Make the most of Summer

Finals are over, seniors are graduating, and school is out! (or almost out!) I know that everyone just wants to take a breather right now, so go ahead. Deep breath! *inhale, exhale* It’s time to relax, right?

Yes, take the time to relax. Give your students a week break to do what they want, whether it’s play video games or run around in the backyard. Then, consider, as parents and caregivers, what are the plans for the summer? What is the schedule for your students? Learning is an on-going lifetime endeavor, for students and for you. Make the most of the summer by trying some of these pointers.

1) Have a set schedule. Even when out of school, students should have at least a guideline for the day. While sleeping in is fine, students should continue to have a regular wake-up (and bed) time. This puts the body into a healthy rhythm. Having a routine reduces boredom in students and stress in parents. There should be something to do each day, such as…

2) Take a class or find a community sports team. A class doesn’t have to be academic, and it definitely should be fun. Whether it’s learning a new instrument or learning how to swim, summer activities are a great way to try something new. Students can also take a class to maintain this year’s knowledge, or even to get ahead. Unique classes and programs introduce the student to new people and new experiences. Meanwhile, joining a neighborhood sports team is a good way to stay fit while meeting new people also!

3) Find a job or internship. Sometimes money is a concern, and thus many students get jobs over the summer. Even if money isn’t a concern though, having a summer job or internship is a great thing to list in the student’s portfolio or resume. They build work skills that are handy for future jobs, and they also build confidence in new abilities.

4) Volunteer. Helping others (altruism) is good for them but also good for the person doing the helping. Researchers have found that altruism can improve our well-being. As volunteers, students learn about others, while building work skills just as at any job. Volunteer positions look just as good on resumes and portfolios too.

5) Take time to relax. Life moves “slower” in the summer. This gives everyone a chance to enjoy life and appreciate things that may have been overlooked during the busy school year. Take the time to recuperate from stressing about exams. Find local events for the family to enjoy. Have fun. As the saying goes, stop and smell the roses. Learning how to de-stress and be calm are just as important as knowing how to accomplish responsibilities.

Summer will be gone again before we know it. Enjoy it and keep the mind active!

Lower Finals stress

“Just a few more days!!!” Students’ excitement can be contagious. However, until school is actually out, there are still finals, projects, and essays to complete–not to mention one more SAT and ACT in June. Students are so stressed, and they need to reduce their anxiety. If your term is already finished, congratulations on making it through. For those who still have a couple more weeks, let’s breathe easier by following these tips…

1) Plan your time appropriately. Once again, time management is part of the foundation of any successful student. (Really, time management is the foundation of any successful person in general!) List your tasks, prioritize them, and make a schedule. You can’t get where you want to go without a good map, and a schedule is your map to studying and finishing the school year strongly.

2) Practice! Do practice tests; review study guides. Ask the teacher for as much information about the test as you can. Is it word problems? Multiple choice? Short essay? Long essay? A project? The preparation is different for each one. Once you find out the structure of the test, you can better plan your studying. Then get together with your tutor or study group and practice!

3) Be organized! What does your study area look like? Organize the paper, pens, pencils, textbooks, and other supplies neatly, so when you sit down to study, you have everything you need. Additionally, prepare your supplies, homework, project, etc. the night before you need them. That is, put everything in your backpack, ready to go. No need to procrastinateon organizing. That way, you don’t have to think about what to grab in the morning, when you’re less likely to be focused and clear-headed.

4) Eat a good breakfast. Start off the day right! A healthy, balanced breakfast gives you energy to tackle the day, including the test. An empty stomach leads to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which can make you feel light-headed, anxious, or shaky, among other things. This makes it more difficult to focus or remember things. So eat a balanced breakfast to start your brain on the right track.

5) Reward yourself! Having a reward to look forward to can make difficult tasks easier to do. Plan a reward for yourself, for after you complete a specific task. Pick smaller rewards for smaller tasks and larger rewards for larger tasks. Perhaps a yummy treat for turning in all your homework… and then a massage or game tickets for when you finish your final project.

If you have questions, let me know how I can help. Until then… Happy studying!

