| by Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed., TPT Teaching and Coaching, 6/9/2021|
As the pandemic has begun to slowly recede, there is a high chance that many college students will be in a hybrid learning environment this fall. The combination of in-person and virtual instruction will present different sets of challenges for students. But all is not lost, what could be more exhilarating than the glory of victory despite insurmountable challenges? That is, overcoming our own obstacles by growing wings of courage to exceed beyond the walls of our own demise. The journey of a thousand miles has to begin with that first step. Be brave, take it! If done right, the benefits far outweigh the risks. Below are five secrets to getting better grades in college hybrid learning.
“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.”
-A. A. Milne
-Write in deadlines yourself. There is no other way around it. If you want your schedule to work for you, you have to organize it yourself. Self-populated, automated school calendars don't know your schedule the way you do, it doesn't understand you have a part-time job and going to school full-time or your peak productivity time is in the morning, so in order to leverage your strengths the stress-free way, you have to make your schedule work for you, manually. Either you run the schedule or it runs you.
-Create your own academic directory excel sheet. What is the point of organization if it doesn't save you time in the end? With cut and paste, you can easily create YOUR OWN academic directory of pertinent information of all your professors and campus academic centers in a single Excel sheet ( phone, email, location etc). If you have this nice cheat sheet, you will save tons of mindless busyness later. Think about it, would you rather search an email every time, or have it at your fingertips? I'm sure you're busy enough in your life. You don't need the glamor of needless work.
-Re-purpose your downtime between 9-5. A deceptively simple way to check tasks off your list is to do some of it when you have 15 -20 minutes free here and there. The minutes add up quickly, and you will be pleasantly surprised by 3pm each day that 85% of your goals have been accomplished because you had given purpose to your downtime instead of being occupied with tasks that don't bring you closer to your larger goals. The trick is you must pre-plan your free time with meaningful tasks. If you know ahead of time that you will be put on hold on the phone for a long time or sit at the doctor's office for at least 30 minutes, you can maximize that time in between by reviewing notes, studying for the next test, writing down some questions you would like to ask the professor, looking over your textbook to preview tomorrow's lecture etc. If you maximize your downtime between 9-5, you will minimize your workload throughout the day. Talk about instant stress and workload reduction!
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
-Test drive any new educational platforms (university's websites, third-party websites, grades portals, etc.) that you are not familiar with before school starts. Knowledge is power. The more you know, the better the quality of your education will be. If you are not sure how to navigate a new platform, catalogue what exactly you don't know about it and contact your school's IT department. Let's face it, technologies are our lifeline in and outside the classroom.
-Folderize your Google Drive ASAP. Be familiar with Google Drive and make it work for you. Make sure to categorize all your documents from the get-go so it can be found easily, quickly, and exactly when you need it. Isn't that the real perk of working systematically? The minutes you save will add up quickly; you will find that academic life flows much smoother. The world is your oyster if you know the ins and outs of operating Google Drive.
-Leverage convenient, library services. Students' familiarity with additional resources on- and off-campus can make academic life a whole lot easier. Get to know how your university library works, do you know how to reserve a book, enrichment classes, etc. Also, be familiar with the public library near you as a back up in case another student has their hands on the book that you had intended to borrow, you can still secure a copy at a different library. The library is also a great physical space option if you would like to create diversion to your list of dedicated space during your study time.
“Opportunity does not waste time with those who are unprepared.”
-Seek assistance early. What most students don't realize is any wrinkles that you iron out early on in the semester, it actually will translate to less amount of studying you will have to investigate and do when exam time comes. The time you have invested in getting help during professors' office hours, math labs, writing center and so on, will give you twice if not three times the return of investment you had originally put in. Of course, the rewards do not always seem obvious at first, but they are imminently present.
-Write out exactly what you don't understand before coming in for office hours. Of course, college students have busy lives and so any occasion you take time out to get help makes your time budget even tighter. So to make it time-saving as possible for you and your professor/TA, write out the exact questions you have and bring along books, packets, materials whenever you come to office hours. If you know what you need help with and come prepared, the meeting will take less time because it is efficiently arranged and executed. In this way, you get the information you need by respecting your own and the professor's time and you can get on with your day faster while getting high quality academic assistance. It is a win win.
-Create a planning ritual. At times, it may feel like the thing to do is to escape into a tv show and not look at how we might rework our schedule to fit in everything: classes, yoga, me time, sleep, work, friends, significant other, family etc. It is a lot. To reduce this "a lot" to something more manageable, we need to sit down and have a solid plan that makes sense for us health-wise, energy-wise, and academic-wise. To accomplish this, students should plan ahead so you can work smart without adding unnecessary stressors to your life. There's no formula, stick to a planning time that works for you: first thing in the morning, the night before, plan the week out every Sunday or every day after lunch. Bottom line: just make time to plan how and when you will execute all your tasks.
