Always Learning Learning is a lifelong endeavor - come learn with us. 2016-09-10T16:17:14Z https://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/feed/atom/ Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/ <![CDATA[Successful Student Habit #1: Get Enough Sleep!]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/?p=7691 2016-09-10T16:17:14Z 2016-09-10T10:35:46Z school successWhat is sleep for, anyway? It may seem like a waste to spend 1/3 of every day snoozing; why not binge-watch a good show or do some extra online shopping instead?

Yet, research keeps pouring out about the importance of sleep. Inadequate sleep is implicated in anxiety, depression, other emotional disorders, attention issues, unhealthy weight gain and poor cognition.

Sleep, literally, clears the mind. The brain cleans out toxins during sleep. That’s why you feel fuzzy-headed when you’re sleep deprived; your brain is full of gunk! No wonder people don’t think or learn well without adequate sleep.

 

And sleep is essential to learning, because the material we learn during the day needs to be processed and stored into long-term memory during sleep.

All that studying is counter-productive if you are staying up too late to then “sleep on it” and let the information sink in. It’s better to sleep for an extra hour than to stay up doing last-minute studying for that hour!

I know we all feel short on time and pulled in a million directions. But Mother Nature insists that the #1 priority must be sleep.

Establish these routines to make sure you get the sleep you need to think well and learn well!

  • Do your homework right after school. Don’t take a break first, because you’ll lose momentum and become even more tired. Dive right in, get the work finished, and then enjoy your evening (and get to bed on time!)
  • Look for small bits of time during the day to get started on studying. Even those two minutes before class begins can be used to begin reading an assignment, think about a paper topic, or start a math problem (you need not finish it right then and there).
  • Don’t allow electronics in your bedroom. Keep your phone and computer downstairs.
  • Set a bedtime that allows 9-10 hours of sleep. Yes, that’s how much sleep teenagers need!! 
  • Some favorite activities simply will not fit into the weekday schedule; save parties, sleep-overs and movies for the weekend.
  • Turn off glowing screens one hour before bedtime. The blue light from computers, TVs and smart phones disrupts sleep.
  • Review flash cards and vocabulary lists before bed; you’ll wake up remembering them better!
  • Read a book in bed before you go to sleep. This quiet ritual will train your brain to relax and sleep soundly.
  • Record your favorite shows and watch them on the weekend. DO NOT watch exciting TV shows right before bed!

Students, parents and educators: Please sign up for Learning Something New, my free newsletter containing articles, videos, study tips and food for thought about learning better and living better, delivered to your inbox 2-3 times each month.

shatteredlens/Bigstock

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Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/ <![CDATA[Set These Routines And Start The School Year Right]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/?p=7682 2016-09-07T20:18:21Z 2016-09-07T20:18:21Z school bus photoI don’t know about you, but I feel ready to get back into the comforting structure of the school-year schedule. Routines makes life easier and less stressful in so many ways.

Good routines are also the key to school success! The best students intentionally create habits that help them work efficiently, learn deeply, stay healthy, and get good grades without struggling.

Here are three of the simplest, most basic routines to establish now for success throughout the school year:

  1. Get enough sleep.
  2. Study in a learning-friendly environment.
  3. Pay attention in class, even if you “don’t get” what is being taught.

The First Priority Must Be SLEEP!!

Today’s students (and parents) are simply not getting enough sleep.

Our lives are ever more hectic and distracting, and the practice of setting an early bedtime and making sure to get plenty of sleep feels so old-fashioned. But there’s no getting around it: Brains and bodies need plenty of sleep.

And sleep is essential to learning, because the material we learn during the day needs to be processed and stored into long-term memory during sleep.

All that studying is counter-productive if students are staying up too late to then “sleep on it” and let the information sink in. It’s better to sleep for an extra hour than to stay up doing last-minute studying for that hour!

I’ll be sharing more about the importance of sleep, study location and paying attention, in my next posts!

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Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/ <![CDATA[For Better Student Writing, Reading Comprehension And Thinking: Teach Conjunctions]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/?p=7667 2016-08-08T21:50:17Z 2016-08-08T21:50:17Z words photo

Most sentences are not simple! When students understand conjunctions, their reading comprehension improves.

And, but, when, although and because are some of the most common conjunctions. We hear and read them all the time, yet many students don’t use conjunctions in their writing, sticking instead to only the simplest of sentence forms and producing essays full of short, vapid, disconnected thoughts.

Conjunctions join words or groups of words to express more complex thoughts. Without conjunctions, writers can only create very simple sentences.

Adults may be surprised to learn that many students need to be taught what each conjunction means and how to use it.

But conjunctions are harder than they look. Different conjunctions set up different logical sentence structures, and kids don’t always figure this out on their own.

When students understand conjunctions and can use them appropriately, they not only write more interesting sentences, they also think more logically and have an easier time understanding what they read.

When I asked some of my students to write a sentence including the word “and,” they often wrote “sentences” like this:

Lisa went swimming, and her father drove the car too fast. 

This doesn’t work, because a valid sentence contains one complete thought, not two unrelated thoughts. Kids may not realize that they can’t use and like glue to stick any two random simple sentences together!