Last things to do to raise your grade

It’s the home stretch! There are only 2-5 weeks left of school, depending on your school. Hopefully your grade is where you want it to be, but if it’s not, what can you do?

As I recommend all school year, studying and doing well in school is a process that begins long before any actual class starts. It’s not good to wait until the last minute to focus on your gradesbecause there’s not much time left. However, even this late in the game, there are probably still a few things you can do to pull in those last couple points.

1) Talk to the teacher. Your teachers want you to succeed, so find out how by asking them! Review your assignments with the teacher and see where you made mistakes. Ask for advice on what you did incorrectly or for resources to help you understand better. Your teacher can help you form a plan of what you need to raise your grade. Remember that you have to be realistic about the plan. If you haven’t understood a lot of the class so far, it’s not realistic to ace the final exam. However, you can still make a plan to do well.

2) Turn in missing assignments. Often, for whatever reasons, students haven’t turned in all the homework or classwork assignments. Ask your teacher if late work is accepted. If so, turn them in now! Most teachers will give partial credit if you turn in your missing work. Partial credit is better than no credit, right? So turn in those assignments. And of course, turn in the remaining assignments on time!

3) Ask for extra credit. Keep in mind that teachers usually only give extra credit to students who have been trying to do better in the class. It’s not meant to make up for slacking off the whole term. Teachers don’t have to give extra credit work (that’s why it’s called EXTRA credit) but they might assign a special project or paper if the student has shown effort. So…

4) Show some effort! Ask questions in class. GO to class! Take notes in class. Actually study. Take responsibility for your grade, and your teacher will give you more chances to raise it. In the end, only you are responsible for your grade, so put in the effort to get the grade you want.

5) Find outside help. Go to review classes or an after-school tutorial class. Find a study group. If you can’t find one, search for a local private tutor for more personalized on-going help. Any outside help will help you understand the material better, which will help you do better on the test, of course.

With only a few weeks left, be realistic that these tips won’t pull your grade from an F to an A… or maybe even from a C to an A. However, doing these things can mean the difference between a B and an A, or a D and a C. That one, the D to C grade, is where you might be, which is a big difference because it’s the difference between passing and repeating the class. So make the effort to pull up your grade, and hopefully you’ll have what you want. Let me know if you need help!

Happy learning!

How to Form a Study Group

Studying by yourself can be… frustrating… boring… and other choice words my students have used. Unfortunately, frustration and boredom are bound to happen sooner or later, because studying is usually a lone task. How can students overcome that hump and finish the term strongly? One way is to find a study group! …but where? and how?

1) Ask the teacher. The teacher usually knows who is doing well in the class and can suggest someone to you. At the very least, the person the teacher points out could lead you to…

2) Ask a classmate. It could be the student getting a better grade. That makes sense: ask for help from a person who understands the material better than you do! However, if there aren’t any grades yet, just ask the student next to you. Any classmate likely wants to do well also. Ask your friend in the class. Pay attention to others talking about studying; ask to join them!

3) Check out a bulletin board. There are boards in the library, the cafeteria,your residence hall (if you’re in college and live on-campus),and various other places around school. Find the online forums/boards for your class. Plenty of people are looking for study partners. They’re just waiting for you to find them! If you can’t find existing study groups, then…

4) Take the initiative. If you haven’t matched up with someone yet, post your own “Looking for a study group” message! Tell your classmates you’re forming a study group, and ask if they would like to join. Sometimes, you need to take the big action of forming the group yourself. And really, all that entails is (once again) asking a classmate to study with you.

5) Keep it small. This is SO IMPORTANT. Ever notice how the larger a group is, the more conversations there are? Now, that works great for a party, but a study group is not a party. Study with people who are serious about studying. You can have fun, but you want a study group that is effective in STUDYING. From experience, study groups of 2-4 people work the best. This size helps each person focus on the material better. When one person asks a question, everyone can hear it. The group can be bigger, but definitely try to keep the maximum at six people. Things just get out of hand with more than six people. So keep it small to make it effective.

