- Why Study Skills?
- For Administrators: Where Do I Get Started?
- For Teachers: How Do I Get Started?
- Five-Step Plan to Curriculum Implementation
- The Optimal Implementation Plan for SOAR® Study Skills
Why Study Skills?
Raise Students’ Grades, Test Scores… and Motivation!
If you have not already seen the video from Principal Robyn Ellis, you shouldn’t miss it! Robyn’s school implemented SOAR® and her students made incredible gains:
- The average student GPAs rose by more than 1 full point, and
- Standardized test scores skyrocketed, by more than 5 standard points!
Students Are Begging for Study Skills!
250 middle school students in Madison, VA petitioned their school board, asking for study skills! They know they don’t know HOW to learn… and they want to learn!
See the story here.
Study Skills Simplify the Common Core
The Common Core was built around “Anchor Standards.” The Anchor Standards were intended to define outcomes for graduating 12th-graders. However, the Anchor Standards are actually “study skills.” If you teach study skills first, you will eliminate the “friction” of learning because students will know how to access new content. See how SOAR covers 100% of the Common Core Anchor Standards.
Study Skills Are Life-Long Skills for College & Career Success
93% of the “most-needed” skills are soft skills! This finding was confirmed by a validated survey of employers in high-growth sectors1, such as healthcare and technology. Of the 57 skills cited as “most needed” by these employers, only four related to technology. The remaining 53 skills were soft skills/study skills, confirming these are evergreen skills. They are the skills that will allow today’s students to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of tomorrow’s technology and advancements. See more about the correlation between study skills and workplace-readiness skills, here.
For Administrators: “Where Do I Get Started?”
The question of “Where to start?” simply requires clarity on four, more specific, questions:
Click on each question above for options to consider. We have spoken to hundreds of schools implementing study skills over the years; each and every one of them has a different set of parameters guiding their implementation. So, the examples behind each question are starting points; options are limited only by your creativity!
Who Will Get This Instruction?
Options typically include:
Creating a culture of “strategic learning” with study skills will yield amazing results!To ensure success, a careful implementation plan must be developed to ensure the majority of your team members will be properly prepared to support the initiative.SOAR® Curriculum Consultants are available to provide customized 1-1 consultations to help you match your goals, objectives, and special parameters of your school.
Such as first-year students entering middle or high school. SOAR® is an ideal component for a “middle school seminar” or “freshman academy” class.
Such as an elective class, special education, academic probation, gifted & talented (Yes, they need study skills, too!), and after-school tutoring club/enrichment programs.
How Can We Fit Study Skills in Our Schedule?
Options typically fall into these categories:
YEAR-ROUND CLASS – This option is usually selected when schools offer a year-round course of some kind. It might be a class that meets daily or weekly, such as: homeroom, “middle school academy,” “freshman seminar.”
- Hurst Middle School, a public school just outside of New Orleans, built “SOAR Time” into the last twenty minutes of their day by shaving a few minutes from each class period. (“SOAR Time” more than made up for those few minutes when students showed up to class with all of their assignments neatly organized every day!) For SOAR Time, students met in small groups with their designated SOAR teacher. The teacher helped them get organized at the end of the day, reviewing assignments, checking binders and book bags, and doing a general status check with each student in their group. Yes, this sometimes became a counseling session, but that’s just as important! The point is, no student left the school without some quality 1-1 interaction with a teacher (the small groups were made possible by enlisting the help of ALL staff members).
- Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville, IN, added SOAR® to their daily “Kairos” time. Kairos time is a daily time set aside for students to collect their thoughts, connect with teachers 1-1, reflect, worship, and yes, learn study skills. For freshmen, 1-2 Kairos sessions each week are dedicated to teaching and coaching students in study skills.
- Maeser Prep Academy, a public charter school just outside of Salt Lake City, UT, made study skills a full year course, required for all incoming 6th graders. Led by the 2013 SOAR® Teacher of the Year, Marlene Goodrich, all 6th graders have support in implementing strategies throughout the whole year.
SEMESTER/QUARTER/TRIMESTER CLASS – These classes are typically dedicated study skills classes. Usually, schools make this a “required” course for entering middle or high school students. Options include:
- Replacing an elective credit.
- Offering as an elective. Here’s an important tip: If you make this class an elective, do NOT call it study skills. Call it “Better Grades in Less Time,” or you won’t get many students signing up, at least not initially. Once the class is rolling, students love it! But, when it is an optional elective, you have to get a group through the doors, first.