Lisa went swimming in the polluted lake and came down with a serious illness.

This is a valid sentence because it contains one thought; the words after and provide further information that extends the thought.

Whereas and is used to elaborate on a thought, the conjunction but requires writers to build a sentence in which the two parts contrast while still being related. But is harder for students to master than is and.

Lisa went swimming in the polluted lake, but she came down with a serious illness.

This doesn’t make sense because but sets the reader up for a discordance of some kind, but there’s no mismatch between swimming in polluted water and getting sick.

Lisa went swimming in the polluted lake, but she didn’t come down with a serious illness.

Although Lisa went swimming in the polluted lake, she didn’t come down with a serious illness.

Lisa went swimming in the polluted lake, yet she didn’t come down with a serious illness.

These sentences work because but, although and yet are all contrast words, and there is a contrast between Lisa’s risky behavior and the fact that she didn’t get sick.

Picky stuff, right? To build anything but the simplest sentence, writers need to be very thoughtful about their logic, which is why so many students stick to writing those vague, telegram-like sentences.

Happily, I’ve found that students’ sentences improve quickly when I give students specific lessons and practice with conjunctions.

You can read all about the connection between writing, reading comprehension and logic in this inspiring article from The Atlantic Monthly, The Writing Revolution.

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Photo by RobertG NL

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Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/ <![CDATA[Disappointing Final Exam Grades?]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/?p=7651 2016-06-30T17:11:58Z 2016-06-30T17:11:58Z test photoMany good students, despite having studied, didn’t do as well as they had hoped on their final exams. Here are some common reasons:

Often, the sheer length of the exam is a problem. According to Pulizter Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, mental effort is surprisingly exhausting. Thinking hard and staying focused burns up lots of mental energy.

In Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman explains that we have a limited capacity for mental effort, and our brains fizzle if forced to think hard for extended periods. It takes a great deal of mental energy to keep several ideas that require separate actions in one’s mind at the same time. Switching tasks also takes a lot of effort, especially under time pressure.

To conserve mental energy, our brains are geared to be “lazy.” The human mind automatically searches for the simplest answer to a problem, often substituting an easier question for the actual one without knowing it. This tendency causes many a student to fail to follow directions or complete multi-step problems. (Readers may also imagine how this instinct to overly simplify complex issues might explain a great deal of the “thinking” on display in the political arena).

“Mental blindness” also contributes to students’ inability to notice details. There are strict limits to how much data our attention can handle (the maximum seems to be 128 bits of information per second), so when we are applying a lot of attention to one task, we become blind to everything else. (This is why texting while driving is so deadly).

Fortunately, as people acquire more knowledge and skill, cognitive tasks require less mental effort. Students need to strive to know material thoroughly (which means studying over time, not cramming), to slow down, and to reread directions and check their work because they may have been “mentally blind” when they did it the first time.

 

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Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/ <![CDATA[The Best Way To Study Is To Test Yourself (Don’t Just Reread Your Notes!)]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/?p=7633 2016-05-24T19:24:41Z 2016-05-27T19:19:17Z

flash cards photoThe way to learn effectively is to keep testing yourself.

Most students “feel more confident about the material” after rereading, but this is a dangerous illusion! The material seems easily recognizable, but that doesn’t mean they understand it or will be able to recall it and use it on test day.

Familiarity is not the same as knowing. 


 
Effective study methods include:

  • flipping flash cards
  • creating your own outline (not just using one that someone else made)
  • actively discussing with friends, quizzing one another, etc.
  • reworking math and science problems
  • rewriting essays and having your teacher critique your efforts (do this well before the exam; teachers are busy people!)

Quizzing Yourself Helps Make Knowledge Stick

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Photo by drcw
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Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/ <![CDATA[3 Easy Ways To Use Your Notes For Final Exam Studying]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/?p=7631 2016-05-24T19:21:57Z 2016-05-25T19:01:55Z classroom photoMany students take notes in class but then don’t use them to study.

Actively rereading your science or history notes before review week is a great way to prime your brain to retain the material your teacher will soon be going over in class:

  1. Read your notes out loud. This works best when you read to another person, but you can read to yourself, too.
  2. As you read, put question marks next to things that you realize you need to understand better. Listen carefully in class for the explanations, and make sure and ask your teacher if necessary.
  3. Look for vocabulary words or terms that showed up on the test. Did you get them right? if not, look them up now and write their meanings in your notes, in simple language. (If you merely copy the definition, you may not actually understand, but if you can explain a term or concept using small words that a first grader would use, then you will know you “get it.”)

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Photo by theilr

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Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/ <![CDATA[How To Begin Studying For Final Exams]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/?p=7625 2016-05-24T19:01:30Z 2016-05-24T19:00:41Z

The way to begin, is to begin.

-Eleanor Roosevelt

 

The best students don’t work harder; they work ahead.

Often, students put off studying for final exams because the process seems overwhelming and they don’t know where to start.

The good news is that just getting going is what matters. There’s no need to worry about studying in a certain order, studying material that then doesn’t wind up on the exam, confusing yourself, or other such concerns.

