Tag Archives: productivity

“You can only climb as hard as you rest.” Jared Leto shared that kernel of rock climbing wisdom to explain his prodigious productivity. Even a moment’s thought assures us that this concept makes perfect sense. Now consider the average high school student, so buried under so many academic, extracurricular, and social commitments that he can’t even get a good night’s sleep. This avalanche of activities might seem like the only path to success, but overwork all too often impedes real achievement. Not only do people, particularly teens, require lots of sleep for optimal performance, but even breaks make a difference. Margaret L. Schlichting and Alison R. Preston of The University of Texas at Austin found that reflection boosts learning. Their research subjects who used time between learning tasks to reflect on what they had learned previously scored better on tests pertaining to what they learned later, especially where small threads…

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Multitasking makes us dumber, in that trying to focus on more than one activity at a time not only leads to inferior outputs but can actually produce a measurable decrease in IQ. But, of course, some tasks require more attention than others. Surely, you might say, just answering a text message while studying couldn’t hurt… Wrong. Researchers at Michigan State University found that even short interruptions can have a surprisingly large effect on the ability to accurately complete a task. Among a group of 300 subjects performing work on a computer, interruptions of approximately three seconds doubled the error rate. Erik Altmann, lead researcher on the study, drew a fairly reasonable conclusion about why such brief interruptions caused errors to spike: “The answer is that the participants had to shift their attention from one task to another. Even momentary interruptions can seem jarring when they occur during a process that…

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The prevailing wisdom still holds that reading is fundamental. Why then are even our most academically ambitious teens spending so little leisure time with books? Yes, we live in a multimedia world awash in audiovisual delights. Any argument that people don’t consume enough information or immerse themselves sufficiently in art and stories falls flat in the Internet age. Tweets, emails, and videos may constitute the bulk of our information diets, but too much valuable knowledge is locked up in longform text. The only way to mine those rich veins of meaning is to read. The funny thing about reading is that just about all of us know how to do it, but not everyone does it well. Even worse, we don’t generally understand that reading is something that can be done better. Practice, in this area as in so many others, makes perfect because reading is a skill. The primary…

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As someone who speaks often to groups of parents of college-bound high schoolers eager to help their teens advance and prosper, I hear all kinds of questions. I’ve answered most inquiries about the SAT and ACT, why they matter, and what should be done about them so often that my responses tend to spawn detailed articles. One common question, however, appears easy on its face but has proven difficult to fully answer over the years: “What can or should my 9th or 10th grader be doing now to prepare for the SAT or ACT?” Simple, right? The early grades may be too soon for formal prep but they are exactly when teens should be building their academic foundations for future test success. Since the SAT and ACT test fundamental reading, writing, and math skills, freshman and sophomores should focus on excelling in those core areas in two basic ways: 1.…

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Whoever said, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” probably didn’t work in education. Actually, this quote belongs to essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who specifically took issue with “foolish consistency” but failed to clarify what he considered foolish. Regardless, Emerson would not have cut it in the classroom, where consistency makes a world of difference. The longer I teach, the more power I perceive in predictability. Everyone from newborns to nonagenarians appreciates a certain amount of routine. Why shouldn’t they? The alternative is chaos, which is very stressful and inefficient. Routine and predictability, on the other hand, fosters a sense of security, which facilitates learning and relaxation, while allowing time to be utilized efficiently. In an educational setting, teachers and tutors must set the tone for productive predictability. Consider simple ways to add certainty and structure to instruction: Arrange a consistent day and/or time to meet; if a meeting is…

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Education gets a bad rap when envisioned as one teacher lecturing rows and rows of passive students. The learning process involves so much more than that. Most of us, whether we’re talking about academics, arts, or sports, learn by doing. In fact, in order to learn most quickly, we should increase our active practice. Eric Scott, CEO of Dolphin Micro Custom Software, shared an insightful educational fable on Quora a few years ago: ******* A pottery teacher split her class into two halves. To the first half she said, “You will spend the semester studying pottery, planning, designing, and creating your perfect pot. At the end of the semester, there will be a competition to see who’s pot is the best”. To the other half she said, “You will spend your semester making lots of pots. Your grade will be based on the number of completed pots you finish. At…

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