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Spanish as a Foreign Language

David Sedaris had it right when, in Me Talk Pretty One Day, he complained:

“I’d hoped the language might come on its own, the way it comes to babies, but people don’t talk to foreigners the way they talk to babies. They don’t hypnotize you with bright objects and repeat the same words over and over, handing out little treats when you finally say ‘potty’ or ‘wawa.’”

Learning a new language isn’t easy, but it’s a skill that’s valuable and special like none other. However, there are always some languages that are easier to learn than others depending on your own native language. In this post, we’ll be focusing on the comparative ease a native English speaker may have with learning Spanish than many other languages.

Spanish is incredibly similar to English in many ways and is thus one of the easiest for native English speakers to learn. What’s more, apart from English and Mandarin Chinese, Spanish is arguably one of the most useful languages for a person to learn today (the third most spoken in the world).

According to the University of Oregon’s Department of Romance Languages, “Spanish is the official language of over twenty countries in the world, and it is the de facto second language of the United States.

Of course, for certain parts of the U.S., Spanish is more important than others (for example, learning Spanish will likely be much more valuable to a native English speaker who lives in Texas than one who lives in North Dakota).

But what does it mean for Spanish to be ranked as one of the languages most closely related to English and one of the easiest for English speakers to learn? Quite simply, it means that, by the measures created by The Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State, it should (supposedly) only take a student 23-24 weeks of study (for 2-3 hours per day) to achieve Speaking Level 3: General Professional Proficiency in Speech and Reading Level 3: General Professional Proficiency in Reading (amounting to a total of 575-600 hours of study). Now, I know that this may seem like a tremendous time commitment at first glance. But when you really think about it, when you really consider the awesomeness of achieving fluency in another language after not even half a year of study, those 600 hours might not seem quite so intimidating.

These are the keys to the study and learning of any foreign language:

  • constant practice,
  • an unwillingness to be beaten by the intimidating largeness of another language,
  • and an unwillingness to allow oneself to be embarrassed about sounding silly every once in a while.

It won’t be easy – but it’s within your reach! And it’s certainly well worth your time and efforts.

After all, learning a foreign language has more benefits than simply helping you pass a class or find your way to the bathroom in a foreign country. Learning a foreign language can help you “improve the functionality of your brain by challenging it to recognize, negotiate meaning, and communicate in different language systems”; improve your memory; help you strengthen your brain against diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia; improve your decision-making skills; and even improve your mastery of your English (assuming, of course, that you’re a native English speaker) and English grammar (Anne Merritt, “Why learn a foreign language? Benefits of bilingualism,” The Telegraph).

Some Spanish Language Studying Tips:

  • Sign up with a Foreign Language Tutor! Though tutors don’t come free, they come with a ton of benefits that simply can’t be found elsewhere: individualized attention, another person dedicated to helping keep you accountable and focused, a safe and quiet space to study, a safe environment to practice speaking and reading skills with another person, and an expertise that often includes cultural tips and insights not found in many texts and workbooks
  • Have a set time every day for you to practice your foreign language skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening)
  • Try a variety of different workbooks and systems out until you find that which best suits your needs (both learning and financial)
  • Try watching films in Spanish without subtitles and see how well your listening comprehension skills improve day-by-day; engaging with these kinds of arts are not only useful for boosting listening comprehension but also for learning about important slang and cultural mores
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Study Tips for Math & Science

kiddo in school

Study at least 3 times per week

  • You can pick whatever day and time works best for you, but you need at least 3 study dates per week in order to keep the information fresh, catch mistakes, and engrain your understanding of larger concepts and ideas

Always do your practice problems

  • As a student, “practice problems” may seem like nothing more than an annoyance or busy work. As a working adult, I can assure you that most of us would love it if our work came with “practice problems,” opportunities to rehearse what’s coming next and learn from our mistakes before said mistakes actually count against us. Don’t ever let the word “practice” make you feel like something is less important or valuable on your syllabus – the opportunity to practice and prepare/ask questions is a deeply valuable resource built to serve your best interests

Do your chapter reviews!!

  • Like “practice problems,” chapter reviews can seem annoying or uselessly busying. However, these are a key opportunity to not only establish a study routine, but to discover what components of each chapter you ought to focus said study routine on – making your study time all the more efficient, purposeful, and useful. Getting into the habit of reviewing new information soon after you’ve read or encountered it (whether through a lecture, presentation, or other such thing) will serve you well throughout the rest of your life. Nothing impresses more than a keen memory and eye for detail – skills that are flexed and bulked up when you dedicate time to reviewing new information as promptly as possible. Don’t wait till you’ve already forgotten information to review it. Instead, review new information while it’s still fresh in your mind. Keeping it fresh and regularly renewed will help seed it in your mind so that you can begin to puzzle-piece things together in new and more innovative ways later on.

