Entries Tagged 'College Prep' ↓

High school writing: How to help your homeschool teen

I’VE BEEN GIVING YOU an overview of the basic writing stages and writing needs of children at various grade levels. Today I’m wrapping up the series with a look at high school.

Writing is the most important academic skill students need to develop in their secondary education.

Why? Because it’s “the most visible expression not only of what [they] know but also of how well they have learned it” (Carl Nagin, Because Writing Matters).

Use these important high school years to teach, train, guide, and direct. Provide opportunities for your child to work more independently, letting the rope out bit by bit so she has a chance to prove herself. Your goal is to produce a strong, independent writer who’s equipped and confident to enter college or the workplace.

Where Should You Focus?

Secondary students need to:

  • Write clearly, concisely, and correctly for both academic and personal purposes.
  • Develop research skills.
  • Vary sentence structure beyond the subject-verb sentence.
  • Use correct conventions (spelling, grammar and usage). Incorrect or sloppy grammar distracts the audience from the content, so continue working on grammar and punctuation throughout these secondary years until you know their skills are solid.

There are no shortcuts to improving student writing achievement in your home. Teens need:

  • Skill development that builds incrementally.
  • Short, relevant, high-interest assignments.
  • Tools to help them refine word choice and sentence fluency.
  • An involved parent!

How Much and How Often?

  • Have your high schooler write regularly—4-5 days a week—for a variety of subjects.
  • 2-3 short writing projects per month makes a good goal. Your child should take these compositions completely through the stages of the writing process, from brainstorming to final copy.
  • In addition, assign 1-2 longer research papers, each of which can be spread out over an entire quarter. These can range from 4-15 pages, depending on age and skill level. Requirements for a 9th grader should not be as stringent as those for a senior.
  • Tuck in shorter essays, journal writing, book summaries, or responses to current events along the way—assignments that only take a day or so and that don’t require much in terms of editing or revising.
  • To prepare your student for college entrance exams and other timed writing situations, make sure to assign timed essays at least every other week.
  • Keeping in mind her maturity and attention span, spend about 1 hour per day on writing.

Promote Independence but Remain Involved

When our children become teens, it’s easy to think: “They’re getting older. I’ll back off and let them take responsibility.” There will come a time to step back. But that time comes when your child has proven herself trustworthy and reliable.

Even with such a dependable child, you’ll still need to monitor her work. As part of your involvement:

You need to help your teen develop self-discipline and independence, but you also need to hold her accountable. In doing so, you’re preparing her for the demands of college-level writing.

Catch the Whole Series

Helping your K-2nd grader with writing
Helping your 3rd-5th grader with writing
Helping your 5th-8th grader with writing

Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

WriteShop I and II are great programs for teaching and reinforcing the steps of the writing process to your junior high and high schoolers. 

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Where are they now?

A Success Story

I love hearing from students who have found success in school and life. Recently, I received an announcement in the mail from one of my former WriteShop I students (also a homeschool grad), who graduated summa cum laude from Gordon College.

Along with the announcement, Kaeli included a copy of an essay she had written for a grad school application—an essay limited to just 300 words. The irony of this little requirement didn’t escape either of us, for brevity was never her forte, and was in fact the very fly in her WriteShop ointment.

Back in our WriteShop days, restricting this enthusiastic writer to a single five- to seven-sentence paragraph was practically the same as torture. More than once she pleaded for eight sentences. More than once she made a passionate case for those extra adjectives. Much to her dismay, I always stood my ground.

Not that it’s a crime to write a ten-sentence paragraph or use a string of four perfect adjectives. Rather, it was all about a skill we were trying to develop in our young writers: conciseness.

Teaching conciseness is a foreign concept for many of you—you’re just happy to see a complete sentence materialize on your child’s paper! But we discovered that the same limits on paragraph length allowed parents to teach one simple WriteShop lesson to both struggling and eager writers.

The result? The reluctant child sees a doable goal (“I only have to write five sentences”), and the enthusiastic student learns to hone her writing and avoid rabbit trails and unnecessary verbiage.

Kaeli fit the latter profile. Bursting with ideas, she wanted to say it all. But her year in WriteShop taught her instead how to say it best.

Where Are They Now?

