The art of inspiring students | how to trick struggling learners into studying harder, learning more, and raising grades | ebook | gretchen wegner | the study cycle

Final Exams Are Almost Here. Do Your Students Know How to Study?

As an academic coach, I’ve spent thousands of hours talking to stressed out and/or unmotivated students (many of whom contact me right before final exams, totally freaked out!) and one pattern has emerged that is 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! We play Jeopardy before final exams! We review ad nauseum in class. Why isn’t that enough?!” If you’re a tutor or coach, you might be thinking, “I even study right along with them! What do you mean they don’t know how to study?!”

I don’t doubt this is true. Many educators ARE giving students a zillion resources to help them study. As I’ve coached your students, I’ve seen into your classrooms, I’ve read your study guides and I’m aware how many of you are putting in a sincere, thoughtful effort into providing excellent, scaffolded curriculum and support.

However — and this is what I’ve discovered as I’ve coached hundreds of stressed out teenagers:

The way YOU talk to your 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 I’d acquired about how to talk to students about learning and studying.

My bad habits as a teacher and new coach backfired. Although my actions were intended to help students become more engaged, proactive learners — instead they created the opposite.

Students became dependent on my creativity and my expert curriculum development skills to do any learning.

Now that I am unlearning these bad teaching habits,  I’m watching my students transform their learning, their stress level and raise their grades in unprecedented numbers. If I can do this as a coach, you can do this too.

In the rest of this article, I’ll introduce you to:

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

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

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

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How To "Trick" Struggling Learners into Studying Harder, Learning More, and Raising Grades
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I feel your pain. I was surprised, too, to discover that certain “facts” of good teaching in which I’d been trained sometimes do more harm than good. Why might that be?

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

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

Imagine the following scene:

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

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

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

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

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

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

As an academic life coach, I am on a mission to banish the words “study” and “review” from the English language. Ok. I know. That’s pretty impossible. But what if educators, parents, and students used it a lot less? How would you talk about test preparation with students if you weren’t allowed to use either the word “study” or the word “review”?!  Too often the use of these words allows 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 the demo inside this ebook). 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.

The Only Thing You Need to Know to Ace Tests

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.

 

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

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

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

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

 

College Prep Podcast #162: Summer Programs, Study Guides, Improving Vocab, & More

Gretchen Wegner, Megan Dorsey, Q/A, Q&A, Q & A, Questions and Annswers, Summer Programs for college prep, Teachers, Incomplete Study Guides, Apps for Vocab Improvement, Singing to Music When Studying, What's Wrong with my college application?, University, Universities, 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?

Click here to listen in as Gretchen Wegner and Megan Dorsey answer your questions!

Do You Get Bored When Studying? Try This!

Do you ever get bored using the same studying technique over and over again?

I have a client who, until recently, has used nothing but flashcards when preparing for all her tests. Because we’d developed a number of fun ways to use flashcards, she enjoyed this as a study technique. In her most recent session, however, she revealed that she’s finally getting bored with flashcards and wants some alternative methods for retrieving information. Watch this week’s video to see what solution we came up with for her.

Hey there, don’t have time to watch the full video? No worries, here’s a short summary:

I’ve been working hard this year with a client, who is a freshman in high school, to understand the Study Cycle, and to fill her toolbox of study techniques. And until recently she’s really only used flash cards, and this was fine for a while because we found a variety of different ways to use the flash cards. However, she came to me this week and said, I have a history exam I need to study for, and I don’t really feel like using flash cards.

The awesome thing is, that since she’s been working through the Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying, she had already chosen and started using a new study technique. In this case, she was using what I call a T-Chart. And she reported that studying felt fresh and new, and she was enjoying using this new technique more than the flash cards.

Gretchen Wegner, The Anti-Boring Approach To Powerful Studying, Do You Get Bored When Studying? Try This!, Toolbox, Study Techniques, Study,

In this instance, the flash cards were like a screwdriver in her toolbox. Up until now, it’s worked fine to help her unscrew (dissect and learn) the materials she needed to study; however, now she needed to hammer something in (study for her history exam) and the T-Chart was just the hammer she needed.

So, I recommend that you spend some time thinking of different study techniques and start building your toolbox. And if you don’t feel like you have enough tools, then you can always check out The Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying.

Every Student, Teacher, And Parent Should Memorize This ASAP

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

A Trick for Using Lecture Notes to Study for Tests

Are you good at taking detailed notes during lectures, but then struggle to know what to DO with those notes later on? In a different but related question, are your test grades disappointingly low, given the amount of time you study?

Often the way we use our notes (both inside and outside of class) directly affects how well we are able to perform on tests. In this video I give a few ideas about how to study for upcoming tests by “honing” your lecture notes. Tune in to get the details.

