High School: Lend a Hand and Listen

Last but not least in our series, we sat down with Yara Alemi, one of our highly-regarded high school student tutors, to tell us how best to tackle the transition back to school after break.

(Read our post about Elementary Students Here or Middle School Students Here)

What’s hard about January for your high schoolers?

Yara: One of the things that I always notice with my high school students is that jumping back into the higher level content, once they’ve had that big winter break, can be very difficult for them.

I also work with a couple of juniors, and this is around the time when the pressure of college applications can become really overwhelming.

How do you approach this with your students?

Yara: With the higher level content, one of the big tips is you have to stay organized, and you have to stay on top of it. So with my kids, we go through their syllabus, we make sure that they know when all of their tests are coming up, making sure, for example, that they don’t have three tests on the same day they didn’t realize.

What are some strategies that you take with your students to help them break down all of the work that they’re going to have due in January?

Yara: I’m a big fan of a planner, like many of our tutors. So just spending some time and looking at the monthly view is key, but then I always have my kids make a weekly docket.

So it’s not, “Oh I have to do all of these things by the end of January, it’s so overwhelming.”

It’s, “Okay, this is what I have to do by the end of the week to make sure that I’m still on track.”

And a lot of times, they get a lot of joy from being able to just click “Check” on one of the tasks that they’ve done.

What can parents do to help?

Yara: This is a difficult time for a lot of kids, and I think that one of the biggest things that a parent can do is they can listen. When your child comes to you, and they sound like they have a million problems, as a parent the natural inclination is to jump in and help them out by solving those problems.

But your kids are more likely just looking for a shoulder to lean on, and someone to listen to them. So instead of saying, “I can solve this, and I can help you,” let your son or daughter experience what it’s like to be an adult and have them come to their own solutions. They will lean on you when they need to.

If you’re looking for extra help, a Subject Tutor can deliver that “quick boost” your high schooler needs to feel confident going into January exams.

Contact us if you’re interested.

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The Forgetting Curve: Why hard-working kids don’t always test well

In previous posts, I’ve outlined a few trends we’re seeing with grades and testing. And all indications point to the fact that otherwise smart and hard-working kids just aren’t testing as well as they used to.

Additionally, as much as we want things like Test Optional to continue to catch on so that standardized tests are de-emphasized on college applications, we’re still left with the fact that test scores are a big part of what get kids in the door.

So what can we do about it?

One problem we see with the students we work with is not how much time they spend preparing (which can be significant), but what they’re doing with that study time.

In short: they may be studying hard, but they’re forgetting what they study.

This is because of a particular fact about how memory works that most students aren’t aware of.

This is what’s represented in the Forgetting Curve, and it illustrates how information is lost over time if no effort is made to retrieve it.

Image via qz.com

If you’ve ever wondered why back before we had smartphones you could remember the phone number of every one of your close friends and family members… but now have to search through your contact list to make sure you have your parent’s phone number right, this is why.

Fortunately, there’s a strategy your kids can employ to avoid this issue and put their study time to better use.

It’s called Spaced Repetition, and it helps students remember more by re-introducing the information already learned at an interval that coincides with the Forgetting Curve (just before you’re about to forget).

If you’re having a hard time remembering something, you may need to review it daily at first.

But then as you get better, that interval increases to every few days… then weekly… then once a month, and so on.

Here’s a great video on how to put this strategy to good use, along with some apps and tools your child can use to put all of that hard work to better use and start improving their test performance.


Do Retakes Help or Hurt Our Kids?

Along with the test grades your child’s teachers have passed back over the last few weeks, may have come the following opportunity:

To retake those tests and try to improve the second time around.

On the face of it, this seems like an excellent policy.

It gives kids who might not be the best test takers the opportunity to accurately demonstrate what they know.

And to the extent that retakes serve that purpose, I’m all for them.

In practice though, I believe retakes have had negative consequences on both our student’s study skills and their preparedness for standardized tests.

First, they inflate grades… and our student’s perception of how well they know the material they’ve learned.

The most awarded grade in high school and in college continues to hold steady at an “A,” three times more common than it was in 1960.

Image Source: USA Today

This on its own wouldn’t be a problem, if we also saw the same trend with SAT scores. Unfortunately, that’s not the case (average SAT scores fell over the last decade).

While retake policies vary, most allow an averaging of the first and second test scores, with some allowing a complete replacement.

That means kids who would originally have received a 60 (and maybe take a hard look at their study routine) can retake and end up with a B or an A.

Second, they affect our student’s ability to take standardized tests.

We receive calls from parents almost every day with stories of students who have amazing grades (sometimes well above a 4.0 with advanced credits), yet unexpectedly low SAT or ACT scores.

These are diligent, hard working kids who care deeply about their grades.

They’re doing the homework, they’re participating in class, they’re working hard on group projects, but they’re not always doing well on tests.

So they retake the test and bring up their grades, but don’t address the core problem: they weren’t ready when the test was given.

As the author of this Washington Post piece puts it:

“When my son told me he’d just retake his math test if he did poorly, we had a long discussion about what it means to be organized… If he studies and does poorly, that is one thing. But falling back on a retake… isn’t going to cut it.”

So is the answer abolishing the retake policy?

No, but I do think we have to make sure we’re preparing kids in the first place with the study skills they need.

Chapter Tests: How to Get Ready the Right Way

If your child didn’t get the grade they thought they should the first time around, here are a few things to work on to get ready the “right” way as we head towards the holiday breaks.

Tip 1: Put Studying Before Homework

It’s not uncommon for students to put off studying because it’s not really a task they have to do.

With homework, on the other hand, there’s more immediate accountability, so it tends to garner most of the focus on weekdays.

An easy fix to make sure your child gets the study time in, is to have them set a timer for 20 minutes and study before starting any homework.

Simply reversing the order of tasks ensures that studying is at least started (and often completed) prior to digging into the actual homework.

Tip 2: Use Study Guides Actively

According to research published in Education Week, 84 percent of students prepare for tests by rereading the class materials.

The problem is that highlighting, underlining, and rereading material doesn’t help with recalling information on an exam.

Instead, if their teacher provides a study guide, have them make three copies that hide the answers to the questions. Then on a different night each week, run through and fill in the blanks.

If a study guide isn’t provided, have them create their own practice test. They can do this using software like Quizlet to create flashcards using examples from class or questions from the textbook.

Do these two things and your child will be well on their way to earning the grade they’re looking for on their tests, the first time around.

For more test-taking tips, check out the rest of our How to Ace A Test post.

Or if your child is struggling with test taking or a specific subject, our hand-selected subject tutors can help improve their confidence, grades, and understanding of the material.

This is even the case for the most motivated and diligent students we see who for some reason have inconsistent test and quiz scores, and routinely stress out about schoolwork despite the time they put in.

Our tutors help students like this get comfortable with learning again and build confidence through effective study strategies and prioritization skills.

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“I just wanted to let you know that Meredith got an 87 on her Biology chapter test!!! She is still floating about 9 feet in the air. Thank you so much for saving our girl, she has gone from an F and a slim chance of returning to school to a B. She never could have achieved this without your help.”
– Carrie O.

How To Handle Bad Grades: A Practical Guide For Parents

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bad grades image 1There’s an undercurrent that runs through most conversations we have with our kids about school and bad grades.