Studying with others engages senses and methods that you don’t normally use when studying by yourself. This helps introduce the material to your brain in a slightly different way, which can help it stick better. Being able to talk about the material shows that you really understand it. In turn, others might understand it.

If you aren’t able to find or form a study group that suits you–and sometimes that happens–still try to find even one other person with whom to study. If no classmates or peers work for you, remember that a tutor can be helpful too. Not only is a tutor an expert on the topic you’re studying, but often, a tutor will be able to show you a new way to see the material. I’ve lost track of the times my students have told me they “never saw it that way before!” Let me know if you want to see your schoolwork differently.

Happy learning!

Finish the term strongly!

Welcome back from Spring Break, everyone! Depending on the school, there are now 8-10 weeks left of school. That might sound like a lot (it’s two months!), but it really isn’t a lot at all. Younger students have state projects, mission projects, and CSTs. Older students have “big name” teststhese last two months–more CSTs (STAR testing), the CAHSEE, the ACT, the SAT, AP tests–and those really dilute the classroom time because teachers are consumed by them also.

If studying hasn’t started yet, it’s crunch time. There are only a few tests and projects left to do, but these are the ones students stress out about the most. How can students finish the semester in a strong manner?

1) Plan out the rest of the term. Look at the class syllabi (if there are any) and see what else is left to do. Make a list of the projects, essays, and tests. Figure out what needs to be done, and then schedule the time to do them. Pay close attention to deadlines, especially ones that are farther away. Those tend to creep up and surprise students: “what?! I thought I had a month to do that!” This happens when the assignment hasn’t been spaced out correctly, which leads me to…

2) Work on time management! Use the tips in “Managing time effectively” to organize your time. Make realistic estimates of the time the tasks will take. Every big project has smaller projects or steps to handle. Make sure to take care of those! It’s harder for a deadline to surprise students if they’ve been working on the bits along the way.

3) Have a consistent study place. In “Helping students become better scholars, Part II,” I said that students should study in the same place every time. This teaches the brain’s subconscious that “this is the study place.” A consistent place for studying lays the foundation for learning because it puts the brain into learning mode.

4) Use study groups. One under-utilized way to overcome procrastination is to meet with a study group. (More tips on study groups in a later post…) Study groups are highly recommended and are often considered to be guaranteed study time. Study groups can shed light on different perspectives and help further understanding. Just make sure there are study-minded people in the group. Otherwise, you could spend the whole time talking about unrelated topics, such as a pop star’s hair, which would make it NOT study time.

and lastly…

5) Get outside help! Although parents and caregivers have the best intentions, there isn’t always enough time to help your student. As I’ve said before,at the very least, parents just might be unfamiliar with what the student is learning. And THAT’S OK. Parents try to do so much, and it’s ok to call for help. A tutor or education consultant is a professional who cangive expert one-on-one guidance to the student, without judgment. For whatever reason, students tend to listen better to a non-related third party.

From my years of experience, grades and attitudes improve dramatically when the student gets the appropriate educational attention. As both a tutor and an education consultant, I help my students find their way through all their tasks, even completing old assignments while taking care of new ones.

These next couple months don’t have to be so stressful. Realistically, there will be some stress. However, students can learn the lessons and turn in their assignments with lighter feelings because they’ve preparedwith proper planning and tools.

Happy learning!

Managing time effectively

Now that we’ve had our students working on overcoming procrastination and developing better study skills, we can turn to helping students organize their time better.Building time management skills will carry students through their whole lives. Everyone has a limited amount of time in the day, and each person has to figure out how to make the best use of that time. Teaching students how to do that now will help them become more productive people in their adult lives. When a person can manage time, that person gains control of the tasks in life.

1) Set realistic goals. Often, even as adults, people set unrealistic goals and then become upset when they aren’t reached. “Why haven’t I lost X pounds yet? I’ve been working out!” “Why aren’t these projects done yet? I’ve been working all day!” Realistic goals include being specific about the desired results or actions. For example, a person who wants to be healthier could set goals of “X pounds lost in X months” or “work out 1 hour per day.” In the same way, a student can set goals of “turn in X assignments” or “read 1 chapter per day.” Measurable, incremental goals are usually realistic, attainable goals.

