to connect Beeminder with Buffer, so that when a post from Buffer goes live, a data point gets added to Beeminder.
Beeminder is a website application that allows you to have a system of accountability for your goals. You can set up goals, and if you don’t complete the goals, then you have to pay Beeminder. So, for example, if you don’t send out one post on Facebook a week then you have to pay $5 for each one you miss per week.
Habitica/HabitRPG is a habit tracking website. Effectively this website is a game based on your habits. The more habits or routines you complete, the stronger you get and the better you do. You can do a wide variety of things here, so here’s an example of what you can do: Let’s say you want to make sure you do your HW every day. You can schedule out your HW that you have in your planner, and then every day you can check it off, and you’ll gain EXP, items, etc.
ToDoist is a great place to keep track of all your tasks that you need to take care of. You can add tasks here to keep track of everything that you need to take care of.
Google Calendar is basically a planner that’s online. You can use it to schedule out all your time in a visual schedule. This offers a wide variety of features, including multiple calendars that can be turned on/off easily, time slots that can be overlapped and color coded, and much more.
As you can see there were a variety of tools listed in the video, and the system surrounding these were even better, not to mention starting at around 39:00 minutes into the video, Gretchen and Thomas answer a wide variety of questions from high school and college students. For a little sample, there’s one discussion about part-time jobs, another question about meta-habits, and so much more!
If you found this useful, I highly suggest you check out Thomas’s site, CollegeInfoGeek.com. He has a regular blog, podcast, and more for college students with tips and advice. And you can get even more tools and tips in my course, The Anti-Boring Approach.
Advanced Placement courses can provide a huge advantage to students when they hit college, but they can also be a huge drain on a high school student’s schedule and sense of balance.
Recent a mom named Tamra wrote in with the following question:
I’m listening to podcast 160, about all the AP and other exams in May, which has me wondering about AP courses in general. My first child will start high school in the fall, in a new school district. When we’re looking at course options do you recommend choosing AP courses to get requirements “out of the way” in subjects he doesn’t particularly enjoy, or is it better for him to focus his efforts on getting ahead in areas that do spark his interest?
In her wide ranging answer to this question, Megan covers:
What is the difference between Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes?
What to ask your school when you’re an incoming freshmen to learn about how AP and IB classes work at that school.
How to research college requirements to have an idea of the role AP classes might play in your high school student’s life
How to put all these answers into a plan for what AP courses to take when in high school
Ann Marie Dobosz is a psychotherapist and writer in San Francisco. Her book, The Perfectionism Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Reduce Anxiety and Get Things Done, was published last year by New Harbinger. She specializes in helping people who are really hard on themselves feel calm, happy, and “good enough.” She works with adults and adolescents who struggle with mental health issues that arise from perfectionism and self-criticism, including anxiety, depression, obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviors. You can find more about her at www.annmarietherapy.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
Do you ever feel lost or stressed when it comes time to start studying for final exams?
I know a lot of my clients have over the years, and so I wanted to share with you all my favorite technique for how to organize your final exam study plan.
Don’t have time for the full video? No worries, I’ve got your back with this summary:
In this video, I show you my favorite way to organize how to study for final exams and get it all on one page. And this, especially when you have multiple final exams, is very important as you have a LOT of details you have to prepare. So to start, you want to start about 3 weeks out, even if you haven’t received all your information for the final exams, and draw out on a sheet of paper a calendar as seen below.
Basically, you want to start out with a blank sheet of paper or white board, and then draw a table that has 7 columns and 3 rows (or more or less depending on how many weeks out your finals are. Then above each column put the day, and I like to start on Mondays and have the weekends grouped together. Then we want to number the days, so Monday the 1st, Tuesday the 2nd, etc. Next, on the final week we want to put in when our final exams are, so if you are in high school you likely have 2 exams a day and it might look something like above, with English and History on Monday, Math on Tuesday, Science on Wednesday, etc. Then in the weeks prior we plan out what we are going to do to study. In the example above I said that on Tuesday we’d study English with 10 flash cards, math on Wednesday with 10 flash cards, and then take a math sample text on Thursday. And my final tip is to leave Friday’s empty that way you can really focus your studying on the weekends when you have free time and give yourself Friday afternoon’s off; because let’s be honest, no one wants to do anything on Friday afternoon.
