[Students Only: Get Organized a.k.a. Spring Cleaning]


You might be tempted to roll your eyes when your parents tell you to clean your room — but the truth is, chaos breeds chaos, and order breeds clarity. Having a clean and clutter-free study space will help you focus (I could cite studies here, but it’s logical, right?)


At the same time, keeping track of assignments, organizing notes, filing old papers, quizzes, and tests, lining up textbooks, and cleaning out your schoolbag(s) has many practical purposes:

  • You will feel more in control of your schoolwork. Greater agency will lead to empowered learning.
  • If you are behind on assignments, you will know exactly what assignments you are behind on. Only then can you develop a plan for catching up. Organizing your work is the first step in catching up if you are behind.
  • Organizing is a practical results-oriented task. There will be  direct, positive results from organizing your work. VOILA! Guaranteed satisfaction. Start small and develop your own system. Do what works for you. This small step will propel you forward.
  • If your school is tech-friendly, chances are your assignments are on your computer: they can be organized on a folder (or one of many) or an online system. I’ve heard horror stories of computer crashes, deleted files, viruses, and mysterious tech versions of the dog eating your homework. So, back up your work. Seriously. Get a flash drive for each subject. Or, print out assignments (prompts and your work) and keep them in a binder. Call me old-fashioned, but holding your work in your hands can often give you a sense of pride in your efforts and achievements.


  • Organizing can help you celebrate your accomplishments. Stop and re-read your teacher’s comments on that fantastic history paper. Reflect on what made your paper so darn good. Then file away your paper (where you can find and access it), to give it the respect it deserves: hey, it’s the product of your hard work. You deserve to pat yourself on the back.
  • Organizing can also help you face your disappointments. If a grade on your algebra test has you feeling down, burying that test in your school bag isn’t going to help matters. In fact, pretending that no-so-terrific test doesn’t exist will most likely add to your shame and embarrassment about a not-so-terrific grade. You have to get over it. Look over your mistakes with your teacher or tutor and see where you went wrong. Make corrections whether you get credit for them or not. Then file that test away as well. We all have things in our “binders of life” that we’re not so proud of, but facing them makes us brave and ready to take on the next challenge.
  • It’s really not that hard to get organized. In fact, you can make the experience pleasant by doing it with a friend, blasting your favorite music, or enjoying some much needed time alone. What makes getting organized difficult is when we procrastinate getting organized. Avoidance is a form of anxiety. But we can easily tackle that nagging dread by just doing it. Trust me, this is a relatively painless exercise that can garner positive results.
  • Organize regularly. The key to being organized is to do it consistently.

Personal Qualities Not Measured By Tests: Thank You, Maria Montessori



Maria Montessori, the educator, physician, innovator, feminist, and mother of the Montessori child-centered method of education is an influence on my holistic approach to learning. One rudimentary Montessori philosophy includes creating a learning environment that stimulates active learning (for more on active listening click here) and community building. How do you do this? As parents, you might think this means covering your child’s walls with posters of multiplication tables or the quadratic formula. Sure, that might be helpful, but that’s not exactly what Dr. Montessori had in mind. To create an environment that stimulates active learning, tap into your child’s interests. Find ways to use those interests (dinosaurs, ballet, rap music, photography, gardening, drawing) as motivating forces. Inquisitiveness breeds empowerment, and the more a child can discover the interconnectedness of the world, the more apt he or she will want to engage with it in a meaningful way. In practical terms, create a safe, empowering, and, yes, “cool” study environment for your child, whether he or she is 6 or 16. Trust me, even adolescents will appreciate the gesture, (though they might have more of a say into creating a study space than a six-year-old).

As test season is upon us, here are a couple of principles to bear in mind: these are principles that are valuable human qualities that standardized tests do not measure. Fill your child’s study space with reminders of these qualities. Perhaps you can create a craft project with your child or use refrigerator magnets to spell out these words to remind young people that the following qualities have just as much value (if not more) than the SAT word of the day:


Cartoon by Dave Walker

Cartoon by Dave Walker

If you need to speak your child’s language, add a hashtag. #justdoit and remember the power of words (hey, I still love encouraging texts from my parents).  These signifiers, or reminders, will reinforce how much you believe in your child or adolescent, who has so much to offer the world.