It was good to hear from Kaeli. From time to time I think of my former students and wonder, “Where are they now?” Deb and I haven’t taught a class in several years, but it’s really rewarding to see how successful many of these homeschoolers have become:

  • Pastors and missionaries
  • Military men and women
  • College graduates in a wide variety of majors including journalism, English, sociology, criminal justice, Middle Eastern studies, photography, communications, art, music, and theater
  • MA and PhD candidates in English, economics, political science, philosophy, psychology, and theology

In most cases, it’s been eight or more years since I’ve edited their fledgling writing attempts. But I’ve also read some of their recent writing. And what I see now reflects what I saw in my own son as the post-WriteShop years passed: maturity, knowledge, wisdom, growth. They express themselves in different ways, but they have all moved well beyond those WriteShop days.

Laying a Foundation

Some of you are just beginning your journey. You can’t even begin to imagine that one day your child will write an articulate, coherent thought. Others of you have taught WriteShop to several children who are now young adults succeeding in college and the workplace.

We “veterans” have learned that WriteShop served as a launching place, a training ground for instilling the basics of writing, including concreteness, conciseness, clarity, and sentence variety—skills that many incoming college freshmen lack.

Take heart. You’re teaching your children that writing is more than random thoughts tossed onto paper. You’re helping them learn to use important tools that lay a foundation for future writing—writing that will take shape and mature as their knowledge, life experiences, vocabulary, and thinking skills develop.

My girls were intuitive writers, easy to guide and easy to teach. But I didn’t have much faith that my reluctant 12-year-old son (the WriteShop guinea pig) would be able to write. Our journey was hard, and we experienced more than our share of frustration. But diligence paid off. He’s now a 25-year-old PhD candidate whose writing has actually become his work.

Your child may not become a scholar . . . and that’s okay. But good writing skills will take him far in the workplace and in life. So stay the course, and be encouraged that a great deal can—and will—happen between now and adulthood.

College prep 101: Focus on key writing skills

College Prep 101: Key writing skills help high schoolers earn higher test scores, write quality college application essays, and become a better communicators

STRONG WRITING SKILLS will help your student earn higher test scores, write quality college application essays, and become a better communicator. That’s the good news.

But as I shared recently, there’s bad news too: many college students possess dismal writing skills and are not adequately prepared for rigorous coursework.

I know this is pretty disheartening. It can be easy to give in to gloom and discouragement. Instead, let’s look at positive, practical ways to equip our teens for college-level writing.

Cover the Basics

The requirements are pretty simple, really: focus on basic but key writing skills throughout junior high and high school to adequately prepare your students.

Make sure your teens regularly write quality compositions and papers. Specifically, they should know how to write a:

  • Professional email
  • Business letter
  • Résumé
  • Clear, well-organized essay (both persuasive and expository)
  • Research paper

Minimally, by the time your teens graduates from high school, they should at least know how to:

Plan Ahead

If you teach these foundational writing skills early, you’ll still have time to introduce advanced writing and longer, more specific essays in 11th and 12th grade, including:

  • Literary analysis
  • Different types of essays (cause/effect, compare/contrast, reflection, argument, definition, etc.)
  • Research papers of various lengths

So make a plan. Keep working on your teen’s grammar and writing skills, and give purposeful writing assignments on a regular basis. Otherwise, writing will keep dropping to the bottom of the stack—and your teen will be in for a rude awakening when his college years begin.

Catch the Whole Series

College prep 101: Learn to meet deadlines

College prep 101: Take deadlines seriously

College prep 101: Create a quiet workspace

College prep 101: Limit social network time

College prep 101: Teach responsible study habits

Photo: ccarlstead, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Students are ill-prepared for college-level writing

Students are increasingly unprepared to write at the college level

A while back, I talked about the importance of strong writing skills in the workplace. Today I want to take a look at the grim statistics regarding poor writing skills on college campuses and help you explore things you can do now to ensure that your children do not join those ranks.

The Problem on College Campuses

First-time college students face their new post-high school careers with excitement, fear, and any number of challenges. But good writing, for many freshmen, may pose the biggest challenge of all.

Professors want to see concise, coherent and well-reasoned writing assignments. And regardless of the discipline—whether English, history, biology, or art—they expect students to write at a higher level than they did in high school.