With some families it’s more explicit:

“We expect you to do well, and come home with A’s and B’s on your report card.”

With other families it’s less so, but still implied:

“We expect you to go into school each day and give it your best effort, no matter what.”

Regardless, when report cards come home, and the results are less than stellar, it’s always a challenge to figure out how to react as a parent.

On the one hand, bad grades represent a failure. They’re the one objective measure we have of how well our children are progressing through school. If they really understood the material, studied for the exams, and stayed organized and diligent, it would be pretty hard not to earn at least a B in most elementary, middle, and high school classes.

On the other hand, bad grades are not always a fair indication of how hard your child is trying, how much they’re learning, or what their potential for success later on in life is. From that angle, we shouldn’t overreact to a C or D, especially because your son or daughter probably feels guilty about it already. But we should put stock into a C or D because that tells us they don’t have mastery over the content that counts.

In this post we’ll explore:

  • What to do if your child comes home with bad grades and how to talk to them about it
  • Whether you should punish your child for bad grades (or reward them for good grades)
  • And how to investigate why it’s happening and what to do about it moving forward

Read on to find out and click here to receive more tips and strategies to help boost your child’s grades!

What do I do if my child gets a bad grade?

You may have high expectations for your child’s grades, or you may be a bit more laissez faire about the whole thing. Regardless, the answer to “How should parents react to a bad report card?” pretty clear: there is a right and wrong way to approach it.

Here are a few initial tips on how to deal with a bad report card when it first comes home.

Step 1: Give it some distance

The first thing you want to do is to make sure you do not react in the moment.

tape measure

It’s tempting to want to express your frustration (believe me, I’ve been there!), especially if this isn’t a new issue.

Step 2: Schedule a time to talk

Instead, wait until you’ve calmed down a little bit and schedule a time to talk. Say to your child, “let’s sit down after dinner to talk about this.”

This will help to avoid a screaming match, which is the quickest way to guarantee nothing productive will come out of the situation.

Step 3: Create an open discussion, and state the feeling

Now that you have a time on the books, the next question is:

How do I talk to my kids about a bad grade?

First off, you’re going to want to start the conversation off with the phrase, “I noticed” and avoid saying, “you.” Often this will alleviate any feelings of blame and allow for a more open discussion.

For example, you might say, “I noticed that your math grade is a lot lower than we both thought it would be. Help me understand what happened,” rather than, “You did not do well in math. This is unacceptable.”

The phrase, “help me understand,” will give your child a chance to explain himself and explain what went wrong. Listen to what your child has to say and state the feeling.

Try saying, “it sounds like you’re having a hard time with algebra and it’s making you frustrated.” By stating the feeling (but not dwelling on it), you’ve shown your child that you’re on their team.

From there you’ll want to ask questions like, “what do you think you can do to get the grade up?” This will create a sense of accountability and also make your child come up with a solution. Because your child helped to create the solution, he or she will be more invested and more likely to follow through.

Punishments and Rewards for Bad Grades: Do they work?

The instant you see a less-than-stellar report card grade, it’s probably your immediate reaction to punish and restrict activities.

phone and earbuds

Either that, or it’s probably to offer some form of reward for turning it around. You’ll want to fight those urges. Here’s what to do instead.

Should I punish my child for a bad grade?

The short answer is: the punishment should be appropriate. Many parents threaten to take their child out of sports or extracurricular activities, but this isn’t an effective solution.

The research says that parents should avoid taking away activities that boost their child’s confidence, such as sports or clubs. With that being said, it is recommended to tie privileges (like video game time, or time out with friends) to academic processes.

For example, you may say to your child, “when you show me that your homework is completed with a respectful attitude, then you can play video games for 30 minutes.” Try using a “when/then” phrase to boost accountability and tie actions to rewards.

Should I reward for grades?

Here, the answer is a little less clear, but in general avoid external rewards if you can. I’ve talked to parents who have tried offering their child just about anything and everything for straight A’s from money to a new car to a trip to Disney World.

But unfortunately, no matter how grandiose the reward, the straight A’s never come. Research tells us that rewarding for grades doesn’t work because it’s too long-term and students lose steam pretty quickly. Students also need to feel an intrinsic motivation for studying, and providing external rewards tends to extinguish their internal drive (especially when they encounter difficulty).

How To Improve: Tips for turning bad grades around

Okay so now that you’ve taken a step back, and assessed your initial response to your child’s poor performance, not it’s time to talk about how to proceed.

Why is my child getting a bad grade?

Before doing anything else, this is the question to answer, because then we can determine the best steps to take to address the underlying cause.

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Students often bring home bad grades for one of two reasons: they don’t understand the content or they don’t have the ‘soft skills’ necessary to succeed.

If it is a contextual issue, then it is usually isolated to one subject (often math/science or English/history). However, if the student is struggling with “soft skills,” things such as organization, time management, and study skills (also known as executive functioning skills), it will probably affect every subject.

Discuss the issue with your child’s teacher, consider enrolling the child in a homework club after school, or seek out a tutor who can focus on your child’s areas of concern.

Turn the lens inward

The research is in: authoritative parenting (warm but firm) is ideal when it comes to academic performance.

In fact, a study by Laurence Steinberg, Julie Elmen, and Nina Mounts, found that students who are raised in homes with parents using an authoritative approach earn higher grades in schools than their peers.

The problem is, a lot of times when good-intentioned authoritative parents become excessively frustrated or worried, they can slip into helicopter (excessively involved) parenting mode. This can give the wrong message to your child. According to Cathi Cohen, LCSW and president of InStep PC:

“If it goes too far it becomes an issue where you’re not helping your child develop resilience or become autonomous. You’re giving them the message through helicopter parenting that they can’t do it without your help. It undermines the child’s natural need to be independent.”

Her advice: take a step back.

“A child has to be allowed to fail and flounder… Helicopter parents are always trying to do their best to help their child succeed, but sometimes it’s okay to let go of the handle bars and its okay if your child falls.”

How do you do that? How do you let go without having your child fall apart?

“You have to treat letting go kind of like a game of Jenga. When you take it out of the box, it is very safe with scaffolding supports in place, and has a lot of structure. As you go through the game, you pull out little pieces and see if it still stands. In a lot of ways, this is how our kids are and they initially need these scaffolding supports. But as they get older, you want to slowly take out pieces from the Jenga tower. You don’t want to remove eight blocks at a time, just one. Start with something small, like a homework routine; then teach the skill, and remove the support. See if they are successful and steady for three weeks and then move onto the next skill. Don’t move on until they’ve been successful for 3 weeks.”

Bottom line: check your parenting style and make sure you’re not slipping into helicopter mode. And then ask yourself what you can do to tackle the grades issue while still allowing your child to figure it out independently.

Address organization habits

You may have heard the expression, “a cluttered desk represents a cluttered mind;” the same principle could be said about backpacks, binders, and lockers. Often times if a student is struggling with school, disorganization may be playing a part. Luckily, the end of the quarter is the perfect time to get organized.

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Some things you can try include:

  • Set up a regular school “check in” time to talk about school each week.
  • Figure out a homework routine that doesn’t involve constant reminders.
  • Get backpacks and assignments organized and ready to go the night before.
  • Schedule a 20 minute “clean sweep” session each week where everyone in the house drops what they’re doing to clean

Just as an example (there are more we recommend here).

