College Prep Podcast #155: How to Grow a Thriving Academic Life Coaching Biz

Gretchen Wegner, Megan Dorsey, Debbie Lehr-Lee, Anti-Boring Approach, Coach Training, Academic Life Coach, Academic Life CoachingWhat’s it like to build a successful business as an academic life coach?

Guest Debbie Lehr-Lee shares the ups and downs about her path, including how Gretchen’s Anti-Boring Approach Coach training helped her go from 4 clients to a thriving a practice.

Together Gretchen and Debbie discuss:

  • What frustrations Debbie was experiencing when she first reached out to get trained by Gretchen
  • How her business has grown since then, including how Debbie created a unique niche for herself
  • How her work helps students feel less broken, and why that’s such a crucial first step
  • The importance of understanding the role that technology plays — good and bad! — in teens’ lives
  • How to decide what kind of academic life coach training program to participate in
  • What makes Gretchen’s Anti-Boring Approach Coach Training Program unique, and how listeners might discern whether this program is a good use of their time and resources
  • and more!

Here is the free resource that Debbie mentioned in the podcast — a workbook to accompany the documentary Screenagers.

Debbie Lehr-Lee is an academic life coach passionate about helping high school and college students develop key academic and life skills (that are often not taught in school) so that they can be successful in academics but also be prepared for college and the real world. She is a certified Life Coach (CPC) from the world-class Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), a certified Academic Life Coach from John Andrew Williams Academic Life Coaching program, and has completed Gretchen Wegner’s Anti-Boring Approach Coach Training Program. Visit her website at www.unstoppablestudents.com

Listen in to Megan and Gretchen with guest speaker Debbie Lehr-Lee as they discuss how to grow a thriving Academic Life Coaching business.

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.

College Prep Podcast #140: 7+ Books That Megan & Gretchen Should Read

Gretchen Wegner | Megan Dorsey | Books | Educators | Parents | Read | Success | Reading | The Art of Inspiring Students to Study StrategicallyDo you ever buy books that are important professionally but never get around to reading them? Megan and Gretchen both have books on their shelves that they haven’t read yet.

Listen in as they list these books, and explain why they’re important for educators and parents to read. Maybe doing this podcast will also inspire Megan and Gretchen to actually get reading!

Here’s the list:

Click here to head over to the College Prep Podcast to listen to this episode.

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

8 Tips for When to DIY vs. Hire an Academic Professional

GRETCHENPODCAST122

Should you hire a tutor, coach or consultant? Or should you DIY for just a little longer?

During this episode, Gretchen and Megan help you decipher when it makes sense to spend the big bucks and get professional help…and when you don’t need to!

Specifically, they discuss the following 5 types of academic experts that families often like to hire, who work outside the school systems:

  • Tutors
  • Standardized test prep professionals
  • College application consultants
  • Academic life coaches
  • Mental health professionals

In considering when it makes sense to hire out, and when it makes sense to DIY a little longer, Megan and Gretchen discussed these 8 questions families should ask themselves to decide:

  1. How important (e.g. life or death!) is the situation?
  2. What resources does the school already provide, and is it enough?
  3. Is this a topic for which there is limited time and chances in order to succeed?
  4. Are your home relationships deteriorating because you’ve been doing it yourself for too long?
  5. Will it be more convenient to work with this other person, and are you willing to pay for convenience?
  6. How motivated is the student who will be receiving the support?
  7. What are your family’s finances?
  8. Would you save more in the long run if you had a professional help you get started?

Got any questions or concerns on this topic, or any other? Want them addressed on our podcast (free coaching! yes!)? Please email us at collegepreppodcast.com and tell us all about it.

“This podcast was originally on www.collegepreppodcast.com

Warning: Is Your Tutor Teaching Bad Study Habits?

OK, that title might be a bit of an exaggeration. I don’t really believe that tutors do more harm than good — but I DO believe that there are some bad habits students fall victim to where tutors are concerned. Now that the school year has started, students and tutors are starting their work together; it’s a good opportunity to nip bad habits in the bud.

First, I need to explain that as an academic coach, I do not consider myself a tutor. Tutors are subject-specific content specialists; academic coaches are process specialists. Tutors help explain the pythagorean theorem to a student who doesn’t understand; an academic coach helps the student identify processes in which they can better learn the pythagorean theorem (e.g. use the textbook more effectively, take better notes in class, do sample problems, etc).

Many of my academic coaching clients also see Spanish or math tutors because they need help with both process and content. Too often, though, I encounter a conversation that sounds like this:

Me: So, it looks like you have a big trigonometry test coming up on Friday. What’s your study plan?

Student: Oh, I’ll just study with my tutor. I see her the day before the test.

Me: But what about making a study guide? And reviewing it at least two days before the test?

Student: Yeah, but I don’t need to do that with math. When I study with my tutor, I usually do just fine.

Just the other day, in fact, my client Annabelle (a high school senior) repeated a similar refrain,  “Oh, I don’t need to study for the Spanish test by myself; I’ll just do it with my tutor.”

In the short term, this student’s relationship with the tutor is doing all sorts of good: Annabelle trusts her tutor and is making B’s on all her tests.  I can *assume* this means she’s also learning to speak Spanish, although I can’t say that for sure.

However, when Annabelle relies on her tutor to guide her study process, she is neither holding herself accountable for her learning nor is she practicing how to be a self-sufficient learner. If the tutor guides the whole study process, Annabelle isn’t practicing how to: a) compile all the necessary information, b) make a study guide that works for her, c) save time to review her study guide, and d)  self-assess when she has learned the information well.