The Body-Mind Connection Boosts Learning (And Makes Life More Fun)


In my work with children and adolescents, I practice techniques to draw on the powerful and proven connection between the body and mind (see The American Psychological Association article for information on coping with stress and how to manage it for tips to boost mental and physical health). How we treat and inhabit our bodies can vastly improve mental functioning (and vice-versa) — from how we approach study habits to dealing with the mental stress of school, testing, and being a child and adolescent in today’s accomplishment-driven culture.

Some skills I incorporate into my practice (and encourage students to do on their own) include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Positive imagery exercises
  • Healthy sleep, exercise, and eating habits
  • Being physical and having fun with our bodies (exercise, play)
  • Getting in touch with sensory awareness
  • Breaking down academic successes and reliving them (we tend to remember the failures more than our triumphs)
  • Finding the connection between thoughts, emotions, and body changes (such as headaches, stomachaches, and back pain)
  • The power of positive thinking to inspire new perspectives

“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”
― Alphonse KarrA Tour Round My Garden

Here’s a sample sensory awareness exercise I’ll assign students to help activate mindful thinking, and build upon their powers of observation:

  • On your route walking to school or an after-school activity (usually a route that you girl-blowing-dandelionare so familiar with you are probably preoccupied with your own thoughts while walking it) and instead of focussing on your thoughts, concentrate on noticing the details of your surroundings. What are the sounds, smells, sights you encounter? Do these sounds, smells, or sights make you think or feel anything? What? Parents can help guide younger children through this exercise. The result: mindfulness emerges, and we will become more in tune with immediate experiences rather than dwelling in distracting thoughts.


Breaking News! College Board Announces New Changes to the SAT


Today, the College Board announced some MAJOR changes to the SAT. Starting in spring 2016, the new SAT will:

  • Have three sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, Math, and the Essay.
  • Return to the 1600 scale. The essay will provide a separate score. For about a half a century, the SAT had a math and reading section, each scored from 200 to 800. Then in 2005, the College Board implemented a new writing section, introducing a perfect score of 2400. Now the test will go back to a 1600 scale.
  • Be approximately three hours in length, with an additional 50 minutes for the essay. The precise time of the exam will be affirmed through research.
  • Be administered both in print and by computer in 2016.
In addition, major changes to the exam include:
  1. Relevant words in context: “SAT words” will no longer be vocabulary students may not have heard before and are likely not to hear again. Instead, the SAT will focus on words that students will use consistently in college and beyond.
  2. Evidence-based reading and writing. Students will be asked to support answers with evidence, including questions that require them to cite a specific part of a passage to support their answer choice.
  3. Essay analyzing a source: The essay will measure students’ ability to analyze evidence and explain how an author builds an argument to persuade an audience. Responses will be evaluated based on the strength of the analysis as well as the coherence of the writing. The essay portion of the writing section will no longer be required. Two major factors led to this decision. First, while the writing work that students do in the reading and writing section of the exam is deeply predictive of college readiness and success, one essay alone historically has not contributed significantly to the overall predictive power of the exam. Second, feedback from College Board member admission officers was split; some found the essay useful, many did not. The College Board will promote analytical writing throughout their assessments and instructional resources. The organization will also sponsor an awards program modeled after the Pulitzer Prize for the best student analytical writing. The Atlantic magazine has agreed to publish the winners.
  4. Math focused on three key areas: The math section will draw from fewer topics that evidence shows most contribute to student readiness for college and career training. The exam will focus on three essential areas: problem solving and data analysis; the heart of algebra; and passport to advanced math. Students can study these core math areas in depth and have confidence that they will be assessed.
  5. Source documents originate from a wide range of academic disciplines, including science and social studies: The reading section will enable students to analyze a wide range of sources, including literature and literary non-fiction, science, history and social studies.
  6. Analyzing data and texts in real world context: Students will be asked to analyze both text and data in real world contexts, including identifying and correcting inconsistencies between the two. Students will show the work they do throughout their classes by reading science articles and historical and social studies sources.
  7. Founding Documents and Great Global Conversation: Each exam will include a passage drawn from the Founding Documents of America or the Great Global Conversation they inspire — texts like the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  8. Scoring does not deduct points for incorrect answers (rights-only scoring): The College Board will remove the penalty for wrong answers — and go to the simpler, more transparent model of giving students points for the questions they answer correctly. Students are encouraged to select the best answer to every question.
Finally, the College Board also announced that low-income students will receive four waivers to apply to college for free (The College Board already sponsors free waivers to low-income students to take the SAT)A full test document example, which will include sample items, will be available April 16, 2014. For more information on the new redesigned SAT, CLICK HERE and … stay tuned!