Podcast Bonus Episode: Tools for Academic Skill-Building and Accountability

Jay Bacrania: Skills for High School Success

Towards the end of my conversation with Jay, our CEO, last week, we started getting really tactical around various tools that can help build students’ awareness of their challenges and move them towards solutions. In this episode, we talk through calendars, digital distractions, time management, and a tool for examining how non-academic factors impact academic performance.

Links to Tools Mentioned in the episode:

Semester Reflection

Weekly Review

Time Diary

Life Wheel




Sheila Akbar: 

Hey, everybody, welcome back. The bonus. Towards the end of the conversation Jay and I are having about the five keys to academic success and the philosophy behind our coaching program, we started getting into some really specific and practical tools and advice around the challenges that we see students facing. So I split it off into a bonus episode, which you’re listening to right now, it’s important to note that tools on their own are not really going to do the trick, they might help, they might inspire some change, but it probably won’t be super lasting. And it might feel a little bit like your student has to adapt to somebody else’s way of doing something instead of them kind of knowing why they’re doing it on their own and making this thing their own. A lot of these tools are really meant to build awareness of a problem, not necessarily to solve a problem. And we really believe that awareness of the problem is actually the first step. I’m sure so many of you have tried to talk to your kids about what you really need to get organized around this. And, you know, starting these papers ahead of time, then not just the night before their due, is really going to be helpful for you. But how does that really land? Right? If they can be aware of the problem and start to see the solutions for themselves? Well, you’re gonna have an easier time getting them to actually solve this problem to make some progress. And they are going to feel much more confident in their own ability to solve this problem and challenges that they encounter in the future. So this is really the way you want to go about it. Start by having them build their own awareness of the problem. And then you can be a conversation partner and helping them identify solutions, or you can bring in a coach or an outside mentors to help them with that as well. So we go through some really common challenges like calendars and time management and starting to become aware of all of the things that might impact a student’s academic performance, right? Not everything is measured with a grade. But those are things that might be impacting their ability to get a good grade. So take a listen. And I hope you find this helpful. Is there a calendar you recommend for struggling students?

Jay Bacrania: 

Yes, it typically I like Google Calendar, or a paper calendar of any kind. The challenge is that if the student is struggling, typically they’re going to struggle to use the calendar. And so calendaring is the tool is not usually as important as just the discipline of using it. So I would say that any calendar is great, it’s just about using it regularly. And that’s a skill and a habit that has to be developed over time. I also think that the more buying you can get from a student, the better. And so there’s tons of different calendars online, there’s a few app based like ADHD specific calendars that are more visual, there are calendars that sync with different operating systems, the mac, mac has a great calendar. So I would say that the best calendar is one that a student at least initially wants to use. And then the more important thing is sitting down and actually just thinking through it with a student and making it something that’s real. So depending on your relationship with your student, this is a great activity you can do together of hey, let’s just look at your calendar for tomorrow. You have to be careful, though, as a parent, because if you drive that, then the kid is naturally going to let go and say great, Mom’s got my schedule covered, you know, I don’t need to necessarily put in that same level of effort. So it’s a fine balance there.

Sheila Akbar: 

How do you help students learn how to avoid distractions that are on the same devices that schools give them homework on? This is a complaint I hear from a lot of families like oh my god, they gave them an iPad, and all they do is play games, but they need the iPad to do the work. So what do we do?

Jay Bacrania: 

This one? I don’t have a good answer for you. Because I struggle with this. I think we all do to some degree, I think that we have to accept the fact that we got the starting point is to have kids get to the point where they say, Okay, this is a problem for me, I see that I am getting distracted. Because then it can become an effort that kids and parents or kids with a mentor or coach can engage in together. And so I think the idea first that I have generally around this is to build awareness and have a kid actually say, Look, this is really challenging. And then from there, every solution is going to be different. But it might look like really having some extra information from parents to help with this. So it might be doing homework in a public place. It might be reminders, it might be using some of the apps that we put on these devices to help shut down access to some of these things. It’s got to start with a student saying okay, I can see that this is a challenge for me. If a parent sees it and says hey, this is a problem the students naturally actions No, it’s not a problem. So I think building that awareness is probably the first step. And then from there, the strategies have to be really customized. What I generally like to do is actually ask the student, alright, you’ve noted that this is a problem, what do you think you can do? Great? How are you going to try that? Awesome? When are we going to talk? And how are you going to tell me that whether or not that worked or not. And then usually, their first idea is terrible. But I smile and nod and say, Great, let me see you try it. And then we come back together and say, Well, that was a terrible idea. It’s okay, I kind of knew that. But we need you to lead this process. And that’s how this unfolds slowly to finding what’s actually going to work for them. But it’s just really hard. There’s no silver bullet for this one.