Work on study skills

We hear this all the time at Educational Connections: students are spending hours studying, but just not seeing the results. As it turns out, most children haven’t actually developed optimal study skills. For example, 84% of kids study by re-reading content, which is actually the most inefficient way of learning. Determine whether study skills may be a potential culprit.

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Some areas you could address (among others) include:

  • Setting aside study time before starting homework.
  • Having your child use study guides to test themselves rather than just simply reviewing.
  • Set up an optimal study environment that minimizes distractions (this can include distraction-blocking apps as well).

Next Steps For Parents: Be proactive with bad grades

Most importantly, as a parent you want to be proactive about your approach, whatever you end up deciding to do. If you can get ahead of the curve and have a plan of attack, your chances of successfully navigating the dangerous emotional waters of a bad report card go up dramatically.

For more tips and strategies on how to boost your child’s grades, click below!

12 Habits Of Successful Students: Turn Small Actions Into Big Wins In 2018

habits of successful students image 1bWhen our children start to struggle in school, it’s tempting to think that something significant is wrong:

Maybe they aren’t cut out for the advanced classes they’re enrolled in

Maybe their friends are a bad influence and affecting their grades

Maybe we need to drop everything, get them a tutor and double down on study time

But many times the story isn’t quite so dramatic.

When we work with kids we often find that it’s not that they hate learning, don’t want to try because it’s not “cool,” or have some fundamental deficiency in a particular subject. Instead, most of the time it’s a few small things that have gone wrong, and have started to accumulate over time. Things like:

  • Missing a key concept in geometry class, which then causes them to not fully grasp the next concept, and they start to fall further and further behind.
  • Not using their agenda book to keep track of assignments because they simply forget to bring it to class, or grab it from their backpacks when they get home.
  • Doing poorly on exams because they don’t think to plan ahead and incorporate a little bit of studying each day rather than cramming it all in at the last minute.

In this post, we cover 12 habits of successful students, and how you can use these small, manageable actions to create some big wins for you and your child in 2018.

To get more tips on how to help your child have success in the classroom, click here!

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These aren’t the grandiose commitments you’ll see attached to most people’s New Year’s resolutions this year, that in their wild ambition are almost always doomed to failure. But instead reasonable tweaks you can make to the routines and strategies your family already has in place to start to turn things around.

If there’s a specific section you’d like to tackle first, here’s a quick reference table of contents that will take you there:

Habit 1: The basics of time management and planning ahead
Habit 2: Don’t just get organized, they stay organized
Habit 3: Distribute your practice
Habit 4: Taking notes in class
Habit 5: Study using active recall
Habit 6: Approach your mistakes correctly
Habit 7: Make friends you can study with
Habit 8: Rock solid morning and evening routines
Habit 9: Parents: Give them the tools but don’t do it for them
Habit 10: Know how to ask for help, but try to find the answer first
Habit 11: Parents: Don’t focus on motivation, focus on behavior
Habit 12: School isn’t everything

Otherwise let’s jump in!

1. Successful students have a basic handle on time management and planning ahead

As we’ve covered before, time management is a struggle for a lot of students, especially as assignments become more complex.

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But they don’t have to be planning experts to be successful. If we break it down into the simplest time management habits of successful students, there are a few things almost all of them do:

They use a planner.

The simple act of writing down their assignments is the cornerstone of staying on top of their schoolwork, having a better sense of when things need to be done, and making the best use of their time after school. Often just the act of getting something down on paper is enough to set of a chain of events that leads to homework getting done on time, and projects getting started on earlier than the day before they’re due.

They set small goals.

They use their agenda book or planner to write out what they’re going to do, but not in big general terms like “study for math test.” Rather, they break it down into smaller goals like: “spend 15 minutes working on fractions worksheet.” This makes it easier to get started, and easier to see progress as well.

They learn to pay attention to a watch or clock.

This is one of those “duh” type habits, but it’s one that a lot of kids don’t develop. Without learning a sense of time from paying attention to how time actually passes, many students have a hard time estimating how long things will take, as well as how much time they’re spending on unproductive activities. Encourage them to check the clock or wear a watch on a regular basis.

2. They don’t just get organized, they stay organized

At this point it’s no secret, we’re BIG on organization here at Educational Connections, because it’s one of the most effective tools you can use with your student to help them improve their performance in school. Often times academic or behavioral issues are merely symptoms of disorganization and lack of routine.

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Here are some of the top organizational habits of successful students (covered here in more detail):

  • Set up a homework routine at a consistent time each day
  • Get everything ready in the backpack the night before
  • Color code and label folders and binders
  • Schedule a weekly family “Clean Sweep” to get ready for the week ahead of time

Now it’s all well and good to put new habits in place, but the difficult part is getting them to stick. How many times have you reminded your son or daughter to write down their homework, only to find missed assignments a week later?

So not only do successful students work on their organization habits, they also work together with their families to monitor and revisit them to make sure they’re working. Here are some ways you might do that:

Discuss their responsibilities with them at dinnertime.

Make sure you’re not nagging, but just check in: “Hey I know you said you liked the way we set up your homework folders for your classes. How’s that going? Is it helping you organize your assignments?”

Set aside time on Sundays to check in.

You can even pair this with your Clean Sweep so that you’re uncovering all of the “mess” that may have accumulated as a result of failed organizational habits.

Lead by example.

Get your closet organized. Set your things for work out the night before. Spend time planning out your week, visibly, so your child can observe you in action. This is the most powerful way you can demonstrate the importance of organization habits for your kids.

3. They distribute their practice (a.k.a. they don’t cram)

If you’re lucky, maybe your son or daughter takes to studying like a diligent professional – planning ahead, setting aside time each day, and cruising into their quizzes and tests without so much as a hiccup to their usual bedtime.

Well, I can confidently say: most of us aren’t lucky.

Instead, most of us have kids who, although maybe they aren’t chronic “Crammers,” definitely have their moments where they wait until the last minute to study for their tests.

Why cramming doesn’t work

Because they don’t tend to have a strong sense of urgency until they are right up against a deadline, if they have a test on Thursday, they start getting ready on Wednesday night. This type of cramming can pay off in the immediate term, but when they need to learn information on a deeper level, it backfires.

Cramming only puts information into short-term memory, whereas learning it over many nights and sleeping on it (by the way, sleep is a fantastic study tool) stores it into long-term memory.

This is because of a concept called Distributed Practice.

Why distributed practice is so effective

Distributed practice (also known as “spaced repetition”), is just a fancy way of saying: study a little bit each day rather than cramming it all in the night before the test.

Studies show that when students use a concept called Distributed Practice, they are far more likely to do better on tests. For example, if your child has a test on Friday, he could study for an hour on Thursday night, but he would actually get a better grade if he took the same amount of time and distributed it over multiple days — 20 minutes Tuesday, 20 on Wednesday, and 20 on Thursday. The reason he’ll get a better grade is not because he’s reviewed the material multiple times; it’s that he’s slept on it.

When you learn information and then sleep on it, you’re consolidating that information into long-term memory. However, when you cram for a test, that information is learned at a superficial level, really for regurgitation the next day. It’s going into short-term memory. Long-term memory is more beneficial, because when you have a test later on, say a month later, you’re much more likely to be able to retrieve it.

Okay so how do we get our child to study in this way?