- Academic probation/at-risk classes.
- Special education classes, small groups, or 1-1 support.
EMBEDDED INTO THE CURRICULUM – If this option is under consideration, you have a secondary question to consider: will the content be delivered explicitly by specific teachers (for example, all English teachers will be expected to teach study skills content) OR will you simply train teachers and have them teach the concepts and strategies as needed. (The latter option has some pit-falls. If this option is necessary, call us to help you work through them.)
- Lake Orion High School, a public high school outside of Detroit, MI, (where my husband, Brian, taught for ten years) combined study skills with the required freshman English class. Teachers worked their way through the study skills and English curriculum over the course of a full year.
BEFORE OR AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS – This is how SOAR® was born. I taught it as an after-school program when I was a high school classroom teacher. The upside to this option is that it is the most flexible. It is not as optimal as other options, however, since fewer students typically attend these classes and the strategies do not become part of the school culture.
What Materials and Supplies Are Needed?
To get the dramatic improvements like Robyn Ellis and her students achieved –results that are guaranteed by SOAR®, you need to have the right materials. The SOAR® Study Skills materials are a small fraction of “core content” curriculum, yet study skills apply across the curriculum! The required components include:
SOAR® Multi-Media Teacher’s Guide – The Teacher’s Guide has done all of the prep-work so teachers can put their energy into working with their students. Quality, interactive lessons are right at their finger-tips and ready for delivery (for a preview of the Multi-Media Teacher’s Guide, click HERE):
- 180 done-for-you and engaging slides.
- Multiple assessments for clear progress-monitoring.
- Lessons are neatly organized into 10-20-minute chunks, each with supporting slides and teacher notes.
- Spiral review is built into each lesson.
- The Study Skills Scorecard address the WIIFM (What’s In It for Me?) Factor, dramatically improving motivation! During Lesson 1, students fill out this scorecard to identify their target needs. The Scorecard is then revisited at the beginning of each lesson so students can clearly see the relevance of each lesson to their life, or their peers’ lives.
- Interactive extension activities are included.
SOAR® Student Book – SOAR® has been a “flipped class” since long before the term was known! The book is written in short, concise, and clear chapters with a lot of visual support. Students get the background information, access prior knowledge, and make important learning connections before they even get to class.
This makes for much more fruitful classroom discussions, which facilitates “positive peer pressure” (see article about this concept here). In short, the positive peer pressure serves to make the learning much more deep and relevant for all students as they learn from each other. It also serves as a very effective way to gently coax along the 20% of students –in every group- that just don’t know if they can trust the information you are delivering. Many of these students will let their guard down when they see how their peers are responding.
SOAR® Student App – The app covers the entire SOAR® Learning & Soft Skills workbook, presented as a self-guided course.
The Online App Includes:
✓ Interactive content/games, providing immediate feedback
✓ “How-to” videos, illustrating strategies
✓ Fully narrated slides, for reading support
✓ Quizzes/assessments, to ensure understanding of material
✓ Badges & certificates awarded for achievements
✓ Easy access from any computer or mobile device
ADDITIONAL SUPPLIES – The only additional supplies required will replace what students already use; instead of a dozen folders and notebooks, each student will need:
- One binder – 1 or 1.5 inches with plastic pocket on the inside, front cover.
- One poly binder folder for each class.
- One academic planner or agenda.
How Do I Get My Staff on Board?
Step 1: Identify your Leader Teacher for this initiative. Privately speak to individual members of your staff to determine who might be a great cheerleader for this initiative. (You probably already know who this person is.) Once you have determined how study skills will fit into your schedule (see Admins “Where Do I Start – Question 2,”), determine if this leader teacher will actively teach the curriculum, serve as the grand coordinator, or both.
Once this teacher, or team of teachers, is on board, share this implementation guide with them. Eventually, you’ll proceed on to the next step.
Step 2: Train your entire staff in a few, basic strategies so they can support the use of SOAR® across the curriculum. At the very least, demonstrate the following strategies over the course of a couple staff meetings: how to use a planner, how the SOAR® Binder System works, and strategies for reading a textbook. (We recommend these strategies because they are the most popular with “reluctant” teachers and students.)
NOTE: EVERY SCHOOL WILL FACE OBJECTIONS FROM SEVERAL TEACHERS. Generally, the break-down goes like this:
- 10-20% of teachers will be very enthusiastic, right from the start!
