If your high school student is like most across the US this past spring, they had to work from home, do a lot of homework without much teacher input, leaving them bored and frustrated. For the new school year, nobody really knows yet whether students can return to work face-to-face with their teachers, but it’s highly likely that distance learning will remain the norm for at least a few days each week.
So what can high school students do to keep learning and growing, and to manage the boredom and frustrations they will likely experience in the fall?
From my work as a learning scientist, I see three “superpowers” every high school student needs to learn and grow in the complicated world we currently live in.
Superpower 1: Stay Curious
Ask questions about the world and keep wondering about your experiences. If something doesn’t make sense, ask about it. If an interaction leaves you frustrated, ask yourself why. Don’t expect to get easy answers, but listen carefully to the answers that do come.
Remaining in a curious stance, like a martial arts fighter staying balanced under attack, makes you nimble and able to act when the time is right. You won’t get stuck or angry as easily, and will recover more easily from frustration and setbacks. Staying curious also can make academic work more interesting and open up new avenues of exploration.
Superpower 2: Set 3 Goals each Day
Start each day by picking three simple goals to complete that day, and write them down. Goals could be to finish a chapter in a book, watch three videos, message a friend, or to eat at a certain time. Track them throughout the day, and check them off at the end of the day, or figure out why you couldn’t complete them and learn from that result.
So much of school is about teachers telling students what to do, and students asking teachers for direction. That experience can be frustrating and lead to feelings of powerlessness. Setting and achieving even small goals is like flexing a muscle, which gets stronger with practice. Over time, you’ll achieve more, set bigger goals, and will feel that you actually have more power over your own life choices.
Superpower 3: Focus to the Finish
For any task you pick up, commit to finishing it (or a part of it if it’s a bigger task) before you switch to something else. Stay focused until you hit the finish line, and resist the temptation to check your phone, switch to a different screen, get up and walk away, at least until you’ve hit your next finish line.
Staying in a focused zone can be tough with all the distractions that working from home present and without adults requiring attention. More and more research points to the fact that multitasking is exhausting and leads to lower-quality work. By sticking to “single tasking” — finishing one task at a time — increases feelings of accomplishment and success, and leads to better results.
So much of high school is about grind and grades, and the research is pretty clear: longer-term success is the result of skills like these superpowers. Help your student start the year off right — talk with them (and maybe even their teachers) about applying these superpowers every day this fall. You will be amazed at what your student can do.