Aim Higher: The Achieve Blog

[0:00:00]   Hey, everyone. Thank you for joining us. I am Pete Edwards. I’m the founder of Achieve Tutorials, and I’ve been working with kids since 1989.

[0:00:11]   So I wanted to share with you some ideas today about how to set your kids up for success in middle school, in high school. Not everything we talk about today will apply to every student, but almost everybody can learn from most of what we have to talk about today.

[0:00:28]   Full disclosure, I am recording this ahead of time, and that will allow me to be live on this Zoom call to answer questions on the fly in the chat if you have questions, and I’ll be here to answer questions afterwards as well.

[0:00:41]   So why don’t we go ahead and get started? So what we’re really talking about here is finding these ways that you can help set your kids up to succeed in middle and high school. And one of the things that is really important to think about is that success is often all about transitions. It’s about finding a way to go from middle school to high school, elementary school to middle school.

[0:01:10]   And we have a lot of different types of transitions, but those are the main ones we’re going to be talking about today.Starting middle school, high school. Obviously, getting into high school is a very different world from middle school for most kids. But it could just be starting a new grade.

[0:01:22]   Just going from 10th grade to 11th grade or 9th to 10th is a big step up. Even coming back from a vacation, a long summer vacation. Here in Los Angeles, LA Unified Schools have a three week Christmas break. And just getting back in after that transition and hitting the ground running and being successful after that transition is challenging for some kids.

[0:01:44]   So we all want our transitions to be these smooth, beautiful events where there are a few bumps along the way, but everything goes nicely and smoothly. But the reality is that these are chaotic times. The chaos involved in transitioning into middle school and all that’s entailed there and into high school are really difficult for a lot of kids to deal with.

[0:02:10]   And so we’re going to try to set them up for academic success so we can take that off their plate. Now, we’re not going to talk a whole lot about the emotional distress. A lot of the things we do help with emotional distress for these times, but that’s not really the focus.

[0:02:26]   It’s really about how to set them up academically at this time. And so we’re going to talk about CPR, school success CPR, where the C is communication, and we’re going to talk about all sorts of different types of communication that you can help to foster.

[0:02:40]   P is preparation, and we’re going to talk about how to prepare in different ways for different things. Prepare for the whole school year, prepare for individual classes, prepare even for a test, and finally Routine and building a really strong, good academic routine. Kids thrive in routines, and that doesn’t mean you have to every single day has to be exactly the same, but they have to have patterns in routines.

[0:03:06]   All right, so let’s dive right in and talk about communication. So if there is one marker that I have seen in over 30 years of tutoring that points towards—leads towards—student academic success, it is that the parents are engaged every single day in their kids academic life.

[0:03:28]   Daily parental engagement. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to spend hours at a time, engaged with your kids and going through every bit of their homework, but it does mean you need to check in with your kids every day, know what’s going on, read an essay, look over a math homework, help them study vocabulary for a Spanish quiz. Just keep engaged with your kids.

[0:03:48]   Parents who do this, who take the time even if it’s five or ten minutes, have kids that are academically more successful on average by a pretty wide margin. So that’s probably the most important thing that I can really mention here at all.

[0:04:06]   The next thing is these are traumatic times for kids.  And trying to keep an open communication with your kids is really important. You want them to know that you’re there for them, that they can talk about their feelings, their anxieties, what’s going on in school.

[0:04:21]   And to do this without judging them is really challenging. In fact, a lot of the time you don’t even need to offer advice or try to solve or fix the problem they’re asking. They just need somebody there to talk to. And if they can trust you enough to talk to you about the issues that are going on, that’s going to be really valuable as you move forward.

[0:04:44]   Because then when you have issues that do come up in school, that level of communication will be more open, more honest, and moving on from there is tricky. So the communication isn’t just about parents and you.