Are incoming students unprepared for college writing? We hear again and again that many freshmen lack the most basic skills to write clearly, effectively, and coherently because their working knowledge of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and paragraph structure is so poor. According to a recent article by the California State University:

About 60 percent of first-time freshmen enrolling at the CSU each year do not show entry-level proficiency in [college-level English] assessments, even though they have earned at least a B average in the required college preparatory curriculum. As a result, many students must attend remedial classes, which do not count for college credit and add cost and time to earning a degree.

When High Schools Fail to Prepare Their Graduates

Tufts Daily, the independent student newspaper of Tufts University, reports that it’s becoming more and more apparent that the nation’s high schools are not devoting enough time to writing skills and may not be providing students with a strong enough writing-based curriculum.

The Tufts article notes that according to a study by the Chronicle of Higher Education, 44 percent of university faculty members say their students are simply not ready for the rigors of college-level writing.

When College Writing Courses Don’t Teach Writing

Arriving on campus is no assurance of success for incoming freshmen who need basic writing courses but aren’t necessarily getting them.

Professor Stanley Fish says universities should rethink the political and ideological emphasis of most composition classes. He rightly suggests that “unless writing courses focus exclusively on writing they are a sham.”

Fish relates that a few years ago, he became alarmed and curious about the poor writing skills his English graduate students demonstrated in their research papers. Graduate students should write well, Fish believed; especially since they were responsible for teaching undergraduate students how to write in introductory composition classes. Fish asked to see lesson plans for the 104 sections in which English graduate students taught composition to undergrads. He found that in 100 of the sections, “students spent much of their time discussing novels, movies, TV shows and essays on a variety of hot-button issues — racism, sexism, immigration, globalization.” Only four sections emphasized grammar, rhetoric, and the craft of writing well. (Eagle Forum Education Reporter)

A Sad but True Example

Several months ago, a friend came into possession of a freshman English paper and shared it with me. Sadly, it serves to reinforce the statistics and testimonials that only too frequently cross my desk. From start to finish, this student’s essay on William Blake’s “The Tyger” is riddled with errors:

  • Uncapitalized proper nouns such as jesus and greek
  • Missing punctuation, including periods
  • Casual language (“…it is actually about more than just a tiger and stuff.”) 
  • Slang (“Allusion is all over the freekin place.”)
  • Misplaced apostrophes and more slang (“Tyger’s have four feet. Cool, huh?“)
  • Use of second person (“If you look at Blake’s history…”)
  • Run-on sentences and sentence fragments
  • Absence of transitions
  • Lack of organization
  • Use of numerals instead of words (“…5 years ago…”)
  • Use of Wikipedia as a “credible” source

This student represents a mere drop in a very full bucket. Thousands of similarly skilled young men and women are accepted into major universities every year—high school graduates whose writing abilities just aren’t up to par.

You Can Make a Difference!

I could continue filling your brain with testimonials and data and examples. But why rehash when the bottom line remains the same? Students are emerging from their high-school cocoons as undernourished butterflies whose wings are inadequately developed for flying through college writing.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You’re in a privileged position to help your homeschooled students. In future articles, I’ll get into more detail, but for now, rest assured that you can:

  • Learn to identify your child’s unique grammar, spelling, and writing issues.
  • Tailor curricula and writing lessons to address those needs.
  • Make sure you’re covering the basics.
  • Expand instruction to include more college prep work.
  • Offer your child what a classroom teacher of 150 cannot: one-on-one instruction, frequent writing assignments, and detailed, consistent feedback.

Copyright © 2010 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

What does your writing reveal about you?

What Does Your Writing Reveal about You?

Words Matter Week: Day 2

Words matter. And not just the words themselves, but also the grammar, spelling, and punctuation that make those words easier and more pleasant to read and understand.

In truth, no one particularly notices when a piece of writing is structurally sound and fairly free of errors. When the reader isn’t distracted by gross misspellings or misplaced apostrophes, he’s able to take in the words and thoughts in a simple, straightforward manner.

That’s one reason it’s so important that we write with care—and teach our kiddos to do the same.

Does Casual Writing Have Its Place?

This isn’t to say that everything we write needs to be pressed through the “grammar sieve” to strain out every wayward punctuation mark or imprecise word. I’m all for casual writing in the appropriate context, such as a quick note left on the kitchen table or a slapdash email to a friend. And I truly understand typing errors we all make when our flying fingers transpose a couple of letters or we miss the “shift” key.