Your brain is flexible and active, and the goal right now is to begin feeding it information to chew on. By starting early, you’ll have plenty of time to learn what you need to know and iron out your questions.

Here are some good ways to get going on final exam prep, even before the teachers hand out study guides:

  • Collect up your old tests and quizzes. Work through them one question at a time by covering up the answers and quizzing yourself. Make a list of things that confuse you, and look them up or ask your teacher or tutor.
  • Read your textbooks! If you’ve skipped or skimmed any assigned readings, read them now…and if your teacher doesn’t assign a lot of readings, read the chapter summaries, even though you weren’t told to do so. 
  • Review your math textbook by reading each section and then covering up the textbook examples and working them on paper.

Here’s a good article about the benefits of studying early (it makes studying easier, plus you’ll retain what you learned!)

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Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/ <![CDATA[How To Help Kids Make Knowledge Stick]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/?p=7553 2016-04-18T22:14:25Z 2016-04-18T22:14:25Z  

young child thinking photoKids tend to under-prepare for tests and be overly optimistic about the quality of their writing, and parents may suspect laziness or lack of motivation.

However, much of the problem can be the student’s fuzzy sense of what “knowing the material” means or what “a good essay” is.

The ability to “know what you know” is called metacognition, and it’s one of the big developmental tasks for maturing students. The younger the student, the less perspective they have on their own knowledge.

 

Here are some ways adults can help young learners develop their logic and make sense of the world around them:

  • Students need plenty of talk-time with parents and other adults, about current events, science, and history.
  • Students need to learn tons of facts about how the world works and what happened when, and why, and how. (History and science are extremely important subjects!)
  • Students need to read from multiple sources when they do research, so they encounter more than one viewpoint. Cutting and pasting from the Internet gets papers written quickly, but does not grow critical thinking skills.

Here are two great articles with more perspective on helping students “know what they know”:

Teach Kids to Figure It Out

Avoiding Over-Confidence (and Underpreparedness) in Learning

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Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/ <![CDATA[Unfortunately, Ignorance Feels Blissful: The Dunning-Kruger Effect]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/?p=7555 2016-04-12T17:06:12Z 2016-04-12T17:06:12Z question photoIn my last post, I wrote about a student who couldn’t tell whether or not he “knew” the material for a history exam.

At least my student was knowledgeable enough to have doubts about his knowledge. Ironically, the truly clueless often don’t wonder; they tend to be quite secure that they’ve got it knocked!

Psychologists call this the Dunning-Kruger Effect, in which ignorant people often have great confidence in their “knowledge,” whereas better-informed people tend to doubt themselves. 

This counter-intuitive effect does make some sense: When a person knows little about a subject, the subject seems simple! Then, as the person learns more, she begins to glimpse the depth and complexity and becomes less sure of her expertise.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the stuff of both comedy and tragedy in adult decision-making. Next time you click on the news to see a politician ranting in simplistic terms about some highly nuanced issue he clearly knows nothing about, or you observe an outsider blithely stepping into a complex situation to “solve” it, you are seeing the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action.

Dunning-Kruger helps explain those sweeping generalizations adolescents often make. When a student declared that “People who live in tsunami-prone areas should just move somewhere else,” I realized she simply didn’t know very much about this issue, and so we talked about it and did some research together to give her a more faceted understanding.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is part of the reason why students are so bad at telling whether or not they’re ready for tests, or if their writing is good enough to hand in.

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Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/ <![CDATA[Metacognition: Helping Students Know What They Know]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/?p=7557 2016-04-08T23:04:36Z 2016-04-08T23:04:36Z question mark photoOne day, I was reviewing with a high school student for a final exam in history. It was rough going; the material was detailed and complex, and this young man’s grasp of the facts and the concepts was poor.

We plowed on for two solid hours, and then he turned to me and floored me with this question: OK, so, do you think I know this stuff?

Isn’t that a remarkable thing to ask? This student couldn’t tell for himself whether or not the hard mental work he had just done had resulted in “knowing.”

But what, indeed, does “knowing” feel like? How do any of us know whether or not we know?

Truthfully, I can’t claim he “knew” the material solidly, though I definitely felt he had improved, and I told him so. (I can also report that he continued to work hard in this difficult history class; he never made As, but he learned a great deal. I’m glad he never switched down into an easier class.)

At least this student was self-aware enough to doubt his understanding, a good sign that he did acquire some knowledge.

The ability to “know what you know” is called metacognition, and it’s one of the big developmental tasks for maturing students. Kids notoriously under-prepare for tests and are overly optimistic about the quality of their writing, and though parents may suspect laziness or lack of motivation, much of the problem is often the student’s fuzzy sense of what “knowing the material” means or what “a good essay” is.

To help develop metacognition,

  • Students should NOT rely on their gut feelings to decide they are ready for a test; they need to actually do a practice test and find out.
  • Students need adults to respond to their writing. Kids are very poor self-editors and have a lot of trouble telling if their writing is “good” or “makes sense.”
  • Adults should give specific feedback. “This sentence is unclear,” “this word doesn’t fit,” “these two ideas don’t connect,” “you need some more facts to back up your claim,” etc.

 

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