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.

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?

Free ebook: The Art of Inspiring Students

Art_of_inspiring_students_book_cover_2
How To "Trick" Struggling Learners into Studying Harder, Learning More, and Raising Grades
Powered by ConvertKit

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

Art_of_inspiring_students_book_cover_2
How To "Trick" Struggling Learners into Studying Harder, Learning More, and Raising Grades
Powered by ConvertKit

College Prep Podcast #135: How to Help Teens Who Struggle with Anxiety

Gretchen Wegner | Megan | Yshai Boussi | Family | Therapy | Therapist | Anxiety | Teens | Stress | Students

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

Anxiety in teens is on the rise! At least, this is Megan and Gretchen’s experience working with students all over the country.

Guest expert Yshai Boussi, a family therapist, helps us understand more about this phenomenon.

In this super insightful discussion, they discuss:

  • The difference between anxiety and stress
  • Why anxiety can sometimes be helpful
  • What causes anxiety in teens
  • How parents can help students with their anxiety
  • How to be involved in your student’s life without micromanaging and accommodating for their anxiety

The free resource that Yshai recommends for teens is Reach Out, a website chock full of useful advice for teens about how to get through the hard times.

 Yshai Boussi is a therapist in private practice specializing in adolescence and family therapy. Yshai has been working with adolescents for 20 years. Over the last 15 years, Yshai has sat with and helped hundreds of anxious and overwhelmed teens and parents as a family therapist. Find out more at www.portlandfamilycounseling.com.

Click here to listen to this insightful podcast episode.

Tips to Wrap Up the Summer without Stress

Tips to wrap up the summer without stressThe beginning of the school year is always crazy and stressful for families.

But if you follow these tips for wrapping up the summer, you’ll save yourself some stress later on.

It’s an investment of time that’s well worth it. 

Here’s the basic checklist:

  • Update your resume
  • Get basic school supplies before stores run out
  • Finish the summer assignments
  • Make appointments to talk to people from school
  • Put all the dates from the school’s calendar into YOUR calendar
  • send thank you’s to anyone who helped you
  • Ask for recommendation letters
  • Attend orientation
  • Write goals for the year

Now listen in so that you can hear Megan and Gretchen’s commentary about each one!

Why Teens Should Stop Being Afraid of Librarians

Why are so many students hesitant to talk to Librarians?

Have you (or a teen you know) ever had a burning research question but been afraid to talk to a librarian? So many of my clients would prefer to spend hours alone googling for resources than spend 20 minutes with a knowledgeable librarian.

However, librarians are there to help and they love to answer questions. Research is definitely in their wheelhouse!  In this video, I share a few fun and creative ideas for helping students overcome their reluctance to ask for help. Getting past this minor roadblock will definitely benefit students in the future when more complicated research is needed for lengthy high school and college essays.

Would you like to learn more great tips like this? My online course The Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying is filled with 30+ tools for rocking school…and is perfect for teens, parents, or educators.

If You Want to Be A Better Writer, Improve This First!

Does your poor typing slow you down when writing essays?

During client sessions, I often have an opportunity to watch my clients type. They often make so many mistakes that they are constantly deleting what they typed…and rarely can their bumbling fingers keep up with their brilliant minds.

Poor typing skills are not only frustrating but it is also stifling to creativity and the natural thought process. In this video, I discuss the possible reasons you or a student you know may be having difficulty as a writer. There are many resources out there to help sharpen your typing abilities, speed, and accuracy. I love to hear success stories. Leave them in the comments section above!

With the school year suddenly looming, now is the perfect time to get yourself some more tools to rock your grades this year. Click here to check out my favorites! 

Four Awesome Apps to Learn To Use This Summer

Do you have trouble keeping track of all of your To Do Lists and School Projects?

There are so many awesome apps out there to help you manage your time. Since it is summer, this is a perfect opportunity to discover and play with new time management applications.

In this video, I discuss a flashcard tool “Anki”, newly improved “Habitica”,  alert app “Way of Life” and organizational tool, “ToDoist”.

Would you like more creative solutions to time management and study woes? Check out my online course the Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying. It’s great for grown-ups and teens alike.

What To Do When You’re Stressing About Homework

Does doing homework stress you (or your teen) out?

I don’t know of *anyone* who loves homework: parents, teachers, or students. Yet we all have to deal with it!