Hey there teens, do you feel like your parents are checking in on whether you’re doing your homework or not too often? Parents, do you feel like your teen isn’t getting their homework done – and are you checking in on them regularly?
As an Academic Life Coach, I meet with both my clients (who are often teenagers) weekly and also their parents for checkups. And so I have a client I just had a session with who is finishing up his freshman year in high school, and one of the things we were talking about this week is how often his parents should be checking in on him regarding his homework. This week’s video is for both you parents and teenagers out there, regarding parent’s checking in on their teen’s homework.
Hey there, don’t have time for the full video? No worries, I’ve got your back with this summary:
As teenagers, and we’ve all be there, we start seeking our independence. It’s not unusual that when we hit our mid teens that we start wanting to fend for ourselves, and this includes academically. As I was saying, I have a client, who is just finishing up his freshman year in high school, and he feels that his parents are checking in on his homework way too much. Now, he has ADHD and a bit of a perfectionist, and therefore in his previous years he’s had a history of not getting homework turned in on time or at all. As a result, his parents would regularly check in with him regarding his homework to make sure he was getting it done, and in middle school, this worked great. However, now he’s pushing back against them, and he said something that I felt was very insightful.
“I don’t want my parents to be right. I don’t want them to think that I’m doing my homework because THEY told me to.” He wanted to be doing it because he knew he needed to for his future. And I can totally relate to this, and I’m sure a LOT of parents out there if you think back to your teenage years you’ll have a similar story to mine. I remember in high school I had an Algebra teacher who told me and reminded me regularly, that I could have an A in his class. My father, who is a mathematician, also was convinced I could have an A, and so they both regularly were checking in on me and pushing me to get an A in that class. As a result, I pushed back, and decided, “No, that’s their goal, I don’t care, and I’m not going to get an A.” Sure enough, I got a B in that class. Similarly, my client says that most of the time when his parents check in on him he’s already doing his homework, but because they check in with him, that makes him feel stubborn and he will often STOP doing his homework because of it.
There comes a time when teenagers want to start feeling more independent, and we as parents and guardians need to let them accept the consequences of their actions so that they can learn from it. Now, of course, this advice isn’t applicable to all families, as I don’t know the specifics of your situation and your parent/child dynamics; however, I did think this was a theme worth sharing – that sometimes when we as a family check in too often on our teenagers we are getting in the way of them experiencing their own independence.
You’ve got questions, and we’ve got answers! Join us as we discuss the following questions:
Summer Programs for College Prep: We are looking at the Stanford University “High School Summer College” program for our son. The classes are interesting, and it looks like a good experience. My question is will this help him get into Stanford or other similar schools when he is a senior?
When Teachers Give Incomplete Study Guides: What do you do if your teacher doesn’t list some facts/ideas on the study guide but does put those questions on the test? How do you study?
Apps for Vocab Improvement: I’m wondering if you know of any apps or programs that would help a high school student develop a deeper understanding of words… I imagine through word study including roots, prefixes, and suffixes. I have some old=school tools but would like to give her something a little more user-friendly for working on at home. Ideas?
Singing to Music When Studying: I’ve heard you say that it’s ok to listen to music while studying, but what about if you are singing along with that music? Can you really concentrate and use your full brain if you are singing while doing your homework?