[0:05:00]   It’s also about your kids and their teachers. And one of the most important things that they can do in school is to go see their teachers on a regular basis. To go during office hours or after school or at lunch and talk to their teachers. Ask questions about the material, share their thoughts on some idea they didn’t get to talk about in class. Keep that level of communication with their teachers open.

[0:05:27]   This is a battle with a lot of kids.  A lot of kids do not want anything to do with their teachers. They don’t really see their teachers as people…or people they want to engage with, at any rate. But it helps so much for a lot of reasons. One, it teaches the kids that these teachers are real people.

[0:05:45]   It shows the teachers that these kids are engaged, maybe not passionate about their subject, but engaged in the subject. And interested in the subject. Also, teachers often will guide students and hint about what’s coming up on a quiz or a test while they go to office hours. And that can be really valuable just for boosting grades a little bit.

[0:06:05]   So encouraging your kids to do that is so valuable. It’s great.

[0:06:13]   I also want you to make sure that one of the ways you support your kids is by holding them accountable for what they do. And this means that if they fail, they get a C or something like that on a test, that they’re accountable for that. You say, “look, this is what you got. Let’s find ways to fix this in the future moving forward.”

[0:06:39]   But this is not something you blame a teacher for.They didn’t tell us that this was going to be on the test,” but we hear that all the time.

[0:06:49]   Look, sometimes if teachers have egregious problems, you want to go to bat for your kid against the teacher. But for the most part, these kids need to learn how to deal with their teachers. They need to accept responsibility for their own learning, and teaching them that they need to be accountable for that is really important.

[0:07:11]   Next up, developing friendships and communities is something that is super important. And this is really not just emotionally, but primarily emotionally, but also academically.

[0:07:23]   If your kids have friends who are in their math class, great. They can talk to them about their homework assignment, but they can have a community of people in their sports team or community people who are in a club they’re in. This is a good time to encourage multiple communities, not just hanging out with all the same people, but building these different groups of friends that are there to support them and keep them engaged. And that’s it.

[0:07:51]   The last thing I’ll talk about with communication here is to recognize that you might need someone to talk to as well.And look, parenting is not easy. We all know that it can be extremely challenging. Your kids are entering an age where for a lot of you, the response that you’re getting is a grunt.

[0:08:14]   So there are times when you might need to reach out and get some help, for no other reason than just to talk to somebody and share what you’re going through. And that could be someone like the teachers or fellow parents, it could also be a tutor or mentor who can help you by walking you through, “This is a normal process. This is something we see all the time with kids who end up doing just fine.”

[0:08:40]   So just finding the outlet is really important. Communication comes in a lot of different forms, right? Be engaged with your kids every single day. Make sure that your kids feel like they can talk to you and that you’re not going to pass judgment. And that’s hard because we want to teach them lessons, right? That’s our goal. But as a parent, sometimes just listening is the most important thing you can do.

[0:09:06]   Making sure I go see their teachers during office hours and fighting that battle until they realize that it’s a really good thing. Holding your kids accountable, developing, encouraging them to develop friendships and various communities, and reaching out when you need help, all aspects of communication that are valuable for you and your kids.

[0:09:28]   The next thing I want to talk about is Preparation.

[0:09:31]   And we all know that preparation is valuable, but starting preparation for middle school or preparing for high school can be a little bit different. There’re some things you can do you might not normally think about.

[0:09:40]   But I want to start off with a quote that was on the wall of my kids preschool, and here it is. “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.”

[0:09:58]   This is one of the things I think it’s hard for a lot of parents to let go of: this idea that, oh my God, this is an emergency because my kid isn’t ready, or my kid hasn’t prepared for this, or my kid isn’t doing this. What you need to do instead of panicking and helping your kid out of the situation at the very end, is help teach them how to be ready in the first place.

[0:10:21]   And look, you can’t just sit down with them once and say, hey, you just need to be prepared. This is an ongoing process. Most adults can learn how to be better prepared for things.

