In a 2015 article for Time Magazine, college professor Tim Spiker listed his top 15 tips for high school graduates headed to college. Before I share some of his list, it is the idea behind the course I teach for 7th graders entitled Strategies for Learning, Research and Writing. The idea, in form of a question, goes something like this, “What skills do students need to thrive in academic settings?” Having been a college prof for over 13 years and a certified Brain-based Teaching and Learning educator, I elaborate on a few of my favorite tips from Spiker’s article to shed light on what Strat is and why it can be so valuable for your college-bound learners.
Tip #1 Your brain is not your day planner. Everyone is distracted- and distractable – and the flood of social media, and media in general, doesn’t help. Research (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) is telling us that the multi-tasking we do as adults and often require our students to do in class is actually rewiring the brain in a way that makes sustained attention very difficult. Sustained attention is a skill that allows students to focus, problem solve, delay gratification, and ORGANIZE. Organization is one of the critical skills for college performance according to Spiker, and I agree, but waiting until the freshman year to learn how to do this is too late. 7th grade is the ideal time for students to master using a planner to prioritize their lives, intentionally learning how to organize their spaces and papers. To flesh this out we determine what are the priorities (think Covey’s ‘big rocks’) and set goals, then we monitor progress on action steps related to their individual goals. The first quarter of Strat is committed to mastery of (meaning I grade /value) the organization in their planners, lockers, binders, and those bottomless backpacks.
Tip #2 To get plugged in, unplug. The soft skills of working productively with others, respectfully disagreeing, building relationships with people all happen best with actual people, face to face. I agree with Spiker, technology is helpful, but it is only helpful to reach the desired end, it is not the end we desire. Being with each other is how we were created and we explore in our learning about how the brain functions and learning happens. The team format we use in Strat allows students to look up, speak up, and benefit. We use our share of technology tools, but it is always what we do together that leaves the greatest impression.
Learning how to set goals, prioritize and work with others are all aspects of a brain-friendly classroom and are important skills for college and for life.