Do you have finals coming up? Are you, or a student you love, overwhelmed with everything there is to do between now and the end of the semester?
Recently I was overwhelmed with a big project. I noticed myself starting to stagnate and procrastinate, but then — thank goodness!! — I started doing a series of four things that really helped me sift through the overwhelm and actually take action.
It occurs to me that folks going into finals might appreciate some of these tips, so here you go:
For those of you in a hurry who simply want to check out my whiteboard summary of the tips, here they are:
If you need any quick email coaching, please don’t hesitate to hit reply and ask me a question. If I can answer it in 10 minutes or less via email, I’ll do so. Easy peasy (and yes, for free).
Teens often start their coaching sessions with me super emotional. “Do you know what just happened?! My parents just ambushed me!” We then spend the next 5-10 minutes of our session processing anger, resignation, and tears.
An ambush is a surprise attack. For teens, this means that they’re often going about their day, feeling pretty good and with their own sense of a plan for what needs to be done. And then wham!! Suddenly they are faced with an angry parent accusing them of getting a zero on an assignment, or not following up with a task they were supposed to do.
In this video, we look at how to catch yourself when you might be about to ambush your teen, and what to do instead. After all, if a student feels accused, they’re less likely to follow through on the task that you think they should be doing! So you can’t really go wrong if you spend time learning how to communicate in a way a teenager can hear.
Check out the video here:
If you are a teacher, tutor, or academic coach, or perhaps even a parent, interested in learning about how to help your students become independent learners and test-taking powerhouses, please consider checking out my course, The Art of Inspiring Students to Study Strategically.
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 great intentions for following through on new habits, but then find yourself struggling to keep the momentum?
This happens to me all the time in the transition between summer and the new school year. So this year, I got creative! Check out my new habit tracker, and listen in to why simply TRACKING your habits can be so powerful (even if you don’t actually follow through).
Hey there, don’t have time for the full video? No worries, here’s a short summary:
So this particular school year, 2017, has been so hard for me personally to transition from the wide-open summer to the regimented school year, and I have had to do something I haven’t had to do in a long time. I’ve made myself a star chart, and I’m noticing that a trick like this is the best way for me to rev up my habits in a quick period of time. And the way I use this is I have some double-sided tape (or in my case tape rolled up so it’s sticky on both sides) and I have it placed on my mirror with some stars next to it. That way I’m guaranteed to see it every morning and night!
Now, let’s discuss how to make this and how it works. As you can see I have it divided into 4 sections, my morning routine, my evening routine, the exercises I want to do every day, and diet/water. Here’s the deal, I don’t expect myself to be perfect. I’m simply tracking, what am I good at vs what am I not good at. The beauty of this though is that let’s say I don’t feel like flossing, but I see the star chart it makes me want to do it just so I can put a star on it.
That said, I don’t recommend that parent’s make these for their students; however, I do recommend to students that you make something like this for yourself to get you revved up for the school year. Because until your about 21 you’re going to be going through the cycle of starting a new semester and trying to build habits, then slowly losing them, and rebuilding them, and slowly losing them.
How many notifications pop up on your desktop or smartphone each hour? I’ve noticed with my clients that they get gazillions of notifications!!
I’m on a mission to banish the notification from you and your teen’s technology. Parent’s aren’t excluded here!!
Check out the video to hear more, and pay attention to the one exception I’ll allow.
Hey, don’t have time for the full video? No worries, I’ve got your back. Here’s a short summary:
I have a new… tirade. You see, I work with most of my clients via Zoom on the computer, and I have my client’s share their computer screens so I see what they are doing. And I have seen far too many teenagers when they are on their computer getting nearly constant notifications! This drives me crazy because I watch as their eyes flick over to each one, and while usually, they come back to attention pretty quickly, I’ve noticed that there is usually a pause… and their thoughts are distracted and or slow to think about the next thing. As a result, I’ve decided I want all my teenagers and their parents to practice stopping all notifications.
The brain science is so clear that all these notifications are draining our energy and fracturing our attention. So I am challenging all my clients and their parents to stop all notifications, at the very least, during the time you are trying to study or work, with one exception. Notifications from your calendar/reminder app that are there to help keep you on track. But I want those to be the only notifications.
Do you struggle to take action on new habits and routines that you know would be good for you? Recently, a client of mine was having trouble jumpstarting “The Set Up Routine,” which is a process I recommend to students for setting up their study space right when they get home from school. I realized that during last week’s session, I’d failed to help him truly envision himself doing the habit! This is a 30-second trick that can really make a difference. Check out the video, where I describe it in more detail.
Hey there, don’t have time for the full video? No worries, here’s a quick summary:
So, I have a quick 30-second trick to help you, or your child, or your client (if you’re an academic coach), get a jumpstart on a new habit. And this is something I was doing with a client just this last week. He knew he needed to do what I call the “setup routine”, which is to come home from school, walk in the door, and get your study space all set up. The problem was that while we’d talked about it the previous week, he wasn’t following through, and I realized we really needed to walk through it in much more detail.
So I had him imagine actually doing this task, in as much detail as possible. I asked him what the front door looks like, what it’s like on the inside of that door, where he has to go to put his study materials, where the table is, what’s in that space, etc. Then I asked him to imagine himself taking his books out, where he’d put them, what else he needed to do to set up, etc. And he was really able to see it in his mind, almost like a movie. One of the benefits of this was that it allowed me to see where he was getting stuck and help fill in the steps. It also benefitted him, as he was able to get a real feel for how the habit would go from start to finish.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Do sometimes find yourself panicking when you sit down to write a research paper? Perhaps you selected a difficult topic?
One of my clients, a freshman in college, did just that. He chose a subject, and then a week later when he was starting to work on it, he realized it wasn’t a good topic, and he wouldn’t be able to research it adequately. So he ended up in a blind panic and pushed off the rest of his homework to try and catch up on this project. So we reflected on this, and you can find out what came of our session in this video.
Hey there, don’t have time for the full video? No worries, I’ve got your back. Here’s a summary:
So I’m curious if this has ever happened to you before. I have a client, a freshman in college, who has a big research project he’s had in the works for a few weeks now and he had already selected his subject a couple of weeks ago. The problem was that last week he was supposed to be working on some other homework; however, when the session came he said, “Oh… no, I didn’t get to that, cause it’s not the priority. You remember that research project I thought I knew? I started doing the research for it and, oh man, the topics really not a good one. It’s going to be very hard to do. I think I need to change my topic. And I’ve been panicked about that all week, and so I didn’t do that other thing I was supposed to do.” So we reflected about this a little bit and we came up with this tip:
When you are first given a research project and you are deciding on your research topic do a little preliminary practice finding sources for your chosen subject. You can go to your library and talk to your local librarian, look on google scholar, get on your college databases, and see how easy (or difficult) it is to find sources for your topic within your time constraints.
If my client had done this two weeks ago when he chose his research topic, he would have realized this wasn’t a very good research topic, and he would have had time to come up with a new one. Then he wouldn’t have had to push off his other homework in a panic.
If you found this tip helpful, there are much more like it in my course, so please feel free to check it out, or email me.