Watch videos and read extracurricular books on the subject

  • Whether your teacher provides you with online materials or you happen upon some useful resources on your own, finding new ways of interacting with and reviewing your study assignments will not only help you learn new things about the materials, but will help you to take that next crucial step beyond memorization and into the realm of invention.

Time-Management Advice & Other Tips for Academic Success

Entering a new grade or school, whether in elementary, high school, or college, can be absolutely nerve-wracking — from fears of not making friends to the basics of simply learning how to find your way to each physical classroom (I still have nightmares about not being able to find the right classroom). And each new level – transitioning from elementary to middle to high school to college – comes with its own unique stresses and concerns.

Elementary School: What if I fall behind? What if I don’t make friends?

High School: What if I bomb the SATs? What if I don’t get into college? What if I choose the wrong college?

College: What if I choose the wrong major? What if I drop-out? What if I don’t get into grad school? What if I don’t get a job? What if I can’t balance work and school and health/social life?

Well, the good news is that no one’s alone in these fears and anxieties. The even better news is that teachers at every level – teachers worth their salt, anyway – are well aware of these stresses and are eager to see their students push past them and into success. Below, we’ve compiled a short list of tips and advice for how to help overcome some of these fears for 2015.



Note: We draw from and reference the following sources, and highly encourage you to visit them and read the articles in full.

A Professor’s Pointers for Success in College: 21 Easy-to-Follow Tips” by Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead, St. Lawrence University, with The Huffington Post

Top 12 Time-Management Tips” by Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman, with US News



  1. Keep careful stock of your course syllabi, assignments, and attendance policies. This may seem obvious but, in both high school and college, these rules/expectations can vary significantly from teacher to teacher. It’s vital to making a good impression and to maintaining your own schedule that you keep aware of deadlines, required readings, attendance, and so forth. (For more, see Halstead)
  2. Don’t keep your head down. Especially in a new grade, classroom, and/or school, it can often seem like the best policy to lay low for a while till you know the ropes. However, this can actually be counterproductive to your ultimate goals of making friends, having good student-teacher relationships, and keeping on top of your work. If, instead of keeping your head down, you take the time to introduce yourself to others (student and teacher), raise your hand to answer and/or ask the occasional question, and just generally approach others with your daily concerns and joys, then you’ll quickly find yourself with a terrific group of friends and an impressed passel of teachers (no matter how new or introverted you are). By establishing these relationships right off the bat, you also set yourself up with a stronger safety net for making mistakes – people will be more understanding of you running (very) occasionally late, for example, if they already know your name and have a favorable impression of you. (For more, see Halstead)
  3. Pump up your writing skills. Whether it’s an essay, short story, book report, or email, make sure your writing is always a clear, respectful, and positive reflection of yourself. This means using a teacher’s full title when contacting them via email (e.g. Ms. Ryan for [most] elementary teachers, Dean Ryan for a college dean, Professor Ryan for a professor [this is often better, actually, than saying “Dr.” Ryan as not all professors are full doctors yet], Assistant Principal Ryan for – you get the idea); not using ALL CAPS in written communication; using clear, proper grammar and spelling in all written works (as much for clarity’s sake as for professionalism); and always including courtesy details such as full headings on all papers, page numbers, and so forth. For help with improving your writing skills, be sure to talk to your teachers and librarians; meet with tutors; read a lot; take up writing-heavy hobbies such as creative writing, blogging, or letter writing; and take full advantage of any Writing Center services your school provides. (For more, see Halstead)
  4. Know Thyself – Are you a morning person or a night owl? And no, I don’t mean: Are you weirdly peppy in the morning or do you prefer to stay out late partying? I mean: Do you get more done if you block time in the morning to do your homework or review your notes, or do you have an easier time completing your work if you do it first thing after school, or perhaps even in the later evening after dinner? Everyone has a different personal schedule that works best for them. Knowing your preferences (and being honest with yourself about them), will be a great step in the right direction of getting your work done well and on time. (For more, see Jacobs & Hyman)
  5. Be patient and make sure you take the time you need. Today, kids and young adults are learning to read and interact with new information in very different ways than their parents did as students, whether by following blogs, Twitter, 24-hour TV news, or online hubs like Vox and The Huffington Post. However, while all of these have their time, place, and value, they aren’t the same as sitting down to read a book or other piece of long-form writing. Because of this, many students today don’t recognize until it’s too late just how much time is actually necessary to read and study and write intelligently about long-form works. Sure they’ve read plenty of novels in the past, but leisure-reading isn’t the same animal (and we all know it!).  So, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get into your academic reading-and-writing groove, and don’t let other seemingly-complementary items (like film documentaries or extra seminars) unnecessarily (or stressfully) clutter up your schedule. (For more, see Jacobs & Hyman)