But when a piece of writing—even a casual email or comment on a discussion board—contains pervasive errors, keyboard accidents can no longer be blamed. As an example, here’s a simple snippet from a blog comment I came across some time ago:

now i know its been WAY to long!! the only one I can reckonsie is Alvin and thats because hes a boy! I so need to come a visit ya’ll this summer and see the family, its been to meny years

What does your writing reveal about you?

Oh, dear.

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Our writing can reveal certain things about us. For example, what conclusions do you draw about this particular writer based on her one little writing sample? Is she kind? Friendly? Most likely. Educated? Careful? Attentive to detail? Probably not.

Granted, careless grammar doesn’t bother everyone. People who don’t use proper grammar and spelling themselves won’t know (or for that matter, care) whether you or your children use proper grammar and spelling.

But many people are pretty picky about such things—college admissions folks and employers among them. Your student’s writing may be judged and perhaps even rejected simply for failing to stick to conventions. Why?

  • Valid arguments lose their credibility and impact when the text is riddled with typos and grammatical errors.
  • Spelling errors and poor grammar can suggest that a job or college applicant is sloppy at best and ignorant or uneducated at worst.
  • If an employee is not attentive to detail in emails, reports, or memos, the promotion may go to someone who is.

Conventions? What Conventions?

OK, I admit it. It’s hard for me to write anything—even an e-mail—without editing and revising it a dozen times. I’m sure part of that comes from being a writer and an author of a writing curriculum. I feel like my writing is always under the microscope, even when it’s not.

This doesn’t mean everyone has to be that way. A quickie email to a good friend can have a bunch of sentence fragments and a misspelled word—and in that context, who really cares? But when writing is up for public scrutiny—even on a discussion board—and you hope to be taken seriously, you’ll want to give as much attention to convention as to content.

Find the Errors

Just for kicks, scroll back up to the writing sample and see how many errors you can find before you read my list below. There are a lot! Even better, ask your children to edit it. It would make a great lesson.

Here are the mistakes I found.

  • now – should be Now (as in: Now, children, a sentence always begins with a capital.)
  • i – should be I
  • its – missing apostrophe (it’s)
  • to – should be too
  • !! – never use more than one exclamation point
  • the – see #1
  • reckonsie – should be recognize (as in: I almost didn’t recognize that word.)
  • thats – missing apostrophe (see #2)
  • hes – missing apostrophe (notice a pattern here?)
  • a visitand visit? for a visit?
  • y’all – I’ll give her this one since it’s a casual note.
  • comma splice – …see the family; it’s been too many years. Or …see the family. It’s been too many years. Or …see the family because it’s been too many years.
  • its, to – see #2 and #3
  • meny = should be spelled many (as in: Goodness! I’ve found so many mistakes.)

So . . . how’d you do? Did I miss anything?

The Final Draft

Here’s the gussied-up version—with proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation:

Now I know it’s been WAY too long! The only one I can recognize is Alvin, and that’s because he’s a boy! I so need to come visit y’all this summer and see the family; it’s been too many years.

The friendly sentiments shine through, don’t they? It’s like cleaning soot from a window. Instead of zeroing in on the grimy, dirty pane, we can focus on the cheerful scene beyond the glass.

Just as cleaning up grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors greatly enhanced the message above, editing and polishing our own writing can clear the way for our message too. So make it a point to teach your children proper writing conventions, because words—and the way we write them—matter.

. . . . .

Don’t forget to enter our Words Matter Week haiku contest. Deadline is Sunday, March 7, 2010. Contest has ended.

Photos: Andreas Levers and Alex Proimos, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Why on-the-job writing skills are more important than ever

Will your teens have strong on-the-job writing skills? Studies show it's more important than ever if they hope to get---and keep---a job.

We parents give an awful lot of thought to what our children will do once we’re done homeschooling. Will they go to college or university? Take a vocational track? Enter the ministry? Will they become scientists or mortgage lenders? Clerical workers or nurses? Entrepreneurs or educators?

One thing seems clear: No matter the profession, studies show it’s more important than ever that your teen develop good writing skills if he or she hopes to get—and keep—a job.

