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Tips for Requesting Letters of Recommendation

Seniors of the world. This is the time. The time when you finally get to blossom out of your childhood shell and start taking steps into adulthood. For many of you, this time has been a whirlwind. You might have started a new part time job, gotten your own car, or enrolled in college credits. However you’re spending your time, these years will be held in your memory for many years to come. 

This is a very important transition in your lives. Especially those of you thinking about going to college. If college is on the brain, then you know how vital letters of recommendation are. No matter what school you hope to apply at, every college application is made stronger with these letters. So we compiled a list of tips that will help you in the process of attaining them. 

Choose the Right People

Letters of recommendation are a necessary part of any important application for a number of reasons. The most important of those reasons is because they showcase how well you have built your network in high school. Your network is the peers and colleagues you have gained in your formative years. This can be teachers, professors, counselors, or employers. In other words, people who have watched you work hard and seen the motivation you move through life with. Choosing the right people to write your recommendations is huge. 

Choose those you have known for several years and can speak to your accomplishments and character with accuracy. If those people hold important positions in educational settings, extra brownie points for you. These letters will notify college administrators of your work ethic, your drive, and your ability to succeed in the various ventures you pursue. So don’t simply ask a friend to write a nice letter about you. Ask a colleague or supervisor to write a letter describing the attributes you possess that make you a strong candidate for enrollment in your dream school. 

Choose the Right Discipline

As you know, college is the place where you get to branch out of the standard Gen Ed curriculum and onto more interesting subjects. You get to choose your own adventure and sign up for classes that feel meaningful to you or are aligned with your anticipated major. When choosing individuals to write your recommendations, go for those aligned with your subject area. If you plan to study biology in college, ask your biology teacher to write a letter. If your plans are to join the theater arts program, ask your most recent stage manager or director for a letter. Presenting letters that describe your achievement in your future area of study will surely strengthen your application. 

Provide All Necessary Information

The fatal flaw in requesting letters of recommendation is the failure to provide your authors with information about your academic career. Having written letters of recommendation in the past, I know how challenging it can be to write about a student when all your have available is their class schedule. When asking someone to write a letter of recommendation for you, be sure to provide any information that can help them map out an image of you. Provide your resume or CV. Give them access to your grades and test scores. If your have certifications of various sorts, provide those. Even giving your authors access to your extracurricular calendar can help them write a more encompassing letter. All of this information tells a story about you, a story that is only yours, so share it. 

Get the Ball Rolling Immediately

DO NOT WAIT TO ASK FOR LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION. These letters take time and energy to write, and often the people writing them for you have very busy schedules. So jump the gun on these letters. Create a list of possible authors and send them emails or visit their offices to speak about your letters of recommendation. It would be smart to make folders for each author containing the information listed above so you’re prepared in the event they accept your request. Once you have your chosen authors, don’t forget about them and move on with your process. Follow up with them weekly or biweekly to check on the status of your recommendations.

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Starting the Semester Off Right

The Boise School District is gearing up to begin the Fall term for the 2019-2020 school year. This means parents are scrambling to buy school supplies, school clothes, and prepare for the schedule shift. With the incoming school year about a week away, students need to start getting in the mindset of school. The right mindset for school can include a lot of different things. 

Some students will let out a big “whoo-saw” as they prepare for upcoming stress. Others will spend every moment they can with friends. And some students might spend the next week in front of the TV letting their brains chill out before getting crazy. These are all great preparation techniques, but there are some tangible things that need to be taken care of as well. 

Plan Ahead

Most schools now use some kind of internet portal to keep students, parents, and administrators in the loop regarding a student’s progress in a particular class. These online portals are likely available for your perusing now. Start the peruse! Look at your teacher’s classroom page, read their profile, learn more about them. Take a look at their classroom portal and familiarize yourself with it. This will help you get a better idea of what your semester will look like and will help you plan for the upcoming school term. 

Develop a Calendar

Calendars are hugely important, especially for high school kids. By the time most students start high school, they are involved in some kind of extracurricular. Whether that is football, chess club, theatre, or band, lots of students have things going on outside of the school day. Create a calendar that accounts for everything you are involved in. Yes. This means including your classes, practices, meetings, driver’s ed, eating, homework time, family time, and friend time. Having one place where you keep everything going on in your week will help you stay on track. 

