School Articles

Sneaky Studying and the Pretend Cheat Sheet

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014
Summer is coming, but first, EXAMS!

Summer is coming, but first, EXAMS!

Dear Friends,

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!

The Textbook Is Still A Great Learning Tool

Friday, January 24th, 2014

cats in the snow  Jan 27 2011 012It seems like every year my students use their textbooks less and less.

Teachers still hand out textbooks in September but then so many (I’m tempted to say MOST) teachers rarely assign readings or homework from them, instead supplying students with hand-outs, worksheets and powerpoints.

Commonly, students claim that their texts are “up in my bedroom somewhere,” never to be opened!

Yet textbooks can be wonderful tools for learning and for exam review.

Getting Students Organized for Exam Review

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

cats in the snow  Jan 27 2011 009

Here in my school district, mid-year exams are on the horizon, but still far enough in the distance so that there’s plenty of time for students to prepare thoroughly and well.

This is a golden opportunity for kids to learn how to make an action plan so that daily review happens.

I always start by asking students to come up with a list of what they’ll need to do in order to be well-prepared for their exams, and most kids are pretty good at this part. Here’s a real-life, anonymous sample:

For chemistry I’m going to make flash cards based on the test study guides and my notes/worksheets. For history I will review my hand-outs and practicing writing some essays. For English I’ll have to refresh my knowledge on the books we read and their themes. In math I’m going to look over any old tests and quizzes as well as do the activities my teacher has on his website. For Spanish I’ll look at old quizzes and review the vocabulary and conjugations.

I hope you will agree that this student clearly knows what he’s got to do, and is off to a great start.

But now here comes the hard part: Notice how vague and unspecified this list is? It’s full of phrases like “review,” and “look over,” (what, exactly, does he have in mind to do? What, for example, does he mean by “look over”?) and it doesn’t specify WHEN he will do these things, HOW MANY flashcards he will create per day, and so on.

This list now needs to be converted into a daily action plan, including specific, quantified activities that will be completed each day.

Here’s my own hypothetical example of an action plan for this student:

  • Monday: Create 20 chemistry flashcards, locate history hand-outs and spend 15 minutes reading them and highlighting important information, locate English notes and spend 10 minutes highlighting important information, redo one math test and highlight questions to ask the teacher…
  • Tuesday: Create 20 more chemistry flashcards, write one history essay, re-read English handouts and highlight important info, redo another math …

My Experiment Shows: Longer-Term Studying is Better

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

PTown New Years Weekend 2011 010Students typically wait until the last minute to begin studying for tests, and many parents support this practice, fearing that their kid will forget the material if they review it too early. But decades of tutoring as well as personal experience has taught me otherwise: Consistent, deliberate practice over time is the way to master material.

I have 30 tutoring students, and bunches of them go to the same schools and are in the same classes. This means that I often have multiple students taking the same test on the same day.

Recently, I was working with a number of students who were all getting ready for the same Monday algebra test (the test was being given by more than one teacher at the same school). My weekend schedule was so hectic that, in order to find enough time for everyone, I met with some students after school on the Friday before the test (my least popular time slot as you can likely imagine). The rest of the kids reviewed with me on Sunday.

This arrangement accidentally created a nice mini-experiment, with interesting results!

Parent Involvement in Kids’ Homework: Important and Difficult

Friday, October 4th, 2013

Getty Center July 17 2010 024As a tutor, the most exciting, emerging area of my work is parent involvement. More and more parents are reaching out to me for information, skills and tools they can use in supporting their children’s learning. And, I am always encouraging parents sit in on tutoring sessions so they can refresh on the subject matter and learn new strategies.

All learning, including tutoring, is most effective when it’s backed up with daily, active involvement from parents and/or other caring adults.

Summer is Perfect for Habit Building!

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

When our schedule changes, many of the environmental cues that trigger automatic behaviors disappear. We feel unsettled, but our mind is open to developing fresh routines.

So although summer may feel tumultuous, it’s actually a wonderful time to help your student establish a new study habit, such as daily reading, vocabulary study, sentence writing or math practice.

4 More End-of-Year Study Tips

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Summer vacation will be here soon, but first you’ve got to get through exams!

