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‘Tis the Season for SMART Goals

For students, the end of the calendar year means Thanksgiving, Christmas, vacations, and, in some cases, final exams. But as the old year ends, the new year is the traditional time for resolutions and change. And for students, it’s a good time to begin planning their goals for second semester. One of the best ways to plan out change for second semester and beyond is to set SMART goals.

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What are SMART goals?

SMART goals have been used since 1981, when George T. Doran presented the acronym in a paper on setting agendas for management teams. Since that time, his framework has been used around the world to set goals for both business and personal growth.

SMART goals are goals that are 

  • Specific – What exactly do I want to happen?
  • Measurable – How will I know when I’ve reached my goal?
  • Achievable – Is it something that can be accomplished?
  • Relevant – Is it a realistic goal?
  • Time-Specific – Can I set a specific deadline for my goal to be achieved?

How are they helpful?

The biggest advantage of students setting SMART goals is that they force a student into thinking through the process to achieve their stated goals. While “getting better grades” is a great sentiment, setting that as a goal doesn’t take the process of achieving the goal into account. What do “better grades” look like? When should that happen by?

A SMARTer way of looking to improve academically, particularly for a student whose grades are suffering because of late/missing assignments, would be to set a goal of “I will begin each week by taking 5-10 minutes to write down all of my assignments for the week in a planner. I will complete each of my assignments at least a day ahead of schedule.” This goal is specific, focused, and measurable, making it easier to see accomplishment and easier to know when the goal isn’t being met. 

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And if a student sets a goal that is too far reaching or not specific enough, those goals can be revisited and retooled. If a student’s goal was to achieve a B in Algebra II, for example, that goal can be changed once the student hits that mark. 

On her blog on Scholastic.com, educator Genia Connell outlines her classroom process for using SMART goals, and she provides a worksheet for younger students to think through their academic and personal plans and goals. 

So as we approach the season of making (and breaking) resolutions, students can begin to practice the valuable life skill of setting good, attainable goals for the new semester.

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Putting the “Smart” Back in Smartphones

When I was working as a classroom teacher in the early 2000s, cell phone use by students was a relatively new phenomenon. My policy–as well as my school’s–was that cell phone use was unnecessary during school hours. Students who were caught using their phones at school had them taken away and given to the administrative office, much to the chagrin of the students involved.

Fast forward to 2019. While some teachers and parents are still fighting the tide of technology, nearly every student from elementary school on up carries a cell phone. Fortunately, if used prudently, smartphones can be great tools for educational purposes.

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Homework tracker

Many students still use paper planners to keep track of their tests, assignments, and other obligations, but cell phones are increasingly becoming the mode of choice to organize students’ calendars. Because students carry their phones everywhere, they are able to check their upcoming work quickly and easily, and they can continually adjust as new events arise.

Reminder setting

For students of all ages, smartphones can be used to help remind the students to carry out tasks throughout the day. Your child can be reminded to get a parent release signed, to be sure his/her pencil bag is filled, or to attend their weekly improv club meeting.

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Fact finding

Of course, cell phones put the knowledge of the world in students’ hands. If a teacher mentions a topic or term that is unfamiliar, a quick Google search can fill in the information gaps.

Taking board or screen photos

Teachers can sometimes move quickly through material in the classroom. Any time a student feels confused about that last trigonometry problem or the timeline of Christianity’s progression through the ancient world, she or he can snap a quick picture of the board to either revisit the information or to show it to a tutor, like the wonderful ones working at Huntington.

Note taking

Typing–or Swyping–is generally much faster for today’s students than writing by hand. Given that, smartphones can be a great way of taking important notes from class. Using apps like Evernote or OneNote can make recording and using ideas from class much more efficient.

Apps, apps, apps!

Finally, many classrooms now use specific educational apps that tie in to what’s being done in class. Teachers now routinely use document sharing apps, like Dropbox, as well as study apps, such as Quizlet, to administer their classes. College Board, the maker of the SAT, offers an SAT Question of the Day app. Smartphones make it easy for students to utilize these apps on the go.

