5 More Things Every Student Should Know About Learning

girl showing bright brainteaser in hands

In order to make any positive changes, we often need to build in some redundancies and supports to maintain those changes. After last week’s list of more practical tips and tricks, this installment in our Back to School Tips, Tricks, and Shifts series will admittedly focus more on shifts you can make to build and strengthen those supports. This week, we invite you to reinvent yourself as a learner and begin creating the learning journey you want to pursue whole-heartedly through any class.

Far from being “in the clouds,” these 5 additional tips, tricks, and shifts can make a significant difference in your daily life as a learner if you are willing to lean into the slight discomfort of change. We invite you to push yourself gently in the direction of your future while retaining a consistent, persistent, creative, and flexible outlook with each challenge. Everyone struggles, and every teacher designs unique hurdles just for you. How will you remind yourself not to buckle? How can you truly grow stronger and retain your joy through each obstacle?

Preview the 5 More Things Every Student Should Know
  1. Your break schedule matters as much as who you study with and where you study.
  2. Develop your own sense of value (by the hour) around learning. Then, get your money’s worth.
  3. Once you’ve “learned” something, it can seem simple in hindsight.
  4. In many ways, it’s up to you how a class “is.” Choose wisely.
  5. Many students “hide in plain sight” in class. What if you honored and celebrated who you are as a learner, instead?
  6. Bonus: Study with instrumental music.
  1. Your break schedule matters as much as who you study with and where you study.
box with brain inscription on head of anonymous woman

Whenever I hear a student say, “I’m going to study,” my first question is: What’s your break schedule? In other words: For how long will you study (as attentively as possible) before you take your first break? How long will the break last, and what will you do during the break? How many of these study and break sessions will you attempt before you are “done” studying? What will you have accomplished after the first study/break session? What about after the second? I frequently had students respond to my questions with hesitation. Many students, it seems, think that “studying” is just throwing their heads against a book until they fall asleep from exhaustion or quit in favor of playing video games. Studying actually needs to be structured with success in mind from the start, which is why I recommend studying with others. These studying partners may not be your BFFs, but they can become resourceful peers who keep you honest, motivated, and on topic. 

You need a sense of how long it would take to study sufficiently for a topic or subject, then you need to split that into reasonable chunks of intense focus broken up by periods of complete rest. Since your brain relies on rest time in order to process new information, those study breaks are critical to any success and need to be thoughtfully included in your study plan. This is why, when I’m studying solo, I prefer studying in libraries or cafes so I can people-watch or peacefully zone out during my study breaks. I cannot recommend enough to study with a group, even if it’s just reading silently with others and calling out questions whenever necessary. Check out the Crash Course Study Skills playlist for more strategies on how to study, whether alone or with a team.

banknotes and calculator on table
  1. Develop your own sense of value (by the hour) around learning. Then, get your money’s worth.

I was 18 when a Senior at my college shared advice with my incoming Freshman class during orientation week. I attended a private college (which was pricey), and the Senior advised us to figure out how much one semester of college costs in dollars, and then boil that number down to the cost per hour to be in class. Then, they said, act like you’re paying that much to be there. “Some people pass a whole class without raising their hand,” they cautioned us, “even though they just paid more than $300 to be in that seat.” The statement opened my eyes, and I never again hesitated to ask a question out of fear of looking foolish. How could I risk wasting the money? 

Pick this idea up and twist it around in your hands for a while. How much would you pay yourself to be a student in a class? Does it change from one class to another, and why? What value would you place on what you learn in any given class, and what could you do to increase that value if it’s smaller than you’d like? If you are paying to be a learner, are you getting value out of each class rather than waiting for the instructor to chisel valuable nuggets out of the material for you? If you are learning “for free,” what is it costing you to learn and what are you earning from the lessons? Are you adding to your personal value with each lesson? What is your return on investment for learning? Where are you “wasting” valuable energy or time? For many of us, placing a monetary value on common activities helps us reimagine our efforts and respond energetically to make and maintain shifts in our everyday lives, especially when it may impact our future earning potential.  

  1. Once you’ve “learned” something, it can seem simple in hindsight.
photo of head bust print artwork

Something strange happened two months after I began a tai chi class at the downtown YMCA when I lived in Houston. The instructor spoke regularly about how tai chi is an ancient martial art form, and one day I realized that I didn’t need to memorize the sequence of movements, but instead I could focus on remembering what was already in my DNA. Sometimes, learning is about letting go. It sounds strange, but others before you have learned geometry, so you only need to remember what your ancestors already know to gain the knowledge for yourself. 