[0:10:30]   One of the things that we like to do with our kids, especially those entering middle school and entering high school, is to preview challenging courses that they’re going to have to take before school starts. In fact, a lot of times, if it’s a really challenging course, we’ll do a little preview in the beginning of the summer and then right at the end of the summer before school starts.

[0:10:54]   And I’ll tell you why that works in just a minute. But let’s look at an example of what we might do to prepare somebody. So everybody’s favorite class in high school, naturally, was geometry, right? (I actually did like geometry, but most of my friends couldn’t stand it.) It’s a totally different way of thinking. It’s a different kind of math.

[0:11:15]   Geometry is more about logical reasoning and learning the set of rules and following those rules, but also having vision to be able to look at a geometric image and pick out the 14 triangles that are in that image when you only really see three or four.

[0:11:33]   And so one of the things that we do with students is we run them through the first couple of months of geometry. We teach them what a proof is. We teach them to make sure to keep their own handwritten list of postulates, theorems, and definitions so that they can go back and review that every week.

[0:11:56]   So much of geometry is cumulative, and I’ll tell you, every single one of my students who has kept an ongoing list of postulates theorems and definitions and reviewed them weekly has gotten an A in geometry, every single one. The kids who don’t do that, sometimes they get A’s, sometimes they get C’s. It’s just a really valuable tool, something that most people wouldn’t even think about.

[0:12:23]   And so teaching our kids the tricks of the trade, how to deal with that geometry class, pretty important.

[0:12:30]   One of the other things that we try to teach our kids to do, and you can help your kids do, is what’s called pre-learning. If a teacher gives an assignment ahead of class, ahead of where they’re going to lecture, the teacher is already preparing them for pre learning. Right?

[0:12:47]   But a lot of teachers will teach new material in class and then give you homework on it. But you can always or almost always work ahead on that material a little bit. And the idea is that if you go through, say, a math chapter or you go through a history lesson before it’s assigned—I’m not talking about super deep, remember every word, but just getting down the ideas, the concepts that are coming up….

[0:13:15]   When you’re sitting in class, you can focus on what the teacher says is important, not trying to just get your head wrapped around the concepts. And what that means is you can take much more efficient notes, you can ask more intelligent questions, and you can keep up with teachers who are otherwise really fast without missing anything. So pre learning is really valuable.

[0:13:37]   I also think spaced-learning is one of the most effective ways to learn any kind of material that you have to memorize or learn by rote. Spaced-learning is a technique in which you learn material, you study it, you give it some time, two, three, four days, and then you relearn the material, give it some time, three, four days, learn it again.

[0:14:03]   It’s much more efficient than trying to sit down and cram the night before. You will retain the information much better, and it’s going to reduce overall the amount of time you need to study to perform well.

[0:14:17]   Now, this is a great thing to do if you’re in a course, let’s say a biology class, and you have a test every six weeks or every four weeks, so you can start learning the material in the beginning, go back, review it, and learn up to where you’ve learned. Go back and review it and learn up to where you’ve learned and continue to do that.

[0:14:36]   And that older material, which for most kids is going to be lost, it’s gone. “Stuff from 3 weeks ago, I don’t remember that”. It’s going to be fresh in your mind, and it’s going to tie in with the material you’re learning currently.

[0:14:47]   And it’s just an incredibly effective way to do that. And that is why we recommend in our previewing challenging courses that you do something at the beginning of the summer, and then again at the end of the summer so that it sticks in your mind longer and you can hit the ground running in school.

[0:15:04]   I would like to just point out that teachers are human. And one of the things that teachers do is they make assumptions and they have expectations that are set very early in a relationship with a student.

[0:15:18]   So if you start the school year and you’re kind of flustered and you don’t know what’s going on, and you didn’t do your summer reading and you’re fumbling to find a pencil in your backpack, they’re going to think you’re that kind of student.

