Back to Middle/High School: Combating the Sunday Scaries

For me, the Sunday scaries began about a week ago, when it became suddenly undeniable that my summer was coming to an abrupt end. Painful as this realization was, I can only imagine it to be even more so unpleasant for my students. Yes, I’m a teacher. And yes, my Sunday night scaries can still be just as brutal as the impending doom that accompanied my Sunday evenings throughout adolescence.  Almost 20 years has passed since my own bouts with middle school anxiousness were at an all-time high, and yet, Sunday scaries can still summon that familiar sense of impending doom. So what is a high schooler (or high school teacher) to do when the scaries rear their ugly heads? Asking for a friend…

 

Stop saying “I’ll do it Sunday”

Quite possibly (and most logically), the reason that Sunday scaries are even a thing is due to the fact that adults and adolescents alike choose to postpone or procrastinate during the weekend. For many of us, Sundays are reserved for cleaning, laundering, meal prepping, etc. High schoolers do the same thing—they put off any homework, projects, or essays until Sunday evening. Teens put school work off until the last minute because it is the last possible thing they would like to do during their weekend reprieve.

 

While this makes perfectly logical sense, teens only compound their stress further and muster up Sunday scaries when they choose to save every task for Sunday night. Furthermore, in putting off these tasks, whether it be school work or chores, the item to be completed becomes that much more dreaded purely because of our previous avoidance. Instead, encourage teens to complete at least part of a large assignment or homework item early on in the weekend.

 

This small modification removes the daunting task of simply sitting down and starting. For many, starting an assignment or essay is the most difficult aspect, and thus, the most avoided. Tackling something headon removes the anxiety associated with the very beginning of the task. In chunking an assignment or essay over the weekend, teens also help themselves with their time management, maintaining focus and attention, and prioritizing the most difficult aspects of the assignment, as opposed to all-out cramming in one sitting.

 

Double check for necessary items beforehand

Again, saving things for the last minute (Sunday night) only allows room for more unforeseeable obstacles and less time to circumvent those obstacles. If middle and high schoolers know that a permission form, essay, or application is due in the early part of the week, Sunday night is NOT the time to realize that they are missing a key component of that form, essay, application, etc. Checking for these essential items during the course of the weekend leaves time for any unexpected emergency to be taken care of so that Sunday scaries are kept at bay.

 

Mark my words: Sunday night is when all printers run out of ink, or paper, or jam, or malfunction, or spontaneously explode. And you better believe that anywhere from two to ten other students will have the same printer “catastrophe” that prohibits them from submitting their essay on Monday morning. High schoolers can avoid this panic attack and their teacher’s subsequent eye-roll by printing ahead of time—it’s much easier to find an open Staples or Office Depot on Saturday afternoon than after 10pm on Sunday.

 

Know your priorities and work accordingly

Organizing tasks appropriately throughout the weekend allows students to identify and prioritize a to-do list. As natural procrastinators can tell you, teens would much prefer to do the easy or fun tasks first. However, this is of no help to them. Parents should encourage teens to get into the habit of completing the more difficult or high-stakes items first.

 

Yes, it may be more enticing to come up with a cheer for the pep rally, but the history research paper should come first. Help middle and high schoolers prioritize their lists by using the “fun” tasks as rewards for completing the difficult items first.

 

Look ahead

Using a small amount of time on Sunday night to look at the week ahead can help to alleviate the Sunday scaries as well. Often times, stress of the unknown or last-minute surprises are what create anxiety for teens. By sitting down and perusing the week’s calendar, families can ensure that a) everyone is on the same page about appointments/events, b) there are no surprises or last-minute to-dos, and c) events and tasks are evenly spaced as to not overbook any member of the family. A combined calendar in a central location also helps to correct the “I didn’t know” or “I forgot” excuse. If everyone is on the same page about the upcoming week, goals are sure to be met.

Motivating the Unmotivated

While motivation is often linked to academic achievement, the same is not necessarily true for motivation and intelligence. We are all familiar with the naturally gifted student who fails consistently, not for lack of intelligence, but because of his or her lack of motivation. These seemingly hopeless situations can be difficult for parents, especially when they know that their child has all the potential and wherewithal. But what can be done to boost motivation? How can we inspire and incite action when the foundation is nonexistent?