First, they have to want to change. In order for a different way of studying to work, he or she must recognize the problem and be willing to make modifications. If it’s not seen as an issue, all the parental suggestions in the world won’t work.

So have a chat with them. As difficult and exhausting as it is to stay up with a kid cramming for a math test last-minute, you can bet that they don’t like it either, even if they claim they work better under pressure (a “tell” that they’re justifying their behavior).

I’ve found that kids who tend to cram are willing to plan ahead if they don’t feel like they have to do any more work than necessary and if they see the changes result in better grades (and they almost always do). The good news is that they often don’t have to put in more time, they just need to use it more efficiently.

Crammers also respond well to the suggestion of using “weird windows“. Sometimes, students think they need lengthy, dedicated time in which to study. And if they don’t have the perfect time and if they’re not in the ideal mood, they won’t do it. In actuality, they can use any chunk of time to get studying done. An example of a ”weird window” is the 15 minutes he or she’s waiting at a doctor’s office or that 20 minutes right before lacrosse practice starts. Those are weird windows, and you can chunk time for studying by getting a lot done in short periods of time.

4. They know how to take notes in class

There are definitely some students who get into class, pull out their notebooks and a pencil, and start transcribing everything the teacher says like an efficient note-taking robot.

There are other kids who will plop down at their desk and sit… comfortably listening (or not) to what the teacher has to say, until he or she notices said kid is doing nothing, and tells them to get out a piece of paper and write down what they’re saying.

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The proper balance is somewhere in the middle, and there are any number of different note taking methods successful students use. Here are a few you can introduce your child to if they don’t already have a good note-taking habit:

The Outline Method

Exactly as it sounds, the outline method is probably the most straightforward. Chances are if the teacher is organized they’ll present the material in an outline format already. Here the student’s job is to recognize when the teacher has moved onto a new topic, and keep their notes relatively organized underneath each topic (although it’s not an exact science).

The Free-Form Method

Let your child express their inner creative by taking notes as they see fit. Drawing diagrams, linking notes together with a mind map… the danger here is if they take too many liberties and miss key information. But if your child is a bit more “outside the box” this may be something to explore.

The Cornell Method

The Cornell Method is a more advanced method probably best reserved for high school students. You record your notes during class in the right-hand column, and then formulate questions and terms on the left-hand side as soon after class as you can. You can then use these notes as a study guide, covering the right hand side and trying to remember what each question or term means.

When it’s all said and done though, even just a rudimentary copying of what the teacher has on the board is a start, and you can build from there.

5. They study using active recall

Whether through an app like Quizlet or through old-fashioned physical note cards, students who practice recalling key information from memory almost always do better on quizzes and tests.

The official name for this practice is Active Recall and the method is pretty straightforward.

Step 1: Write down the term, concept, or problem to solve.

Step 2: Write down or recite the definition, explanation, or answer without looking at any notes or information.

Step 3: Check your answer against your notes, and correct your mistakes.

In direct contrast to passively reading the textbook, or leafing through notes, this technique has been shown be the research to dramatically improve exam performance, and is one of the lesser known habits of successful students that people talk about.

6. They approach their mistakes correctly

Speaking of mistakes, the most successful students don’t dwell (and don’t avoid either). Many times I’ve seen students who get down on themselves due to a missed question on an exam. Unfortunately, by viewing their mistakes in this way, they almost always ensure they won’t learn from them and improve the next time around.

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So it’s important to help foster a growth mindset: the idea that your child’s skills and abilities aren’t fixed (e.g. they’re not “smart”) but can be improved over time with practice and effort (e.g. they’re hard workers and can become “smarter”).

With this type of self-talk (and encouragement from mom and dad), kids are much more likely to dig into their mistakes and work hard to correct them so that they learn what to do correctly the next time.

7. They make friends they can study with

Some kids are extroverts and have a vast network of friends they can reach out to at a moment’s notice. For others, making friends in class can feel like climbing Mt. Everest.

Regardless of your child’s natural temperament, having at least a few other classmates your son or daughter can reach out to in each class is critical.

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Even with just one or two friends in class to text, your child can quickly clarify assignments, ask questions if they’re not sure about something from class, or set up a meeting time to study for an upcoming test. All of these will serve as a buffer against forgetting to write something down, missing a class due to absence, or just simply having some material go over their heads.

Even better, if they schedule a regular time to meet up over Skype or FaceTime, it can be a great accountability tool to make sure they’re staying on top of assignments and exams.

8. Successful students have morning and evening routines

The routines that frame the beginning and end of each day often determine the success or failure of that following school day for your child. And there are a few reasons for this:

A solid morning routine reduces stress

First, having a solid morning routine established not only for your son or daughter, but for the whole family, ensures that when they get up in the morning, they know exactly what they need to do to get ready for school. There’s no (well… let’s say less) negotiating, and less likelihood that they forget something critical like a homework assignment, an instrument, or their lunch.

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And often the tone that gets set at the beginning of the day determines the success of the remainder of the day: so a smooth low-stress start to the school day gives your child the best chance at successful learning for the six or so hours they’re at school.

A solid evening routine ensures organization and rest

Second, having a clear and timely evening routine further facilitates organization, proper sleep, and preparedness for the following day. It’s tempting to let TV, the computer, or last minute assignments throw a wrench into your plans – but unless your son or daughter find themselves in a critical circumstance the bedtime routine should rarely be deviated from.

Both in combination provide a consistent sleep schedule

Third, both consistent evening and morning routines facilitate a consistent sleep schedule. It cannot be overstated the magnitude of the negative impact lack of sleep, or even and inconsistent sleep schedule can have on a student’s ability to learn, ability to regulate their emotions, and the overall quality of their interactions with you, teachers, and other students each day. Having a set bedtime and wake up time each morning dramatically increases the probability that they’ll get the rest they need, when they need it.

9. Their parents give them the tools they need, but don’t “do it for them”

I know, it’s tough to see your child struggle. Especially when you can see exactly what they’re doing wrong and you know you could just step in for a split second and help them correct the problem.

Unfortunately, while it’s absolutely critical to be loving and supporting to your child, helping them with their homework or studying when they could do it on their own does them a big disservice.

The more a student can expand their abilities and level of competence independently, the better – because not only does it set the stage for success in higher level classes in high school and college when mom and dad aren’t around (or don’t understand what they’re learning!), but for success in life when it’s time for them to experience the difficulties of navigating in the real world.

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But that doesn’t mean we have to sit and observe from the sidelines. In fact, the language you use as a parent to guide and encourage your child can actually make or break their success as a student.

We already talked about the importance of fostering a “growth mindset” above, but what you can also do is use questions to facilitate thinking and planning ahead. We call these Powerful Questions.

For example, you could ask questions like:

  • What are your priorities today?
  • What’s the one thing you might do to study for your science test?
  • Going forward, what’s the one thing you might do differently?

The benefit of framing your conversations with your child about school in this way is that you spark thinking instead of telling them what to do. You give them the tools to figure out what to do, without actually doing it for them. This is the balance the parents of the most successful students strike.

10. They know how to ask for help, but try to find the answer themselves first

On the flip side, one of the most consistent habits of successful students we observe is their comfort and ability to ask for help when they need it.

These students are much less concerned with what their teachers and classmates will think when they ask a question about something they don’t understand, and a lot of this comes from the growth vs. fixed mindset distinction we discussed earlier. They know that in order to learn they’re going to have to ask questions when they don’t understand something because they aren’t expected to know everything right off the bat.

