What are some study hacks every student should know?

Over the years I’ve given students a lot of advice on how to get the most bang for their buck on studying. If I had to narrow it down to three of the most valuable is would be: Youtube, the theory of time spaced learning, and getting the right tools are three study hacks every student should know about.

1. Youtube/video tutorials. These are invaluable. If you just can’t recall what your math teacher said you can use Khan Academy, a free service put on Youtube and Google via a math teacher. He has received wide acclaim for these tutorials and I have used them widely with my students as well as with my own children when stumped doing their homework. Besides that, there are millions of freely shared videos on Youtube that you can access through trying a few simple combinations of keywords. There is one catch though, if you didnt pay attention in class, you have to py attention to the Youtube video. Nothing is automatic.

2. “Space it Out” The theory of time spaced learning

I wrote a longer article about this here. Whether you are learning or teaching, it’s important to not over stuff your brain. Studies have shown that the mind cannot absorb more than three things at a time. So, if you are writing, don’t make more than 3 main points or they will be wasted on over-fed minds. If you are looking to read and understand something, break it down into three or less main categories. Yellow pads are great for this. You’d do well to “space out” the time you have to study as well. The theory of time spaced learning got me through College Algebra at the junior college. I have always struggled with math and a teacher shared with the class about it. My life has been improved ever since! And this will also help you get some online jobs as well.

The theory goes like this: instead of studying to absorb new material over the course of an hour, break up your time into 15 minute increments. The data shows that memory is strongest when you start and stop a study time. Therefore, instead of having strong memories only twice in an hour, you will have them at the start and stop of each mini session. This equals more knowledge retained! Now this was great news to me, because I loved taking breaks from math!

When it comes to our brains, less is more and quality is better than quantity. Slow down and take more breaks, you’ll be amazed how much more you retain for life!

3. Take the time to get the right tools. If you’ve ever failed at a household task because you stripped a screw, you know the value of the right screwdriver. Studying is the same way, it often requires tools to be done more effectively. If you are studying a foreign language, stop on the way home and get 3×5 cards for new words to study. If you need pencils, get hundreds and a reliable sharpener. Study a few times without them and you will remember what I told you. Write down the things that you need (even if they be healthy snacks) and have them ready the next time you study.

Why to Have a Learning Objective

IAT_CL1_PX00768When you teach kids, a learning objective is like the train track you can’t deviate from.  It keeps you focused and keeps your students minds from wandering away from your education.  It’s like the old adage: “If you aim at nothing, you’ll surely hit it.”

An example of what happens without an objective is like when you are having coffee with a dear friend and your conversation juts and skips all over the place.  If you’re like me with my best friend, there is nothing linear about it.  In this context it makes perfect sense to not have an “objective.”  When you are teaching kids, on the other hand, a learning objective can get your class to 80% mastery (or higher) faster and more efficiently. Online lesson plans that have a learning objective are far more superior than those who don’t.

An example of a learning objective I do in fact is:

Today we will identify predicates in sentences.

We have a test coming up where they will be asked to do this.  That is called “backward mapping,” looking at the end assessment and then creating your objective based on what they will be tested on. While teaching materials have some value, a learning objective is a must.

The Challenge of Making Your Not-so-Favorites Your Favorites

20130401-170518.jpgThere are 30 some odd kids in your class as a teacher. It is so easy to gravitate and focus on the needs of your favorites. They are as such because they fit in to your paradigm. Disclaimer: No teacher should have “favorites” but I am using the term to simply make a point we always need to keep an open mind to all our students. For the purposes of this article, by “favorite” I simply mean ones that are easier to understand and reach. That is m goal with every student. Thank you for understanding my disclaimer. Favorites are natural to your style of teaching and personality. You “get” them and so they often are easier to reach and teach. These are not the students that challenge you to be great. I challenge you to pay more attention to the difficult ones, those who are more difficult to understand. When you reach them, it’s a huge win for you and they.

We shun things we aren’t familiar with. A kid may seem annoying on purpose when her/him is only operating under their home paradigm. Not only can you offer them academic help but they can teach you more about how students perceive and survive in the world. Ring any bells? Please comment.

It is one of my top values for my blog here to host comments. I promise to give you my posts until my dying day but I covet YOUR comments more. Teachers, parents, administrators, edubloggers, and anyone interested. PLEASE leave me a comment. I promise to reply.

Classroom Expectations – Take Your Time, do it Right

Most teachers I talk to agree the beginning of the year is the time to establish authority, rules, and expectations. What they don’t all agree on is how to do it.

Classroom management and expectations are a teacher’s best friend or worst enemy.  It depends on how well a teacher conveys them to the kids. Research I’ve read shows that the beginning of the year is the best time to declare your classroom rules and expectations.  If you fail to get the point across at that time, you have exponentially less control in the classroom until year’s end. You might say it is the most crucial learning objective you’ll have.  Most teachers I talk to agree the beginning of the year is the time to establish authority, rules, and expectations.  What they don’t all agree on however is how to do it.