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Of course, as with all technology, parents should set expectations with their children when it comes to cell phone use. Talking with your students about the dangers of the online world is always a good idea. But used correctly, cell phones can be a great way to enhance students’ academic experience, putting the smart back in smartphones!

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The Impact of Executive Functioning

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Bethany sat in class, nervously fidgeting with her pencil and trying to avoid the teacher’s gaze. Mr. Johns repeated his question: “Who wants to read their answer from Question 3 on the homework?” Bethany felt herself sinking lower into her chair. She knew she was supposed to complete the worksheet last night. She’d even brought it home–a triumph, since she usually ended up forgetting it at school or losing it after tucking it away in a textbook.

But she got distracted with other work, then a few YouTube videos, then some aimless web surfing. And then, suddenly, it was time for bed. She had decided she would work on the questions the next morning. But, when the morning came, she had struggled with getting her hair just right and forgotten. And now, here she sat, questions undone and prayers sent to the classroom gods that she wouldn’t get called on. 

Does any of that sound familiar? If so, then it’s possible that your student lacks the set of skills known collectively as executive functioning.

What is Executive Functioning?

Executive functioning, in general, is composed of three main areas: working memory, flexible thinking, and self control. Working memory involves remembering information so that it can be used later. One example of this would be a student remembering the main idea of a paragraph so she or he can answer questions about it. Flexible thinking involves problem solving or being able to approach a problem from multiple angles. Self control is the skill to resist distractions and temptations and to stay focused on a task.

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Not Lazy, But Lacking

Over the past several years, more emphasis has been placed on executive functioning skills than ever before. Where some students would previously have been labeled as “lazy” or “unintelligent,” research now shows that the real culprit is a lack of executive function. Those skills begin developing at an early age and continue developing all the way into a person’s early 20’s.

Without well-developed executive skills, a student has difficulty setting goals, regulating emotions, understanding others’ point of view, and sticking with tasks–all vital skills of successful adults. And while some people may possess one or more of these executive functioning abilities naturally, everyone can improve and sharpen their skills with training and practice.

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What Can We Do?

Here at Huntington, we help engender those important skills as we work with our students, making them accountable while helping them plan out tasks, use critical thinking skills, and complete assignments in a timely fashion. But there are also several helpful strategies parents can use at homework time and beyond. 

  • Look for resources. Huntington offers help for organizational skills that are proven to work, and many websites, such as Understood.org, give great suggestions.
  • Use timers for tasks, both ones involving homework and ones involving household chores.
  • Write things down–have goals for tasks readily visible.
  • Offer rewards for tasks successfully carried out.
  • Organize frequent, planned breaks (3-10 minutes) for your student. Write out their work schedule so that it can be easily seen and understood.
  • With younger learners, many games can be used to teach executive functioning skills in a non-academic format.
  • Emphasize a focus on completion of the task and not on the grindstone. Get your student to begin to see tasks as a means to an end.
  • Give pep talks–a word of encouragement can go a long way toward getting a student to repeat desirable behavior.
  • Show compassion–struggling with executive functioning can be daunting. Try to understand the difficulties your student is facing, and let them know that you’re there with them to help them succeed.

Executive functioning is sometimes known as the “CEO of the brain.” For many students, a lack of executive functioning skills is a sizable obstacle to success. By being aware of the necessity of these skills and by being willing to guide students through the process, we are ensuring that the next generation of lifelong learners will be well equipped for long-term success.

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Preparing for Exams 101

Believe it or not, semester finals are nearly here! In light of this, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best practices for preparing for those all-important exams.

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Begin your preparation early!

One of the biggest mistakes students make when it comes to preparing for any test is waiting too long to begin the study process. While teachers may set aside the last week of class (or no time at all!) to review material in class, students should start their own preparation a month before the exam. This allows for slow and repeated review of concepts from early chapters without the stress of cramming. Even setting aside 5-10 minutes nightly for review as part of a homework routine can make a huge difference.