Writing: A Ticket to Work . . . or a Ticket Out

According to a survey polling 120 American corporations (whose payrolls include nearly 8 million people), an employee’s on-the-job writing skills can either hinder or advance him in the company.

The survey may be a few years old, but its ramifications remain relevant today. Here are some of the survey’s findings:

  • People who cannot write and communicate clearly will not be hired and are unlikely to last long enough to be considered for promotion.
  • Two-thirds of salaried employees in large American companies have some writing responsibility. “All employees must have writing ability,” said one human resource director.
  • Eighty percent or more of the companies in the service and finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) sectors, the corporations with the greatest employment growth potential, assess writing during hiring. “Applicants who provide poorly written letters wouldn’t likely get an interview,” commented one insurance executive.
  • Half of all companies take writing into account when making promotion decisions.
  • More than 40 percent of responding firms offer or require training for salaried employees with writing deficiencies. Based on the survey responses, it appears that it may cost American firms as much as $3.1 billion per year to remedy poor writing skills. “We’re likely to send out 200–300 people annually for skills-upgrade courses like ‘business writing’ or ‘technical writing,’” said one respondent.

You can read the entire report here.

Focus on Key Writing Skills

What does this mean for your child? Simply, it doesn’t matter whether or not she’s college-bound. If she expects to succeed in the workplace, she’ll need to demonstrate better-than-average writing skills.

So make sure to focus on basic but key writing skills throughout junior high and high school to adequately prepare her. Minimally, by the time your teen graduates from high school, she should know how to:

  • Write a clear, well-organized essay.
  • Write a business letter.
  • Use correct grammar.
  • Use proper punctuation, including correct use of quotation marks and apostrophes.
  • Use good sentence structure, including avoiding run-on sentences and sentence fragments.
  • Avoid using slang and shortcuts common to texting and instant messaging.
  • Properly site sources (avoiding plagiarism).
  • Self-edit and proofread her own writing.

Helpful Resources

If you’re looking for a place to start or need a few supplemental resources, check out some of these links and products:

Photo: Isabelle, courtesy of Creative Commons

Essay writing: Developing a strong thesis statement

Discovering interesting topics is a critical component of the essay-planning process. However, a good topic is not enough to guarantee a successful paper. The goal of the initial prewriting stage is not to come up with a subject or a topic, per se, but to identify a controlling idea that will help guide and shape the student’s essay and direct her brainstorming efforts.

Why Write a Thesis Statement?

An essay focuses on a particular concept, idea, or scenario and tries to say something unique about it. It shouldn’t be a sprawling report of all possible facts and details. Instead, essay writing is about choosing and analyzing the most important elements necessary for advancing a particular position. Therefore, the thesis statement for an essay represents a condensed and carefully thought-out argument that will define, guide, and set the tone for the entirety of your student’s paper.

What Is a Thesis Statement?

A thesis statement presents, in one or two sentences, the central, controlling argument of an essay. It explicitly identifies the purpose of the paper and/or previews its main ideas. Everything your student writes throughout the essay should in some way reinforce this primary claim. A good thesis statement should:

  1. Concisely present the central idea of the essay.
  2. Guide the direction of the paper and establish priorities
  3. Take a definitive stand that justifies the case your student is about to make.
  4. Articulate a specific, arguable point with which people could logically disagree. It helps to ask what is new, interesting, contestable, or controversial about the topic. If the student is presenting a claim or statement that no one would argue against, then he’s not saying anything worth reading. 
    • Uncontestable claim: The world would be a better place without war.
    • Contestable claim: Christians should not participate violently in war.
    • Uncontestable claim: Domestic terrorism is on the rise in the United States.
    • Contestable claim: The rise of domestic terrorism reflects an increased disillusionment with the United States government.
  5. Effectively answer the prompt or question (if given).
  6. Be thoughtfully and deliberately worded.
  7. Avoid vague generalizations.
  8. Use clear and concrete language.
  9. Pass the “So what?” test of significance. A good thesis should be substantial and important, so ask, “Who cares?” or “What difference does it make?” 
    • Insubstantial claim: Students at ABC University have school spirit.
    • Substantial claim: The strong sense of community at ABC University is evident in its students’ commitment to campus functions and organizations. This challenges the prevailing characterization of Generation X as apathetic, uninvolved, and lazy.