Sheila Akbar: 

That’s really helpful. Jay, I wonder if you can say something about other things besides calendars that actually meet the needs that a calendar might also meet. So, you know, the goal with the calendar is time management, maybe prior planning, what are some other tools that students can lean on for those sorts of things

Jay Bacrania: 

To that end, sometimes simpler is better. Sometimes it’s Hey, just make sure you write down the three things on a note card that you’ve got to do tomorrow, and just whatever discipline they can do on a regular basis. And sometimes support here is great. It’s like, okay, let’s just at breakfast every morning, we’re going to create a note card. Together, you write down everything you got for today, and on the back, you write it for tomorrow. And then tomorrow, we’ll create a new note card today, tomorrow, something simple like that can sometimes be way more powerful than you know, something that maybe is a little bit more sophisticated.

Sheila Akbar: 

Well, let’s let’s talk about that, time is definitely one of those keys. As Jay said, if students can learn how to parcel out their time, they can accomplish almost anything and overcome any of the other challenges that might come up. But time is complicated. It’s not just knowing what to do when it’s knowing how to prioritize when new things come up, and fitting them in to maybe the hierarchy that you’ve already created for yourself of like, okay, I have this paper and that paper, and now all of a sudden, I have a test. How do I balance all of that? And how do I change around the way I’m parceling out my time, we often find that at the root of a time management problem is a time conceptualization problem. And this is not always neurological. Sometimes it is that students just have trouble processing, how long is actually five minutes? Or how long will this task take me a lot of students who get in depending on their disposition, will overestimate how long something is going to take them. If they tend to be perfectionist or procrastinators, they tend to overestimate like to do that paper really well, it’s going to take me like five hours a day, and then they overcome it. And nobody can work on something for five hours a day without like breaks and, you know, breaking it down into smaller chunks. And so they burn out on it really quickly. And then they don’t follow through with the rest of their plan. On the other side of that you see people who underestimate how long something is going to take. And that can also lead to procrastination or underperforming. So if a student has a test that they need to study for, and they feel pretty confident in the class, and they’re like, oh, I’ll just spend, you know, 15 minutes reviewing my notes for that test. And that’s how long it’s going to take me to study. They feel like they can leave that 15 minutes until right before the test. And then they do it and they realize oh my god, this is gonna take me so much longer than 15 minutes, I might as well not even do it, or they do as much as they can. But you know, it’s not enough time to get a meaningful review. And so that’s one of the things that we also have a tool around. We call it the time diary. And this one might be helpful for you. But basically, it’s let’s take a day and you plan out how you think you’re going to spend your time right. So maybe it’s like eight to three, I’m in school, three to five, I’m at soccer practice five to five thirty. I’m traveling home, six to seven, I’m eating dinner. And then seven to I don’t know nine, I’m doing this homework and then you break it down even further within that homework period. When are you doing what kind of homework and then you have them go through the day and track their time. Now the student who starts their day 8am I’m in school is not taking account of what do they need to do before they get to the school building. Right? What time do they wake up one of the eating breakfast? What do they pack in their backpack, making sure they have everything getting themselves dressed it out the door? So sometimes students need to see that to realize, oh, I have to plan in advance. It’s not just like I wake up and I leave the house and no time has passed. And then it’s comparing the plan versus the reality. How long did you actually spend at soccer practice? Or how long did it actually take you to get home? How long does dinner actually take? You know, was the estimate you had for your English reflection paragraph accurate? Was it longer or shorter than you thought it would take you and why? Right getting to the Y is really important piece of this. But on a very surface level. Having them see that their plan versus the reality and how they differ is sort of the first step in helping them recognize that there is a problem and then we’ll What the problem may be? Am I overestimating? Am I under estimating, or, you know, some students who don’t plan their day might find that actually just roughing out a quick plan helps them stay on track and helps them be really efficient. And maybe actually, that’s the only thing they need to start doing is blocking out their day like that. So that’s an exercise that I would say might be really helpful. When you’re starting with the time management challenge, there are a lot of things that could be at play when a student is struggling or lacks motivation, you really do want to assess the mental health aspects of that. And that’s not something that, you know, my team does, we’re not mental health professionals, we