"It's better to do something with quality, no matter how long it takes you rather than do something mediocre, with constant quantity."
- Auliq Ice
-Spread it out. High quality work takes time and thought put into it. Therefore, you need to plan a considerable amount of the work before execution. The good news is if you plan it all out, then that is half of the battle already. Compared to execution, the planning phase is really the meat of the work. If you have planned out a great idea, then carrying it out is very efficient and time-saving. However, if there's no plan, it will create delays and inefficiency to your final product. The key to high-caliber academic performance is quality over quantity. The high performer is one who studies one hour at a time, but he absorbs every critical aspect of the subject rather than pulls an all nighter and remembers only a few small pictured facts. Study in short bursts, but make sure you fully understand the big concepts with concrete examples. Also, do work in chunks to ensure optimal final product.
-Maximize daylight hours (9am-6pm). Less is best if you would like to avoid double work. Identify your peak productivity time every day and get assignments that require the most concentration completed within that timeframe when your mental energy is at its highest. Our mental energy is often higher during the earlier part of the day. It is counterproductive to stack up tasks after tasks until late into the evenings when the academic brain has already shut down for the day after 6pm. It is ineffective to command the academic part of the brain to complete quality work when it had already left the building a long time ago.
-Avoid over-scheduling. Scope out your future weeks in advance and even out each day with an equal amount of work. Let's say you plan to do academic work 9a-4p daily, then take some of the tasks from your heavier days and move them over to your lighter day to create a more balanced workload daily to reserve your energy. Plan it out in a way that every day at around 4-5pm-ish, you have already finished with the most urgent and important deadlines. That way, the ebb and flow of your workload feel more manageable and energy-nourishing rather than draining. The key is to even it out to minimize burnout. Energy depletion easily happens when an avalanche of focus-intensive tasks crashes into you all in one day and then there is very little to do the next day. Balance out your weeks and days is the best insurance for a stress-free, academic life. Caveat: start work early.
“Education should be about learning to ask questions not memorizing answers, for today's answers won't solve tomorrow's problems.”
-Always actively listen and participate in class. The brain needs supplemental, cognitive activations to synthesize information. That is, the student needs to be mentally present and engages with the content to absorb knowledge efficiently. This process does not happen by osmosis. Active learning means the student has to do something with what they are learning and/or have learned both in and outside the classroom. Thus, the student needs to participate in class discussions by contributing meaningful answers and questions. But in order to do so, this requires deep listening and intentional, cognitive processing of the information they are taking in. It is a skill. Practice strengthens the brain circuits.
-Take notes by hand. Scientifically-proven, handwriting notes out improve memory retention and cognitive processing of content materials. The motor movement of the hand correlates to deeper cognitive imprints thereby sharpening our memory of what we have just learned. It will pay dividends to take notes by hand during class because this small act escalates the memory, which saves students abundant study time later on because the student took time to accelerate their comprehension in the vital, initial stage of learning.
-Ask and write down questions as you take in information. The more steps the student takes to activate the brain when learning a new concept, the higher the absorption and comprehension level will be. How deep the information gets cemented into the brain is entirely based on what high-quality, cognitive activity the student commits to in order to input the necessary content. By asking internal questions as the student listens to the professor's lecture or while reading an article, it helps the brain to properly process the academic content thus bringing the student's understanding to near perfection. Without meaningful engagement during the initial stage of learning, the academic information merely sits and never gets absorbed into the brain's memory properly because no activation took place to jump-start this critical cognitive process.
To learn something fully and deeply is never an easy process, but once you do, no one can ever take away what you have learned and earned, which is a special gift you have decided to give yourself in the academic journey. Do not be afraid to make mistakes as you learn, there is much courage in acknowledging your mistakes and learn from it. After all, it won't be a mistake if you have sincerely learned from it and bettered your life by it. If you have the rare bravery to truthfully examine your own shortcomings (many have made mistakes before you), you will find that within the biggest mistakes, you will gain the biggest success. So sit with it, look hard at it, find ways to make it work for you, then you will be amazed with what you can train yourself to do. Above all, learn for yourself, not for someone else. The ultimate benefactor of your accumulation of knowledge and hard work is always you. And yes, you are worth it!
For more insider's tips, learn about our University Success Playbook course. Summer is the perfect time to get ahead.
Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed.
I am a licensed professional educator, executive function expert, former tenured high school teacher and college instructor with 16 years experience. I am also a student success designer. I enjoy recognizing the missing puzzle in the student's learning and personalizing that solution in a language that is unique to that student. I love the creative challenge of inventing a new language for every child.