The original Winnie the Pooh and friends on display at the New York Public Library
The other day I had a wonderful conversation with one of my older students. He was brimming over with enthusiasm for his senior-level College Reading class.
It’s really more a structured study period than a class, in which students come in every day and spend the entire 48-minute period silently reading a book of their choice. When they’re finished they write a brief summary of the book and then select another.
The whole point, of course, is to get college-bound seniors used to the discipline of sustained, focused reading. And this particular student was loving it!
As soon as he left I grabbed my notebook and jotted down everything I could remember of what he had said so I could share with you this glimpse into the head of an older, more mature student. (Read on, dear parents of tweens, and take heart!):
It’s such a shame that in our culture testing has such a bad name.
The dad of one of my students is a physician; he recalls that:
Medical school is all about being tested. We were constantly quizzing, taking tests, and flipping flash cards (each flash card is a tiny test). We were tested multiple times every day. All that testing made our minds sharp, plus it kept us aware of the areas we still needed to work on. It was a powerful way to learn.
Back-to-school time is the perfect time to start fresh routines and establish healthy habits. These are the ones parents and I have been talking about the most:
- First of All, Plan for Adequate Sleep: Most kids don’t get enough sleep. Students learn better, feel better and behave better when they’re properly rested. Check with your pediatrician and find out how many hours of sleep your child ought to be logging per night (chances are good you’ll be shocked at the large number), and then set the appropriate bedtime and enforce it.
- Limit Electronics: Computers and cellphones and anything else with a glowing screen (including TVs and video games) need to be turned off one hour before bedtime to allow the mind to calm down for good sleep (this applies to adults, too!). And do establish cellphone-free chunks of time during the afternoon and evening; students need to read, study and eat dinner in peace. Interestingly, parents have been telling me that their kids often seem relieved to be given breaks from the relentless social pressure and privacy invasion of social media. I also felt this from my SAT class; students seemed to like my rule of collecting their cellphones before class!
- Establish the Reading Habit: Before the school year becomes super-hectic, build in the habit of quiet reading for 20-30 minutes before lights out.
- Don’t Overschedule: Too many sports and extra-curricular activities aren’t fun; they’re stressful!
Have you ever felt like there were two people inside you vying for control?
I’m rereading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel prize-winning psychologist who studies reasoning and decision-making. Kahneman explains that our minds do contain two agents: A System One which makes quick, emotionally-based decisions, and a System Two which reasons slowly and deliberately.
The premise of Thinking Fast and Slow is that we’d all be better off if we learned awareness of these two systems so as to use the right system for the right purpose.
Most of the time, System One works just fine. It makes its decisions by applying heuristics (rules), which are stored in the brain innately or through prior experience. Because its answers are prepackaged, System One’s decisions are quick and feel easy and use little mental energy. System One works well in simple situations and on problems that are similar to ones that have been solved before.
But when situations are complex or novel, System Two ought to be hauled out. Many financial decisions (Should I buy this house?) and academic ones (What is the correct answer to this SAT question?) are properly the province of System Two. They ought to be reasoned out slowly and deliberately, with a vigilant eye out for mistakes and skipped steps and unfounded assumptions.
And yet, we all too often apply a System One-level decision to a System Two-level problem. That’s because “going by …
It’s easy to procrastinate in the summer.
Dear Friends, Many students believe it’s best to leave their summer math review for the end of the summer; they fear that if they do the work too early they will have forgotten the material again by September. In fact, the best way to make learning stick is to work at it consistently and review all summer long. The brain is exposed to a barrage of information every day, so how does it decide what to keep and what to forget? One big marker is repetition. The brain receives most facts only once, and because those bits of information never show up again they don’t need to be remembered.
Some 60′s era references at The Black Hole Museum, Los Alamos, New Mexico
A young student of mine began reading a fun-looking (to me) book called Schooled; I smiled as soon as I saw the peace symbol and tie-dye cover.
Here’s the Amazon synopsis:”Capricorn Cap Anderson has been homeschooled by his hippie grandmother, Rain. When Rain is injured in a fall, Cap is forced to attend the local middle school. Although he knows a lot about Zen Buddhism, nothing has prepared him for the politics of public school.”
But of course my fifth grade student was having trouble relating to the book because, unlike me, he knew nothing about flower children, communes or any of the other 60′s era references. He had read the first two chapters on his own and was totally confused and lost.
This kitten is intrepid, capricious and vivacious.
Each summer I teach a low-cost SAT class at my local community college, and during each session I present various learning and study tips based on brain science. These are pointers that apply to ALL learners, of all ages!
We started with our study of the 100 Most Common SAT Vocabulary Words (which is a wonderful vocab list for ALL students grades 8-12 and beyond, not just those prepping for the SAT).
I wanted to demonstrate this powerful learning technique:
Always preview and take time to wonder over and form questions about any new material, because your brain will begin to unconsciously prime itself to remember the answers.
I know we are all breathing a sigh of relief to finally get finished with the school year and into the blissful mood of summer ease and relaxation.
It’s so satisfying and empowering to accomplish some small academic goal by September. Just 10-20 minutes of studying every day (or at least four days per week) can mount up to noticeable results by fall.
Here are my favorite suggestions:
Summer is coming, but first, EXAMS!
Students, teachers and parents are all feeling the end-of-year time crunch; between sports, proms, plays, high stakes exams and piled-on schoolwork, it can be hard to imagine where to find those blocks of study time.
It’s time to resort to what I call Sneaky Studying. The key is to stop waiting and hoping for those big chunks of uninterrupted study time, because they ain’t gonna happen!
a houseboat in Vancouver harbor
The next SAT is just around the corner, on Saturday, May 3!
So, in case you’ve got a student who needs to do some last-minute review, I’ve complied this collection of my favorite easy-to-use, free online tools, perfect for using this weekend and through next week.