The best lesson students could learn this school year has nothing to do with the 3 R's. Beyond reading, writing and arithmetic, the new buzzword for students surrounded by today's high-tech distractions is time management -- and it's a skill even many adults have trouble mastering.
With typically overloaded schedules and time-stealing technology that ranges from computer video games and social-networking sites to cellphones and text-messaging, today's multitasking students face a huge challenge when it comes to focusing on schoolwork, say veteran educators and tutors.
"We teach every child to tell time. We don't teach any child how to manage time,'' says Donna Goldberg, co-author of The Organized Student (Fireside, $14.95), who advocates adding time management to the school curriculum and re-introducing analog clocks to the home to help kids better visualize the passage of time.
"Each of us is overwhelmed and deluged by the amount of information that rushes in to us on a daily basis, and that includes students,'' she says. "When you get on the Internet, you're lost -- it's so captivating. We're not teaching students to know when it's the tool of choice and when it isn't.''
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GOBBLING UP TIME
Goldberg, a New York-based study skills consultant, compares the communications technology that's overtaking the lives of many students to the classic Pac Man icon that gobbles up everything in sight. "It just goes around eating your time,'' she says.
One of the biggest offenders is instant-messaging, whether by computer or cellphone, when a student is supposed to be doing homework. "In fact, we really can't blame children for this. It is the world in which they live,'' Goldberg says. But its toll, nonetheless, can be staggering.
"Let's say children get 20 to 50 instant messages per night, which is not all that unusual,'' she says. "By the time they stop to read and answer each one and transition back to what they were studying, they've lost at least three minutes. That means they can lose anywhere from an hour to 2 1/2 hours a night and not even realize it.''
Given such unwitting time drains, it's crucial for parents to monitor how much time their kids, at any age, are spending on technology, Goldberg says. If it's excessive and having a detrimental impact on grades, the solution may be to disconnect the Internet or ban the use of cellphones during homework time.
Taking a tough stance now, she says, is easier than having a child who fails out of college because he or she doesn't have the proper study skills.
Claudia Pearson, an academic counselor at the Keller Clinic in Bloomfield Hills, agrees.
"Students believe that they can multitask,'' she says. "But we can't do it as adults and they can't do it as students. It looks like they're on the computer working away, yet it's not focused time on homework.''
She suggests built-in rewards to motivate students, such as setting aside breaks between each study session when they can catch up on instant messaging, text messaging or phone calls. The formula might be 45 minutes of study time equals a 10-minute break for middle-
schoolers, and up to an hour of study time equals a 15-minute break for high-school students.
Similarly, Kristen Campbell, national director of academic prep programs for the tutoring chain, Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, suggests establishing a commitment/reward pact, possibly 15 minutes of homework equals 15 minutes of free time at night's end to pursue Facebook or other social networking.
"Instead of trying to fight it or cut it off completely, set up some ground rules going in,'' she says.
Studying with friends also may get a bad rap, Campbell says, but rather than an excuse
to hang out with friends, study groups can be beneficial.
The key is to set up groups that complement student strengths and weaknesses. For example, someone who is good in math linking with others who are better in language arts.
And the groups needn't always be close friends but, rather, classmates with a common interest in passing the class.
Beyond that, Campbell says, getting involved in school activities and staying busy actually can help students better manage time, rather than procrastinating and frittering away hours on Facebook.
"If you know you have sports practice or whatever after school, you know you're only going to have a certain amount of time to study,'' she says. "It's actually building in a structure. It forces you to say, 'This is when I have time to study' and then you just do it.''