August 30, 2015

Lessons From My Daughter: Creative Habits of Successful Students


I have her permission to tell you this: my 16-year-old daughter is not the smartest kid in her class.

She says so herself. When her peers tell her, "You're so smart," she usually responds, "No, I'm not. I'm just organized, and I work hard."

Oh, but our Lydia is loving and lovely, and her dad and I are crazy about her. And we are so grateful she has a capable, healthy mind and that she is motivated to work hard. We take neither her mind nor her motivation for granted.

But our first-born does not score in the highest percentiles on standardized exams. She won’t be getting a 2000 on the SAT. We didn't need to have her take the entrance test to know she would not have been accepted into our area’s accelerated math and science program. (Which is fine, because she detests math and science.) She struggles to figure out sales tax without a calculator. She needed a tutor to get through geometry. She will not be the valedictorian or salutatorian on graduation day. She doesn't particularly like school. I suspect her IQ is average.

And yet: heading into her junior year in high school, and after carrying her toughest academic load yet, she’s holding onto a 4.0 GPA. She’s been Student of the Month several times and was recently inducted into National Honor Society. When teachers tell students to work with a partner, Lydia’s classmates ask for her. In band, she’s first-chair clarinet, marching band section leader, and a repeat honor’s ensemble participant. She takes five dance classes a week and in her spare time leads kids’ small-group time and summer camp workshops at church.

I’m not saying all this to brag about her. (Really!) And to parents who might be thinking, “Big deal! You should hear what my kid does!” I earnestly say, “Congratulations! You must be so proud!“

I’m sharing Lydia's story because I’ve noticed five habits she's chosen to hone that could help other average-minded students succeed—both in school and out of it.

This isn't about a GPA or a list of achievements. This is just about what has worked for my daughter. Maybe one or more of these habits will work for your student, too.

1. Review. Practice. Repeat. “Practice makes perfect”? I don't think so. I’ve watched Lydia study algebra and listened to her play the clarinet and snuck glances at her rehearsing dances, and in most cases, what practice actually seems to make is possible.

Lydia reviews study notes again and again. She goes over dances in our living room so often that her father and I hardly ever get to spend any time in there. She practices her clarinet solos over and over until even I have every note memorized. 

Still, she's never perfect when she takes the test or plays the song or performs the dance. There's always something that could be better. But her practice usually makes it possible for her to get the grade or the rating or the performance she's after. 

She's learned that practice is stronger than nerves. Lydia is almost always nerved-up before a test or competition or performance, but all those reviews and repetitions train her mind and fingers and legs to do what needs to be done, in spite of butterflies in her
stomach.
Smart students set themselves up for success by redoing, rehearsing, and rehashing—and then doing it all again. That old “I work best under pressure” claim? Most successful learners recognize a veiled excuse for procrastinating when they see it and have figured out that repeated exposure to material—scales or scientific formulas or whatever—spread out over time is what really gets the job done.

High achievers also know they cannot only rely on learning in the classroom or dance studio or on the athletic field; they have to review, practice, and repeat on their own. When the owner of Lydia’s dance studio announced the scholarship award Lydia would eventually receive, she first described the recipient without naming her name. My daughter didn't know in advance that she'd won the award, but as soon as her teacher said "she practices all the time at home,” Lydia knew preparation had made her dream possible.

2. Make tools accessible. At the end of the last school year, there were biology final exam review sheets taped up all over our house. If I'd wanted to, I could have learned about passive transport while I was
brushing my teeth. (I didn't want to, BTW.) On weekends, Lydia’s clarinet is usually assembled and perched on its stand in our formal dining room-cum-music room. In her bedroom, various piles of papers, books, and other materials are strategically scattered all over the place.

Smart students eliminate obstacles to doing what they need to do. If Lydia’s clarinet is hidden away in her case (or, worse, left in her band locker at school), she’s a lot less likely to practice than if all she has to do is pull her instrument off the stand, stick it in her mouth, and play. And those biology review sheets decorating my bathroom wall? One-stop shopping for exam prep and dental hygiene.

3. Rotate subjects, strategies, and settings. Trying to cram one subject for long stretches is not the most productive way to truly learn a thing, and savvy students know it. 

Lydia’s studying, practicing, and free time away from school usually looked something like this last year:
Mixing up environment, tools, methods, and activities helps learning take hold. Dancing releases stress and clears Lydia's mind for further memorization. Pizza with family boosts the feel-good chemicals in her brain, so everything else work better. And while she sleeps, the problems my daughter has solved, the vocab she has memorized, and the scales she has practiced get mentally filed away for future recall.