Many students are in the thick of final exams right now and others have exams coming up in the next few weeks. Here are four more tips for final exams and school in general:

  1. Study alone, then with pals. Don’t arrive at a group study session unprepared and clueless. Study alone first so you come equipped with a list of questions plus some knowledge to contribute.
  2. Use your textbook. It’s likely your teacher gave you a study guide and hand-outs. And maybe you’ve hardly used that textbook all year. Use it now! Most textbooks have chapter summaries and review questions, and many of the newer texts provide online tests, quizzes and flashcards.
  3. Go to the library. Bring your textbooks and notes, and leave your laptop at home and your cellphone in the car (you can take breaks to check for texts, but not more often than every half hour). Find a quiet table or study carrel and study without distraction. Once you adjust to the weirdness of not having your electronics available, you’ll likely be amazed at how much information you can absorb and how clear a lot of the subject matter now seems.
  4. Study morning, noon and night. In the morning, do an overview of a subject by reading through the study guide, a few pages of notes, or a chapter summary. In the afternoon, tackle some hard concept or figure out a tough math procedure. In the evening, flip flash cards or quiz yourself (studying before bedtime takes advantage of sleep learning, in which the mind processes facts and stores important material in memory while you sleep).

Study smart, and hang in there!

[photo taken at LisSurMer, Cape Cod, MA, May 2013]

5 Tips to Minimize Final Exam Anxiety

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

misc 2009 2010 072Final exams can be stressful, but here are some tips that can help make exam season go smoothly:

  1. Get started now! Anxiety builds as you worry and do nothing. It may feel very difficult to get started, but you will feel immediate relief.
  2. Begin reviewing now. You need not wait until teachers hand out review guides. Get out your old tests and quizzes and begin reworking them. (Don’t merely reread the questions and answers; you need to cover up your old answers and actually rework /rewrite each question on paper).

The Right Way to do Math Homework (or Chemistry, Physics, Statistics, etc…)

Monday, March 18th, 2013

P1070041The reason math teachers assign homework is to give students the practice necessary for entrenching new concepts and skills in the brain.

Math homework is necessary for the same reason practicing the piano is necessary: it’s one thing to “get” what the teacher taught during the lesson, but it’s another thing to be able to perform that same skill independently and fluently.

Yet, all too many students practice math incorrectly, and they therefore gain little benefit, or even worse, they solidify misunderstandings and bad habits.

Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but enough practice does make permanent, which is why guitar teachers, ski instructors, and golf pros are all such sticklers for proper form; they know how hard it is to unlearn errors that have become ingrained.

Many students will do a whole page of math and never check their answers. How do they know they were doing the right procedures? (Answer: They don’t.)

Or, students check their answers after completing the entire assignment, and only then discover that their answers don’t match up with those in the back of the book. In both such cases students tend to declare: Oh, well, the teacher will go over it in class tomorrow.

But in each of these scenarios, the student has now thoroughly practiced BEING WRONG.

Here’s the right way to do math (or math-related) homework:

  1. Locate the answer key. If it’s in the back of the textbook, insert a bookmark or Post-it note for easy back-and-forth flipping.
  2. Do the first problem.
  3. Check it on the answer key.
  4. If you were correct, move on to the next problem.
  5. If you were incorrect, figure out what you did wrong before you move on.
  6. Check your arithmetic; did you make a careless mistake?
  7. If you realize you don’t understand how to do the problem, go to your notebook or your textbook and page through until you find the topic and carefully follow the explanation.
  8. Still stumped? You can get help on Or, ask a friend or parent or sibling for help.
  9. Only as a last resort, put a star next to the problem and make sure and ask the teacher for help tomorrow.
  10. Proceed to …

What’s Going On Inside Your Kid’s Head?

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

And how often do you ask them?

Elena is a beautiful 16-year-old who blithely drifted in and out of my English II classroom this year without any materials…. Over the course of eight months, Elena continued to leave assignments incomplete and did little class work… She lost study guides, lost materials, and lost interest in editing and revising her work. 

So writes Colette Marie Bennett, veteran teacher and department chair, in a very good article for Education Week Teacher entitled To Pass or Not to Pass? The End-of-Year Moral Dilemma.

….On the rare occasion when Elena turned in work, she demonstrated that she was capable of writing on grade level. Numerous common assessments taken in class indicated that her reading comprehension was also on grade level…

Now, as the grades are totaled in June, I wonder: Do I hold her accountable for work left incomplete? …If I exempt her from less important assignments, am I reinforcing her lack of responsibility? Finally, is passing her fair to the students who did complete the assigned work?…Will re-enrolling her in 10th grade English bare a different result? Is she prepared or unprepared to meet the rigors of 11th grade English?


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