[0:15:33]   Whereas if you come in and you know the material and you’re sharp and you’re asking smart questions, they’re going to think you’re an A student and they’re much more likely to treat you that way and much more likely to give you that A.

[0:15:44]   So doing these preview and challenging courses and using spaced learning and pre-learning is going to put you in a different category of student in general.

[0:15:55]   The other thing I talked to about all of my students, but it’s particularly important starting middle school and high school is learning to play the game in each individual class.

[0:16:06]   I give my students an assignment for the first three to six weeks in any class, which is to write down what your teacher wants from you and show me so we can talk about it. Learning to play the game in each class is different. Every teacher has different expectations. They have different requirements on turning in papers or taking quizzes or doing homework.

[0:16:30]   Some teachers take everything that they quiz or test on right out of the textbook. Some teachers take very little out of the textbooks. It’s all from class notes. Some do a combination. Learning to play the game, learning what that teacher wants, what you need to give that teacher to get a good grade in that class is going to be hugely enlightening, to say the least. Because once kids realize they just need to play the game, you need to give that teacher what that teacher wants, it makes school a lot easier and a lot more focused. Their study can be more focused and more efficient as well.

[0:17:09]   And so we teach kids how to do that, and we hold them accountable for that by giving them assignments to write down what each teacher wants in the first few weeks of school. It doesn’t mean they’re going to know everything, but it’s going to make them think in a different way. That’s going to help them be engaged in that class.

[0:17:26]   I also really recommend that students set goals for themselves for every class, not just the school year, hey, this year I want to get all B’s and A’s, but for each individual class. My goal is to do this or this grade in this class, to learn this in this class to find out if this is what I want to pursue as a career.  But the goals can and should be broken down into what we call SMART Goals. You’ve probably heard this acronym before for SMART Goals.

[0:17:59]   And SMART Goals are goals that are Specific for one thing. And that means nothing too wishy washy. Something you can sit down at the end and say, hey, this is a Measurable success. So this is a specific goal that I can say, look, I achieved this goal, I didn’t achieve this goal.

[0:18:23]   So SMART: Measurable, Action-oriented. These goals can’t just be, well, I hope to learn more, right? The goal has to be: I’m going to take fantastic notes in this class and review them every day. Something you actually can do specifically.

[0:18:42]   They have to be realistic though. For a kid who’s struggled to get C’s in math, the goal to suddenly be an A plus student in the next math class probably not realistic. It might take some time.

[0:18:57]   So making sure that these goals are Realistic and the last letter in SMART Goals is T Time-bound. These goals should have a specific end date.  I have to do this by this date. So SMART goals. Very useful tool. It makes you think about what you want to accomplish in a much more systematic way, and it makes you pick goals that are actually achievable.  And that’s important.

[0:19:27]   Next on our list is routine and the value of setting up a routine. Any kind of transition that people go through throws routines into chaos a lot of the time. So building a routine through that transition into middle school, into high school, and making sure that that is just the way things are done whenever you can do things that way is going to help your kids get through this tough time.

[0:19:57]   And routines involve things as simple as setting a regular study schedule. For some kids, that study schedule is going to be as soon as I get home from school, I sit down and I do my work. Not every kid is ready for that. Some need a little downtime.

[0:20:13]   Not every kid has right after school available. They might have sports practice or play practice or maybe they’re in the band. So whatever that regular study schedule is doesn’t have to be the same every day.

[0:20:25]   Your kids could have music practice on Tuesdays during the time they would normally study. So shift the study schedule on Tuesdays.

[0:20:33]   But building that regular schedule so they know I’m sitting down at this time to do my work and making sure that there is enough time built into the schedule to do the work. It doesn’t mean they have to use all the time. They might get done early.

[0:20:47]   Occasionally they have to work a little over what you book for that time. But that specific schedule helps them to get into that mindset so they know when they’re sitting down, their brain has to focus and this is the work they’re going to do.