Organize Your Supplies

School supplies are super fun to buy. I remember getting so excited to buy school supplies every year. And I won’t lie, I still get excited every time I walk into Staples or Office Max. Supplies help us stay organized and keep our chaos under control. Since your supplies do so much to keep you organized, they deserve to be organized as well. Once you have purchased the supplies you will need, organize them so they can be as effective as possible. Build your class binders, label your dividers, individualize your notebooks. Do whatever you need to to keep your supplies organized so they can help you stay organized during the school year. 

Meet Your Teachers

I know, I know. This seems a little scary at first. Many students think the best time to meet your teacher is on the first day of school. But this isn’t really true. Meeting your teachers before the school year begins is really beneficial. Meeting your teachers gives you an idea what to expect from their class so you can prepare for the nuances assigned to it. Learn about their background, talk to them about their teaching style, discover the classroom rules and guidelines. Plus, teachers love to meet their students. The better your teachers knows you, the better prepared they are to teach you in a manner that is best for you. So don’t be afraid to send them an email, drop by with a coffee, or friend them on Facebook (if they allow it!).

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Setting Gears in Motion: Study Habits

School is a complicated place. There are students of a variety of ages, backgrounds, and academic levels. There are hundreds of rooms, a giant parking lot, a large sporting complex, lockers gallor, and so many people it’s hard to keep track. School is overwhelming. So overwhelming in fact, it can cause anxiety and stress for many students. Once the anxiety and stress sets in, the students check out academically and their grades suffer as a consequence. 

But schooling doesn’t have to be a complicated mess. It can have structure and routine. For example, having a steady study schedule that encompasses all of your classes can really help eliminate stress and make room for discovery. And creating a steady study schedule begins from day one of classes. Not halfway through the semester. If you are working on creating a solid study schedule, there are some pointers to keep in mind. 

Small Increments Beat Big Ones

Beware the cram session. Cramming has been scientifically proven, over and over, to be unsuccessful and to be debilitating for students. Cramming leads to almost zero retention and can cause further anxiety before a test. Instead of spending a large block of time studying, break your block into several small blocks. For example, instead of planning to study from 5pm to 9pm the night before the test, spend the week before the test studying in 20 minute spurts each day. As we all know, attention spans are generally quite small, so make sure you are catering your study time to your attention span. 

Visual Reminders

Sticky notes are a student’s best friend. Sticky notes help you keep track of your day and your calendar, as well as important details to remember. Sticky notes are excellent visual reminders to study. Stick one on your vanity or your mirror at home. Stick them to your school work. Trust me, if you see a sticky note five times a day that says don’t forget to study, you likely won’t forget. During college, I went as far as to stick my reminder notes on my food in the refrigerator to ensure I would see them. Girls gotta eat!

Another form of visual cues for studying is color coding. You can color code your sticky notes if you so desire. But color coding mostly refers to the methods you use for actually studying. If you are a visual person, use multiple colors of pens, pencils, or highlighters during your studying to categorize information. The colors act as a secondary means for retaining the information. If you remember what category the color represents, it can help you remember the material in the category. Next time you’re studying, color code your flash cards, your vocabulary terms, your math formulas, or anything else you are studying and see if it makes a difference for you. 

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Studying is not a sprint. It doesn’t happen over a small period of time. Studying takes months and months to truly perfect. And the American public school system doesn’t lend well to this. We only give our students a few months in a class before we switch things up. Which makes creating a study routine from the get-go even more critical. Your study routine might take some getting used to, but if you remain vigilant and consistent, it will come naturally to you and studying will become a part of your everyday routine. 

Once it becomes a part of your routine, you won’t have to stress over an upcoming test, because you have been slowly preparing for it for weeks. If you feel like a deadline for an essay is approaching rapidly, have no fear, your study routine has already given you time to outline and draft your essay. Now it just needs to be polished. Remember this next time you are assigned a big project. Plot out your study routine over the next few weeks until the due date. You won’t regret being ahead of the curve. 

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Know Your Learning Style

Learning happens in many forms. We learn from our parents who instill values and culture. We learn from our teachers who encourage traditional education. We even learn from strangers about sociology and the way the world works. Learning happens all the time, all over the world. And it looks like a lot of different things. Learning takes place through trial and error, practicing or drilling, repetition, reading, and much more.  