That all being said, these students also know that they need to put in the effort to try to find the answer themselves first. Whether that’s looking back through their class notes, reviewing the textbook for explanations and examples, or using Google to try to find what they need. If they’ve done their best to try to figure it out, but still are stumped, they don’t hesitate to ask the teacher, mom and dad, or a friend for help.

Note: Age is a factor here. Elementary age students aren’t going to have the self-direction to find the answer themselves as readily as middle or high school students, so they’re going to require a bit more help. However, as a parent you should encourage them to do as much as they can independently as early as they can to foster those independent learning skills.

11. Their parents aren’t focused on motivation, they’re focused on behavior

Motivation comes and goes in waves, and if your son or daughter depends on these waves to get their work done, it’s going to be difficult for them to make consistent progress.

As a parent then, it’s your job to help your child understand that even if they’re feeling down or tired, they can still do their work, even if they have to go back and fix it later. Having something down on paper is better than nothing, and often once they start to make a little bit of progress on an assignment, that motivation all a sudden reappears to help them continue to work through it.

To do this, prioritize behaviors over motivation. We all know the cliche of “going through the motions” but for developing habits, this is actually preferred. Change your language to fit this concept: you don’t have to feel good to get your work done, you just have to try. And in fact, when parents stop focusing on motivation (e.g. “You need to care more about school!”), students are often left with the space they need to find their own self-motivation to learn and succeed.

12. They know school isn’t everything

And their parents aren’t only focused on their academic success.

It can be easy to focus in on the marks that show up on a graded exam or on report cards because that’s an easy measurement to look at and keep track of. But there are plenty of other ways that our kids can develop and succeed, and acknowledging those wins outside of school actually goes a long way towards helping them be successful in school.

Contrary to what you would think, the most successful students don’t tie their whole identity to their school performance. It’s just one facet of what makes them who they are, and this relieves the pressure to succeed in one area that can often be devastating when they encounter challenges and failure.

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Think about it this way: if your son feels that his value as a person is highly tied up in how well he does at the end of the quarter in his biology class… then if he has a bad day and does poorly on an exam, it can have severe consequences psychologically. In that way, putting such a high importance on doing well academically is actually preventing him from continuing to learn, because taking an inevitable “loss” isn’t as easy to overcome and learn from.

If instead he also knows that he’s valued for his sportsmanship on the basketball court, his success in building his own gaming computer, and his ability to make his brothers and sisters laugh at the dinner table, that failed bio exam is less of a blow, and more easy to brush off and try again.

Habits of Successful Students You Can Implement Today

Now like we said at the outset of this post: small behavioral changes are what lead to big long-term results. So trying to help your child uproot their academic habits all at once is a recipe for failure.

To get the most out of the changes you could make this year, read through the list above, and choose 1-3 changes you can implement this week.

How are you going to introduce those changes to your child or your family?

What will you do to ensure you succeed?

And what will you use as your criteria for success to know if they’re fruitful or not?

Choose the habits you want to work on, answer those questions, and then give it a try.

At Educational Connections, we are always learning new tips and strategies to help families like you. We hope you found this article useful and click here to stay up to date with more tips for your child’s academic journey!

And let us know in the comments what you’re going to work on and why. We love hearing from parents like you. Have a wonderful 2018!

How To Ace A Test: 10 Tips for Smarter Studying (And Better Grades)

how to ace a test image 1When most of us sit down to read through our son or daughter’s report card at the end of the quarter, we generally use it to get an idea of how well they’re doing.

They come home with an “A” and we think: “Wow, they must really be getting this stuff.”

The come home with a “C” and we think: “Okay, looks like they’re having some trouble. We have some work to do.”

What lies underneath that grade though, are a select few moments in time which dictate the large proportion of that grade. Yes, I’m talking about exams.

And when it gets toward the end of the quarter, it’s prime time for studying and preparing for those tests that will ultimately dictate what shows up on that report card.

So in today’s post we’ll talk about how to ace a test. We’ve put together a list of 10 simple study tips you can use with your child to help them study smarter and get as prepared as possible to get the best grades they’re capable of.

How To Ace A Test, Study Tip #1: Plan out your exam schedule

Ever have that moment when you sit down to help your son or daughter with their homework, and they mention something about a test…

You ask: “Oh I didn’t know about that… when’s your test?”

They respond: “Umm… tomorrow.”

Your child can be skilled at studying, and as smart as they come, but if they’re not organized enough to plan ahead for when those exams are coming, they’re going to underperform every time.

Instead, have your child list out the tests they have in all of their classes for the current month. Then have them fill them in on a calendar so you can both see when they’re coming up. This will help them gain a better perspective on when to start studying and what days might be a problem (e.g. if they have a math and english test on the same day).

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Then (and this is important) ask them which days, and how long they’re going to study for each subject. Rather than dictating what they need to do, giving them the freedom to plan out their schedule is much more effective because they’ll be much more likely to follow it. Once they’re done, you can still give it a once-over to help point out anything they’ve missed and provide suggestions, but let them take the first crack at it.

Study Tip #2: Study for exams BEFORE starting homework

It’s not uncommon for students to put off studying because it’s not really a task they have to do.

  • It’s not graded
  • There’ no firm due date
  • And there’s usually nothing to turn into the teacher

Homework is different because there’s more immediate accountability (i.e. it’s checked for completion by the teacher or they have to turn it in for a grade). So, it’s easy to see why studying is put off until after homework is done or not even attempted at all.

An easy fix to this all-too-common situation is to set a timer for 20 minutes and study before starting any homework. Simply reversing the order of tasks ensures that studying is at least started, and often completed prior to digging into the actual homework.

Study Tip #3: Use study guides… the right way

Outside of taking notes on important concepts when reviewing for an upcoming test, good students will use a study guide, either one that they’ve created or one that their teacher has provided. Here’s how to go about both options:

Option 1: Self-created study guides

Creating your own study guide is one of the best ways to improve test grades. Try to predict what your teacher may have on the exam. Pull out old quizzes, find important parts of your notes, and ask others in your class what they think is important. Find the main ideas from these topics and turn them into questions.

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If you have a textbook, turn the chapter headings into questions and write them down. For example, “Election of 1860: Democrats Split” should be “Why did the democrats split in the election of 1860?”

Creating a study guide helps students figure out what they already know, allowing them to refocus their time on what they still have to learn. Knowing what you don’t know cuts down on time spent reviewing what you’ve already committed to memory.

Option 2: Teacher-provided study guides

The biggest mistake students make when they’re given a blank study guide is to complete it with their teacher, or independently, and then read it over many times to study.

Re-reading is passive learning, and it will not stick for long-term retention. Instead, before you complete the study guide, make two additional copies of it. Without looking at the completed version or your notes, fill out what you know. Now, look back at your book or notes to finish the rest.

The third time, complete it from memory or better yet, so you’re not memorizing the order of the questions, cut them into strips and rearrange them. Now, complete it a third time on your own for maximum retention.

Study Tip #4: Get focused on studying with time tracking apps

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Use Forest to help with concentration

Forest is an app that helps students stay away from their phones and focus on their work.