I knew one teacher who believed in passing out a handout with the rules and not going over them.  I knew another who would would take the entire first week of the school year modeling, explaining, and getting the kids to act out every scenario imaginable.  He actually used puppets and the kids would “ad-lib” scenarios with him such as: “Hey, imagine the puppet is a kid outside and he says: ‘Your momma is ugly.'” The kids would horse around and make the puppets fight.  Then, that teacher would take the teaching opportunity to talk about how silly it is to fight over words. What he’s really doing is setting the stage for child discipline. I feel the second teacher had a much better approach. Believe it or not, puppets are excellent classroom management tools.

I don’t focus solely on behavior management the whole first week, but I use most of it to set the curriculum aside and teach rules and expectations.  I had kids the first week holding up crossed fingers and I had no idea why.  I found out their teacher last year used that as a signal to go to the restroom.  This is an example of why teachers should take time establishing new “grooves” of activity in the classroom.  There is something called the “affective filter” that hinders kids from feeling comfortable learning and taking risks in the classroom.  When the rules are unclear, an anxiety permeates the room.  This anxiety can keep kids from learning to their potential and cause all sorts of mayhem.

I don’t recommend an entire week of nothing but rules and expectations but I think at least half a week with time for followup is a must. You can look into the classroom management books on this one.

Last week I noticed on Thursday that my kids were still not quite sure how I check for understanding.  My method is different from many teachers as you may know if you’ve read my pieces on that.  To summarize it, I say the question, wait, and then call on a random non-volunteer.  This breaks with the traditional method of checking for understanding by forward questioning. I decided I would review and practice it until the kids were “awake” and answering when their number was called.  They eventually did get it and we are ready to start the year strong. When things like this work, I share them here as teacher tips.

Have you thought about your style of class management? Is there a way you could convey it more clearly at the beginning of the year?

What Might Have Been and What Can Be

imageIn education, things are contantly changing. Some methods show up as new ones but they’re really just renewed from times past. We have to be comfortable with change. This isn’t just about technology, though it is true with that as well. Rather, it refers to Common Core and Madeline Hunter’s lesson plan and every other trendy style that has come down the pike with mixed results. We need to synthesize old and new based on the needs of the students. This is what makes us valuable. If we couldn’t do this, anybody could step into the classroom and pretend to teach. When things change a lot, there is bound to be a lot of failed attempts. We rely on those failures to learn what works. The key is to not give up. Keep your eyes on the prize. Continue reading “What Might Have Been and What Can Be”

Financial Aid Options for Teachers

Paying for schooling can be hard for aspiring teachers and teachers who are trying to continue their education. However, there are many different forms of aid available to help cover education costs. Here are some of the most commonly used financial aid options for teachers.

Student Loans

There are two fundamental types of student loans: those sponsored by the federal government and loans taken out through a private lending institution. There is a third alternative, peer-to-peer lending, which is becoming more popular each year. Before you decide on the type of loan that will work best for you it’s essential that you research the benefits and potential downside of each.

Federal Government Loans

Student loans taken out through the U.S. government are called Stafford loans or Perkins loans. The money comes directly from the United States Department of Education. If you qualify for a government loan, the money will come to you through a participating school. However, you must meet certain criteria before you’re considered eligible for a federal loan. The first thing that you need to do to qualify is to be enrolled in an accredited college or university. You can also qualify by enrolling in a trade, career, or technical school. As a general rule, Stafford loans don’t have to be paid back until after you graduate from college. However, if you leave school without earning a degree, it’s possibly that you could be required to start paying the loan back immediately. You will have to fill out an FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and go through a review process before being accepted. Another federal loan program, the Perkins loan program, is need-based, and carries a fixed 5% interest rate throughout the length of the loan term, which normally runs for 10 years.

TEACH, a Federal Program

TEACH (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education) is aimed at those who would like to teach at a public or private school for low-income families. It is a grant program designed to help defray the cost of receiving your teaching degree. To qualify, you must be willing to teach four full academic years out of the next eight at a school that encourages enrollment by low-income family members. This money is in the form of a grant, so it won’t have to be paid back unless you don’t meet their criteria. If you back out of the agreement, that money will become an unsubsidized student loan and the funds will need to be paid back, with interest. Part of the criteria for TEACH is that you must be willing to instruct low-income children in high demand subjects such as mathematics, foreign languages, reading, science, and special education. To be considered eligible for a TEACH Grant, you have to fill out the FAFSA. However, there is no need to prove that you have a financial need in order to be eligible.

Private Loans

A private loan is the type of loan you would get from a private financial institution, such as a bank or credit union. Money from a private loan need not be designated specifically for your college education, it is merely money loaned to you with the expectation that it will be repaid, with interest, at agreed upon terms. While the terms of a federal loan are pretty standard, the terms of a loan through a private lender can vary quite a bit. A private loan is almost always determined based upon your credit rating. If you have a good credit score, your interest rates can be fairly low. If you don’t have good credit, your rates could be very high–you may even be asked to provide a cosigner. The terms for a private student loan are left entirely up to the financial institution you’re dealing with–you either take it or leave it.