That was a brain cleanser for you (if you needed one). Walking, eating with a spoon, whistling, braiding hair, playing a complex video game, repairing a mountain bike, and many other activities we engage in every day required practice for you to learn. Once someone knows how to drive a car, they don’t then grip the wheel each moment contemplating driving’s complexities. They drive. Learning to use a spreadsheet, play hacky sack, or divide fractions are all similar in that once you know them they become a matter of muscle memory, and muscles can be strengthened. It’s also easy to forget exactly how difficult it was to learn a skill in the first place, so give yourself a lot of patience and grace when it comes to new learning, even if the instructor fails to. Better yet, keep a reflective writing notebook to track your learning journey each week. 

person holding string lights photo
  1. In many ways, it’s up to you how a class “is.” Choose wisely.

Just as one student may have the power to ruin a class for others, each and every student (and at all times) has the power to make the class more meaningful, fun, or engaging. I wrote in the previous post about how a teacher can help structure a class, but teachers do not retain independent power over all things, as much as they may wish they did. Especially when it comes to how a class feels and runs. Teachers don’t wield enough control to “make” a class fun or boring, memorable or forgettable. A teacher can set the conditions for the tone or style of a lesson, but students always have the advantage when it comes to shaping how a class moves along from day to day. 

You, as the student, can choose to make anything exciting or boring, world-shattering or mundane. Since a person doesn’t even truly know if they like something or not until they’ve fully engaged with it, why not choose to convince yourself that anything and everything is interesting? I know this strategy works because I have used it in countless hours of professional development sessions, continuing education courses, and school staff meetings. We always have a choice in deciding how a thing “is,” and we have the power to change our mind. Why choose to endure boredom when it is really up to you how interesting something seems?

  1. Many students “hide in plain sight” in class. What if you honored and celebrated who you are as a learner, instead?
brown letter tiles on white surface

It’s a well-known tragedy that many students are “pushed through” grades year after year without having gained the skills or confidence they need to thrive. The United States is also dealing with a toxic school culture where bullying, violence, and social pressures weigh heavily on students’ daily lives. One of the most common statements I heard from former students was, “I could have tried more.” There are many reasons why students choose to endure school by hiding in plain sight, but they all have the same effect on the learner which is to dull their light under a blanket of added pressure. Hiding who you are amongst the herd goes exactly against what your biological development is attempting to do as an adolescent, which is to individuate yourself to join the world according to your gifts and interests. It’s a terrible paradox that so many young learners complete high school without understanding much of who they are in relation to the world, and the tendency to hide through early schooling plays a part in that.

This may sound like a continuation of numbers 7 and 9, but there is more to be said for proudly announcing to the world early and often that you are your own person, and that you are here to help make the world a better place. Rose-colored glasses aside, thousands of students could save themselves a lot of heartache and difficulty by finding (and regularly practicing using) their voice to advocate for themselves instead of remaining silent and going unnoticed. Maybe it is part of the human condition to make huge, avoidable errors in youth in order to define who we want to become as adults. Still, can you imagine what would happen if you asked three meaningful questions every class, or even just every day? What if you read poetry when you had a spare moment? What if you entered fiction writing competitions? What if you started reporting about campus life and events? What if you got involved with a community organization? What if you looked into summer travel programs? What if you started a business? Spend a few moments imagining what you could do once you found your voice, and then ask yourself if taking those first steps is possible.

cheerful elderly man listening to music in headphones

A Bonus tip/trick/shift to take you further…

Now that you have so many new Back to School Tips, Tricks, and Shifts to use, we can offer one final (and lighthearted) *bonus,* which is to study with instrumental music. Yes, the research shows that any music will improve the results of your studying sessions as long as it’s music you enjoy, but I prefer anything without lyrics to really help me focus and progress on my learning journey. Have fun exploring new classical, Lo-Fi, instrumental hip hop, and soothing zen/nature/spa playlists to liven up your study sessions and boost your learning.

While we understand that each of these tips, tricks, and shifts might not apply to every learner, we hope that you found something inspiring and useful among these 5 (err… 6) ideas selected to help you make and maintain positive changes in your learning. 

Check back for our next post as we continue to bring you Back to School Tips, Tricks, and Shifts to improve your learning journey.

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