work closely with them, but you probably going to want to get an actual expert to weigh in on that. And they have all kinds of tools and assessments to help, you know, understand, really, if, if anything like anxiety, depression, or any number of other challenges are underlying that lack of motivation, sometimes a nutritionist can be really helpful, we’ve had more than one student actually end up with some sort of vitamin deficiency. And that was the reason they just didn’t have the energy to engage the way they wanted to. So actual physical health is really important to take stock of as well. And then there are neurological challenges that some students face, whether it’s an executive function deficiency, or a processing challenge, a neuro psych evaluation, or if you’re doing it through your school district, they might call it an IEP evaluation. There are also shorter evaluations that you can get now that are like online that are not as in depth, your pediatricians office can often do these evaluations as well. And they use a number of different kinds of tests called batteries, to evaluate, you know, reading comprehension, reading, speed, processing, speed, spatial reasoning, ability, and things like that. So that might be something worth investigating as well, if there is an undiagnosed learning difference, or some sort of executive function challenge there. And usually, with those evaluations, you’re also given very specific recommendations of how to accommodate those challenges, whether it’s, you know, a special kind of note taker, or sitting in the front of a classroom, or when it comes to exams, being able to sit in a separate room or have extra time, that can accommodate the challenges. But when it comes to what we can actually deal with a coaching, there are plenty of tools that people use, I’ll tell you about one of them. But it’s a lot of conversation, it’s a lot about building trust with the student and helping them understand that we’re on their side, we want to see them succeed in the ways they want to succeed. And we’re only going to do things if they’re on board for it. And once we’ve established that relationship, when I ask, well, you don’t seem all that excited about school, like why they’ll tell me very honestly, there is a kid in the class that I used to be friends with, and now they bully me. And that’s why I don’t like the class, or this teacher said some mean things to me once or I saw this teacher be mean to somebody else, and I’m really worried they’re gonna turn that on me, or I’ve always struggled with math, and I have low confidence that I’m going to be able to get this class and then it ends up being a self fulfilling prophecy, right? So part of it is just creating space to help your student feel like they can actually articulate what’s going on. Often they do know, at some level, what’s holding them back, they’re just not able or ready to share it. And then the tool that I would suggest, is called the life wheel. Basically, it’s a it’s a wheel, it is a wheel divided into, you know, six, eight, however many pie slices. And each of those slices reflects a different aspect of their life. Now, when we do academic coaching with students, you know, academics is one of them. But another one is the family dynamic. Another one is their physical health. Another one is mental health. And another one is their social life. So we just have the students start by taking the temperature on how they’re doing, or how satisfied they are with those different areas of their life, on a scale of one to 10, 10, no change necessary, it might not be perfect, but you’re happy, you’re satisfied, this is fine, or you know, a lower scores, I really think that there’s some problems here. And I wish it wasn’t this way I want something to change. And that can be a really great conversation starter, again, going back to conversation, to talk about the why do you feel this way about your family dynamic? Or what don’t you like about your social life, and then you know, getting underneath that rating a little bit, it can often turn into setting a goal, like I want to move my social life rating from a four to a six, you know, we’re not taking anything to attend overnight. But it can really show students that if they put a little of attention on to something a little more concrete that they’ve been able to identify, they can move the needle. And that gives them a lot of confidence. It really empowers them. And then they’re able to take on bigger challenges and use that system. That kind of routine that Jay was talking about when you have a desire to change something. You try it, you practice it until you master it and then you move on to your next thing. It’s a snowball effect that allows them to tackle bigger and bigger things, and then see how they can apply that process to all of these different areas of their life. In school in college, and then you know for whatever comes after. Alright, hope that was helpful for everyone. I’m going to link all of the tools that mentioned here in the show notes so that you can review them and see if you want to try implementing them with your student. But please come to our website. Follow me on LinkedIn. Our website is signeteducation.com. And we have a whole blog full of resources and tools and helpful webinars and more podcast episodes, where you can get lots of information on how to improve your students experience of school and performance in school. Thanks come back for more!


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