Friday, September 08, 2006

HOW TO GET GOOD GRADES WITHOUT SPENDING A LOT OF TIME

Dear Samuel,

I thought I’d take some time today to jot down some suggestions for succeeding in school without spending more time than is necessary.

Although, talking about the public education system is something I struggle with for several reasons. First of all, I never really got particularly outstanding grades. I got decent grades. Sometimes I got good grades. But my grades never set me apart from the crowd. Some people, including Dad, told me as I was growing up that grades weren’t that important. Those people were wrong. Grades aren’t everything but they mean something, and sometimes they can mean a lot. People judge us by all sorts of criteria, and grades will be one of the things you get judged on for the foreseeable future. I struggle giving advice in this area because for varying reasons I never got outstanding grades.

Second. I am not a teacher. Some of my friends (who I respect a great deal) have gone into public education as teachers. I don’t want to say something that would be interpreted as cynical toward this profession.

With that said, I do have some suggestions that might help you.

Suggestion 1

Don’t wait until you get home to do your homework. The best possible place to do the majority of your homework is AT school. I know for a fact that most courses won’t assign so much homework that you need to be swamped with hours of homework to do at home. What do you do during lunch? Find someone who is smart and has some of the same classes as you and spend 15 minutes of intense thought at lunch banging out your algebra homework. What are you doing during your down time? A lot of kids spend this null space torturing each other. Don’t participate in that nonsense. Sit by some smart kid and knock out your social studies homework. You get the picture. Extra credit for making your math buddy one of the cute girls in class. I got an A in Geometry because I sat in front of Kristina K in that class. We made it our life’s mission never to take home a single geometry assignment, and to always finish it at school. For the most part we did, and we were always friends after that. And she was one fine babe. (whistle)

Suggestion 2

What do you do when you’re typing up something in Microsoft Word and you have to call it quits for a while? You push on the save button right? Otherwise you’ll have to type it up again later, and that’s not for you. You need to have a mental ‘save’ button that you use at the end of every class period in school. Everybody else puts their books in their book bag 2 minutes before class ends. You aren’t going to do that. You’ll spend that 2 minutes mentally reviewing what you just went over in class. Put it on a shelf in your brain in some organized way. When you arrive to that same class the next day you open your book and boot up your brain to learn the subject matter by mentally reviewing AGAIN what you reviewed when you hit the save button at the end of class the day before. Don’t be a nazi about taking notes. Take good notes, but focus on paying attention and organizing the material in your brain in some sort of recognizable pattern as you’re learning it during the class period. To summarize, each class period should go like this:

Boot up

Pay attention in class

Save and close

Go to the next class

If you follow the process, then studying will be a lot more natural, fast, and easy. You’ll find you don’t have to cram when it is time for a test. You’ll also notice that you remember the material for a lot longer.

Suggestion 3

Assemble a study team. For me, this was especially important for math classes. You need to get in a position where you are with people working on the same problem, and you know the material well enough to explain it to someone else in the group. A rule of thumb is you don’t understand the material if you can’t explain it successfully to somebody else who is trying to learn it. You’ll also find that if you teach the material to somebody else, you can remember it a lot better. But it also helps to have somebody nearby who understands just in case you don’t understand how to work through the problem.

Suggestion 4

It is hard to overstate the importance of becoming good at writing when you’re in school. There is only one way for this to happen. You need to practice putting your ideas down on paper, and you need to practice re-writing. Here’s a fact. There aren’t that many good writers out there. Most anyone who’s writing approaches half decent is actually a good re-writer. In order to improve your writing you have to write, and re-write as much as possible. If you want to get good grades on writing assignments you have to re-write your material at least a couple of times. Don’t despair, it takes work, but you will get better. Anytime you get a writing assignment you need to bang out the writing assignment as early as possible. Just get it down on paper. Then depending on how much time you have before the assignment is due, you re-write it as many times as possible. If you have more time, you do more re-writes.

The way re-writes work is this. You get your ideas down on paper. Then you put some space between you and the writing. You go play basketball, or sleep on it. Then come back and read it out loud. Write in any corrections and re-type it. Repeat the process of creating space, then revisiting it and reading it aloud as many times as possible.

The bar is unbelievably low, so if you’re even kind of good you’ll find that you get okay grades. But don’t be surprised to see red ink on your paper taking off points and giving ideas for improvement. Think of the red ink as ways you can do better, but don’t take it personally. Anytime you are ready to turn something in, take your writing to an adult to correct it first. Go back and re-write one more time and incorporate the adult’s suggestions. I don’t claim to be a great writer, but you can feel free to email me, and I will email you back with any corrections or suggestions.

Suggestion 5

Build your own curriculum. Your teacher might be awesome but maybe he isn’t interesting to you. It’s your job to make the subject matter interesting. Go find a magazine article, or an interesting book, or a NOVA documentary on the subject you’re learning about. Don’t go overboard and neglect your homework. Remember that grades do matter. But it’s a wide world out there. There is a lot of cool stuff and you don’t need to be confined to some educator’s curriculum. If somebody suggests a good book to read, go check it out from the library. Just give it a try, you’ll be surprised at how much cool stuff there is out there.

Well that’s all there is for now. And my plane is about to land. So I’m signing off…

Jay


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