 

Study How You Study

First, let me thank Latinas Uprising for this terrific post about studying and the forming of strong study habits. And though this post is written from the perspective of a law student, the advice included here can be useful for students of virtually any age from middle school and up. There are two things in particular about this post — two ideas it presents — that, I think, set it a part from the many other posts on studying out there in the blogosphere:

1.
That studying is not a given skill and that studying, contrary to what is apparently popular belief, doesn’t look or work the same way for every student. As Latinas Uprising explains, “For me, it wasn’t until I was a 2L that I finally figured out a way to study where I would really understand the material. Before I found ‘my method’, I tried different things like flash cards and case briefings, but none of it seemed to really help the material stick. It wasn’t until I fell back on what I had done successfully in college and gave myself permission to stray from the way law students ‘should’ study, that I finally started to really comprehend my cases.” In other words, studying itself takes patience and practice — don’t let yourself be convinced that you simply aren’t good at a given subject. Instead, try exploring new styles and schedules for studying until you find what works for you.

And 2.
That studying requires more than simply the act of studying — studying requires creativity in scheduling and, above all, discipline. As Latinas Uprising explains of her newfound studying success: “Yes, it would take up all my weekend. Yes, it sucked. But I preferred having my weeknights free because my boyfriend (now husband) and I had started to live together, and I wanted to commit some time to the relationship (a life outside of law school? Crazy concept, right?!). Mostly, I ended up sticking to this ‘no weekend ever’ plan because I enjoyed not feeling as if I was just barely holding my head above water during the week.” Can you dig that wild news? Well, it’s true — to study successfully, you don’t always need to revisit the material on a daily basis. It all depends on the needs of your schedule and the unique ways that you learn best. This requires not only flexibility and discipline, but creativity as well — don’t let yourself get stuck on an idea of what studying is supposed to look like and when it is supposed to take place. If studying in the morning each day works best for you because you’d prefer to have your evenings free for a significant other, the advancement of a hobby, participation in an extracurricular activity, etc., then give it a try! If focusing the bulk of your homework time to the weekends might work best for you and your schedule, then give it a try!

The main takeaway is, learning to study takes time — don’t let a few stresses and bumps along the way discourage you from pushing forward.

Latinas Uprising

We previously discussed how to prep for 1L week and –surprise–the main focus was getting prepped for studying.  But it’s worthwhile to delve into “how to study” a little deeper.

I say this a lot, but it’s actually really important to realize that you will be most successful if you study how you study. Think back on all the college classes where you excelled and mimic those study habits.  Note that I wrote excelled, not: barely put in the work but somehow still passed–that won’t fly in law school.  The reason why this is important is because law school has the tendency to push people into doing the same thing.  According to them, if briefing cases works for one student then it should work for all of them.  The reality is that we all have different capacities and methods of understanding.  Definitely try case briefing, but if it’s not working–move…

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SAMPLE: Lesson Plan and Why it works :)

Thank you for sharing this, Learning with Alison!

For teachers, professors, and tutors, learning to change tactics when a lesson isn’t working out as planned is an incredibly important skill. This is a challenge that many teachers face in their efforts to best reach and support students.

Having the ability to take extra time to consider a teacher’s points and ask questions in an environment safe from humiliation and fears of shame, is vital for yet often denied many students. Such freedoms not only enable students to better explore a concept and commit said concept to memory, but can also empower students to become more involved in their own learning process and to feel more comfortable actively engaging with future lessons.

Another example of teachers taking such challenges in stride can be found at Georgetown, TX’s Southwestern University. Right now at Southwestern, professors like Dr. Emily Niemeyer (Chemistry) are engaging in what’s known as “Flipping the Classroom”. While Southwestern’s professors still often utilize and appreciate the traditional lecture format, “Flipping the Classroom” is a teaching method founded on learning through practice rather than learning through listening. According to the Southwestern Newsroom,

“While there are many variations of the flipped classroom, the most common one is one in which what used to be classwork (i.e. lectures) is done before students come to class by means of teacher-created videos. And what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class − either with the professor or among the students themselves.”

