Maintaining Balance & Focus

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Written By Olga Shkolnikov

Not to throw math at you during these trying times, but we have made it about two thirds through the year and there still seems to be 0% certainty about what’s to come. Many plans for reopening schools this fall are up in the air. Yet there are a few certainties to help keep students balanced, focused, and successful in the months ahead, especially when it comes to key academic skills.

However schools will operate this fall, research shows that most students will lose some academic gains over the summer, especially in literacy. To help combat the loss of that progress in reading and writing, here is some advice from an English teacher. Reading and writing skills wane when they are not practiced regularly, which is what happens when students cram the majority of their summer reading into the last few weeks of summer. If the books assigned are not engaging and/or are accompanied by tests, then students will associate reading with negative, high-stakes experiences and avoid it that much more. 

In order to change this association and increase reading frequency, students can challenge themselves to spend twenty minutes a few times a week reading what they love. Maybe this means a sports article on a favorite team or a biographical article on a favorite singer. It can be shared among friends and discussed or debated. The key is to find joy and value in reading. 

It’s equally important to create that kind of positive experience with writing, especially since many students struggle with writing assignments outside of the pressures of a pandemic. When students write for school, usually it is in essay form for a high-stakes grade on a less relatable topic. This makes college application essays so challenging, given that these require very personal and creative writing. Students can maintain writing skills and become more familiar with this form of writing by spending ten minutes a week journaling about frustrations, stresses, and other thoughts. This can help reduce anxiety and prepare students for the personal writing component of college and scholarship applications. They can also respond to a freewriting question from this link once a week for 5-7 minutes in order to build their creative writing skills under less pressure. Check out a prompt that speaks to you, set a timer, and write your heart out just for the sake of writing!

With all the additional stresses accompanying this school year, falling behind and getting overwhelmed is the last thing anyone needs. Students can avoid this by setting specific and realistic goals, challenging themselves and their friends, scheduling times to read and write for joy, and making time in general for what brings some happiness and peace.

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