- 60-80% will appear somewhat neutral. They are a bit tired of “new initiatives” and have to see some evidence that this will work before they get jazzed. Most of the teachers in this group, however, will soon grow more enthusiastic as they see the strategies working.
- 10-20% of teachers will voice strong objection! Be prepared for this. Expect it. It happens everywhere, in every school. It is a matter of statistical fact within group dynamics.
The second person to contribute to a conversation determines the direction of the conversation. In other words, if the first person to respond –after strategies are presented– is one of the strong objectors, your whole meeting will go in a negative direction. Strategize your way out of that downward spiral by planning carefully. Work with one of the enthusiastic team members. Have that person interject with a question or comment (delivered with a positive and encouraging tone) while seated amongst the rest of the staff. Of course, you will need to consider all legitimate questions and concerns, but this strategy gets the conversation moving in a positive direction maintaining a proactive attitude among the staff.
For Teachers: “How Do I Get Started?”
I vividly remember my thoughts and feelings as a classroom teacher. Every time I began implementing a new curriculum program, I always wondered, “What’s the best way to do this?”
Frankly, there never seemed to be simple answers. Now that I’m on the publication side of curriculum, I totally understand the dilemma; every state, district, school, and classroom has unique parameters within which to work. So, publishers provide a vast menu of instruction options to meet so many needs. The problem on your end, however, is that the menu of options becomes overwhelming!
However, I’ve learned a simple strategy for peeling back the overwhelm. I first developed this strategy while consulting for another very large (actually, the largest in the world) educational publisher, helping them manage curriculum implementation for all subject areas. I continue to use it now, when consulting with principals and teachers about implementing my own program, SOAR® Study Skills.
My point is, this strategy is flexible. It works wonderfully for study skills, which is obviously why I am outlining it here. But, hold this in your “back pocket” for use with future implementation initiatives, as well.
Five-Step Plan for Implementing Any Curriculum
1. Use only what you need and what your students need! This is a critical point; your curriculum tools are a tool box, not a prescription! If you need to repair a leaky faucet, you’ll carry your toolbox to the sink –and then use only the tools needed to fix the leak. Using all of the tools just for the sake of using them would be absurd.
The same is true for your curriculum materials. As I just explained, publishers have such a vast majority of needs to accommodate, we often give you more than you can use because we are meeting multiple demands. Don’t feel obligated to use everything.
2. Identify what the authors feel is “Optimal Implementation.” Please understand, “optimal” is almost NEVER possible! EVERY school has to deal with logistical restrictions imposed by mandates, schedules, available personnel, etc. THAT’S OKAY. “Optimal” is your starting point.
In many Teacher’s Editions, the optimal implementation plan is laid out in the form of a daily lesson plan. Other curriculum programs will have an Introduction or Teacher Handbook that provide templates for lesson planning or pacing of instruction.
Almost always, those lesson plans are presented as if they are the one-and-only way to implement the program; this is very misleading! In fact, it’s often damaging to well-intentioned teachers who naturally draw the conclusion that they are doing something wrong. This belief prompts them to grow very frustrated with themselves.
The problem is that the implied expectations are impossible to meet. In creating the Optimal Plan, almost no publisher accounts for the inevitable logistical constraints facing every administrator and teacher on the planet.
So, I will say it again. “Optimal” is only your starting point!
3. Identify your time parameters. How much time to do you have? A semester? A quarter? A 45-minute weekly seminar? Your schedule will be the #1 factor that underlies all of your decisions. I find it extremely helpful to draw a grid outlining the # of weeks (or days—whatever fits best on a 1 sheet of 8.5×11 paper) I have for covering the curriculum.
When I consult with schools, I ask:
- How many weeks do you have to dedicate to this instruction?
- How many days/week?
- How many minutes/day?
- How many students/class?
Whether I’m talking to them face-to-face or over the phone, I then draw a grid outlining the # of weeks, days, and minutes. This visual removes many conceptual “roadblocks” that face educators when they are in a state of overwhelm with a new curriculum.
4. List your top objectives and priorities. What do your students need? What do you want to accomplish with the class? What are the expectations of your administration? After reviewing the materials and the Optimal Plan, what really resonated with you? What tools do you want to be sure and use?
CAUTION: Do not overthink this. Spend no more than thirty minutes brain-storming all of your thoughts, then another 15-30 minutes prioritizing your brainstorm list. Turn off the computer. Go to a local coffee shop. Get a comforting beverage. And, write. You will be amazed at how much clarity this focused brainstorm time will bring to you.