I am thrilled to see such innovations coming to Southwestern’s classrooms, and can’t wait to hear about their resulting challenges and successes!

tutoring

Learning with Alison (ali)

What is “Higher Order Thinking” that is all the rage to chat about and to “enforce” (word chosen deliberately) but that many parents and students question is actually taking place?

As educators we read a lot about “asking open-ended questions” – HR personnel would be given the same advice. What then might it mean to truly encourage a student to move beyond the basics and to begin the process of not merely placing an opinion into an essay in the right spot (close to the end of paragraph 1- so the directions tell) but to actually have an opinion beyond -“it was good” or  “I didn’t like it”?

Thinking is work- even when the thoughts are pleasurable.  Our brains require a form of question response stimulus to actively be engaged, curious and participatory.  Long a proponent of enrichment for everyone I was recently asked about how enrichment and gifted education…

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How to make essay writing not quite so scary

I recently came upon a blog post from H.E. History Hub (a terrific blog focused primarily upon issues related to students and teachers of history) titled, “Five things you need to think about when starting your dissertation.” As a student of American Studies with a master’s degree and a peer-reviewed academic book under my belt, I well understand both the more exciting and interesting elements of academic writing as well as just how terrifying, anxiety-riddled, and difficult it can be. Moreover, for many students (who are never taught time management skills but are instead all too often left to try and reinvent the wheel for themselves), learning how to organize oneself and give oneself the time necessary to read, take notes, research, and truly think over all the issues before ever putting pen to paper (or finger to key, I suppose), is the true bugaboo. True writing—academic or otherwise—must begin with hours, even days, (in some cases, even weeks) of reading and research before any actual writing takes place.

But I, like H.E. History Hub, am here to tell you that essays of any length—whether it’s a 5-pager for your freshman high school English teacher or a 10,000 word long dissertation for your PhD—are well within your reach and capability; it’s all a matter of:

1) Making your essay topic interesting to you;

2) Being diligent and creative about your research;

3) Reaching out to supervisors, teachers, and mentors;

and 4) Working hard and having faith in yourself.

Now, all of these things may seem either obvious or impossible, but I guarantee that neither is accurate. For college students, the freedom many professors offer regarding essay topic and style can be at once liberating (given the more restrictive nature of the models employed by most high school teachers) and yet overwhelming by the same token. For high school students, the number of restrictions and limitations imposed by teachers can be at once stifling as well as useful and helpful (as sometimes constraints are necessary to both hone basic skills and inspire true creativity).

There is a middle ground here, however, because no matter how wide or narrow your allotted scope, no matter your current writing skill level, you basically always have the room and abilities necessary to make the topic interesting to you—it just means that you’ll have to be willing to take the time to get creative with topics and assignments that may, at first, seem boring/irrelevant/useless/long/busywork/too hard/pointless/etc. Even those short 1 to 5 page assignments (those often frustrating ones that can seem disconnected from everything useful) can be used as stepping stones to bigger and better things if you give them the time and attention necessary. Think of these shorter assignments not as busywork but as opportunities to explore new ground and/or build up research for some future project(s).

And trust me, I understand that it’s super tough to dedicate extra time, resources, and feeling to projects that seem intended for you to fail or be bored out of your mind, but if you’re willing to make the leap, to pay the dues, and wear the Essay Writing Club t-shirt, then it’ll pay off—if not today, then tomorrow, but I promise: It Will Pay Off.

The first thing to know is that, while all rumor and chatter seems to suggest the contrary, high school and college are the places to take risks—to try research, arguments, and styles that may seem odd, that may get you a couple not-so-awesome grades in the short-run, but which might just also blossom into something original, strong, and lasting. Digest that. Let yourself get comfortable with the simple truth that a few bad grades won’t irreparably damage your career dreams but that being timid in your scholarly studies, explorations, and writings just might.

 

Image All digested? Ready to plow forward? Good.