 

Investigate the root of the problem

Oftentimes, a lack of motivation is the result of a bigger issue. For unmotivated children, there is likely some sort of deterrent or impediment between the child and the task. Sometimes the issue stems from a learning obstacle, such as a disability or cognitive barrier. Other times, unmotivated students have had multiple or severely negative experiences in school that have caused them to be “turned off” or “checked out.” It is also possible that the child simply does not see the value in putting forth effort and exhibiting self-motivation. Whatever the case may be, parents can begin to establish motivation by examining the reason behind its absence. Talk to children about why they truly do not want to try something. Is there a reason that they are so opposed to showing effort or enthusiasm for learning? Pose the questions so that they do not sound interrogative, but instead seek to understand the child’s position.

 

Set longterm and shortterm goals

Even the most unmotivated child has some sort of goal or aspiration. Parents should tap into these interests as a means to foster motivation, both in the immediate and distant future. Ask your child what he or she would like to accomplish tomorrow. Allow that answer to span outside of the academic realm. For instance, if your child is lacking motivation in school, but shows an interest in making the club soccer team, encourage that level of interest first as a springboard. Perhaps tomorrow’s goal is to juggle the soccer ball 30 times without dropping it, but this year’s goal is to make the soccer team. Talk about how these short-term goals are essentially the building blocks towards reaching the long term goal. Hone in on the fact that practicing, strategizing, focusing, and modifying will be key for reaching that short-term goal. And that while failure and outside obstacles are going to occur, resilience and motivation are 100% controllable internal factors. Then, when the topic of academics arises, remind that unmotivated student of the steps and lengths that he went to in order to accomplish the juggling goal. Discuss how you can translate that motivation into effort towards schoolwork.

 

Express excitement and admiration when they do show motivation towards anything

Kids, especially young children, may not fully conceptualize the notion of intrinsic motivation—they don’t necessarily know why they care, they just do. To boost their understanding of building and maintaining motivation, praise their effort when they exhibit it. Acknowledge their focus and drive for whatever it may be that they’re working on—the more you point out this motivation, the more likely they are to internalize this concept of self-motivation and effort.

 

Lead by example

We all know that attitude is contagious; the same can be said for effort and motivation. When children see motivated parents with their own interests and passions, they begin to see that effort comes from a true desire to achieve, create, accomplish, and grow. Passionate people inspire those around them, so parents can certainly boost motivation at home by expressing their own efforts and motivation for their genuine interests.

 

Instruct with positive and negative consequences

Different from bribery, positive and negative consequences ensure that children learn how to take ownership for their actions and level of effort (or lack thereof). Of course, no child will be intrinsically motivated to make his bed. Instead, parents should remind children that failure to complete their chores will result in a consequence—essentially, children will recognize that they’re actually punishing themselves by choosing to neglect their tasks. Thus, they become motivated by the desire to avoid the negative consequence. Consequently, a positive outcome from doing one’s chores can boost motivation and the desire to accomplish tasks in the sense that the child connects his or her effort to the reward or positive result.

Encouraging Independence and Self-Advocacy in the Classroom

Instruction in the primary grades is full of crucial elements and concepts—academic, social, and foundational skills that truly set students up for success. Besides the actual content-based curricula, elementary students should be exposed to essential tools and methods for fostering and developing self-advocacy, self-sufficiency, and autonomy in order to prepare them for their later years of academia and real-world challenges.

Classroom Practices and Procedures
Prepare students from the beginning of the school year by implementing and adhering to specific and consistent routines. For example, teachers may choose to begin each day or lesson with a warm-up to initiate thinking, spur conversation, and introduce concepts. Notably, a warm-up procedure can play double duty for teachers who hope to build independence among students.

 

Teachers should:

  • Introduce the warm-up procedure and expectations so that students know exactly what is expected of them when they enter the room.
  • Model the warm-up process and begin with simple questions or sentence frames to allow elementary students to focus primarily on the routine at first.
  • Evaluate or assess the warm-ups right from the beginning so that students apply a sense of value or importance to the daily practice/procedure.
  • Remain consistent with the procedure and expectations for each warm-up so that students are able to grasp the process and begin to initiate it each day on their own.