[0:21:01]   And that brings us to where they do the work and designating a really specific place where you do homework is going to help the kids get into that mindset even more.

[0:21:12]   It could be the kitchen table. The problem with the kitchen table might be if there’s a lot of chaos in the house and it’s really loud and noisy. So maybe it’s in an office, maybe it’s in their room, wherever it is.

[0:21:25]   Setting up a specific workspace where they sit down every day and do their homework and that’s the only place they do their homework is great. I hate to see the kids who grab their math homework and go sit on the couch and they’re working on their math homework like in their lap.

[0:21:43]   No, sit down at the table. It’s your place to work in this place. It doesn’t mean you can’t get up and take regular breaks. You should get up, take breaks, clear your head if you need to. But getting back to that space, that’s your work space.

[0:21:59]   The other thing that drives me crazy is the kids who will not think about the bad habits that they have when they are working on their homework. And those bad habits can be turning on the TV and working in front of the TV.

[0:22:19]   That one drives me nuts because there’s no way you can focus on the material when there’s a TV show in the background. No matter how many kids tell me that that’s true, every single study ever done has proven that that’s not true. So banishing that habit.

[0:22:33]   Having social media up when you’re doing your homework, not a good idea. The only time that I find that valuable, actually, is later in high school when kids are struggling with some work and they can text their friends or send them a message on whatever messager you have, they’re saying, hey, did you look at number four? I can’t understand how to do this and they can get help.

[0:22:58]   But limiting that to only schoolwork during study time is a must. You absolutely have to.

[0:23:07]   The other bad habit that just about every kid will tell me doesn’t bother them at all is listening to music in the background. It turns out that if that music has lyrics, it’s bad for your focus. If the music doesn’t have lyrics, it tends to be fine or sometimes even beneficial to focus.

[0:23:27]   So just instrumental music is better. It doesn’t really matter what kind of instrumental music you’re playing. I mean, not many kids I know listen to classical music, but it works, but so can anything else that’s instrumental. So working on those bad habits, those bad study habits, the things that are distracting, that cause students to not be focused, to take much too much time to do their work, vanishing those bad habits. But there are lots of different bad habits just trying to identify them is the challenge.

[0:24:00]   Also, keeping a really detailed planner of schoolwork is a must. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had students who just will not write down their assignments in one specific place. I don’t care if it’s an app they use on their phone or if it’s an old-school daily planner, if it’s a school planners a lot of schools hand out.  Whatever it is, they have to use it on a regular basis, so they have all their assignments written down. They have when their quizzes and tests are, they have long term projects written down so that at a glance, you can see what’s coming up, and they should show you that.

[0:24:38]   One of the things that I really admire about my daughter’s elementary school teachers is that as a parent, I had to sign off every single day on my fourth graders daily planner. And that was fantastic because it meant that she was writing things down and that she was learning that skill. It also kept me engaged, which was great.

[0:25:02]   You may also have a family planner that everybody taps into as well. We use apple calendar. Just a family calendar for the whole family. Your kids can’t be like, “oh, well, I didn’t know we were going over to the Smith’s house. I plan to do homework then.” Well, if it was on the calendar, then they’ll know.

[0:25:21]   Sleep is really an undervalued commodity, I think, especially in high school kids. Middle school kids tend to get more sleep than high school kids. I mean, to be perfectly honest, high schoolers teenagers are built biologically to stay up late and to sleep in late. And so school completely messes with their natural biological clocks. And so it’s really challenging for them to get enough sleep.

[0:25:51]   That’s where you step in. You’ve got to help them set a consistent sleep schedule, make sure they’re not on devices for at least a half hour before they go to sleep—good luck with that, I know—because that blue light is terrible for sleep.

[0:26:04]   But getting consistent sleep, 8 hours, fantastic. Seven and a half. Okay. Seven, probably can’t get by on less than that, and it’s going to detrimentally affect them at school. So working on that sleep schedule, that’s a schedule that allows them to actually get up in the morning so that they have a good morning routine as well.