Next step: Leap. Take that strange family tree/ancestry assignment and turn it on its seemingly-clichéd head. Conduct a full-scale oral history of all the extended family members you can get a hold of. While a handful of relatives might bore you, while learning to transcribe recordings to paper might drive you crazy, there will be a relative out there who fascinates and surprises; there will be a teacher so impressed with your efforts that they help you bring the project forward in a new way; there will be something new in the process of collection, interview, transcription, and analysis that arrests you and leads you down a new path of exploration and understanding—there will be something to reward you for your risks and efforts.

Of course, if you looked closely, taking that big leap required a great many smaller leaps pieced together:

  • Deciding to go above-and-beyond for a simplistic-seeming or clichéd-seeming project
  • Finding a way to make it happen: finding/borrowing/renting/buying the necessary equipment to record and conduct formal interviews (*cough*libraries are great for finding these kinds of supplies*cough*)
  • Getting outside of yourself and Starbucks to conduct some real primary research by finding and contacting all of those family members and getting signed agreements to have their stories recorded
  • Organizing your time and resources around the needs of others and restrictive research
  • Learning to be delicate and respectful while still clear and uncompromising in all elements and stages of your research and writing
  • Learning to take things that are close and personal to you and analyze them for the benefit of others and all involved
  • Learning that not all research can be utilized in a written work, even if it’s fascinating or on-point (especially when human subjects are involved)

The list goes on and on…

In other words, as Nate Kreuter of Inside Higher Ed so wisely said in his article, “Conquering Writing Anxiety,”

Sometimes [writing] anxiety can become so pronounced that it makes a meaningful cut into our productivity. But, like all anxieties, writing-related anxieties live in the mind, and can be overcome.”

Whether you’re approaching your dissertation or your first high school-level essay, writing anxieties and frustrations hit everyone, and the first step to overcoming such obstacles is to make the decision to do so.

How to Smooth Out a Rough Semester

We’ve all been there. Things aren’t going your way for one reason or another, and it’s been a weird/rough/bad two to three weeks, and then, to top it all off, your progress report (or your child’s progress report) arrives with only more tough news.

But a poor progress report or a less-than-great couple of weeks shouldn’t ever be enough to tank a person’s entire semester, the same way they shouldn’t be able to ruin someone’s entire spring or fall season. Just as there are ways to turn things around in the working (non-school) world, there are plenty of ways to redeem a semester that’s started out roughly.

Here are just a few ideas to keep you busy:

  1. Obviously, seeking out tutoring and additional help with one’s assignments and study habits is a great way to get a student’s motivations up and their work back on track. Tutoring centers can be especially beneficial as students not only see other classmates seeking help (and thus feel better about seeking it out for themselves), but also because students then have a place to go to that is entirely dedicated to their after-school academic needs and skills. Tutoring centers can provide much more than professionals and teachers. They can provide a quiet, safe space for students to ask questions; a space for students to get work completed without distractions; and a place for students to receive any extra encouragement they might need regarding the maintenance and development of useful study and time management skills.
  1. Have the student in question meet with their teacher(s) to discuss how they might improve their work. This not only shows the teacher(s) that the student is taking responsibility and looking to move forward, but can also get an incredibly useful and productive conversation going.
  1. Start identifying and working to break bad habits (which may range anywhere from studying in front of the television to not studying at all—we all have our own unique weaknesses and dragons to slay).
  1. Draw up (either with yourself, your teachers, your parents, or all three), a Positive Academic’s Contract, wherein you outline all of the things you’re going to do to improve your work ethic, grades, and general appreciation of school, along with all of the things you’re going to give up/sacrifice. Then sign the document with as much formality as you’ve got in you (maybe even draw a couple of blanks for your parents and/or teachers to sign as witnesses to the document). This may seem like a silly exercise, but a public declaration and written commitment can really feel and become more powerful a motivator than you’d think.
  1. And, finally, turn off your electronics and have your parents lock them up somewhere secret until you’ve finished what you need to finish each night. Really, for most things, you don’t actually need a computer. Claiming you need to do “research” often only ends up devolving into YouTube and Facebook time, doesn’t it? And if it’s not one of these classic time-pits, it’s probably something else equally unrelated to school. So, you can always start things off by researching the old-fashioned way (cough*reading books*cough*libraries*cough*interviews*cough), before moving on to the loud, shiny, wild world of the Internet. And if you don’t need to do any research right away but know you’ve got something you’ll need to type up, try doing as many other school-related tasks and activities as possible before breaking out the laptop. You’ll be stunned by how much more efficiently you can get work completed in this way and by how much more information you can retain when studying without the added distractions and demands of unnecessary technologies.

 

Good luck! And remember, academic success begins and ends with you.