All students will achieve their maximum potential by becoming responsible, productive citizens and life-long learners.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Final Frontier: Studying for Exams

We all know the following fact:

The best way to study for exams is to complete your homework every night, pay attention in every class, and study for every quiz and test all year long!

That is great in theory, but I would rather talk about (or at least mention) the reality of many high school students with the best intentions.  They just have not (for whatever valid or invalid reason) been staying completely on top of their work all year.  As Lincoln said, “well done is better than well said.”  Therefore, being the time for doing rather than talking is almost upon us in the form of finals, I want to give a short, compiled list of tips for anyone interested.  What follows caters to both those who have studied all year and those who well…were preoccupied with the many other good deeds and community service I am sure they were performing.

A.     Schedule
1.      Organize: “Studying for Exam Guidelines created by The University of New South Whales says to work backwards.  Create a calendar and then cross out the times you cannot study.  This is a good way to understand how little time you have to procrastinate!  Make sure you have everything you need to study before starting.  The fewer interruptions to fetch this paper or that book, the easier it will be to gain a longer lasting grasp of the material.
2.      Save the best for last:  Tackle your most difficult subjects first.  Devote the most energy and that high level of excitement you have at the beginning to topics that drain you.  Keep your easy subjects for the home stretch.

B.      Prepare
1.      Prioritize: You need to know what to study.  According to a study completed by the University of Illinois at Chicago, the trick is to narrow your focus.  Read the study guide, or if a teacher gives you a list of items, do not stray from it.  If there is no list, ask your classmates and go over your notes.  Try highlighting information that you remember the teacher stressing during class.
2.      What works:  Know what strategies work best for you and be prepared to use them by previewing the material you are going to study.  Will you outline, use a graphic organizer, create a mneumonic, or take notes on your notes?  Whatever your strategy, get what you need to execute it before you start.

C.      Work
1.      Categorize:  Study in a fashion that works for the subject.  If it is Math, practice the problems giving you difficulty.  Save the reading of notes for either history or English.  If you are dealing with sequential material from computers, look at the big picture to understand what goes where.  Then quiz yourself by covering up small parts of the bigger picture.  If you have an essay exam, review and think about concepts.
2.      Test yourself:  Turn your notes into questions, talk through possible essays, and do not be shy of flash cards.

D.     Environment
1.      Study groups:  These are great if used appropriately.  Don’t fool around!  Find another student who is very serious about their grades and then make good use of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
2.      Distractions:  Remember to keep your study area free from distractions, well lit, and comfortable.  Attempt to study in a posture that you will have when testing.  It helps put your mind in the proper framework on test day.  If you will be sitting at a desk it is probably not the best idea to study lying on your bed with the music blaring!
3.      Unplug:  Consider “unplugging” while you are studying.  That beeping phone and computer is hard for anyone to ignore.  It will knock you off track.

E.      Rest
1.      Take breaks and reward yourself:  Studying for too long at once overloads your brain.  Remember that most people only concentrate well for about 45 minutes.  Be sure to build in short breaks with a healthy snack.  Junk food sounds good, but the boost is short lived followed by a longer lasting crash that will end, rather than jump start the rest of your studying.
2.      Start studying early and finish early:  You want a relaxed, fresh mind when going into a test.  Not a caffeinated, jittery, overtired “I just finished my all-nighter” brain!

As adults, we need to understand (or remember) something about high school and its population.  Academics may not be at the top of students’ priority list.  As students, you need to realize that (much like we say) they need to be at least first or second for your own sake.

The point is high school is busy for teenagers.  It is full of the social aspect, sports, academics, and life.  All of which are incredibly important to students no matter how much we downplay them in the face of academics.  This can be overwhelming at times and cause anxiety that will in turn hinder performance and enjoyment in any or all of the areas mentioned above.  You may not have studied the whole year.  This post may not have helped.

The most important study tip I want to give is synonymous with life.  Approach studying and test taking with the right attitude by not focusing on obstacles or failure, but your skills and abilities.

Sources for this post:

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Embracing technology, ironically, one book at a time...

 I may be bragging, but here at Seekonk High School we have an excellent Media Specialist.  You know, that position that used to be called a Librarian.  Her name is Mrs. Suzanne Larson and from wearing antlers during D.E.A.R. week (more on this in a little while) to tracking library usage for the next NEASC visit, she really goes out of her way to assist teachers and students with research and technology integration.  In fact, she has even helped me on multiple occasions.  It only takes a short talk with her to make me start asking, what am I doing with technology, what is our school doing with technology, and more importantly what could we be doing with technology?

Every week our librarian (or media specialist) is embracing technology in ever new and impressive ways.  She:
·         helps teachers with research,
·         has implemented a pilot with the software Turnitin to help reduce instances of plagiarism through education rather than consequence,
·         is an active member of the high school technology committee,
·         has been instrumental in securing new hardware for teachers’ classrooms,
·         updates the school website,
·         increased the library’s multi-media collections, and
·         has and continues to instruct teachers and students alike in many new uses and apps for the iPads.

In fact, I can still see her on parent teacher conference night.  She was moving her iPad cart down the hallway, stopping at every line of parents, and having them fill out an electronic survey while they waited so that the school had more data with which to inform discussion and decisions.  This is not quite the vision one has when confronted with the title Librarian.  All of this being said, I was struck by her ironic solution to the latest of issues she is addressing; increasing literacy by getting students to read more.

We have an increased amount of Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) weeks this year in an effort to increase student’s exposure to reading for pleasure and interest.  Here is where the fusion of new and old comes into play.  To increase participation, the Librarian has instituted a raffle.  Each student gets one entry each day they read.  Typically, entry tickets would cause many to shudder at the amount of paper needed or “trees killed.”  Therefore, the library decided to conserve by cutting up and utilizing catalogue cards.  Remember these things that used to live in large filing cabinets with tiny drawers?  Most students today do not.  As with all raffles, this one also begs the question:  What do I win?  Well, in keeping with the true spirit of literacy, it had to be something that increased reading.  The problem was that students would also have to view the prize as worthwhile.  The answer…that’s right, a Kindle.  So, it goes something like this:  we are trying to get students to read more.  Therefore, we cut up card catalogue cards to enter them into a contest for reading “dead tree” books and award them with an electronic device for…yes…reading!  When asked about this plan, our librarian explained the difficulty in keeping enough resources available in enough mediums to continuously engage students.  All I could think of throughout a recent conversation with her was that our Librarian turned Media Specialist was now turning quasi chef and attempting to provide a buffet (her word) for a very discriminating clientele.

In all seriousness, however she is viewed or labeled, our Librarian gets the idea that students need different mediums based on moods or requirements if they are to stay engaged.  The best aspect of this realization is that Mrs. Larson does not stop there and by example shows us all that neither should we.  Her answer is to show students how to blend various resources (print and audio book for example) based upon their current desire.  As stated by Mrs. Larson, “I know it sounds trite, but it’s a matter of hitting them where they are…”
I always try to learn from every encounter.  This one has reinforced the idea that we don’t need to change everything we are doing to reach today’s technology savvy/addicted students as much as we need to blend the good “old” with the possibilities of the “new.”  The question is: how are we doing this instead of just talking about it?

Of course, what else would I expect from a conversation with someone who names their copier Dewey; regardless of how many students do not “get it.”