If you’re in too much of a hurry to watch this 3 min video, I get it! Here’s a quick summary: 

My Client’s Problem: I just got a text message from a college freshman who is really struggling. It’s mid-semester and he’s realized none of his old high school strategies are going to work for college. He’s getting really low grades on tests, and needs to change that.

Our Solution: It was clear that he needed to learn how to hone his notes. I had him work through the note taking part of my online course The Anti-Boring Approach, and then taught him a couple of specific skills related to his Psychology classes: (1) Summarize all the terms, definitions, and examples from his notes into a chart, and (2) create a fake textbook by looking through all the notes, think about what the major headings might be if he were a textbook writer, as well as what diagrams or bullet points might help bring all his notes together. The main idea is to rewrite your notes, to hone them, so they take much less space and require you to think actively about the information, so that you’re turning it into something that makes sense to YOUR brain, not just your teacher’s brain.

This tip is just one little piece of my step-by-step system for raising your grades with less stress. Click here to find out more about the whole system.

The Coolest Memorization Tool You’ve Never Heard of Until Now

What if you’ve got a bunch of stuff to memorize for your next test, but no time or energy to make flashcards or set up a study group?

Enter a cool study tool (used by students all over Japan, evidently!) called a Check Set!

I just ordered myself one for a client who needs some new approaches to memorization, and I got myself an extra! So check out the video below to enjoy my demo for how to use this cool memorization tool that you’ve never heard of (until now!).

For those who prefer reading to watching, here are some highlights from the video:

What is a Check Set & How Do You Use It??

“I’m so excited today to show you this check set that came in the mail! It’s a way that many Japanese students study.”

Check Set | Memorization Set | Memorization Tool | Study Tool | Gretchen Wegner | Anti-Boring Approach

This image is an Amazon Affiliate link to the product.

“A memorization set, sometimes called a check set, are a great way to turn what can sometimes be a kind of boring learning tool like standard worksheets, into what I like to call a quizzable study tool.”

You highlight the answer, key phrase, or term you want to study with one of the two markers. You take the opposite color piece of plastic and hold it over it and now you can’t see it. So you can quiz yourself, slide down the plastic piece to check your answer, and continue on quizzing yourself using old tests, quizzes, and homework.

“So with the final exams coming up you all might want to order these check sets because for old tests and quizzes and homework it can be a great way to quiz yourself.”

Another reason many students feel anxious around tests is that they don’t feel confident about their studying. Along with today’s tip, I’ve got a step-by-step system for studying that makes the entire process super simple and reduces test-taking freak out. I promise!

College Prep Podcast #134: Easy Tips for Prepping for Finals Over the Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tune into the podcast by clicking here.

Evernote: A Note Taking Tool That Will Revolutionize Your Academic Life

screen-shot-2016-08-24-at-5-04-06-pmDo you have a good way to organize your your research — both the digital and nondigital variety — as well as other aspects of being a student?

Evernote is a surprisingly robust note taking tool, which we learn how to use under the guidance of guest expert Darren Layne.

In this fun discussions, they discuss:

  • What Evernote is and how to use it
  • How to use it for the first time when you feel intimidated
  • Different possibilities for how to organize Evernote
  • Additional plug-ins to use with Evernote
  • Additional free research resources, including Zotero, WorldCat, and Archive.org.

Darren Layne studied history at UC Berkeley (BA), Scottish History at University of Edinburgh (MSc), and Scottish History at University of St Andrews (PhD). He is passionate about expanding access to historical materials through the creation and curation of a custom-built prosopographical database of persons connected to the final rising. He also blends traditional historical approaches with Digital Humanities and critical data awareness. Darren is pro-interdisciplinary collaboration, hugely pro-technology, pro-Green Open Access, anti-historical elitism and anti-intellectual snobbery. To find out more about Darren, visit www.jdb1745.net, check him out on twitter at @JDB1745, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jdb1745.

 

Take Notes That Make You Smile

Let’s play a quick word association game! When I say “note taking,” what’s the first thing you think of? I just *bet* that the word you thought of is more likely to make you frown than smile. But note taking doesn’t have to be that way!

Check out these cool notes that my friend Jo took at a conference she attended recently. I bet you’ll smile, too.

Hey there, while I highly recommend watching the video to get the full effect, here’s a short summary for you:

My friend Jo and I were at a conference and I noticed that she has some of the most amazing notes I’ve seen in a long time. So here are some of those tips.

  • Start with a large title at the top, so you know what that page of notes is about.
  • Next up, you can split a page up into sections. For example, you could draw a line down the middle, with the notes on the right, tips and tricks on the right, or other relevant information, perhaps the location of information you need.
  • Then we have the use of visual imaging. Basically, make small doodles along with your notes that help you visualize what the notes are about.
  • Try and use colors, as these can make notes more fun, and they help bring attention to the notes.
  • You can also try and group notes that are similar into chunks so that you can more easily find and take action on those notes.

