3 Totally Obvious Ways to Do Better in Your Hardest Class

You can do better!(Written with Kirsten O’Malley, PLA Director)

When it comes to school, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. You might plow through two chapters of American History in a single sitting, but find that five single-variable algebra problems require the kind of suffering we normally associate with polar exploration. Everyone has a “hardest class,” including you, right? Perhaps you would send your little sister to Siberia just to get a B minus in that class. Just to pass that class. But trust me, that won’t be necessary. Put that little-sister-sized cardboard box back in the garage, put the packing tape back in the drawer, and do these 3 things:

Build a good relationship with your teacher. Maybe your teacher gives you D’s on your problem sets. Do you take that personally? Guess what: your teacher WANTS you to do WELL in their class. Ask questions in class! Meet with your teacher before and after school. YOU have to schedule those meetings. If your essay comes back covered in red ink, ask your teacher directly for strategies that you can use next time. Do your test corrections, and go over them with your teacher. By doing these things, you are letting your teacher know that you CARE, and that is worth A LOT. If your teacher seems unavailable, push harder!

Pacific Learning Academy is a big supporter of the Issaquah Schools Foundation. ISF provides funding for Issaquah high schools to provide free after-school academic support. Liberty and Issaquah High Schools have dedicated days for certain subjects. Skyline has a Monday homework lab and occasional after-school study sessions arranged by departments before big exams and projects. Take advantage of these, too!

Do your homework. Oh, thanks, Captain Obvious. On the other side of the spectrum from your teacher’s perception of your hard work is the simple mathematics of grades. Imagine: you’ve gotten 83, 79, 90 and 72 on your last four homework assignments. Now here comes assignment number five, and you are completely lost. You could not do the assignment, watch TV and save yourself the pain, or struggle through and get a 50. 50% is an F. A zero is an F too. What’s the difference? The difference is that if you get half credit on the assignment, your overall average is a 75 (C) but if you skip it, your average is a 64 (F), because ZEROS KILL AVERAGES. They KILL them. If there was a stronger word for what zeros do to averages, I would use it!

Learn something here. Let me make a guess. Part of the reason you don’t do well in Geometry is that you don’t think that “special right triangles” will be useful in your future life. It’s time to change your attitude. Newsflash, kiddo: you are in geometry class (and school) because you are learning to be a successful person. Does this sound like a pep talk? Well, it is. Successful people give their best effort, manage their commitments, and learn all the time. Someday you will be a successful adult, and so you’re going to learn that truth eventually. But why not learn it in Geometry class, right now? If you just can’t muster up a real attitude change, you might try faking it. Telling yourself that something is interesting and useful can actually trick your brain into believing it, leading to long-term academic benefits.

Ever wonder why you can remember a heated argument you had in 5th grade but don’t remember what you had for breakfast yesterday? Research has shown that having an emotion, any emotion, about a subject can help you remember it. If you truly “hate” Geometry, relish your hatred. Make songs about Proportional Lines in Triangles or Geometric Probability that would rival a Taylor Swift break-up ballad. Our brains switch on and retain what we’re learning when we associate information with an emotion. Reaching out to your teacher, turning in homework – even if only half completed, and changing your attitude are key ingredients to a successful high school experience. Good Luck!

(Kirsten is the founder and Executive Director at Pacific Learning Academy. She teaches Spanish and study skills, designs curriculum, and leads the best team of instructors in the country. Clive teaches Language Arts and History, Study Skills and Math through Geometry. He’s currently developing an Integrated 11th grade Language Arts/US History course at Pacific Learning Academy.)

October 22, 2012

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