Although I can’t totally take the stress out of homework for anyone, a client and I recently discussed a different way to *think* about homework. Check it out here:


If you got in the habit of thinking about homework in this way, how would it change your experience of your work?

I’d love to hear from you…. including any questions you have! We may just tackle your question on the College Prep Podcast. Comment Below

How Not to Freak Yourself Out

Have you ever freaked yourself out  —  by imagining the worst when you had no evidence that it would actually happen? Students do that all the time. Part of my job as an academic coach is to help students parse out the difference between fantasy and reality.

Meet Roger, a 7th-grader who freaked himself out last week.

Recently, as Roger walked through my office door, I heard the “ding ding ding” of my iPhone text message. It was an alert from his mom, asking me to please talk to her son about his resistance to getting an older student who can act as Roger’s “homework tutor”.

Roger is a bright — and incredibly hyperactive — young man. It takes him forever to get through his otherwise easy homework because he can’t focus on one task for very long without getting engrossed in off-topic curiosities. He needs someone to sit next to him to keep him on task during homework, but apparently Roger was not excited about that tutor being a high school student.

Throwing a ball to him (to distract him from the fact that I was about to get personal), I asked him why he didn’t want the tutor.

He threw the ball back: “I’m afraid I’ll try and act cool around him. I’ll worry he’ll judge me.”

“You don’t worry about that with grownups like me?” I asked.

“No, just with kids close to my own age.”

That reasoning made sense, and I took a moment to commiserate. But then I added, “Have you met this high school student yet?”

“No,” Roger admitted.

“Well then, how do you know that you are going feel judged and want to impress him? Is it possible that you’re basing your reasoning on a fantasy that might not be true?”

Roger couldn’t argue with this kind of logic. “Yes, it’s possible.”

“Would it be reasonable to meet this high school student first, and postpone your freak out?”

Grinning, Roger responded, “Yes, that would be reasonable.”

Silence descended, as we were suddenly engrossed in our game of catch.

Finally, I broke the silence. “Ummmmm…. when are we going to stop throwing the ball?”

“Maybe when we’ve made a firm decision,” Roger responded.

“How will we know we’ve made a firm decision?” I asked.

Roger threw down his arms, letting the ball drop to the floor.

“What’s the firm decision?” I asked.

“That I will meet the high school student first and see what he’s like.”

Excellent.

One of the reasons I love academic coaching is that kids very often respond to reason! They just need someone (who is not their parents) who is willing to speak reasonably.

The next week when I checked in with Roger, he reported that the two high school students his mom found were great, and he’s happy with his decision.

Let’s Break It Down: 5 Tips To Keep Yourself From Freaking Out

Are you freaking yourself out right now with a fantasy about something bad that *might* happen, although you have no proof? Try these steps:

  1. Take a deep breath. Notice you’re freaking out.
  2. See if you can identify what you are thinking that’s causing you to freak out.
  3. Notice whether that thought is true. If you’re not sure, look for the proof.
  4. If you have no proof that it is true, decide on an action that will give you more information.
  5. Choose to delay your freak out until you have more info.

I’m not telling you NOT to freakout. I’m just suggesting that you delay it a little by thinking about what might be more true in this moment. You might discover that reality is much kinder than you think.

What is something you are freaking yourself out about? Do you have any other strategies for keeping your cool? I’d love it if you shared in the comments!

P.S. If you thought this post was useful, be sure to sign up for free email updates to receive more helpful hints!

MuseCubes Help Stave Off Cancer?!

Sitting might cause cancer?! It sounds extreme, doesn’t it?

That’s the announcement in a growing body of research. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research:

As many as 49,000 cases of breast cancer and 43,000 cases of colon cancer occurring in the U.S. every year are linked to a lack of physical activity.”

Furthermore, sitting for long periods of time can increase indicators of cancer risk! Evidently, doing a high intensity workout at the gym doesn’t help if you end up sitting for the rest of the day.

All the research is pointing to the importance of taking multiple breaks in the midst of your workday.

So, if sitting too much increases your risks for cancer, and if MuseCubes encourage you to take breaks from sitting, does it follow that MuseCubes decrease your risk of cancer? Hmmm. Perhaps that claim is a little far fetched.

