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3 research-based strategies for overcoming test anxiety

A little nervousness about exams is perfectly normal,  and sometimes can even help performance by encouraging students to pay close attention and focus on the problems in front of them. However, for many students, the anxiety that they feel on tests is anything but beneficial.  Some students feel so nervous when they sit down to take exams that they have a hard time remembering the information they have studied. Instead of focusing on the questions in front of them, a large part of their working memory is pre-occupied with worries about whether they are moving through the test quickly enough or getting enough problems right, and fears about what will happen if they do not do well. Like a computer that freezes when it has too many energy-intensive programs running, students’ brains can freeze up during exams, making it hard to process or respond to the questions in front of them. If your teen experiences test anxiety, or would simply like to go into their tests feeling more confident and prepared, there are a number of research-based strategies they can use to prepare themselves to perform more effectively on their tests. Here are three of my favorites! 1. Write about your stress Before high-stakes tests, students will often try to

By |May 13th, 2016|Categories: Mindset, Study skills|0 Comments

Making the Most of the End of the Semester

Students often wait until the final week before exams to study, believing they will remember the material better if they study it closer to the time of the exam.  It's true that the material will seem more familiar if they have seen it more recently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be able to recall it on the test.  In order to remember what we’ve learned, we need repeated practice recalling it from memory and applying it to practice problems.This makes sense if we think about how we practice a sport, or a musical instrument.  In these contexts, we intuitively understand short-term “cramming” doesn’t work.  Can you imagine a football team waiting until the week before playoffs to practice, and then staying up late – putting in hours on the field – to “cram” before the big game?  Of course not.  No team would practice that way…and if they did, they would certainly lose the game.Yet, students often attempt to study hard right before their final exams.  In addition to leaving less time to study, “cramming” also causes students to…Feel stressedWorry about the testAdopt quick and ineffective study strategiesStore the material they learn in short-term, rather than long-term, memoryLose

Stages of Competence: Where is your teen right now?

Learning something new can be an exciting experience! For most students, the excitement comes at the END of the process...once they’ve mastered the skill, and it starts to feel effortless. But most of the time, when you're learning something new it doesn’t feel so easy!In fact, it often feels hard, confusing, and frustrating! The fact that learning new skills is hard isn’t a long as students understand that it’s supposed to feel hard, and trust that eventually their efforts will be rewarded.  Unfortunately, many students have gotten the impression that learning something new SHOULDN'T be so difficult. They believe they should be able to do well without working hard, and that mastering new skills should come easily and naturally.  Students with this expectation tend to get frustrated and disappointed when they're not able to master something right away, and stop trying...concluding either, “I’m no good at this, so why try?” or “Who cares about this? It's stupid anyway." One of the questions I like to ask my students who are in this situation is whether they're familiar with the Stages of Competence.  If they're not, I draw them the following diagram...   Stage 1: Unconscious incompetenceIn the first stage of competence, students aren’t yet aware of how bad they are at this new skill…either because they haven’t tried it yet, or because they haven’t

By |April 1st, 2016|Categories: Mindset, Study skills|0 Comments

Taming technology distractions: Internet blocking apps for students

Do you feel like you're always having to police your kids, telling them to put away their phone and computer so they can start their homework? Are you concerned about how the phone and computer are affecting their ability to stay focused on their assignments, and complete their work efficiently? Even when teens have good intentions to sit down and focus on their homework, technology is such an enormous part of students lives, is often very difficult for them to turn it off. And for many students, turning technology off completely is impossible, because their assignments are posted online, so they need access to their computer in order to complete their work. However, once they’re on the computer, there are about a million other things to do that are more interesting than homework.   If only there was a way for kids to have access to the sites they need for their homework, without being distracted by everything else on their computer! ...Introducing web blocking apps There are actually a number of apps that allow students to do exactly that — block the distracting websites & apps on their computer and phone, while giving them access to the sites they need to complete their homework.  If this sounds like

Kids do well if they can.

"He knows what he needs to do. I’ve reminded him 10 times already. This isn’t that hard.  Why isn’t he doing it?  Does he just not care?"  I talk to parents all the time who are worried that their kids just don’t seem to care about doing well, because they’re not following through and doing the things they need to in order to be successful.  But when I meet with their kids, what I hear over and over again is that these kids WANT to do better.  They don’t enjoy disappointing their parents…or themselves.  They want to feel proud of themselves, and make their parents happy.  They’re just having a really hard time getting there. So, who’s right?  When kids behave badly, is it because they don’t want to do well? Or is it because something is getting in their way, and making hard for them to follow through? Ross Greene’s quick 4-min video does a wonderful job of explaining the differences between these two philosophies:   What approach do you usually take? If you adopt the philosophy that "kids do well if they want to"…and they’re NOT doing well…that means your job is to make them want to to better. This is where rewards & punishments come from — the idea that kids won’t want to