2) Prioritize the tasks. Without prioritization, students end up working very hard but not reaching the desired results. Prioritizing makes students focus on which tasks are more important than others. Putting the tasks into a priority list gives order and direction to an-otherwise-confusing pile of “things to do.” Students have English, Math, Science, History, etc. homework to do. Setting priorities on which assignments need to be done first will help focus on the task at hand.

3) Break down the steps. Knowing what steps need to be done is crucial to figuring out how long a task will take! Often, my students “don’t know where to start.” When I ask, “Well, what do you have to do?” they just look at me and shrug. This is because they haven’t thought AT ALL about what needs to be done. Define the task that needs to be done. What are the steps needed to complete that? Students need to know what steps are on the journey before they can start walking.

4) Properly estimate how much time that studying or doing a project will take. Yes, this tip was inOvercome Procrastination!and it’s included here also because it is such an important skill. Once the student has broken down the steps, of course the next thing to do is figure out how long each step will take! Time management is only effective if the time is estimated correctly. And remember, estimate how long it will take, then DOUBLE it. This will cover all the extra things that come up during the task.

5) Schedule the time and keep an activity log. After breaking down the steps and determining how long each will take, of course schedule the time to do them! Use a day planner, a notebook, even the calendar on the computer or cell phone. Whatever works for the student–wherever the student will look most often–put the tasks there. In addition, as each task is completed, write down how long it took to complete the task. This will help with future estimations of how much time that studying or type of project will take.

Students are not using time efficiently, and becoming better at time management will help fix that. As stated in my post “Study Better, Not Longer!” students have so much to do now. With better study skills, students won’t have to spend as much time studying; and isn’t that what every student wants in the long run: less studying? In “Overcome Procrastination!” I gave some tips on how to get over that procrastination hurdle to become more productive. If students (and parents and other caregivers!) are able to put those tips into practice, learning time management will tie all those other tips together. Efficient time management will lead to better work… and more play.

Happy learning!

Improve your student's vocabulary, Part II

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As students progress through each school year, their vocabulary should be improving and growing. Increasing our vocabulary is ideal, no matter what field or career. Remember that a good vocabulary is needed to communicate our ideas and feelings effectively. As seen in “Improve your student’s vocabulary, Part I,” there are several things you can do to improve your student’s vocabulary. Help your student continue to take control of life and learning by implementing these tips too!

1) Understand root words.They’re the basics of our language. Understanding root words helps students understand larger, unfamiliar words. This boosts reading comprehension and fluency because when your students come across an unknown word, they can figure out the possible meanings if they know what the root word is. You can find lists and games onlineto play with root words. Or challenge each other to think of words you know, and then dissect them.

2) Learn how prefixes and suffixes change a root word’s meaning. A prefix is a word part added to the beginning of a word to change its meaning. For example, re- can be added to the word use to make reuse. A suffix is a word part added to the end of a word to change its meaning. For example, -ful can be added to use to make useful. Discuss how the prefix or suffix changes the meaning.Ask your student to make a list of prefixes and suffixes by listing words that you normally use already. Again, there are lots of tools/worksheets and games online that can help too. Adding prefixes and suffixes to your student’s vocabulary will increase its range without needing to learn specific new words.

3)Look for similar or related words. This is different from attaching prefixes and suffixes to root words. Many words (usually verbs) have similar larger words, such as act and activate, or use and usage. The structure of similar words can show a student how words are built and evolve. Begin with a simple word and see how many different words your student can write down. (Prefixes and suffixes are okay. Coming up with any word keeps the brain thinking!

4) Make word maps! A word map(or word diagram or graphic organizer) shows the relationships between words. This is a tool that young children’s brains already use naturally, so help your student learn actively by discussing how a new word fits into current vocabulary. For example, upon learning the word ostrich refers to a bird, the brain automatically will deduce that an ostrich has feathers (because birds have feathers). Have your student draw a diagram to connect the new word to words or ideas the student already knows. This will help link vocabulary to each other in your student’s brain.

