Self-management skills can be broken down into two distinct types:
- organisation skills which are effectively time management, goal setting etc.
- affective skills, which concern the emotions and state of mind.
Both are important, both can be modelled and both are to a large extent teachable.
Possessing and practising good self-management skills can make a considerable difference to a student’s academic performance by alleviating stress and making them feel that they have considerable control over their own learning.
Organisation skills are perhaps the most obvious to deal with when considering self-management. In many ways teachers can encourage this by setting a good example. It is no good expecting students to complete assignments on time if you do not them mark them and return them in a timely manner. Similarly if you habitually turn up late for your classes it is hardly setting a good example. Something that all Diploma teachers need to be aware of is the total demands on a Diploma student. All schools should have a coursework calendar of all the required major deadlines over the two year period (see IB Chemistry teaching) and you should be aware of this so that you do not add to their workload at inappropriate times. It is good if each student has a personal tutor who can help them plan how to manage their time throughout the course. Whenever I set an assignment I discuss it with the class and together we agree the deadline. Students also know that they are expected to go over the concepts and knowledge covered in the previous class before attending their next chemistry class so that they can expect a quick summary or quiz at the beginning of the next class. However I will always give them reasonable notice if they are getting a test that will count towards their internal grades etc., rather than just spring it on them. Early on with new classes I impress upon students the importance of deadlines and I will refuse to accept any work that is handed in late without a genuine good reason. Imposing and expecting good discipline regarding deadlines right from the beginning of the course pays dividends as students are then very clear about what is expected of them. Gradually students should be expected to take responsibility for their own learning. The quizzes and slide galleries can be a real help here as they can help students ascertain for themselves where any weaknesses lie.
However good students are at organising their time they still need the motivation to actually complete assignments in the allotted period. Affective skills address this and include resilience and self-motivation. External factors such as the death of a close relative or a family breakdown can obviously affect their ability to concentrate but in more normal circumstances students can be helped to develop strategies to improve their affective skills.
Resilience has close links to the learner profile attribute of ‘risk taker’. For students to be successful both at school and later in ilfe they need to be able to learn from their mistakes. That is they should not be afraid to fail. As teachers we need to encourage them to move out of their comfort zone and to reflect and learn from both their positive and negative experiences when they do so. A resilient student will bounce back from ‘failure’. This is one of the attributes that US university teacher recommendations place great emphasis on – “reaction to set-backs”.
Self-motivation is often linked to perseverance. Students need to want to succeed and be willing to put in the necessary effort to ensure this. For some students the motivation is to be the best in the class but a much better approach to foster is to get students to develop their own self-esteem and self-worth. It is much more satisfying to compete against yourself and stretch your own horizons than it is to feel superior to everyone else. Foster an atmosphere in your classroom and laboratories that encourages students to show initiative and look at possible alternative solutions rather just praise those who play safe and always get everything right.
Mindfulness is somewhat of a buzz word but it is linked to the ability to concentrate. Modern media tends to encourage students to flit from topic to topic in short bursts – ‘Twitter’ has a lot to answer for! It is an important skill to be able to summarise your thoughts as concisely as possible however the ability to ‘multitask’ is sometimes seen as more important than the ability to concentrate on the task in hand. Students can benefit from relaxation techniques that can help them to keep their attention focused and avoid distractions.