Here’s how it works: when you want to concentrate, you can plant a seed in Forest. Over the next half hour, this small seed will grow into a large tree; however, if you can’t resist the temptation to watch a YouTube video or play a game on your phone, your lovely little tree will wither away.

Every day you will tend to a forest filled with trees (hopefully not too many withered branches). Each tree represents 30 minutes that you have been focused on homework and not playing on your phone. It’s a novel way to help kids beat phone addiction, often a real problem for those with ADHD.

Use SelfControl to prevent distractions

SelfControl is a desktop app that lets you block your own access to distracting websites, email, and anything else on the Internet. All you need to do is set a period of time for which to block, add the sites to your blacklist, and click “start.” This app doesn’t mess around. By blacklisting sites students know will distract them from their school work, they can get those mundane assignments done by working diligently until the time expires. Even if they restart their computer or delete the application, they are still unable to access the blacklisted sites.

According to my 18-year old (he’s the one who told me about this app) and his friends, SelfControl is their go-to app when they need to focus. The bad news is that it’s only available on Mac. PC users can check out Freedom, a similar application.

Study Tip #5: Use classmates for accountability

Many who struggle with motivation have found that having an “appointment” to study with their peers via Skype or Facetime can provide much-needed accountability.

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Just the other day, I walked by my high school son’s room because I heard a voice other than his. He and a friend from his history class were quizzing each other for an upcoming test. I heard questions like:

“Do you think she’s going to ask about the causes of the revolution on the test?”

“How did you create your Venn diagram showing cause and effect? This is how I did mine (holding up paper).”

Whether students study with one another online or in person, having a scheduled time to connect with someone else provides accountability they don’t get from studying alone.

Study Tip #6: Change up your study space

There’s definitely something to be said for having a regular, quiet study space where your child can go each day to do their work. It creates consistency of routine, and signals that it’s time to focus and get their work done.

However, there is some counter-intuitive research that shows switching locations can actually improve test performance. Because the context of where you learn is stored along with the actual material you’re learning, it can be harder to then switch environments and try to recall that same material at a later date (e.g. studying at the kitchen table at home, and then trying to recall that material at your desk in class).

So if your son or daughter get bored or fidgety while they’re studying, encourage them to change up their study space every once in awhile. Have the kitchen table available, but also a desk in the office, a spot on the couch, or even a table out on the deck outside. Not only can changing location break up the monotony of studying, it may help them remember more too!

Study Tip #7: Switch between subjects when you get bored

Another common study myth: you should sit down and focus on one subject for an extended period of time.

It turns out that practicing multiple skills over a set period of time can be more effective for learning than focusing on just one. In our case, that means that it may be better for your child to study a little bit of math, followed by studying vocab words, followed by some more math.

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Again you can encourage them to switch it up, this time by subject, when they start to get tired, stuck, or frustrated. Word of warning though: this does NOT mean multi-tasking. So make sure they’re fully switching tasks, not trying to study multiple subjects at the same time.

Study Tip #8: Don’t just re-read, watch, or type.. write it out

Phones, tables, laptops. Kids are increasingly being allowed, and in some cases encouraged, to replace pen, pencil, and paper with digital tools for assignments, notes, and studying.

The problem is, the research doesn’t indicate that this trend is helping. For example, a study out of Princeton University found that students who took notes by hand (versus by laptop) performed better on subsequent recall tests, even when instructed on how to take notes more effectively.

Bottom line: writing out notes, study guides, essays, practice problems, etc. by hand helps with memory and learning because it encourages students to interact and interpret the material more than typing, watching, or reading does.

When you’re child is studying for their test, encourage them to write everything out, even if they’re not going to use those notes in the future. Have them print out any digital materials they need, and have them re-write notes and study guide questions that may show up on the exam. Explain the reasoning behind it, and then let them take it from there.

Study Tip #9: Test yourself during study sessions

Self-testing is another study strategy that has been proven again and again by the research to improve students’ ability to recall information and perform on exams.

Some familiar examples of testing oneself include using flashcards and completing problem sets. However, when it comes time to reading new information online or in a textbook, most students do not test themselves. They rely on the off chance that the information will magically transfer from the page to their memory just by reading.

By testing oneself when reading a novel, i.e. employing active reading strategies, for example, there is a much higher likelihood of remembering key information. Doing so requires much more mental effort, but it pays off in the long run.

Ironically, many students state that spacing out their studying and testing themselves are counterproductive. Spacing makes it more difficult to recall information the second time around and testing can be discouraging as it reveals gaps in one’s knowledge. But it’s exactly that feeling of difficulty that means actual learning is occurring, and prepares them most for the questions they’ll face on the exam itself.

Study Tip #10: Put extra emphasis on sleep, not the other way around

When students have an exam coming up, the temptation is to stay up late studying, especially when they’ve procrastinated beforehand.

But this is directly the opposite approach your kids should be taking leading up to a big test. For example, in a 2014 study out of KU Leuven University, the researchers found:

“Students who sleep seven hours per night during the exam period score an average of 1.7 points higher (on a scale of 20) on their exams than peers who get only six hours of sleep.”

Sleep is critical for consolidating new memories. And when your child doesn’t sleep enough (or well enough) much of the learning they do throughout the day doesn’t stick like it should.

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The advice here is straightforward: make sure they’ve studied as much as they can, but don’t push back bedtime as a result. If they can sleep better, they’ll be more likely to do better when they head into class the next day.

How To Ace A Test: Time To Take Action

Okay that’s it for our study tips on how to ace a test.

Now having worked with thousands of students over the years, we know better than most that studying is never perfect. Each student has their own unique way of going about learning, so your child’s study process may look different than what we’ve laid out here.

That being said, the research provides some guidelines, and the more of those you can help them incorporate into their learning, the better off they’ll be going into their exams.

So, let’s talk about next steps.

First, how many of the above tips does your son or daughter follow?

Second, which one of these can you implement now to help them study for their upcoming tests?

And third, are there any other study tips you’ve found work well for your kids for exams? We’d love to hear them.

Please share below in the comments!

And hope these help with their next set of exams.

StudyBlue vs Quizlet: Which Is The Best Study App?

studyblue vs quizlet image 1For the last few years, I’ve had the privilege of serving on the Washington DC board of the International Dyslexia Association. One of my fellow board members, Sonya Atkinson, gave a fantastic presentation called “A Guide to Creating Your Digital Backpack.”

In it she shared a wealth of information about using technology to become more organized and to study more efficiently.

One of the programs she reviewed, StudyBlue, is a tool that many of our tutors have used successfully with students, and even more importantly, it’s one that students enjoy using! 

After Sonya’s workshop, I asked her a few quick questions about the ins and outs of StudyBlue, and about the differences between StudyBlue vs Quizlet.

Why is StudyBlue so popular?

Sonya: StudyBlue is both a web-based program and an application that can be downloaded to any device regardless of your platform. It allows you to do note-taking and then turn your notes into digital flashcards. You can study your flashcards in a simple flashcard way or you can actually take a test and do a multiple choice test or a fill in the answer. The software will score it and send you your results.

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How can StudyBlue help students study more efficiently?

Sonya: The software will keep track of how many you’re getting right and how many you’re getting wrong. When you go back to study from that deck again, you have the option of studying the entire deck or just studying the items you answered incorrectly. That way you’re just focusing on the ones you don’t know rather than the ones you do.

Can you attach audio information since so many students learn well auditorally?