Your success with the curriculum and with your students entirely depends on your level of clarity regarding objectives and priorities. By taking the time to dice-up these issues on the front end, you’ll save hours of frustration later.
More than half of my consultation time is spent hashing out these objectives and priorities; I ask a lot of questions! Frankly, most educators have never had a free moment to think about these elements. Of course, they always have a vague notion of why they want a particular curriculum program, but I will ask probing questions to make sure they are crystal clear on their top objectives and priorities.
If you are doing this on your own, imagine I’m sitting across from you. What types of questions might I ask you to get a very clear picture of what you want your students to walk away with? Answers will come to you rapidly, seemingly out of nowhere. All you need is a small amount of reflection time. (But, again, I advise the comforting beverage from the local coffee shop. A different environment facilitates more effective reflection.)
5. Finally, map the “Optimal” into the “Real.” Now that you have identified your top priorities, pull the pieces from the Optimal Plan into your lesson plan. We all have time constraints and other logistical limitations. But, now that you have identified your top objectives –and given yourself permission to use only what you need- it will be very easy to map components of the Optimal Plan into your Real Plan.
Without steps 1-4, this process would seem daunting and overwhelming. But, after taking time to create a visual representation of your scheduling parameters, reflecting on top objectives and making a list of top priorities, you will find this step to be a breeze!
The “Optimal” Implementation Plan for SOAR® Study Skills
The suggestions below are based on “ideal” resources of time, personnel, and budget. When implementing SOAR®, you will pull elements from this list to fit your schedule and accommodate your top objectives and priorities.
Two things to remember:
- Anything is better than nothing. These are life-changing strategies. Teaching one of them is far more effective than “zero” of them.
- “Optimal” is only a starting point. It is almost never possible to accomplish, given unique limitations of scheduling, personnel, and budget.
Optimal Implementation Plan for SOAR®:
- If possible, teach SOAR® in a dedicated, stand-alone class.
- Ideally, fall semester is the best time for this class. Many schools incorporate SOAR® into a first-year seminar class for middle-schoolers or a freshman academy for high school students. What better way to prepare students for success in their new school?
- See the SOAR Pacing Video for guidelines on fitting the curriculum into your schedule.
- Train your entire staff in a few, basic strategies so they can support the use of SOAR® across the curriculum. At the very least, demonstrate the following strategies over the course of a couple staff meetings: how to use a planner, how the SOAR® Binder System works, and strategies for reading a textbook. (See “How do I get my staff on board?” above.)
Getting Started With Students
- On Day 1, have students take the Study Skills Scorecard and set up the SOAR® Binder System. Explain how to use the binder system.
- Day 2-Day 7, focus on two things: daily review (and cleaning) of the Binder and Section One, covering the multiple intelligences. Let students spend a LOT of time investigating and researching their strongest intelligences, using the resources in the SOAR® workbook and MMTG. Many teachers feel they need to rush through Section One get to the “real” content. But, the time spent on genuine investigations and celebrations of students’ natural talents and intelligences is an investment. The dividends will pay you ten-fold in the form of personal trust and motivation!
- Schedule time for weekly 1-1 interviews. Spend 2-7 minutes with each student, focusing on “What is going well?” After a month, you can begin to address what is not going well. But even then, always start and end these conversations with positive questions and feedback. (If time is tight, aim for a three-minute check-in 2-3x/week with the 20% of your class that needs the most support. For the remaining 80%, schedule 1-1 meetings every other week or every month. (Trust me, there will always be an 80/20 curve in your class!)
- Allow time for class discussions. You are naturally prompted to host class discussions with the Spiral Reviews and Lesson Reviews in the MMTG. Class discussions help influence positive peer pressure. You want to highlight successes and breakthroughs of as many students as possible, allowing them to share their own stories. As peers hear success stories from other peers, they slowly allow their wall of resistance to fall. Rules: always keep feedback focused on specific accomplishments or behaviors and validate their experiences and feelings, even if someone says a strategy is awful. Typically, if you dig deeper in these situations, you’ll identify the real barrier to success and can determine a simple detour.
- Allow time for application. Study skills are only worth learning if students know how to use them. So, allow time in class for students to organize their binders, check on their planners, practice the textbook-reading strategies, write papers, and study for tests. You don’t need to be directing the activity every day. In fact, you shouldn’t be directing the activity every day. This is very much a “hands-on” implementation course, so allow time for students to do other work, while applying the SOAR® strategies.