6 Tips for Struggling Students

1. Front-loading helps make connections and improves the processing of information

When we are learning new material it is often difficult to process new information make sense of it. If processing of information is challenging and you find yourself reading and re-reading, or spacing out all together, try to "front load".  Our brains will encode the new material if we have something for the new information to "hook" to.

  • Watch youtube videos on the topic as there are hundreds and thousands of videos on just about anything
  • Use tools like Spark Notes, Shmoop and other tutorial type videos to get a the overall big picture before diving into reading
  • Go to google images and type in the topic
  • Chase down difficult vocabulary on-line or google images
  • Find a short cartoon video on your topic
  • Talk to friends or teachers about the topic

2. "Chunk" time and tasks  

You hear this all the time I know, but chunking time and chunking tasks helps us hit that GO BUTTON when we face a task or task set. It is especially important to study or work on tasks in short chunks of time vs. long drawn out work sessions. Our brains need take a break! Attention and focus are a limited resource and it is proven that we need to give those drivers of learning a little break. We also know that attention remains active even when it is "offline", so even if you are taking a mindful moment or break, your brain is busy working behind the scenes consolidating the information you just fed it! 

  • Set a time to start homework or tasks and make it visual so you can see it. When we see it in front of us we are more likely to initiate the task or task set
  • Start with the easiest task first if you are the type to procrastinate getting started... sometimes we just need to get in the groove!
  • If you have a LOT of work and don't know where to begin, write out all the things you have to do and do a "brain dump". Then pick ONE task or task set to begin chunking. 
  • Chunk tasks as small as they need to be in order to get motivated to take action. 
  • Write a TO DO list of the sub tasks you plan to accomplish in a time frame and begin! 
  • Chunk time into time chunks that work for you. It could be 10 minutes or 30 minutes, but remember to take brain breaks in-between time chunks!

3. Be active, not passive

Our brains remember more and stay focused and alert when we move! Try standing, walking around the room while studying vocabulary, writing on a whiteboard while standing up etc. Actively study by talking out loud to yourself, or with a study partner.

Wobble boards, Thera-bands, Bosu Balls, exercise balls, squishy disks to put on a chair etc... are all great ways to keep moving and keep that attention spotlight on line! 

Go visual, go tactile, go manual, go auditory! Add in as many senses as you can. According to John Medina, author of Brain Rules, "Vision trumps all other senses" and we are more likely to recall information when we add visuals. 

4. Review and study new material spaced out over time 

The "Spacing Effect" is also something John Medina talks about in his book Brain Rules, and it refers to spreading out learning over time versus cramming in information all at once.

In order to space out information use a planner or a calendar to map out when you plan to study in chunks of time for a particular test. Do short time chunks over the week or two before a test!

After learning new material another proven phenomenon is to wait enough time for the "forgetting curve" to take effect and then actively try to retrieve that information. Every time we retrieve the information after waiting, we strengthen our ability to recall that information! (this is why cramming doesn't work as there is not enough time to practice retrieving the information and strengthen that memory) 

5. Do one thing at a time (No task "Whack a Mole!")

This one seems pretty easy, but if you have ADHD, or are bored easily as the novelty wears off when engaging in a task, then you most likely play "Task Whack a Mole"!

The key here is to:

- pick one task

- chunk it

- persist through the task and finish it

Finishing a task, or set of sub tasks, before opening another task will help you avoid the "Executive Function Natural Disaster" where you have so many open tasks, all unfinished with pending deadlines, that you simply shut down with the result often leading to late work or scrambling to get things finished. 

6. Just get started...momentum is key!

As Eric Tivers of the podcast ADHD reWired says, "getting started is the hardest part...so just get started". 

Procrastination researcher Tymothy Pychyl, who wrote the book "Solving the Procrastination Puzzle", explains how we often say " I will feel like it later" but in reality we never feel like it later. Given the emotional coping mechanism to "avoid what doesn't feel good", we need to recognize that we cannot wait to start on a task until we are in the right mood, because that mood will likely never happen. 

Pychyl suggests just getting started on a task, even if you don't know where to begin, because even just starting is often enough to get the ball rolling and move our mindsets forward toward task completion. 

For specific workshops for parents and students on this topic contact Anita Watson (anita@hallowelltodarocenter.org) or MÄ“gan Reimann (megan@hallowelltodarocenter.org).