With a few weeks of practice, a simple warm-up lesson will begin to help prompt students to initiate a more independent work ethic. Because the process has been explicitly taught, modeled, and rehearsed, elementary students can quickly grasp the concept of activating, self-monitoring, and assessing their thinking.

Introduce the concept of self-advocacy by starting with a means of organizing the night’s homework assignments.

Similarly to the warm-up, teachers should introduce the mandatory practice of writing down the homework at the very start of the class. Emphasize the fact that writing down homework assignments, even if the assignment is “none,” is not optional. This helps students begin to adopt organizational strategies and self-management tools. Writing down the homework every class period also prompts self-advocacy in the sense that students begin to take ownership of the work that they must complete at home.

 

Teachers should:

  • Keep assignment titles brief but clear so that students know exactly what they are to be completing at home.
  • Clearly announce and write down due dates and deadlines so that students can copy those essential details as well.
  • Monitor agenda completion and subtly check or signature the daily assignments, especially for students with executive functioning needs. This helps hold students accountable for capturing the homework assignment and allows parents to see that teachers have signed off that the homework that was written down is correct.
  • Encourage students to checkmark or cross off homework and agenda items as they are completed. Again, this helps students to practice self-monitoring and organizational strategies.

Plan weekly or biweekly conferences to check in with students on their current classwork, writing progress, recent assessments, etc.

These brief, five-minute, one-on-one conferences encourage students to speak up on their behalf regarding any missing classwork, confusing concepts, or recent grade changes. It also provides a time for teachers to check in on any potential areas of need on the individual level. In doing this, elementary students can begin to see that they play an active and essential role in their learning and development in school. They also begin to see the teacher as their ally, someone who is there to help them reach their goals and conquer obstacles.

 

Teachers should:

  • Prompt students to ask questions by providing samples of guiding questions or sentence frames to initiate the conversation.
  • Offer students the option to write down their questions or concerns; this is especially helpful for shy or reluctant students who may need a little encouragement when speaking on their own behalf.
  • Consider using data folders, charts, progress checks, or any other method of organizing data so that students have a tangible, visual collection of work to evaluate and discuss. A data folder also allows students an additional opportunity to organize and review completed work, which aids in the process of self-advocacy as well.

Procrastination: Why We Do It and How to Combat It

Procrastination is an all too familiar practice for many of us. While certain people are more likely to put off all tasks until later, we have all experienced the desire to push off occasional duties, errands, chores, or responsibilities. For students, no matter their age or academic aptitude, procrastinating can become an alluring yet problematic habit. Pushing off tasks can become a major pitfall for several different reasons, but there are methods to combat this bad habit—and they begin with awareness.

The problem

Consistently, procrastination creates a snowball effect, in which anxiety or stress further compounds the need for the task avoidance. In basic terms, the more a student puts off a task or assignment, the greater the stress of the impending due date or need for completion. We all know this and can relate to that instinct—we then put it off even further because it has become such a monster that we must avoid it or ignore it at all costs.  

The other issue surrounding procrastination is that we often procrastinate with the tasks or responsibilities that matter most or have the highest stakes. Whether we do this out of fear, denial, indifference, or laziness, the end result is typically the same: we experience a sort of self-destruction by missing an important deadline, or we cave in and begrudgingly and reluctantly complete the task in hurry. Either outcome is less than ideal, especially when grades are involved. Because of procrastination, students dig themselves into a hole, lose motivation, and therefore put forth even less effort with their school work.

The solutions   

Awareness is key to combating the instinct to put off undesirable tasks. Once students realize how they procrastinate, they can begin to alter those behaviors. For example, a student completing research for a paper will find ways to distract himself from the assignment while working. They may check social media, text friends, pause to watch a show, listen to music, or simply scroll through random websites—anything becomes more enticing than the actual research.