All four of these skills are critical for college readiness. The last one — knowing how to self-assess at what point she has learned the information sufficiently — is critical long after she’s done taking tests; it is crucial for helping her be a life long learner.

Tutors provide a wonderful service to many students; however, without sufficient attention to the study processes they are advocating, they can foster dependent students who can’t learn unless experts walking them through every step of the way.

If you are a parent hiring a tutor, I highly recommend that you ask them, not just about their content expertise, but also about what strategies they’ve developed for teaching learning/study processes to their students. Some questions to ask might include:

1. What’s your philosophy about how students learn best?

2. What content do you tutor? What skills do you teach alongside that content?

3. What are your responsibilities when tutoring my child? What are my child’s responsibilities when working with you? How do engage my child in dialogue about these responsibilities?

4. What specific strategies do you teach to help students become self-sufficient learners?

5. Sometimes students can become too reliant on tutors, and they begin abdicating responsibility for their own learning. How do you know when this is happening, and what do you do to minimize this tendency?

Do you have any additional questions you like to ask tutors? Are you a tutor with some reflections about how you foster self-sufficiency in your clients? Are you a student with stories? Please comment! I’d love to hear…

P.S. Want more great tips like this?  Sign up for FREE email updates.

The Beauty of Flashcards

20110914-065027.jpg

One of the most important tasks as an academic coach is to help students understand how to leverage their learning styles to study more effectively … and hopefully more pleasurably.

This week one of my 9th grade clients came in beaming. She couldn’t wait to show me the flashcards that she created for her geography class. She’s an incredibly visual learner, and so I’ve been working with her on drawing pictures to represent the definitions of key terms.

Initially, she created cute pictures that were loosely related to the word she needed to learn. However, it was clear to me that she was leaving out key parts of the definition. Together we practiced how to pay attention to the *entire* meaning of a word, and to find pictures that represent the totality of the definition.

The flashcards pictured above are two of many fine examples that she brought in this week. Judging by the glee with which she showed me her work (and the perfect score on her test), it is clear that her visual learning style made studying both effective…and pleasurable.

(Note: I’m gleeful that this entire blog post was written on my iphone in my car as I waited to go into an InterPlay class. Wow!)

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.)

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!

What’s an Academic Coach?!

From Academic Coaching

There’s an area of my professional life about which I’ve been strangely silent on this blog: my life as an academic coach for teens.

I’m not sure why I’ve been so tightlipped about this amazing work; maybe I’m afraid others will find my musings boring. I mean —  time management, organization, and learning strategies? For teens? Biiig whooop! Who cares?

But the truth is this: I care. Very deeply. So do the parents. The teens care, too (for the most part; they want to be successful. They really do.). The work we do is amazingly transformative, for the teens but also for me. It’s time I start telling our stories.

Academic Coach Versus Tutor: What’s the Difference?

But first things first. Most people have no clue what academic coaching is. “So you’re like, uhhhh, a tutor?” they ask.

And the truth is — not really. A tutor helps teenagers understand subject-specific content. Want help memorizing and practicing the quadratic equation? Talk to a tutor.

An academic coach, on the other hand, helps kids troubleshoot their learning process so that they can eventually learn the content on their own. The goal is self-sufficiency. Need to figure out why you didn’t get the quadratic formula when the teacher taught it in class (and how you might get it next time)?  Talk to me.

Here’s another example: Want someone who knows a ton about US History and can help you answer the essay question? Talk to a tutor. Need help organizing your thinking and writing process so you can research and write the essay by yourself? Talk to me.

Maddy Learns a Writing Formula

This summer I had several clients who sought me out for extra help. Uhhh, well that’s only partially true. Their parents sought me out. Luckily, I’m gentle, fun, and full of good ideas. So by the end, the kids admitted it wasn’t that horrible. And they even learned a thing or two that they could actually use.

As one parent reflected:

The information you have provided is packaged in a much more user friendly way that Maddy can put to much better use.”

The information I packaged so well was, simply, this:

1. What are some basic writing formulas that help essays write themselves? (Maddy complained of working really hard on all her essays, but usually getting disappointingly low grades).

2. Given how much she detests doing homework  and her busy sports schedule (but also, given her goal to get B’s her sophomore year), how can she plan her afternoons so there is enough time for both sports and homework?

Maddy left my office much more confident about her approach to writing as well as to time management. She was psyched about the strategies that would help her work smarter, not harder. I can’t wait to find out whether this school year feels different than last!

Conrad Learns How to Advocate For Himself

Another client I saw this summer was a young man. Headed off to college after four years attending the “resource” class in high school (that’s the fancy term for “special ed”). This young man and his parents were concerned that he’d flounder during the rigor of college.

When I met Conrad, I was surprised that he barely understood his own learning disability. We spent most of our time reading through his Neuropsychological Evaluation, translating all the scary psycho-babble into teen friendly language, and role playing how he might explain it all to his professors? After four short sessions, Conrad’s mother raved:

Honestly, you taught my son more in regard to his learning style than he learned in years in his high school’s Resource program or with private tutors!!! I wish I had used you earlier.

Again, it will be fun for me to follow up with Conrad and find out whether freshman year felt more manageable. He certainly left my office in higher spirits than he entered!

It’s All in the Organization

It turns out that a lot of my job revolves around helping kids be more organized — organizing their time, their stuff, and their thinking.  Many teenagers just need a gentle but straight talking adult to help them troubleshoot their processes.

I feel so blessed to spend my days helping teens become self sufficient learners. I can’t wait to use this blog to tell more of their stories.