College prep 101: Take deadlines seriously

College Prep 101 | Keeping a calendar helps teens take deadlines seriously and balance multiple projects.

This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy

CAN YOU imagine a student telling his college professor: “Could I have another week? My sister was hogging the computer.” or “Sorry I missed the test yesterday—I was too tired—but I can make it up tomorrow afternoon.”

We can laugh at how ridiculous this sounds, but the truth is, you’ve probably caved to these very requests yourself.

But We’re Homeschooling!

For homeschoolers, it’s easy to let deadlines slide. The sense of urgency just doesn’t exist at home as it does in the traditional school setting.

Homeschooling brings with it a false sense of security that says, “We have time … what’s the rush … he’s only 14 … that’s why we’re homeschooling,” and so on. As a result, many homeschooling parents either don’t give due dates at all, don’t adhere to them if they do, or don’t impose consequences for late assignments.

Do you want your student to succeed in college? Of course you do! Then you need to realize that in the real world, permissiveness will never fly. Together, it’s time to begin to take deadlines seriously.

Create a System for Keeping Track


You need a system for posting and keeping track of deadlines. The best method is to post a large monthly calendar in a prominent spot (in your school area, on the fridge).

Even if you use a lesson plan book and give your student daily assignments, it’s so helpful to be able to step back and see—at a glance—clearly marked essay or project deadlines and test dates. {The links in this post are my affiliate links because I’m convinced you’ll love these calendars.}

A calendar of this nature gives your teen a quick daily review of the panorama of impending deadlines. This prevents dreaded “due date creep” where it suddenly dawns on a procrastinating student that he has a test, an essay, and a science project all due in the next day or two.

It also encourages the student to pace himself more carefully when working on big projects, including spreading out the work over several days or weeks, and starting the project early enough to finish without having to pull an all-nighter.

A college-course syllabus is sure to include one or more long-term assignments, so developing the habit of scheduling and pacing will prepare him well for handling multiple deadlines that typify college work.

Catch the Whole Series

College prep 101: Learn to meet deadlines

College prep 101: Create a quiet workspace

College prep 101: Limit social network time

College prep 101: Teach responsible study habits

College prep 101: Focus on key writing skills

Photo: Dave Johnston, courtesy of Creative Commons.

College prep 101: Teach responsible study habits

College Prep 101 | Responsible Study Habits - It's a myth that procrastinators work better under pressure. so teach good study habits while they're still in high school.

MRS. SMITH teaches a weekly composition class. One evening she gets an email from one of her students.

Student: Is it okay for me to cite Wikipedia as a resource when I write my paper?
Mrs. Smith: May I ask why you waited until 6:45 p.m. to begin an essay that’s due tomorrow?

Sound familiar? You assign a report on Aztec culture, and you ask your teen to turn it in to you three weeks from now. But when will he typically start working on it?

That’s right—a day or two before it’s due!

Squelching a Myth

We’ve heard it. Perhaps we’ve even said it: I work better under pressure.

But actually, studies have shown that pressure and procrastination cause myriad problems.

“Psychologists have focused on procrastination among students because the problem is rampant in academic settings; some 70 percent of college students report problems with overdue papers and delayed studying,” according to Joseph Ferrari, associate professor of psychology at Chicago’s DePaul University.

Procrastinators generally don’t do well under pressure,” says Ferrari. The idea that time pressure improves performance is perhaps the most common myth among procrastinators.

[A study by Tim Pychyl, Ph.D.] found that “procrastination is detrimental to physical health. College students who procrastinate have higher levels of drinking, smoking, insomnia, stomach problems, colds and flu.”

~from “Stand and Deliver,” Psychology Today

Obviously, there’s more than just a deadline at stake here. So what can you as a parent do to help your teen develop consistency and routine before he heads off to college?

Teach Responsibility

The wise parent will begin early to teach study habits for college. Weave responsibility into your expectations for your student’s academic performance. Make it clear that his all-nighters or similar day-before heroics do not amuse or impress you.

As adults, we know what it’s like to work under pressure, and though many of us say we function better that way, in reality it is VERY stressful and counterproductive, and our families usually bear the brunt of our short tempers and long hours—even when the end result is worthwhile. Instead, tell your teen you expect him to schedule his work in advance and tackle it with his full attention.