4. Get creative with time management.  Lydia’s time is crunched (whose isn't?), so she’s gotten really good at maximizing her waking hours. She loads review sheets into plastic storage bags for shower study sessions. She does balance and core-building exercises while she brushes her teeth. She listens to required reading on audio books while she figures out what she’s wearing for the week. All this doubled-up effort leaves her a little time for mindless TV and sleeping in on weekends—both of which play their own part in her success.

5. While you’re eking out the little picture, keep the big picture in mind. (Or, make the choice to do what you have to do today so that tomorrow you might have the choice to do what you want to do.) When my daughter gets bogged down in the minutiae of high school required classes and course credits, I encourage her to keep her mind’s eye on what she wants to do someday.

Besides music, Lydia loves working with preschool–age kids. Area community colleges offer programs in her field, and on a different note (literally), she found out that if she attends a particular community college, she can enroll as a guest student in the marching band of a local university. It's possible that only a couple years down the road, my daughter could spend her days alternating between getting a degree in early childhood education, working at a preschool, and playing her clarinet in an esteemed marching band. All of which she would love.

But to get to that point, Lydia, like most good students, has to muddle through formulas for respiration and quadratic equations and research papers. In the middle of this muddling, she reminds herself that doing what she has to do now—and doing it well—is setting her up to be able to do what she enjoys down the road.


I sometimes wish my daughter had been gifted with a genius-level IQ that might make learning come easily. But most of the time, I’m thankful she's had to work hard to achieve success. She couldn't choose the mind she was born with, but she does have the power to choose how she uses the mind she has. In the future Lydia is building for herself, she’ll certainly have to keep working diligently. But because of the habits she’s practicing now, I think she’ll know what to do and how to do it well. 

And the hope of witnessing my daughter succeeding at something she loves is more valuable to me than an off-the-charts SAT score any day.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

Okay, mamas, what's your best good-student strategy? Don't keep it to yourself...share it here. Post a tip, or leave a link!

Gratefully shared with:
Tell It To Me Tuesdays

16 comments:

  1. Having a gifted IQ creates different struggles, anyway. And the skills she has learned will serve her so well in every area of her life. You must be raising her very well!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Jamie. No doubt you are right about the struggles "gifted" kids face. I am thankful our daughter is being "forced" to hone habits that will be of use to her in school and beyond. Thanks for taking time to stop by and to comment!

      Delete
  2. These are some great tips.. My daughter is still not going to the school, but I definitely need to remember some of these, especially stuff about time management.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Marina! Enjoy your sweet time with your daughter now, but be encouraged: you have so much to look forward to in the future, too! :)

      Delete
  3. I love this so much! I'll take a normal IQ with great work ethic over a high IQ any day! Your daughter is an inspiration to me as I raise my own. One loves school and the other doesn't but these tips will help them both. So glad I found you on Motivation Monday!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, thank YOU so much, Meredith...that is sweet encouragement to me. And I absolutely agree with you about the high IQ vs. work ethic. I feel my daughter's stress as she works and struggles sometimes, but I know the skills she is getting good at will serve her well in so many ways. Blessings to you as you raise your girls...thank you for stopping by!

      Delete
  4. Thank you for sharing,It is so inspiring and encouraging.II will use the tips to help my children.God bless you and your daughters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! I'm glad it came across that way. :) And God bless YOU and yours...thank you for taking time to visit my little blog!

      Delete
  5. I'm going to share this with my daughter. It's good of you to share it!

    Blessings from Harvest Lane Cottage,
    Laura

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Laura...I'm glad you found something worth sharing on my little list! Blessings to you...I just visited your sweet site, and I'll be following you now on Pinterest (a.k.a., "It's so Pinteresting"...love it!).

      Delete
  6. Love this! What a mature daughter you have - love her creative multi-tasking and self-awareness of her own learning needs. Great ideas to keep in mind as my kids get older and need coaching on how to keep it all together.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Kathryn! I'm awfully proud of my daughter but also so glad for her that she's honed these habits I know will serve her well out of the classroom, too. Thanks so much for taking time to stop by this morning! :)

      Delete
  7. Great tips for when my children are older! We've only just begin our schooling journey but I want them all to be good students!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by, Anastasia! Blessings to you on your schooling journey! :)

      Delete
  8. Good for Lydia! She is living proof of what I tell students and parents all the time- Organization can cover a multitude of sins!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, yes, yes, Maureen! You are SO right about that! A multitude of sins, confusion, discouragement, and just plain not being all that great at or fond of a particular subject! :)

      Delete

I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to tell me what you really think. Years ago, I explained to my then-two-year that my appointment with a counselor was "sort of like going to a doctor who will help me be a better mommy." Without blinking, she replied, "You'd better go every day." All of which is just to say I've spent some time in the school of brutal honesty!