What’s Wrong With My College Application? My son is completing his 12th grade and has applied to several good universities. He did his 9th and 10th from a school in India and will graduate from high school in Texas. He scores A*s in all subjects. His current GPA is 4.1. He scored 800 in SAT Math and 760 in English. He plays guitar, is a black belt in Karate and knows multiple languages- English, French, German, Hindi. With all these qualifications he is still not getting selected by Universities. Why? What is missing for him? How can we supplement his existing applications in other universities? Can we appeal?
If you’re a teacher, do you struggle to help your students grasp what you’re teaching and raise their grades?
I have a request for you that could greatly help the students that are struggling in your class but are trying to do better. In fact, it’s one of the keys for students to be able to study effectively.
Hey there, don’t have time for the full video? No worries, I’ve got your back with this summary:
This week’s video is for you teachers out there. I just got finished with a client, a sophomore in high school, who has a test coming up next week (at the time of recording it’s Wednesday). She got a “D” on her last test, which was on photosynthesis, and this upcoming test is on cellular respiration. Anyways, in order for us to come up with a better study plan since her last one didn’t work, we’ve been waiting on one key ingredient. We knew she got a “D” on her last test about two weeks ago; however, she didn’t get the test back until this week, and it was effectively blank.
To come up with a better study plan we were planning to use her old test, to see what she got right and what she got wrong, and determine a new method of studying based on the types or questions and information she got wrong. The problem is, even though she finally got her test back, she still doesn’t have any of the correct answers. The test had no markups, as her teacher grades the tests on the computer. So while we have the test, we have no way to figure out for sure what she got right and what she got wrong, so we can’t use that key information to determine a better method of studying for her.
So my request for you teachers out there is twofold. 1. Give your students back their tests a couple of weeks before the next test. And 2. Make sure they have the correct answers to those tests. This might be a challenging request for some; however, it will greatly help your students succeed in your class.
If you have any questions about this, or these requests seem impossible in your context, or you don’t understand why this is so important, PLEASE email me at Gretchen@GretchenWegner.com. I would love to converse with you to help you help students be better studiers so that they aren’t just making better grades in your class, but are actually learning what your are teaching.
Never Write the Word “Study” in Your Planner. Here’s Why.
It doesn’t take long for a teenager who’s just started working with me to learn this — I hate the word “study.”
Well, obviously that’s not completely true. My passion is teaching students to study strategically, and I couldn’t do this work if the word “study” weren’t involved. However, I do believe strongly that the word study does NOT belong in a student’s planner or To Do list. Neither does the word “review.” Check out the video for a full description of why.
Hey there, don’t have time for the full video? No worries, I’ve got your back. Here’s a summary:
I was working with a client recently on the skill “verberizing,” which is about finding really strong specific words for the tasks that you need to do when you are doing homework or studying to make it an easy instruction for you and your brain to know exactly what you need to do next. Now before we continue, I want you to look at the following four options and think about which of these would be the best way to verberize “study french” in her planner.
My client had written, “Study French,” to which I cringed and said, “Eeeh, I don’t like that.” Of course, she responded, “Oh my god Gretchen you always make me change these,” and I thought it was rather funny, but said, “I know, so let’s do it.” Next, she erased “Study French” and wrote “Review Subjunctive.” I still said it wasn’t clear enough. Then she wrote, “Go over Subjunctives.” This was getting there, but “go over” still doesn’t tell me what she needs to be doing. It’s very broad, and I can’t picture in my mind what the steps would be for “go over subjunctives.” So I had her change it one more time. This time she wrote, “Finish subjunctive worksheets.” This was MUCH better. You see she realized she had unfinished worksheets for subjunctives, and what better way is there to study subjunctives than to finish the worksheets – a readily available tool. Not to mention this tells her exactly what she needs to be doing next.
Now you might be wondering, why is writing super specific instructions in your planner so important. Well, the answer is that “verberizing,” or making sure your planner has crystal clear instructions, is important because it helps ensure that your brain has no excuses about following through on your plan/to-do as the instructions are so simple and crystal clear.
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?
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.
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”.