How to be a successful student

I imagine there might be lots of places where one can find tips on how to be successful at school but I must throw my two cents in, as over 20 years of teaching, I’ve observed students practice what works and an equal number that practice what doesn’t.

Attach your passion to your study.  Such as, my daughter sings everything!  She also hates history facts.  So, sing them!  Replace song lyrics with facts.  Over the years we’ve changed the lyrics to everything from advertising jingles to top 10 songs on the radio.  It’s fun and quite easy!

Acknowledge your avoidance.  When I see it, I call it what it is.   Trying to avoid tackling an assignment, my kids stack  up non-essential tasks during homework time, hoping to avoid the inevitable.  I just call them on it!  They always sheepishly acknowledge it and interestingly, it seems to spur them on to just get on with it.  Not sure why….

Don’t repeat what doesn’t work.  Oddly enough, kids have ways of doing things that they don’t find successful, like guessing at how to spell a word or just cramming papers into their binder.  They seem puzzled when that doesn’t work.  Really?  Then why keep repeating the behavior? (Adults do this too) Sometimes we have to ask them to talk that one out.  What might work better?  They always know the answer.  Articulating is the missing piece to achieving it.

Engage your mind.  Everyone daydreams.  It’s healthy and normal.  However, when we intentionally choose to engage in what’s going on, we’re much more successful.   Kids can sit through a class and not hear a thing.  We adults assume they have.  Then there’s a clash of some variety when push comes to shove.  Students who own their learning, own their mind’s attentiveness.

Search for cues the teacher gives you to be successful…and take advantage of them.  For instance, I have the habit of always writing down the next day’s homework on the same corner of the whiteboard.  One student was perpetually in the dark about his homework.  When I asked him he said he didn’t know what the homework was.  Perplexed, I explained that I always write the homework down – and he has to pass that board on his way in and out of the classroom each day.  “Oh, I don’t actually read that.” I was speechless then; I’m speechless now.

Stay after….and ask questions!  Students who show an investment in their learning by asking about their work or grades or instructions are just bound to be successful.  That’s the time when the teacher can individualize, take the opportunity to modify or simply reassure the student that they’re on the right track.

Don’t let a setback set you back.  It’s very rare for students to get a straight A on everything.  The normal learner will encounter something that makes them work a little harder.  I love that moment as a teacher!  To see a mind pushed in a new direction, to make it stretch in a new way….we should rejoice.  Let the man or woman who’s been in their career for decades coast in their comfort zone.  If you’re in school, you should encounter new challenges and new demands on how you think.  Sometimes it’s when students learn a new language; for others, it’s the next level in math.  Whichever it is, embrace the challenge instead of getting down on yourself.  You’re bound to need that brain pathway to be opened for some other challenge that’s bound to come your way.




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