5) Find words that have come from other languages. From playing with the dictionary, your student will learn that a lot of words in our English language come from other languages. This is how many languages grow–by absorbing words from other languages. For example, a lot of prefixes and suffixes (not to mention whole words) come from Latin and Greek. We also have words from the French, German, Spanish, Native American languages, and more! Have your student figure out the history (etymology) of a word. This will expand the student’s vocabulary by introducing the way a word changed over time.

Continue to be encouraging as your students learn new words. Playing word games and discussing new words are the best ways to grow a vocabulary.Read and write with your students, and their vocabulary will grow faster than you can imagine!Happy Learning!

Improve your student's vocabulary, Part I

Everyone knows we should speak and write better. In today’s high-tech texting/messaging world, we are rapidly losing the ability to spell even simple words. Students need to be able to function in the business world (read: get better jobs), but how can this be done with our limited vocabularies? A good vocabulary is what we need to communicate ideas and feelings effectively. The larger the vocabulary–and that means MORE words, not bigger words–the better a person will be able to control learning and life in general. How can we help our students improve the words they use?

1)Read and use context. The best way to build vocabulary is to read. Read books, read journals, read blog posts. Yes, as I’ve stated before, read everything! When a word is read in context, the student understands the meaning of the word better. It’s much easier to learn new words when a student can see it used in context, next to other words.

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2) Play with a dictionary. Even though we can find definitions online easily now, teach your student how to use a dictionary. This is so the student can look up words while reading. Learn the different pieces of information in a dictionary: it provides more than just definitions! A dictionary also gives the parts of speech, syllable structure, and pronunciation of a word, among other things. Many students don’t understand the difference between the noun version of a word and the verb version. These are basic understandings of language that will help students (and us!) when they are constructing sentences and learning foreign languages.

3) Find synonyms and antonyms. Encourage your student to find different words for the common ones your family uses every day. For example, instead of saying “big,” suggest saying “large.” Or, when the student learns a new word from reading it somewhere, help the student remember it by relating it to a word the student already knows. As a helpful reminder, synonyms are words that have the same meaning (e.g., big and large), and antonyms are words that have opposite meanings (e.g., big and small). Have your student search a thesaurus for more!

4) Play rhyming games! Younger students enjoy sounds, especially the sounds that words make. If you’ve ever repeated a word over and over until it doesn’t sound right anymore (or seen someone do this), you know what I mean. Help your younger students increase their vocabulary as they search for words that rhyme. Try this great game: give a lead sentence where the student has to think of a follow-up line that ends with a word that rhymes with your sentence’s end word. Example: You can say, “we want to be safe around things that are hot…” and your student can reply with something like, “so don’t wave your arms around the soup pot!”

Note: words that sound the same but have different spellings or meanings are called homophones, like male and mail. Use them in the rhyming games, and then use the extra bonus of talking about the meaning of each homophone.

5) Play with compound words. Make new/bigger words from smaller word pieces that your student already knows. Discuss the meaning of the new compound word.Example: play + ground = playground.Is it related to the small words? Or have your student think of a familiar compound word; then break it into its component pieces. Example: football = foot + ball. You can find many lists of compound words online. Challenge each other to see who knows more!

Whatever you do, the important thing is always be encouraging. When we’re young, we love learning new words. Encourage this as your student gets older by reading to each other and playing word games. It’s amazing how many new words you’ll learn!

Stay tuned for Part II of “Improve your student’s vocabulary” for more pointers. Happy Learning!

Study better, not longer!

So much studying to do! Students have so many classes these days; it seems as if there isn’t enough time to study it all. (We’ll cover time management in another post. For now…) How should students study? What are the best tips on HOW to study? Studying deals with more than just reading chapters over and over. It starts IN the class.

1)Take notes. Even if the teacher provides topic outlines, the student should still take notes. Taking notes engages the student with the material. Hopefully, taking notes will help the student understand the material during the class. However, even if it doesn’t do that, taking notes will keep the student’s attention on what is being said, which can sink in later.

