I have what appears to be a strange situation, although it is fairly common: I am finishing my master’s degree. I’ve been teaching a few classes, and I coach our university’s speech team. And I can’t forget my wife and two children. Sometimes I feel I’m performing on a tightrope while juggling at the circus. I’ve learned a few tricks along the way to make this all possible. Some of which are my own and some I borrowed from the great teachers of the past. I will share them with you now. Plan everything. For some of us, this seems obvious, but for others, a bit of scheduling will make your day more productive. First, let’s consider the things we have no control over, like your work schedule. I am lucky; it is 6:30 to 4, Monday thru Friday. Your teaching schedules, office hours, and extracurricular obligations will tend to stay the same. I coach and attend speech and debate tournaments of which I know times and dates in advance so that I can schedule them too. Strange as it sounds, schedule times with your family, or at least keep them on your list because they can easily get overlooked. The things that will overwhelm you are the things you forget to schedule. Teaching classes requires a lot of prep time. Don’t forget to schedule preparing lectures, exams, assignments, and grading papers and tests. There is nothing worst for a student to come back to class after they submitted a paper or test and it isn’t graded because you did not schedule the grading. They work hard to submit assignments on time; we should do the same for them and show them we appreciate their hard work. Without this schedule/roadmap, we tend to wander and procrastinate. Do not procrastinate. When I went back to continue my education, there were many things I learned to help me survive. One of the most significant was not to procrastinate. I see too many students writing essays and papers the night before they are due and they wonder why they are stressed out. For many, it is a lack of planning or prioritizing, but for others, it is just a simple case believing that there are more than 24 hours in a day. “I will get to it later.” You have made a plan. Once and a while, things come up, but you can get into the procrastination spiral if you are not careful. Whatever you have on your plan, do not wait; get it done. You will find that you have more extra time than you thought. Get some rest. When I was younger, I was able to survive on little to no sleep. Now, if you do not get at least six hours of sleep on average with an occasional eight hour night, I can’t function. When you are making your daily, weekly, and monthly plans, include sleep and sometimes time away from work and school. Spend time with your family or just once and a while do nothing. Watch TV or whatever you want to do to relieve a little of your stress. Keep everyone informed. When I went back to school, my kids were teenagers. There was nothing worse than hearing that someone scheduled you to an event or committed you to do something when you have a final to write or an event coming up that weekend. I found if everyone knew my plans beforehand, I could avoid scheduling problems. For me, a large monthly planning broad from Staples solved this problem. Everyone could look at my schedule and know what I was doing in the future. This made negotiating possible. Somethings can’t be moved around, but if I knew that I have a baseball or soccer game to attend, I’d have to write that exam sooner than I had planned. It is all about communication. There are many other things that I do to make my school/work/family work, just as there are many time management techniques that work better for some and not for others. But hopefully, this is a good start for you in managing your time regularly. *This article was orginally written in October 2020
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“I am passionate about study skills, and I bet you’re wondering how that’s possible…”
I always start my classes this way and most students either laugh out loud or look at me in disbelief. Then I explain that I am passionate about study skills because they saved me. I struggled mightily my first and second years of college, especially in Economics, and I was close to failing. I was struggling in other classes, too, including a Science requirement. It was the first time I had ever seen my grades so low and I hid by not telling a soul. But a teaching assistant who really cared noticed that my tireless efforts didn’t mesh with my grades. He told me that I wasn’t stupid, I just hadn’t been taught how to manage college level work. I needed study skills support.
He was right, and I got help from my college’s academic resource center. I learned how to change my old habits, which ultimately changed my life. I finally felt like I could “do” college; that I wasn’t the mistake. Over time I learned there were “college ways” to becoming a true critical thinker that meant I studied more deeply, wrote papers more analytically, debated more effectively, and simply learned a whole lot more.
So yes, I am passionate about study skills, but it can be difficult to instill this passion in students. And I get it. Study skills topics like time management, setting goals, critical thinking, taking notes, test taking, etc., are simply not thrilling. Many students think they already have study skills so they don’t see the point in a class dedicated to them. On top of it, study skills are very personal in that we all have individual learning styles and preferences so there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach.
Which gets me to the real reason I’m writing this blog post: to share a number of approaches that instructors can take when teaching study skills. I believe there are opportunities to meaningfully engage students in study skills topics if self-reflection and personalization are built into the curriculum. When the topics start mattering to students, they are more likely to walk away interested, willing, and able participants. But, it is very hard to “teach” study skills because they are so personal and individual.
And this is how the Instructor’s Manual for Pocket Guide to College Success came about. It was developed as a way to offer very specific tools for instructors to consider as they plan for each class, with the goal of actually engaging students and helping them find their own “passion” for the topics. You’ll see that the Instructor’s Manual is filled with ideas focused on individuself-reflection through journal writing, small and large group discussions (starting with small group discussion channels, which can be more meaningful than large group discussions), relevant guest speakers, hands-on activities, and online videos and discussion boards.
In reality, there are probably too many ideas in this manual. It’s not possible to use every activity or suggestion and I honestly have not been able to use every single one in my own teaching. But, I always revisit the manual when I am preparing for each class because I know I must use a variety of strategies to keep the students engaged in the topic at hand. I have a pattern of always including time for written self-reflection, asking students to share with one or two others about their personal experiences, and providing opportunities for those willing to open up to the larger group. I try to talk less and listen more. And ideally, I dedicate at least ten or more minutes for students to apply the study skills to the academic work they are currently engaged in. It’s a lot to fit in, but I hope it means I am making the material accessible to all students given the variety of learning preferences represented in each class.
Authenticity also matters. It’s important to be real about your own experiences if they are relevant. If that’s not possible, I try to bring in “experts” who can speak more deeply about the focus of class and personalize the material, especially experienced peers who have truly been there. I don’t sugarcoat the often challenging and difficult parts of college, especially since my students come from academically disadvantaged backgrounds. The more honest I can be, the more likely students will be honest about their own struggles. And that is such an important opening because the information now matters to them. They then become more willing to make the effort to try out new study skills strategies that can really help them tackle and overcome their college obstacles.
I don’t ever promise that students will suddenly become passionate about study skills. But I do promise that if they actually take study skills seriously, they will increase their chances of true learning and engagement in those college subjects they are passionate about! And that means more personal growth and college success!
The Pocket Guide to College Success provides straightforward and easily consumable coverage on all the topics typically found in a full-size College Success text in a handy, affordable, highly-customizable format. For more information on the Pocket Guide, please go to www.macmillanlearning.com.
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