Sonya: When you’re creating a flashcard you have the option of uploading an image. That can be something from your files or you can literally pull something, anything from the internet. You can incorporate that into your flashcard. You can also voice record, so there’s an option to just say the answer to the flash card and then it just saves your voice. Students can also record what they’re reading on the flashcard. You can study by listening to yourself.

That sounds very multi-sensory. You also mentioned that other people upload their flashcards so that students can view others’ information. Can you tell us how that works?

Sonya: When you are making the flashcard deck and you are saving it you have the option of saving it either publically or privately. It defaults to a public save. That way, you can search for other flashcards that are available on the public domain. You are pulling from notes that students or teachers have made and you can download that information into your own flashcard set.

Can StudyBlue motivate kids to study?

Sonya:  A lot of my students, such as those taking high school biology, have a lot to memorization. StudyBlue allows them to make flash cards directly from their notes.  It saves time because it’s as simple as copy and paste. They don’t have to retype the information; the flashcard decks are created instantaneously. Another feature that is available in StudyBlue is auto population of definitions.

Say you are working on the Krebs Cycle in biology. When you are making the flash card and you type in “Krebs Cycle,” the program will automatically bring up all the other definitions that have been created by other users. You can just take one of those, you can use the definition from your notes, or you can type in your own response. Once you’ve built that flash card, on the other side a whole bunch of other terms related to Krebs Cycle will also auto populate. More often than not, those are all the terms you will need to know.

StudyBlue vs Quizlet: StudyBlue sounds a bit like Quizlet. What’s the big difference?

For me, I find that the big difference is that you can do your note taking right in StudyBlue. In Quizlet you have to input all of the digital flashcards yourself. I know that they have an upload option, I believe if you put it in a two-column format in excel you can upload the file and make flashcards.

But that’s a little tricky and you have to know how to use excel to manipulate that. With StudyBlue you can take your notes right in the program itself; however many students use a basic Word document, google drive, Evernote, or something of the like. What’s neat is that you can also upload those notes and then make your note cards right in StudyBlue.

Is StudyBlue is more robust than Quizlet?

In my experience, yes. I think the kids who tend to use Quizlet are younger and utilize it only for its flashcard interface. Many students don’t know of StudyBlue and all the rich features it has since it’s newer to the marketplace.

What’s your experience?

Have you or your kids used StudyBlue or Quizlet? What has been your experience? And do you have any other favorite study apps you like to use?

Leave a comment below!

The Top 3 Best Places To Do Homework (And Where To Avoid)

best places to do homework image 1Any parent familiar with the nightly homework struggle knows that where homework gets done can become just a much of an issue as when homework gets done. So a common set of questions we often get from parents is: “Are there any best places to do homework? And where should we avoid?”

In this post, we’ll outline our top 3 choices for best places to do homework, along with some areas we recommend you avoid.

Are there actually best places to do homework? It depends…

Now let’s start off by saying, even though we’ll outline some good choices for homework spots, each child has their own particular learning preferences.

This means that although the kitchen table might bit a great choice for one kid, it might be loud, distracting, and not conducive to focused work for another.

So first things first, recognize that your child may already have their favorite places to do homework in mind, and involve them in the process of making it a regular habit to work in the most productive spots. And the research actually supports this idea.

Metacognition: Self-aware students do better

Metacognition is defined as, “awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes.” This term’s origins are in the field of psychology, but a study out of Vanderbilt University actually ties metacognition or self-awareness to college success.

The study looked at college freshman and found  that those who were more effective in choosing their study habits (and locations) were much more successful in the classroom.

In other words, the students who knew themselves and the way they learn best performed better and got better grades. It’s important to note that these successful students didn’t all use the same study habits; but rather, they were able to identify what worked best for them and stick to those strategies. This is because every person takes in, processes, and learns information a little differently.

Keep this in mind when choosing the ideal homework location.

Best Homework Spot #1: The Kitchen Table

If you’re like me, when you grew up your parents expected all homework to be completed at the kitchen table. For some kids, this is a great option. It allows them to spread out all their books in the hum of a busy area, which for some kids who hate the quiet, is absolutely perfect!

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But for others, like me, this isn’t a great spot because it’s in the center of the house and there are so many distractions. Every time someone walks by to the fridge, sink, or garage is yet another opportunity to lose focus.

Best Homework Spot #2: The Couch Lap Desk

While this won’t work for some due to the temptation of the TV (or the ability to slowly sink into napping mode) we’ve found that some students are really successful on the couch with a lap desk.

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Comfortable, quiet, and free from distractions, this is usually a good spot if your child likes the ability to “sink in” and focus from the lounging position.

Best Homework Spot #3: The Outside Deck Dweller

A lot of students prefer the nice, cool, air conditioned indoors over going outside for homework time, because there’s less of a chance of discomfort (or your papers being blown away!).

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But we do come across those few students who just absolutely love being outside. For these kids, you can blend the best of both worlds, and have them do their homework outside on the deck.

Hey, maybe they’ll even get some much needed Vitamin D in the process!

The ONE homework location to avoid…

As we said before, much of your child’s choice of homework location depends on their personal preferences. But there is one place that’s generally regarded as a “no-no.” And thats… the bedroom.

Because this is the one place in the house your son or daughter are most likely to be distracted by toys, phones, computers, and all other forms of impulse to NOT study or do homework. So you should probably keep that one off the list.

How to help your child figure out what their ideal learning environment is

First of all, you want to give your child the flexibility to try a few different places.

If you find that your child is having a hard time focusing in a designated homework area, encourage him to try a different location and then ask leading questions such as:

“How focused did you feel in the ____?”

Or “did you feel like you got a lot done when you were studying in the ___?”

You want to avoid asking the question “which did you prefer?” because many times students will choose the convenient location over the one that leads to productivity.

If there’s a lot going on and you still find that your student is having a hard time focusing, encourage her to find outside locations. This could be a public library, or staying after school for a homework club or a teacher’s office hours. Sometimes there’s just too many distractions in the home for a student to get a lot done.

Finally, if you find yourself caught up in arguments with your child over where she is doing her homework (e.g. she insists on doing her homework in her bedroom though she’s not getting a lot done), try bringing in a neutral third party such as a tutor. Many times, this third party will eliminate the stress between the parent and the student while working with the student to figure out what learning environment they perform best in.

Your turn

What study locations have your kids found to be most productive?

Take a moment to share in the comments! We’d love to hear some new creative ideas.


If you live in the Washington DC Metro area and would like to learn more about our tutoring services, please fill out the contact form below: 

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Academic Anxiety: How To Help Kids Build Confidence In Their Schoolwork

academic anxiety image 1Sometimes stress can manifest itself in unexpected ways.

Have you ever had a flash of anger come over you as someone cuts you off in traffic… only to realize that you just weren’t paying attention as they changed lanes because you were busy thinking about a fire you were going to have to put out as soon as you got into work?

Or maybe you come home to find that the dog has chewed the corner of the couch, and get uncharacteristically upset… only to realize you’re actually just stressed about having the house ready for your in-laws coming into town that weekend.

Well the same thing can hold true for our kids.

They may misbehave, or procrastinate, or act withdrawn, citing boredom or disinterest, when in reality they’re actually stressed about their schoolwork under the surface.

This is the phenomenon of academic anxiety, and unfortunately it’s on the rise.