Are you thinking, “That’s cool and all, Gretchen, but I need step-by-step support to figure out how to take decent notes?”
Then I recommend checking this out: In my typical anti-boring fashion, I’ll walk you through the two steps to note-taking that will transform your ability to capture the key points of a lecture or book, and four simple ingredients that you can apply to any note-taking method to make it more effective.

A Silly Way to Memorize Math Formulas

As midterms approach, that one math test is approaching. Yes, the one that has seven formulas to go with it. How are you ever going to remember all of the formulas without mixing them up?

Here’s a recommendation I made to a student regarding a silly, quick way to memorize math formulas! Check it out and let me know if there is a clever trick that works for you!

Don’t have time for the full video? No worries, I’ve got your back with this short summary:

While many teachers nowadays allow students to have little flashcards or cheat sheets with their math formulas on them, there are still plenty that don’t. So in the case that you need to memorize your math formulas, I recommend finding some silly anti-boring methods for how to get these formulas into your brain. My client Sam and I were doing just this today. He needed to memorize the formula for compound interest which is A=P(1+r/n)nt. Now our brains work very well with narrative and imagery so as I was looking at this formula I came up with a story.

First I noticed that A=P made me think of “ape” so that’s the start of our story. Next, the parenthesis reminds me of a couple of bananas. So the story goes, “Once upon a time there was an A=P, and that ape really wanted some bananas (). So he started by picking 1 banana, but something scared him so he ran off (+r/n), so he did not (nt) get any more bananas.” After we came up with this little story for remembering the formula, I quizzed Sam on the formula verbally and in writing, so we were using all the study senses, and he got it down pat. Afterward, I recommend to his family, that they spend some time coming up with stories for the other formulas he needed to study.

I hope that this tip helped you, and if you have a silly method for memorizing math formulas let me know down in the comments. And if you want more tips on how to study in silly anti-boring ways please consider checking out my course.

An Easy and Fun Way to Memorize Anything

It’s officially fall! As the temperature drops, the semester is just heating up. Students are starting to sweat through harder tests and more complex assignments. Is this true for you?

Recently, a client who has difficulty with short term memory was assigned one day to memorize the preamble of the constitution. For a young man with a learning difference, this was a Herculean task!

We came up with a fun approach that might be helpful to the rest of you, so I wanted to pass it on.

Take a look at this quick 2-minute video explanation. Then, use the comments section below to tell me whether you think this might work for you. Are there other memorization tricks that rock your world?

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

So as I said, I was working with a young man who needed to memorize the preamble of the Constitution, and this can be used by anyone who is struggling to memorize material. The first thing I had him do was look at the preamble and take note of how many parts there were to the sentence or material. In the case of the preamble, there were 8 sections that he noted. Next, we went part by part and drew a picture to represent each part. The first picture I drew was 3 stick people which represented “We the people”, and every time I held this up I made him say “We the people”. The second image was two wedding rings to represent “in order to form a more perfect union”. As before, I start by showing the first image, then the second and made him repeat them both. From there we kept going, doing an image, practice all images in order a few times, and then we’d move to the next image.

By the end of it, he hadn’t quite memorized the whole thing; however, he could do it with the pictures. So I had him practice it some more on his own, and the next day, when I texted him to check up, he had it memorized! The key here is breaking down something large into smaller more manageable pieces and then using images to help create connections in our brain.

Did this trick help you? Want more awesome tips and tricks like this one? Please consider checking out my course.

How Not to Make Stupid Decisions in College, Part 1

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Have you ever found yourself going into a new experience worrying that you’ll  totally mess it up?

For better or worse, fear of failure is one of the most common human anxieties. So, it’s no surprise that recent high school grads might worry that they’ll make stupid mistakes in college.

I’ve recently spent hours on the phone with a young woman who’s off to a liberal arts college in the midwest. Her frantic questions to me included:

What courses should I take first semester?

Do I want an advisor in my major, or outside of it?

Do I want to live in the same dorm with kids in my freshman seminar, or not?

Will I screw it all up if I make bad choices early on?

The common theme of all her questions was, “Will I screw it all up if I make bad choices early on?” And my answer to her is: no, you’ll be fine. As long as you pay attention to these 3 tips  to protect yourself from some typical freshmen woes.

Check out this video, and I’ll explain more about what I mean.

P.S. Now that you’ve watched the video, I need to add one thing: it’s actually quite healthy  to make a certain amount of mistakes in college…and in life! Some of the most wonderful experiences in my life (and my best ideas for my business) resulted from making a mistake first. But more about that later…

Was this helpful? Please forward it to others. Please feel free to comment below! If you’re a freshman-to-be, how are you feeling about college? If you’ve already been through college, how well did YOU know yourself when you first stepped foot on campus?

3 Reasons Why Coaching Kids on Skype is as Good (or Better) Than Meeting In-Person

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.)