However, a set of MusesCubes conveniently placed near your computer is a great little reminder to take an occasional break.

I keep MuseCubes in several strategic spots in my office. Sometimes I choose to roll them; other times I simply look at them and think, “Oh, right! Move my body!” Then I’ll get up and take a walk or go wash the dishes — anything that gets me up and moving.

Do you need a set of MuseCubes to serve as your take-a-break reminder? Or do you know someone who does? If so, contact me and I’ll hook you up with a set or two. You can also check out the free iPhone app.

This blog entry is re-printed from www.musecubes.com.

Do You Need Help, or Do You Need a Plan?

iStock_000009601110XSmall

A student just rushed desperately into my Learning Center. “I need help! Do you have time?” she asked.

Since she was not one of my regular clients, I had to tell her that I had no more than five minutes. But she could have all five of the minutes I have!!

“So, I need major help doing this history essay on Rome. But I lost the assignment sheet, and –”

I cut her off. “You lost the assignment sheet? How are you planning on writing the essay.”

“I know! That’s why I need help. I just can’t figure out what to write.”

“When is it due?” I asked.

“Today!!!!!!!” she moaned, and I shot her that grown up look. You know, that Exasperated-You’ve-Got-To-Be-Kidding-Me glare (luckily, I’ve perfected the art of doing glare playfully).

When I gave her the following instructions, it was like a lightbulb going off in her head:

Step One: Go to the teacher and ask for a new assignment sheet. I happen to know he’s available RIGHT NOW!

Step Two: Ask the teacher for a brief extension so that you can write with some relative peace, without freaking out.

Step Three: Come back to me if you still feel confused, and we’ll make a new plan.

An hour later this student was busily working away in our school’s study lab. I checked in and discovered that she’d successfully received the information she needed, including an extension (she’ll email the essay to her teacher tonight).

I smiled at her. “Sometimes when you think you need help, what you really need is a good plan, huh?” She nodded and smiled back.

This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an academic coach! Kids can usually do the academic work that’s expected of them; when they freak out about the work, it usually means they don’t have a clear way to approach their assignments. What they need is a plan. Modeling how to make a plan is one of the most important things we can give our kids in order to mitigate their stress.

Have you experienced the same thing — that having a solid plan decreases stress? How does this play out in your life (or the life of your teenager?). I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Exformation

Sieve

This post is part of a project to share reflections about all 28 of the Core Elements of InterPlay.  For background information about InterPlay or this project, read What the Heck is InterPlay?!.

What creates information overload for you?

Too much time browsing the internet does it for me. And juggling multiple creative projects at once.  Not to mention the emotional ups and downs of navigating the world as a (hopefully) clear and honest communicator. Phew!

Information overload can sometimes be too much of a good thing — like excitement about falling in love or finally accomplishing a personal goal.

When I’m in a State of Too Muchness, I crave balance. And that’s where exformation comes in.

Exformation is InterPlay‘s word for the process of moving unnecessary information out of one’s body.

Imagine for a moment that information is physical, and it accumulates inside our bodies. It’s almost like our bodies are sieves that process our daily experiences.

Most of the time our experiences flow easily through us, like the flour in the picture above. But sometimes that sieve gets clogged. What can we do to loosen up that gunky, yucky clogged feeling that comes with stress and overwhelm?

We can exform! And if information has a physical component, then so does exformation.

The simplest kind of exformation is breathing, sighing, and shaking your body out.

But exformation can include just about any activity that allows you to be truly in your body. The InterPlay facilitator’s manual suggests activities like

exercise, art-making, journalling, making love, taking long showers, meditating, doing housework, cooking, walking in nature, singing, etc.

I invented MuseCubes as a simple exformational tool. After a roll of the dice, folks can howl, twist, and sigh their way to feeling more refreshed and balanced. I’ve been collecting stories about all the ways people use MuseCubes to exform; you can read those stories here.

The regular practice of InterPlay is another way many people choose to get exformation in their lives. By telling our stories, playing with our voices, and moving our bodies, exformation becomes a multi-sensory experience!

The beauty of exformation is that we don’t have to wait for a State of Too Muchness in order to do it.  Instead, we can build exformational activities into the daily rhythm of our lives. Preventative exformation! I try and incorporate movement, creativity, and play throughout my day.

What do you do to keep your sieve clumpless and flowing freely?