Dear Dr. Linda,
I’m a guidance counselor in a local high school. I talk to teachers all day that are complaining that their students don’t study or hand in homework. I talk to parents all day who complain that their kids are struggling because the school isn’t teaching study skills. To be honest with you, most of the kids I meet don’t have time to study. They have so many after school activities that they truly don’t have time. When I bring this up to parents or teachers, they usually give me the same answer, “Oh, they have plenty of time to do what they want to do.” I don’t think they do. I remember being in high school and college and struggling with time limitations because I was involved with sports. Do you have any suggestions that I can share with my students? Thanks in advance, Gregg C. High School Guidance Counselor
You’re right on! So many teachers and parents focus on study skills being a problem when, in fact, students with the best study skills will still not do well in school if they don’t have the time to put them in practice.
I received a call from a mom telling me that her 9th grade son needed a tutor because he wasn’t doing well in any subject. She told me that she’d like for them to meet with me, so we looked at our schedules. Her son, she said, was available from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday nights. That was it. Besides school, he was on the chess team, tennis team, and swim team and he played the violin in the orchestra. After a few minutes, I told her that her son probably didn’t need tutoring. What he needed to do was cut back on his afterschool activities, so he’d actually have time to study.
Although this was an extreme case, it’s not as extreme as it seems. Most students I meet with are overbooked, overstressed, and exhausted. Instead of arranging extracurricular activities around schoolwork, they’re doing the reverse—they’re trying to fit doing schoolwork into crammed afterschool schedules.
Develop a time management grid and have your students complete it. It’s simple. On a standard sheet of paper, draw a table with 8 columns and 19 rows. In the left column, write “TIME” in the top box/cell and then underneath start at 6:00 a.m. and enter every hour through 11:00 p.m. Across the top of the other columns, write the days of the week.
Have your students write their daily activities in the boxes, including travel to school, class time, and extracurricular activities.
Then, have them highlight the boxes. Use one color for school-related activities (in class, after-school activities like sports, work hours (if applicable), and the hours needed to get ready for school in the morning and eat breakfast/dinner. (Sleep will be assumed to be between the hours of midnight and 6:00 although teenagers need more than six hours of sleep on average. Use a different color to highlight activities like “must-see TV shows,” time spent talking to friends on the phone or a social media app, time spent at religious services or going out with friends or family members, and any other activities done on the weekends.
Then, use a third color for homework/study time. Keep in mind that the average middle and high school student will have about two hours of homework a night—maybe three if they’re in honors or AP courses.
Some of your students will be shocked to find that when they’re ready to enter the homework/study time, no boxes are left. The point is that they have insufficient time to do schoolwork after school. They rush through it or don’t do it all because there are just 24 hours in a day and part of that time is needed for sleep so their brains are refreshed and ready to learn new knowledge and skills.
If studying and getting homework is a priority, some of the other activities will have to go. It goes without saying that the student should be intimately involved in choosing what will change about the schedule and the process will be a good opportunity for practicing the skill of weighing options and making decisions that will most benefit him or her overall. (And, this process is good for overbooked, overstressed, exhausted adults too.)