Instead:

  • Encourage students to limit distractions by keeping the phone offlimits during work sessions.
  • Complete work in an area away from television, music, friends, and other distractions.
  • Set a timer for 20-30 minutes of solid, uninterrupted work time. Then allow yourself to take a 3-5 minute break, but then get right back to work.
  • Keep light snacks and water at hand while working to stave off hunger and the unnecessary urge to graze to avoid the assignment.
  • Construct a checklist for a multi-step task and prioritize the tasks in order of difficulty. As students work, they should monitor the checklist and stick to the order of steps as necessary. Again, the urge to complete the easiest or most interesting steps is another procrastination tactic—instead, encourage students to tackle the challenging steps first. This will boost motivation and confidence while working.
  • Organize to-do lists with tasks requiring the most time or focus at the top. These are typically the first things that students will avoid completing.
  • Ask students to write down three things that they have accomplished at the end of a work session. The successes, no matter how small, show students that a strong work ethic and focus does help them to chip away at a daunting task that they may have vehemently avoided in the past.  

Study Tips for High School High Achievers

For students who have previously excelled in school without exerting much effort, the idea of an intense study session may seem not only foreign, but also intimidating. While these students have grown accustomed to acing assessments, memorizing concepts, and tackling tasks with ease, they may have inadvertently neglected to acquire an essential academic tooleffective study skills.

For gifted students, those who have naturally acquired, implemented, and stockpiled knowledge and content in their classes from previous years, difficult concepts or the sudden need to study in order to retain information can be jarring and frustrating. For these students, school has come easily until now—which means that honed study skills and strategies might be outside of their repertoire.

What can be done for these naturally-gifted secondary students, those who oppose studying out of stubbornness, unfamiliarity, or sheer confusion? Plenty.

1)  Start small with a rough outline of the essential material. For instance, if a high-achieving student in an AP history class is struggling to study for the first time, suggest that she create a realistic timeline for preparing for the assessment. A student who has never had to study is more likely to attempt a cramming strategy—or, non-strategy, if we are being honest. The added stress and lethargy from a long night of cramming before an exam can actually negatively impact the test-taker. As early as possible before an exam, high schoolers should attempt to roughly map out a study schedule that provides them with at least 3-5 days of advanced preparation.

The simple sample outline below for our AP history student could act as a starting point for those students that have never had to make an outline before:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday
Topic/Concept WWII Key Players Dates Vocab
Actions -Review map

-Chart Germany’s battles/progress

-Assign 1 key point for each significant  historical person

-Make 2nd copy of blank timeline; try to complete from memory

-Highlight most significant dates during the Holocaust

-Define unfamiliar terms from class notes/text

-Use new terms 2x per day until exam

Reminders Look closely at Allied nations Review date/location of start and end of WWII Ask peer to compare to find additional terms

 

2) If the basic outline above is a challenge for your novice studier, encourage her to find reputable online sources or videos that walk students through the process of making a study guide or outline. Often times, knowing where and how to begin can be the most intimidating part of studying for students who have had information retention come naturally for so long. By watching how other successful, experienced studiers compose an outline or gather information for a study guide, reluctant studiers then have a step-by-step resource to help walk them through the process. This is especially nice for parents if high school aged students are vehemently opposed to “doing it Mom or Dad’s way.”

3) Encourage novice studiers to “take small bites at first, then go back for more later.” This principle helps to reinforce memory and recall. If students cram or spend minimal time trying to memorize a concept, they will likely lose vital details prior to the assessment. Instead, once students feel that they have mastered or internalized a concept, prompt them to revisit that concept a few hours later or the following day. This will help high schoolers to understand if the material has been moved from short-term memory to long-term memory.

4) Ask your high school student to “teach” the material to another person. One long-standing concept about learning is the fact that mastery comes when one is able to teach or relay the information to another person. In this sense, students are not only confident in their ability to remember the info, but they take it a step further to explain or translate the information in their own words. Encourage your child to not only review definitions, for example, but come up with his own new definitions. This way, your high schooler will know for sure if he or she fully conceptualizes the term and its meaning.    

National Time Management Month: Tips for Parents to Try at Home

Like children and teens, we adults are not always on top of our game when it comes to time management. As much as we would like to be productive 100 percent of the time, that is not always likely—and sometimes, just purely impossible.  As we all know, people naturally tend to avoid doing things that they do not want to do. If even we adults indulge in task avoidance on occasion, it can be expected that adolescents will do the same when it comes to homework and studying. Since what occurs at home directly impacts success at school, putting time management strategies into place as a family will inevitably provide academic benefits in the long run.