Make up your own exam study guide!

Another beneficial practice in the exam study process is for students to make up their own study guides. While teachers often give review material for exams, a common complaint is that the official study guide doesn’t cover what’s actually on the test. Using tests and quizzes given over the course of a semester, if they’re available, can be a great way to organize the topics that the teacher will likely find important on a final. Breaking that study guide into chapters can also help to turn the exam preparation into steady chewing, rather than last-minute scarfing.

Utilize your resources!

As part of the study process, be sure to use teachers and their materials as resources. Ask questions about unfamiliar concepts. Be willing to stay after class or after school to get extra help, if necessary. Ask about the ideas that the teacher finds most important when it comes to the exam. Generally speaking, when they see students make a genuine effort to prepare, teachers are far more willing to make an effort to get those students the help they need. 

Don’t overdo it!

Be sure to break up the work into bite-sized pieces. One of the reasons that cramming is so stressful (and generally unsuccessful) is that students are attempting to memorize a massive amount of information in a very short time. One tool that can help a student through the study process is the Pomodoro Technique. In short, the idea behind Pomodoro is to work intensely for 25 minutes, then take a short break. Many students work under the misconception that a study marathon equates to success. But attempting to study for long stretches usually results in a less-than-stellar effort and a gradual loss of focus. By breaking the work into shorter bursts and taking the needed mental breaks, students can give their best effort.

Have a plan!

The most important tip of all is for students to plan out their exam study. While it does take a bit of extra effort to plan out a longer period of study for a test, the rewards of good scores and less stress are well worth the investment.

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The Day Before The Test

Tips for Preparing for the ACT and the SAT

Students preparing to take your official ACT or SAT in the coming days or months: have no fear. The day may be near, but Huntington is here to steer you clear of your woes and bring you cheer. Just a little rhyme to make you smile. I know it’s probably been a stressful time, but it’s important to maintain some level of sanity as you work through your exam prep programs and prepare for the big day of testing.

The day before your test is an important day as well. As you know, most students are in the habit of spending the day before a big test studying and cramming in any information they can. They stay up late drinking Mountain Dew and listening to heavy metal to pump them up. Or maybe that was just me. Regardless, there are some good habits (and far healthier habits) to get into the day before a crucial exam. 

To Study or Not to Study?

That is the question. Luckily it’s an easy question to answer. And the answer is definitely, absolutely, positively no. The day before your test is too late for studying. Your brain can only handle so much information in a window of time before facts and data start spewing out of your ears. For weeks you have likely been in input mode. You have been taking practice tests, reading through study guides, working with your tutors, and a number of other test preparations. Now that the test is here, it is time for output mode. You have done as much studying as you can. Put the books down and fight the urge to cram and freak out. 

The Most Important Meal of the Day

We have all been told for as long as we can remember that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And this is mostly true. But if you’re anything like me you might find yourself too busy in the mornings to make breakfast. And that’s okay! But the day before your test is a really important day to make the time to sit down and have a nice breakfast. The great thing about living in 2019 and having instant access to the world wide web is the delicious and healthy breakfast recipes available everywhere. My favorite place to check out great recipes if Tasty. Here are some fast and healthy recipes to browse! 

Self-Care

Last, but certainly not least, is the concept of self-care. If you take anything away from these pre-test strategies, I surely hope self-care is the one. Mental health is extremely important. Especially in the fast-paced and stressful world we live in today. And a huge aspect of mental health is self-care, something not nearly enough people value. Self-care means taking the time throughout your week to put yourself first and take care of your needs. For me, this looks like a quiet bubble bath, a sheet mask, and some lavender essential oils. For others, this might look like a long jog, a coffeehouse with live music, or a relaxing nap. Any way you look at it, self-care will go a long way the day before a test, so take advantage of it and plan some much needed you-time.