By |January 29th, 2016|Categories: Mindset, Motivation, Study skills|0 Comments

The Myth of Learning Styles

Do you have a Visual, Auditory, or Kinesthetic learning style? When I ask my students this question, virtually all of them can identify their learning style.  Unfortunately, it turns out that they’re almost all wrong.  Not because they’ve identified their learning style incorrectly…but because it turns out that learning styles don’t actually exist.  Learning styles are one of the most pervasive myths in education, and yet — as Dr. Tesia Marshik reveals in her TEDx talk — there is compelling scientific evidence debunking the idea that we learn information more effectively when it is presented to us in our preferred learning style.  I’ve embedded the video below, so you can watch it, and hear the arguments for yourself.   For me, there were three main takeaways from this presentation.  When it comes to figuring out how we learn best, it’s not enough to rely on our instincts, because they can steer us wrong. The confirmation bias is very powerful, and can lead us to find evidence to support our beliefs even if those beliefs aren’t true. This doesn’t just happen with learning styles — there’s also lots of evidence that most college students who are asked to identify the study strategies that will work best get the answer wrong.

By |November 20th, 2015|Categories: Study skills|1 Comment

Prioritizing homework: What to do first?

"What's the best way to prioritize homework?" "Should I do the easiest assignments first?  Or the hardest ones?" I’ve heard from a number of parents and students recently who have been wondering how to prioritize homework. It’s sometimes hard to know whether starting with easier or harder assignments is better, because there are benefits to both approaches... Starting with the easiest assignments...Reduces the risk of procrastinationGives students a quick ‘win’ so they feel encouraged to continueGets some assignments checked off the list quickly, so there are fewer things to think about Starting with the hardest assignments...Enables students to tackle their most difficult work when their focus & energy level are highestGets the most challenging work out of the way, so the rest of the homework feels easier & more enjoyablePrioritizes work that is a large percentage of students’ grade, and/or the classes where they need the most improvement Since there are pros and cons to each approach, how do you know which one to choose? For the majority of my students, I actually recommend using a blend of the two approaches.  What I like it do is...Start with an EASY assignmentTackle a CHALLENGING assignmentTake a short break...then repeat until the work is finished! Here is a diagram of what

Is homework taking forever? Try taking more breaks.

 Now that we're a few weeks into school, students are starting to spend more time doing homework in the evenings.  The standard guideline for homework is that students should be spending approximately 10 minutes a night doing homework per grade level.  So, that equates to an hour each night for a 6th grader, and 2 hours for a senior in high school. Unfortunately, many students spend far more time on homework than this, which is frustrating for them and their parents. So, what can we do to help students work more efficiently? Somewhat counter-intuitively, one answer is to take more frequent breaks! Study breaks provide a number of important benefits, including...Less procrastination. When homework seems challenging, students often put off starting it until as late as possible.  However, if they know they're only committing to work for 30 minutes or so, and then they will get another break, it's often easier to get started.  More focus. When there's a clear distinction between work time & break time, it's easier to distinguish between "work time" and "break time" activities (texting, etc.). It's also easier for students to resist tempting distractions if they know they'll be able to to whatever they want on their next break... instead of until

Why students procrastinate (Hint: it’s not what you think)

How does your teen respond to deadlines & due dates? Do they typically...a) Get started on their work as soon as it's assigned?  b) Wait until the due date approaches before they begin?c) Delay starting their work until (or past!) the last possible second? While many students argue that waiting to start their work is "no big deal", procrastinating can actually have some pretty serious costs. For some students, it means they don't have time to finish their work before the they're getting low zeros on uncompleted assignments and low grades on tests for which they weren't prepared. Other kids manage to meet the deadlines by staying up late to complete their work...but end up feeling stressed out, exhausted, and coming down with frequent colds & illnesses.  And these are just the short-term costs. In the long term, high levels of procrastination are associated with lower salaries, shorter terms of employment, and a greater likelihood of being unemployed or under employed rather than working full‐time (Nguyen et al. 2013). WHY do students procrastinate? Given all the problems procrastination creates, why is this such a common and widespread problem? Why don't students learn to avoid it?  We used to think that procrastination was due to a character flaw, and that people who put things off until the last minute were simply lazy, or unmotivated. In

A Back-to-school Checklist for Proactive Students

Getting ready to go back to school can be a busy time. There’s a lot to do, and it can be hard to stay on top of everything, especially for parents who have multiple kids’ schedules and school supply lists to keep track of.  For parents, encouraging teens to take a more active role in their back-to-school preparation is a great opportunity to help them become more responsible and independent…and reduce everyone’s stress level in the process! To help with this process, I’ve created a back-to-school checklist (below), which which you can share with your teen, and use as a printable to-do list OR as a list of ideas to keep in mind as they create their own to-do list. Depending on your teen, their school, and your family, you will probably think of other ideas you want to include in this plan as well, but this can at least help you to get started.  Back-to-School To-Do List:   Write down your goals for this semester.  Writing down your goals dramatically increases the chances that you will reach them. Consider including goals for your grades, your study habits & organization,  extracurricular activities, friends and family relationships, and learning & personal growth.        Review +