[0:26:27]   They get up at a specific time, can shower, get dressed, get a good nutritious breakfast, which is also part of that good morning routine. Right. Responsible eating some proteins, carbohydrates and fat, making sure that they have enough energy for the day, and working on that routine.

[0:26:47]   Exercise is also important for some kids, it comes naturally. They’re running around all the time. They’re on sports teams to do all this. For some kids, they’re more in their heads, and they’re more reading a book or going through some, I don’t know, it could be anything. Gardening, in the backyard, whatever it is.

[0:27:07]   So encouraging that exercise, making that exercise part of the routine, helps them stay fit. When they’re fit, their brains are more fit, their brains are more active, and they can focus better in school. Just exercise. Good thing. Thumbs up.

[0:27:22]   So that’s about it. I tried to power through this little bit.

[0:27:27]   So we’ve got Communication, we have Preparation, and we have Routine.

[0:27:33]   And all of these things are tools that you can use and you can help your kids use to ease that transition into middle school, into high school, and to work on building that into their lives so that they can basically rise to any challenge. Because they know how to be prepared for it. They know how to talk to people and who to talk to and how to build those relationships.And they know how to maintain their lives in a way that’s going to help them to thrive.

[0:28:09]   I just want to let you know, any one of you can reach out to me directly if you have a consultation. If you want a consultation, I will talk to you for free. If you just have some questions or if you want some ideas for your kids, there’s my number on the screen. 310-850-2616. That’s my cell phone.

[0:28:29]   You can reach me at [email protected]. I encourage you to do so. I am here to help.

[0:28:36]   I just want to let you know about my company, Achieved Tutorials. We’ve been around since about 2000, so 22 years in the business.  And we have a tremendous amount of experience in Los Angeles in particular, because that’s where we’re based. But we also have been for many years doing online tutorials all over the world and work with kids from a variety of backgrounds.

[0:29:00]   So we really have a broad range of material and skills that we can bring to work with kids from pretty much everywhere. We do almost exclusively one on one in person, or online mentoring.

[0:29:16]   And we work with kids from elementary school through high school, even into college college. It’s usually kids who work with us in middle school and high school who want to keep working with us, building their skills through college.

[0:29:28]   We do tutorials in almost every subject out there, so we can help you with just about anything. And we do a lot of test prep as well.

[0:29:36]   ISEE, SSAT, HSPT for those high School admissions tests, ACT and SAT prep is something we do a lot of in the interesting world right now. We can probably do a whole other webinar on whether the ACT and the SAT are dying or whether you need to take them or not and how to deal with those.

[0:29:56]   We work with a lot of kids on AP tests studying for their AP tests, and this is actually really valuable for kids because of the new testing environment. APs are becoming more important because these are, from my perspective, they’ve always been more important than an SAT or ACT in assessing a kid’s ability to manage college level work, because AP classes are college level work or IB classes, if you’re in the baccalaureate program, working to make sure that your AP scores reflect your abilities in that class, can really pay dividends.

[0:30:33]   You pull a four or five on an AP, it’s not just about—and I would have to say junior year or sophomore year APs—it’s not just about trying to jump ahead, skip an elementary level class in college.

[0:30:50]   It’s about showing colleges that you can achieve at the college level, and it’s a better marker than SATs or ACTs for college success. And then we also do grad tasks. GRE GMAT, LSAT, lot of other levels, but probably not for this crowd.

[0:31:09]   So thank you very much. I really appreciate your time. I hope you found this helpful. You’ll be getting an email from me in the next couple of days with a link to this video so you can watch the video again. We should have a transcript as well up in a couple of days, and if there’s anything I can do to help. If you want to book some time and do some previewing of classes for next year, we’re available for that over the summer.

[0:31:36]   So thank you very much, and let’s move on to questions. Thank you.

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