2) Review the material right after the class. While it’s easier for a college student to do this (where the classes are often more spaced apart), high school and younger students can do this also. Discuss the material with a classmate as you walk to the next class. Just a few minutes is good enough. Of course, most students prefer talking about ANYTHING else than the class they just came from, but even a quick “what do you think about that topic today?” can help.

3)Space out the study sessions. No cramming! Study a little bit each day. This leads to better retention because the material becomes stored in long-term memory, instead of short-term memory when students cram. Cramming is the reason students frequently forget the material right after the test. In tutoring sessions, I often review the previous week’s material, in addition to the current material. This repetition at intervals strengthens the long-term retention.

4)Learn the general concepts first. Make outlines of the material, or review the outlines the teacher gives. Don’t worry about learning the details until the student understands the bigger concepts. The details are useless if the student doesn’t know what they’re describing. If the subject is Math, understand how to apply the lesson to the real world. If the subject is English or History, understand the era in which the material is happening.

5)Practice/study with others (but only with people who are serious about studying!). If the student is able to talk about the material, the more likely it is that the student KNOWS the material. The best grades my students get are the ones when they’re able to “teach” me the lesson themselves. Talking about the material includes using the words from the lesson, although speaking about it in general can work also. Basically, as long as the student is talking about the material, the better the student understands it.

Studying isn’t the easiest thing to do, and it is different from student to student. However, these tips are a good general starting point for everyone. Let me know if you want more details or need more ideas! Happy studying!

Helping students become better scholars, Part II

Now that the second semester has started for everyone, what can we do to have a good semester? Many students (and parents) start the semester with good intentions, but things tend to unravel anyway. Unfortunately, no one seems to notice until report cards (progress reports, Open House night, etc.) arrive, about 4-6 weeks into the semester. That’s when my phone rings. If parents start earlier, however, report cards won’t be such a surprise.

Most parents don’t realize that students need educational support from the beginning–even the “good” students. Educational support is everything from tutoring to providing the right environment for students to learn.

1) Figure out your student’s learning style. There are many fields of thought on what the categories of learning styles are, but the classic ones are auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning. Work with your students to figure out their learning styles and what things you can do to help. Individual teachers can’t always teach in every learning style, but many schools now have particular study periods or special testing rooms for students. If a student is taught and studies in the correct learning style, the mind will become more engaged–and having a more-engaged mind benefits the student both during and after school.

2) Provide the right environment. Many students have a hard time concentrating. There are so many distractions nowadays! Students need an environment that is conducive to studying, just as adults need an environment conducive to working. In essence, going to school–and thus, studying–is your child’s job. Having a comfortable, well-lit, and quiet place to study is very crucial to a student’s learning. Now, quiet doesn’t necessarily mean devoid of sound; soft music or other background sound is fine. However, quiet does mean free from distracting sounds, such as family members running around the study area or having loud arguments.

3) Have a consistent study place. Students should study in the same place every time–preferably not the bed, where naps invariably happen. This provides consistency and subconsciously tells the brain that “this is the study place.” This is why the place should NOT be the bed, because “that is the sleeping place.” And please: there should always be supplies such as paper, pencils, and pens. It’s amazing how many students don’t have pencils or pens.

4) Foster learning. Part of providing the right environment is also fostering an environment of learning. Make learning exciting by encouraging questions and conversation. Children are naturally curious, so stimulate that curiosity by finding challenging (yet do-able!) projects to do together. Better yet, encourage your students to experiment on their own. You can find project ideas at Science Buddies, or for a really cool challenge, enter the Google Science Fair! Students can win prizes! There’s a helpful section for parents and teachers on both sites.

5) Encourage friendships.As adults, somehow we forget how important having a social support group (aka friends) is. This may seem counter-intuitive: how can having friends help improve grades? As great as parents are, having a peer you can commiserate with helps make the journey so much easier. Friends help students get through classes. They really can help each other learn. While hanging out with friends should not supercede learning, having the occasional break can recharge the brain.Your student doesn’t have to be a social butterfly, but having someone to talk to can make the journey seem less long.Participating in sports, service organizations, or after-school programs also builds the social support network, which will engage your student’s learning.

Happy learning!