Because learning is such a big part of our lives, it is important to understand the ways in which we learn best. There are four basic ways in which an individual can learn new information. Of course, there are versions of learning that encapsulate more than one of these styles. But generally, we learn best in very specific ways. 

Visual

If you are a visual learner, you learn best through representations. This could look like graphs, infographics, charts, and images. Visual representations provide the visual learner with important information in a format that is easiest to understand. Many of the visual learners I have encountered also possess photographic memories. Or the ability to take a snapshot of an image and remember its details. Many visual learners excel in the arts and have a proclivity for painting or drawing.

Auditory

If you are an auditory learner, you learn best through sound. Sound is an interesting thing. Auditory learners can learn through podcasts, music, and even direct-instruction like lecture. Because these learners take in information through their ears, they excel in learning that gives them an opportunity to truly listen. College is a great place for auditory learners because courses at the university level are often lecture-driven. They can listen to the information and keep it in their long term memory for later recall. 

Tactile

If you are a tactile learner, you learn best through touch. These individuals tend to have hands-on jobs as adults. Jobs like fixing cars, flying planes, or rewiring electricity currents in a home. Tactile learners excel in classes like mathematics when manipulatives are involved. They likely excel in classes like physics and chemistry where they perform hands-on experiments or lab work. Tactile learners have the ability to take things apart, learn about them, and put them back together. 

Kinesthetic

If you are a kinesthetic learner, you learn best through movement. An example of strong kinesthetic learners would be professional athletes. Kinesthetic learners like to move, and use their bodies to understand concepts and make connections. They do their best work when the learning prompt requires movement of some kind like learning stations or gallery walks. Some studies have also shown that kinesthetic learners perform better during work when they have the chance to move as well. Examples of this would be standing desks, yoga ball chairs, and treadmill desks. 

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Creating a Culture of Mistakes

Mistakes are a big part of life and learning. Unfortunately, mistakes are also often connotated with failure or stupidity. Which is largely incorrect and simply horrifying for educators. When children make mistakes, especially during their formative years, these mistakes allow their brains to focus on what not to do. Or non-examples. Non-examples can be very powerful in learning for helping to establish a precedent and a baseline for development.

I remember the feeling I used to get as a student when I made mistakes. I was instantly de-motivated and lost the confidence to continue. This was likely due to the fact that I held myself to really high standards as a student, and truly still do. Mistakes were detrimental to me, not because they weren’t helping me learn, but because the culture surrounding mistakes was so negative. Changing that culture is necessary to shift the focus to self-efficacy and confidence. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Wrong

Like me, many students are afraid to be wrong or make a big mistake. Mistakes aren’t thought of as accidents, or bad things that simply happen to you. Mistakes are thought of as decisions that individuals make through their own autonomy that leads to negative consequences. Which, in turn, makes mistakes the individual’s fault. This is not true. 

Mistakes are caused when our brain fails to create fissures, or spark synapses. And this is not our fault. When we are learning, we take in so much information all at once that details can often fall through the cracks. This is nothing to fear. It just means you need to practice the concept more and correctly in order to spark those missing synapses. 

Mistakes Lead to Learning

Mistakes are key to your learning. Without them, we have little idea about what not to do. And as we learned above, non-examples are powerful learning tools. When you make a mistake, your brain corrects the behavior or knowledge and begins storing the correct information. This can be made more difficult the longer we have practiced incorrect behavior or knowledge. Which is why mistakes in school are so critical. Your teachers can pick up on your mistakes, teach you the proper application, and begin guiding you down a journey of re-entering the correct knowledge in your brain. AKA – Learning!

Mistakes Help Track Growth

Growth and development are what all students strive for. Whether that is in a specific subject or culturally and socially. All students are looking for some amount of learning to occur and to be able to track that learning over a period of time, like a school year or a school career. Mistakes help educators keep track of that growth through formative assessments that clear up any confusion about what content is being stored and what content is falling through the cracks. Therefore, when we make mistakes, we can see them clearly in our growth cycle in the form of wrong answers on tests or incorrect usage of literary devices in essays. We can then use that data to determine what we have learned and how long it took us to learn it.