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Back-to-School Tips for the Best Year Yet!

Posted on 09/15/2023, by Dr. Ellen Fithian to Parents of 7th and 8th Graders, Parents of 9th Graders, Parents of 10th Graders, Parents of 11th Graders, Parents of 12th Graders (0 comments)

Few days elicit such vivid memories for me as the first day of school; catching up with friends I hadn't seen all summer as a child and then later, as a mom, savoring that first cup of coffee after all my kids had gone. Most of all, however, back-to-school evokes images of a fresh beginning; newly sharpened pencils with virgin erasers and brand-new, unblemished notebooks. Each new year is a rebirth, a chance to do it right this time. With that goal in mind, take a few minutes to share my annual back-to-school tips with your teen to help him or her make this year the best one yet.

Bank some good grades early in the semester

As a general rule, courses get harder as they progress. Students should take advantage of this axiom to bank some good grades on early assignments rather than using the first few weeks of school to try to prolong their summer vacation. Strong early grades could go a long way toward cushioning the impact of a few killer exams later in the year.

Keep up with your work

Encourage your teen to learn the content of each course as it's covered in class. High school students spend about six hours each day in classes. That time should help advance their learning and decrease their study time outside of school, but if students fall behind, class time can turn into a total waste. Unlike the writers of yesteryears' soap operas, teachers do not write lesson plans intended to allow someone tuning in for the first time to quickly grasp what's happening. Today's conversation exercise in Spanish assumes that you learned last week's vocabulary words. If you did, the exercise serves as an excellent review of the words. If you didn't, it may serve no purpose at all.

Learning each lesson as it's taught allows a student to clarify misperceptions that might interfere with the understanding of later lessons. Moreover, learning the material as it's presented makes it far easier to relearn it for the midterm or final. This is much more efficient than waiting until a day or two before the exam to learn a semester's worth of content from a friend's notes or the textbook.

Use Small Blocks of Time Productively

When a math teacher gives students ten minutes at the end of class to start on homework, some students do just that while others try to unobtrusively text a friend, daydream about who they'd like to accompany them to Homecoming, or catch a few winks. It's tempting for busy students to while away brief interludes of down time, and sometimes a short nap really does do more good than completing the first five problems of a homework assignment. In general, however, efficient students use fifteen minute breaks during their day to polish off uncomplicated tasks - defining vocabulary words for English or labeling countries on a map for geography. The reward for these efforts can be larger blocks of free time at the end of the day to relax or get a few more hours of sleep.

Divide Large Projects into Smaller Chunks

A time management strategy that becomes critically important in college is breaking large projects into more manageable chunks. Rather than attempting to write a ten page paper on the night before it's due, a savvy student will divide the components of the task into smaller chunks and devise a timeline to accomplish them - i.e. gather references the first week, do the research and compile notes the second week, complete the rough draft the third week, and plan to finish the revision two or three days before the due date.

This last point is an important one. One of the biggest failings of procrastinators is that they tend to not only leave tasks to the last minute, but also to underestimate how long they will take. Projects often turn out to be more complicated and time consuming than we expect, so it's a good idea to build in a comfort zone.

Getting Beyond Resolutions

Many teens, particularly those who've been humbled by a bad report card, swear they've seen the light of righteousness and are ready to become born again students. Under such circumstances, they may earnestly agree to adopt the foregoing recommendations. However, as we all discover every January, it's far easier to make heartfelt resolutions than to follow through with them, and resolutions that are not acted upon are powerless. Nobody ever got abs of steel by simply signing up for a gym membership.

So how do you get your teen to muster the gumption to turn off the television or unplug from her computer or cell phone on Sunday afternoon so she can actually spend the two hours studying that she budgeted for that time? Try telling her what I used to tell my own kids - that if you can't take orders from yourself, you'll always be taking them from someone else - first your parents and later on your bosses. Being able to manage yourself is the price of independence.

It’s a brand new year—make it a great one!

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Posted on 09/15/2023, by Dr. Ellen Fithian (0 comments)




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