In this post we’ll cover exactly what academic anxiety is, what some of its underlying causes are, and some ways to tackle it so that your kids feel more prepared, and less stressed about the rigors of their schoolwork.

Is academic anxiety on the rise?

Yes. Anxiety among kids is significant, especially in areas where there’s a lot of pressure and competition for kids to perform well. Whether it’s preparing for college exams, book reports, or other homework, students are spending hours studying and trying to perfect their academic work.

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Photo: woodleywonderworks

About 8% of kids have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, but many more have the symptoms associate with anxiety like rapid heartbeat, clammy palms, upset stomach and constant worry.

Sometimes, this anxiety results in perfectionism, where kids want their school work to be perfect. So instead of writing an essay just once, if it’s not good enough, they’ll crumple their paper up and write it four more times.

Other times, anxiety will cause them to shut off: either ignoring their schoolwork entirely, or simply putting it off as long as possible through procrastination.

Either way, when kids become overly worried about school work, they don’t have time for being a kid.

The link between ADHD and anxiety

Now although, anxiety can be a problem for any student, it can especially be a problem for students who have ADHD, or who already have tendencies towards problems with focus.

For instance, in some students ADHD can trigger anxiety, and as students get older and move through school their symptoms will worsen.

This is because as they become more aware of their executive functioning struggles, they will begin to realize their work and homework takes them longer. This can then lead to missing assignments or not giving themselves time to complete projects and homework. And it’s a vicious cycle that leads to stress and anxiety from falling behind and not performing to their ability.

Some students may even avoid schoolwork all together and it is not because they are lazy or unmotivated. It may even be a subconscious decision to avoid school work or certain assignments. They may also make a decision to focus on one larger, or seemingly more important assignment and let the others fall to the wayside. This behavior, however, will just lead to increased anxiety and negative feelings about themselves.

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Photo: tinkerbrad

Because there has been an increase in students with both anxiety and ADHD, if you think your child is struggling with anxiety, whether it is related to ADHD or not, it may be helpful to consult a professional and determine if you should intervene.

Some signs you should be aware of for are:

  • Changes in your child’s eating or sleeping
  • Constant negative statements about themselves or any self-harming behavior
  • Displaying physical signs of anxiety such as headaches or stomachaches
  • Withdrawal from friends or family

That being said, there are things we can do as parents, if you think anxiety may be an issue for your child.

How to approach academic anxiety as parents

I recently spoke with WTOP on this topic and laid out a few ways in which we can help our students cope with anxiety.

First, accept how your child is feeling

Accept how your child is feeling, and also know that you can’t be dismissive. What you don’t want to say is “stop worrying” or “it’s not a big deal.” Instead you want to ask questions that will help your child solve problems.

By acknowledging them first, they’ll feel more like you understand what they’re going through and be more receptive to help. It’ll also give them a chance to get their worries out and into the open without worrying about being judged.

Second, guide them towards better time management with questions

So, when you’re talking about homework, you don’t want to say “Do you have homework today?” Instead, ask:

“What are your priorities for today?” or…

“How long do you think it will take you to finish that math assignment?”

Kids that worry a lot about school sometimes have poor time management skills, and if a task should take a half hour, they may spend 90 minutes on it.

By asking “How long will this take you?”, you’re helping them to better estimate their time before they start, which will then reduce the pressure they feel to get it completed quickly, or do more than they are capable of.

Third, help them sort and prioritize their assignments to avoid overwhelm

Sometimes kids stay up late because they start their homework late, often because they’re feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared. When kids are overwhelmed, their assignment load can seem daunting.

In these cases, we encourage kids to sort their assignments into three categories: “must do”, “should do”, “could do”.

The work that absolutely has to be done first goes into the “must do” category. If it should be done, but not necessarily at that time, put it in the “should do” category, like a math assignment that’s not due for a couple of days. And then the work that isn’t required – for example, recommended reading and not required reading it goes into the “could do” category.

Having kids think about their assignments this way can help prioritize what absolutely needs to be done versus what’s simply a nice to have, and get them back into the position of feeling in control of their work, rather than overwhelmed.

Test Anxiety: It’s about more than studying

Now there’s also another variable we haven’t yet touched on, which is also tied to anxiety about school: taking tests.

Test anxiety is definitely real and very common. When students are anxious about tests, they are not using the frontal lobe of their brain as effectively. This part of the brain is responsible for focusing, reasoning, and planning. When you are worried and anxious, your frontal lobe capacity diminishes by about 30%.

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For example, a University of Chicago study had students write down all their fears and worries in a journal before taking a test, and found that when kids jotted down their worries right before the test, they performed almost an entire grade point higher on average.

When kids worry, their performance suffers. So below we’ve outlined four main reasons students become anxious before exams, and some methods we can use to alleviate some of this stress.

Problem 1: They don’t know what the test is going to be like

The best way to reduce nerves about what is going to be on an exam is to use all of the real test material you can get your hands on. Whether they are provided from the teacher or through a test prep book, the more your student can familiarize himself with the wording and style of the questions the easier it will be to comprehend when test time comes.

Along with repeated and consistent practice with this material it is shown that taking 5 full length practice tests drastically reduces nerves. I know, it sounds repetitive but trust us on this one they’ll be thankful when they step into the testing room feeling confident and prepared.

Problem 2: They don’t know what will be on the test

Most students have anxiety about the material on their exams because they do not focus on their deficiencies when they’re studying, or better yet they don’t even know what those weaknesses are! When a student understands what skills he is lacking it makes it way easier to study, he’ll understand exactly what he needs to focus on. In turn, he will stop being so uncertain which will relieve this anxiety.

However, sometimes there are still holes in our learning and a student will come across a question on a test that they didn’t study and panic will set in. Sometimes this is because of time constraints in studying but a tutor can be beneficial in this situation. They will help set goals and teach test taking strategies that will help guide them when they are deciding what questions to answer and how to pace themselves if they come across and concepts they are not familiar with.

Problem 3: They don’t know what the testing experience itself will be like

Again, the best way to ease testing anxiety is practice, practice, practice. Especially when it comes to preparing for standardized testing such as the SAT or ACT being sure to take all the practice tests that are assigned under the proper time constraints is vital to a productive test prep plan.

It is the best way to ebb anxiety that is related to taking the real test. Be sure to treat practice tests as if they were the real thing, set up in a quiet area and have all of the materials that will be allowed on test day so they will know exactly what to expect.

Problem 4: They’re worried about what grade they’ll get

As your student takes practice diagnostic tests make sure to track the progress. The more they take the better idea of how they will score on the real thing. If all measures are taken to reduce anxiety on test day they should score in that ballpark. Knowing this information will help to put their mind at ease and boost confidence in their abilities as they prepare.

Next steps for tackling anxiety

The pressures put on kids to do well in school is alive and well. And this means we need to counterbalance this pressure with constructive strategies to help them cope and navigate through their learning experience positively.

So first, if you think your child may be anxious about school, sit down and talk through the situation, giving them the space to air out there concerns.

Then use some of the strategies outlined here (or others you’ve implemented on your own) to help work through the stressors they’re feeling and build a more healthy and productive relationship with school.

And then let us know in the comments:

How have you dealt with academic anxiety in your household?

Do you have any questions or feedback for us on other situations we might not have covered here?

We’d love to hear from you.