Category Archives: 2. Featured Articles

Enjoy Your Summer—Science Says It’s Okay

By the end of the academic year, most of us are counting the days until we can get a little R and R—and it’s no wonder, considering the intellectual, emotional, and physical demands of teaching. Between class prep, administrative duties, needy students, and relentless grading, summer can—and should—be a time to rest, relax, and recover, so that we can recommit to our jobs come fall.

Too often, however, we end up using our summers to catch up on research or writing. We meet with colleagues to compare notes and occasionally grouse when we should actually take vacation time much more seriously.

Science backs this up, and it all has to do with stress. Stress builds up over the course of the year and can be so toxic that it impedes the body’s ability to resist infection. It can even lead to poor digestion, anxiety, depression, and irritability. Sound familiar?

Multiple studies show that vacations ease stress by removing us from the people and environments that cause that stress. Getting away from it all breaks your usual pattern and allows you to rejuvenate yourself. Research indicates that vacationers come home with fewer headaches and backaches. Taking time off even appears to prevent heart disease, heart attacks, and death from a cardiac-related event. Better sleep is yet another result of vacations—because vacations change up our habits, they reset our sleeping patterns, so we sleep better when we return home.

Aside from physical reasons to stop and smell the roses, research shows that taking time off actually improves productivity back at work. Constant working at peak capacity (or close to it) ironically hinders us from doing our best work. The Boston Consulting group found that employees who vacationed were happier as well as more efficient workers than their counterparts who stayed home. Frequent vacationers tend to remain at their jobs longer, too, the researchers found.

One of the problems with vacations, however, is that they often become another source of stress. The following pointers can help your vacation do what it’s supposed to.

  1. Plan ahead. Research your destination so you can choose activities and reserve tickets.
  2. Know laws and regulations. Be aware of other countries’ laws and regulations. Learn your rights about airline-related issues, too.
  3. Enjoy yourself. Let go of guilt about leaving home and those who aren’t with you.
  4. Check e-mail…if you must. Many people feel stress about the pile-up of unanswered mail when they return home. If you’re one of them, check your e-mail when you’re away. It’s better than worrying about it.
  5. Try new activities. Challenges that take you out of your comfort zone will help you feel replenished.
  6. Plan for contingencies. Bring medications, sunscreen, extra glasses, and whatever you need to feel comfortable while away.

As teachers, we don’t work traditional hours. We can be responding to student e-mails at midnight on a Sunday or preparing a lesson at 6 a.m. for a 10 a.m. class. Summer is the time for us to take advantage of time away from the academy, so that we can return fresh and ready for the next batch of students.

So, happy summer!



Rote Learning Can Turn Reticent Students into Active Learners

We’re all guilty of it—calling on the willing student with hand raised and eagerly waving rather than waiting for a more reserved student to hesitantly choke out a response. However, doing so most likely favors the student who is a better rote learner rather than a more creative thinker.

The reason has to do with the way people remember information. Students who are quick to respond likely have strong working memories, which allow an individual to hold onto information and store it until it needs to be retrieved. Working memories cause the avid hand-raisers to readily withdraw ideas from their memory banks, making them have what we often refer to as a steel-trap memory. These students can access several ideas as they think, so they can quickly calculate, translate, or call out the right answer.

As any teacher knows, not every student has this ability, especially those with distractibility. These learners tend to not have strong working memories. However, researchers are now saying they are actually more creative. Having a poor working memory, (the non-steel-trap kind) makes ideas flow more freely instead of fitting into the confines of the working memory bank. When ideas bounce around, creativity results.

Consequently, when instructors favor the willing hand waver over the quieter student, they may be acting biased toward a specific type of learner. Therefore, teachers should  integrate practices that help students without high-functioning working memories. Ironically, rote memorization is one of these practices, and it is a learning strategy sorely missing in Americans’ educations today.

By requiring memorization, we actually help students master a subject. Below are strategies you can pass along to help students with lesser working memories become more proficient learners.

  • Chunking. Chunking is memorizing bits of information (chunks) and grouping them into a larger whole that is more easily retrieved. Example: memorizing a few new vocabulary words that are somehow linked instead of attempting to memorize an entire list at once.
  • Mnemonic Mnemonics are an acronym, rhyme, image, phrase, or song that act as a memory trigger. Example: I before E except after C and words that sound A as in neighbor and weigh.
  • Metaphors/Analogies. Metaphors and analogies are the best devices to remember complex subjects because they take previous knowledge and apply it to new information. Example: comparing the direct organizational strategy to an inverted pyramid, with information organized in descending order of importance.

These learning strategies can help even our tightest-lipped students join the conversation and become more active learners.

What strategies to you use to pull in reticent students? Share your ideas!



Stress Management 101: Preparing Students for the Job Search

[Instructors: Download a PDF of the advice in this article here.]

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no matter how well we teach students to write cover letters and résumés and prepare them to interview, they will likely experience anxiety when they begin their job search. It’s only natural—they are new at the process, which is inherently fraught with fear. So how can we best prepare students for what lies ahead? Below is advice you can pass along to your neophyte job hunters.

Acknowledge the reality of situation. Looking for a job is one of the most difficult and stressful tasks we undertake, and money concerns are just one reason—it’s also disconcerting to have little control over the hiring process. Everything from unanswered applications to not receiving feedback on interviews to uncontrollable events that affect the hiring process contribute to the anxiety-provoking experience. For these reasons, experts suggest that job seekers go into the process being aware that everyone faces these hurdles and that eventually you will find work.

Be realistic. It doesn’t make sense to apply for jobs that ask for specific requirements you do not possess. Likewise, understand your own personal deal breakers when it comes to who you will work for and what you will do. On the other hand, experts suggest remaining open to situations that may be less than your ideal position. Remember your first job is just that—your first job. It may not be perfect, but you can learn something from every position you hold.

Keep focused. Have a goal and move toward it. Chart out your primary objective and then create specific steps to achieving it. Commit your proposed actions to paper—they will become more real. Hold yourself accountable by putting in time and adhering to a schedule for your job search. Learn to enjoy the rewarding feeling of finishing tasks on the path toward your goal.

 Know yourself. A career takes careful consideration and planning, so it makes sense to think about what you want out of yours. Do you enjoy working alone or in groups? Are you willing to move to take a job or travel regularly once you have one? What kind of people do you want to surround yourself with? Are you attracted to small or large firms? Then conduct a self-analysis: What are you good at? Not so good at? Define your hard and soft skills, your values, and other strengths and weaknesses. Understanding yourself and what you can bring to an organization is the first step to finding the right fit.

Learn to handle rejection. There’s no getting around the fact that you will face rejection, and it’s normal to feel down sometimes. Remember that failure is temporary. Face the emotion, process it, and then move on: Do not let setbacks put you in the doldrums. Use positive thinking, reach out to family and friends for support, and develop grit and resilience. Job hunting is a part of life, so take the long view.

Reassess.  If you are feeling hopeless because nothing is panning out, reassess your strategy. Perhaps you can talk to a career counselor or mentor. Perhaps you need to rethink your tactics or goals. Don’t let too much time go by before you take action to change what is holding you back.

 Take care of yourself. A job search can be overwhelming, so it’s important to keep yourself fit, mentally and physically. Eat well, get enough sleep, and don’t forget to exercise. Make sure to keep up social relationships and stay busy with activities unrelated to hunting for a job.

Instructors: What advice do you offer your career-bound students? We’d love to hear from you!