Help your child to categorize, then prioritize. It sounds simple enough—just as we plan our errands or to-do lists in a logical, timely, and practical manner, so should your children when they are prioritizing their assignments. However, students with executive functioning deficiencies may find this style of logical order or planning to be exceptionally difficult.

For example, if you know that you need to go to the gym, fill up the gas tank, and go grocery shopping, there is a logical order of operations: gas first, in order to drive, gym, then groceries. Any other means of organizing your errands would leave you stranded on the side of the road or with a car full of spoiled food. Logical? Yes. But easy for all adolescents to grasp? No. They will need your help to prioritize and logically plan their assignments and afterschool obligations. Show them how to assess the time it will take to complete all items of the to-do list. Help them to identify the difference between tasks that are time-consuming versus difficult. If a task is both time-consuming and difficult, it should likely take top priority.

Encourage productivity and effort with bonus slots for free time or weekend activities. Intrinsic motivation is the end goal. But, until that mindset kicks in, it is more than okay to negotiate, praise, or reward hard work. If you notice that your child has spent extra time and effort on a research project, perhaps consider shelving the week’s chores. If your teen has submitted all of her school assignments on time, treat her to a movie of her choice or additional screen time before bed.

Lead by example. When you are asking your child to put down the phone and work, you should try to do the same. Grab a book or catch up on some work while your teen hits the books. Not only are you setting an example, but you are also ensuring that you are not contributing to distractions. Talking on the phone, watching television, or scrolling through social media sends a conflicting message—“you should be working, but I do not have to.” Instead, share in the quiet, productive work time.

National Time Management Month: Advice from the Teacher

“Do as I say, not as I do” certainly applies to this topic of time management. As much as I know how to manage my time, the execution piece has always been a steady work in progress. Shamefully, I must admit that, like many other people, time management is one of my pitfalls. Since I can very personally relate to the struggle that is time management, I can also say that I spend a great deal of time—no pun intended—pondering how to improve my own tendency to procrastinate. Again, I am still working on this lifelong skill; however, I have found some strategies and reminders that prove to be very helpful in this area. As much as we adults struggle with managing our time, so do our students. And, being that they are still developing, maturing, and learning, adolescents can benefit greatly from modeling strategies when it comes to time management.

Students should categorize, then prioritize. In any given week, students may have personal or social obligations, academic obligations, family obligations, or extracurricular obligations—quite the full calendar for today’s teens. Not only can these packed schedules be stressful, but without proper time management, completion of all “to-dos” could prove impossible. Organization is key to prioritizing time.

First, students should categorize all events and due dates on a weekly or monthly calendar. This can be done with post-it notes or color-coordinated pens. After the to-do list has been organized by obligationschool, family, social, etc.—students should rank these items in order of importance for school, family, and extracurricular tasks. Have adolescents consider questions like, “Which assignment is going to take the longest?” “Which task is going to impact my grades the most?” “What family event is the most significant?” This prompts students to consider what items are most important to family members or significant at school, allowing them time to work carefully on the more difficult items. In terms of the social category, students may want to rank or prioritize items based on interest. This way, events or gatherings that teens are most eager to attend can take top priority during their free time.  

Take frequent, short breaks between tedious tasks. Again, planning these breaks ahead of time is helpful for managing one’s time. The idea is to avoid cramming as much as possible, especially when it comes to school-related tasks. When sectioning off study/work sessions, students should be mindful of their focus and attentiveness—a work session is only successful if the entire time slot is spent working efficiently. Students should treat the short breaks as though they are rewards for the “grind” and effort they are exerting. These breaks prevent burnout—which happens when students lose steam or motivation while cramming or working for hours straight. Breaks allow some breathing room so that assignments, tasks, or practices are not only completed, but completed thoroughly and proficiently.

Lastly, and most importantly, put the electronics away. Social media, email, and television are my own vices when it comes to being productive with my time. As much as adolescents may fight this, the focus needs to be solely on the task at hand in order to manage time effectively. Instrumental music is an option for those students who prefer background noise, but truth be told, less is more with regard to distraction.