Divide and Conquer

Start out by breaking longer assignments into chunks and establishing mini due dates along the way. If it’s a research paper, for example, set deadlines for topic selection, brainstorming, thesis statement, note-taking and research, outlining, bibliography, and rough and final drafts. Put these on a master calendar. That way, he can pace himself not only with this project, but with everything else vying for his time.

If, during the same two weeks, he is working on his paper, performing at the community playhouse, taking a biology test at the homeschool co-op, and going to winter camp with the youth group, he needs to plan well—and early—so he doesn’t end up with the proverbial freeway pileup when everything comes due at once.

Secret to Success

What is the most consistent difference between the college student who is snowed under and the one who is calm, happy, and academically successful?

It’s the successful student’s ability to use organization and study techniques to simplify his life, whereas the stressed-out student tends to fly by the seat of her pants—hoping she lives through the semester one anxious assignment at a time. Building an early—and strong—association between good habits and school work will pay off in the long run.

Catch the Whole Series

College prep 101: Take deadlines seriously

College prep 101: Learn to meet deadlines

College prep 101: Create a quiet workspace

College prep 101: Limit social network time

College prep 101: Focus on key writing skills

Photo: MC Quinn, courtesy of Creative Commons.

College prep 101: Limit social network time

College Prep 101: Limit Social Network Time | Teach teens the value of unplugging during school time

YOUR TEEN lives in the modern world. Between phone calls, texting, email, instant messages, Facebook, and any other number of social media opportunities that distract her, she has to learn to establish boundaries for herself in order to get any work done at all.

Do Not Disturb

When she’s hammering out a paper or other project, there should be none of this electronic interruption until she’s finished, and for good reason. Setting aside these distractions is sort of like hanging an e-version of the “do not disturb” sign. And now I’m going to become very unpopular with your teen—and so will you, if you take my advice!

Unplug the Internet cable during her computer time and turn off her cell phone, if she has one.

Yes, unplug. She may not appreciate it, but you’ll do your teen a favor to limit social network time.This will make it impossible to go online or get interrupted by a text message while she’s working on an essay or report. If she needs to do research online, have her separate the research process from the writing process. Let her work online . . . and then simply unplug the cable when her research is complete.

What’s the Big Deal?

When your student tries to do schoolwork while catching up on Instagram or texting with friends, she loses the ability to focus and concentrate. As a result, the quality of her work suffers. In addition, she’ll require more time to finish the project. For one, the interruptions themselves take time. But more importantly, these breaks—no matter how short in duration—require her to keep refocusing when she finally returns to the task at hand.

College Prep 101: Limit Social Network Time

I regularly experience this myself. I have two tasks open on the desktop, my email open on the laptop, and a barrage of projects stacked on my work surface. When I flit back and forth among them like a restless butterfly, I often close out my day feeling like I got absolutely nothing accomplished. Instead, I end up with myriad loose ends dangling everywhere and just as much on my to-do list as when I woke up.

But when I commit myself to one project at a time, visit my inbox a few times a day instead of several times an hour, and steer clear of both Facebook and the phone during those designated working hours, I am so much more productive as I pick off a whole bunch of little tasks (or take a nice chunk out of a bigger project). The sense of accomplishment is huge for me—and your teen can experience this too.

One of my favorite desktop apps is Strict Workflow. When your student clicks the icon, she is automatically shut out of Facebook or other favorite websites for a set period of time (it’s both customizable and free). Strict Workflow makes a good option for a teen who’s fairly responsible as a rule but can lose track of time.

Goodbye to Multitasking

Making electronic access difficult (or impossible) forces your student to pour all her concentration and effort into her writing. This ability to separate work from play is of the utmost importance at college where she won’t have your help making such wise choices. In your “home training center,” once your teen figures out how much easier it is to write a paper in an uninterrupted chunk of time, she may never go back to multitasking again!

That’s it for now—I’m off to take a dose of my own medicine.

Please do not disturb.

Catch the Whole Series

College prep 101: Take deadlines seriously

College prep 101: Learn to meet deadlines

College prep 101: Create a quiet workspace

College prep 101: Teach responsible study habits

College prep 101: Focus on key writing skills

Photo: Pablo Viojo, courtesy of Creative Commons.
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