Peer-to-Peer Lending

Peer-to-peer lending is fast becoming a popular method of securing a student loan. Essentially it is a financial agreement between two parties–a financial lending institution is not normally involved–whereby one person borrows money from another. Once the terms are agreed to, the borrower is expected to repay the loan within a predetermined time frame–with interest. A peer-to-peer loan is a formal agreement, usually requiring the borrower to sign a contract laying out the terms of repayment. Most people that take out a peer-to-peer loan instead of borrowing from a bank or the government have a poor credit rating or low grades that aren’t high enough to qualify for a government loan.

Guest post from Karen Schweitzer. Karen writes about online schools for BestOnlineColleges.com.

How a School Climate Can Change

There’s a lot of talk of global climate change but what about teacher attitudes. I’ve seen them change big time and it’s causing bad stuff to happen you might compare to global warming or acid rain.

I remember in my early days of teaching there was a camaraderie that existed in the air. At the mailboxes, people would smile and greet each other. Sometimes people would talk and find themselves tarrying past the bell (God forbid!) In my eyes that was always more valuable than getting to class on time. Getting to know other teachers and feeling cared for was like medicine for that staff. Things aren’t the same now, maybe it’s just how life is and I need to grow up?

Now, it seems everyone on staff is into their own things. They are stressing in their face and their voices. Some days I feel the only people I can let my hair down with (figure of speech, I’m bald) are the classifieds and grounds staff. I hate when everyone is rushed. With public school being attacked from all fronts, everyone is crossing t’s and i’s and all that stuff. Everyone is locked and loaded to point the finger to save their job. It’s a real shame I say. Kids keep growing up, they want to be cool (thank you Mr. Neil Young for reminding me of that) and they want to play!

Teacher drama only hinders learning. Can we be better teachers when we’re stressed and hurried? Some must think so because it’s the order of the day. I say NO WAY. Relax and develop your passions as a teacher. Then, share that with your students. Most people aren’t made happy by their work but rather their passions. The happiest people have seen that modeled and know how to get it in touch with it. Now, for teachers who want to foster the humanity of their school climate, the question comes, how much are you willing to do to make things better?

Great Minds Don’t Think Alike (Book Reviews)

This fantastic new book provides the insight to differentiate instruction effectively. The best theorists are covered by Diane Payne and Sondra VanSant in this must have book for teachers. As some have said, it is also a must have for anyone working with children for long periods of time. Knowing the learning style of a child will aid you immensely in their education. I am happy to recommend it to my readers.

Besides amazing points being made right and left and a systematic way to make lesson plans, this book includes a CD-Rom rich with materials to assist in psychological learning assessments. The meaning of the title is obvious but what lies inside is not. Teachers of this new millennium will benefit from this book. It enables identification of individual learning styles. I have already used it in my lesson planning. It helps me be more effective because my lessons are not “universal” or “catch-all” with regard to the classroom. As students needs become greater in our schools and teacher expectancies become more rigorous, we must consider the individual. We must make plans that consider an array of learning styles as much as possible. This book is great for reference on a teacher’s desk or to go through in detail at home searching for solutions in the arena of your classroom.

Inspiration for New Teachers: The Tortoise, the Hare, and Personal Bests

On your teaching journey, don’t compare yourself with others. Just do your best and you will find much success.

This post is dedicated to the new teaching degree students who are feeling the sting of our times in education. Don’t give up! Teachers, especially new ones, are under a lot of pressure sometimes to create the best walls, the best lesson plans, and the best APPEARANCE to the teaching “pack” around them. I remember when I was starting out back in the late nineties when I sometimes felt like all the veterans around me were like the “hare” and I felt like the slow moving tortoise. You know it’s an old fable but it stands up true today in our fast paced teaching career more than ever.  If you do the right things, consistently, and keep at it, you will finish the race strong. Those doing the work for education degrees shall have their “day in the sun.” Best of all, you will make a difference in the lives of children.

It seems sometimes that the fast running hares of the world are enjoying their developed speed all around us, but you can’t let that sway you from the road in front of you, however small. They were once like you and if you keep your resolve, you will be successful as they are at teaching. You may even be better at it. Like my high school track coach Mr. White used to say: “Don’t worry about Jamie Oman, you run your own race Riley and get a personal best!” Jamie Oman was a CIF champion runner, I was simply a point man for the team. Every time I “took a man” I felt pride and I carry that with me today.

Times are tough now in education. Stay strong, we need the best teachers to stay in the profession while thousands are quitting. On your teaching journey, don’t compare yourself with others. Just do your best, stay focused on your own teacher evaluations and you will find much success.