Languages Coming Alive: The Power of Full Immersion

by Esther Sánchez, Chair of the World Languages Department

Last April 27, my colleague Vilma Riestra and I attended a wonderful conference at the University of Lynchburg, Enlazando Lengua y Cultura (Connecting Language and Culture). It was sponsored by the University of Virginia’s Center for Liberal Arts with funding from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.

There were three different presenters talking in Spanish about music, documentaries, and poetry. The content of the presentations was very enriching and sparked many conversations on our way back to school. But a topic that Sra. Riestra and I talked about repeatedly during the three and half hour ride was the fact that we had spent the six hours of the program surrounded by Spanish, our native tongue, and how wonderful that felt. If we, native Spanish teachers, need to hear our own language and it makes a huge difference in how we value the information that is being presented to us, we can only imagine the impact that full immersion has for the students taking our courses.

We take pride that French and Spanish classes at Foxcroft use the full immersion method (using the target language in the classroom 90% or more of the time is considered full immersion). This method might be a bit intimidating at first, especially for beginners, but once they get used to it, it becomes second nature. I enjoy hearing both languages as I walk the hallway of the second floor of Schoolhouse, and even more when it is our girls doing the talking.

I asked a few of my students about their thoughts regarding full immersion. I know it is good for them. But, what do they think? These are a few of the common themes I heard as they shared their views: “It helps me better understand native speakers;” “It has helped me with my pronunciation, not just with the writing;” “It makes me feel more comfortable and confident talking to others;” “It makes Spanish come more naturally to me so that I am not translating in my head. And sometimes I speak in Spanish without realizing it;” “Before coming to Foxcroft I just read words. Now, I know how to sound them out and use them in a conversation, and if I can’t remember the word, I can explain it;” “I enjoy being involved in the culture.”

Of course, all of those comments were music to my ears because this is exactly what we try to accomplish. There is something, I daresay, magical, when language and culture come together as one. After all, separating them would be like trying to pull apart the two sides of a coin. The two parts make it whole.

Another aspect of the immersion method that I enjoy is that the target language is not used only in the classroom. We talk to our students in Spanish or French in the hallways, the Dining Hall, and the dorms — and they greet us back or hold conversations as well. About a week ago, a few students and I ate at a Mexican restaurant. All the way from the School to the restaurant and back they spoke in Spanish. They also used it to order and to talk throughout our meal. When the owner of the restaurant and I introduced ourselves and did the formal greeting or when they saw that the food they ordered matched what they had requested, they were able to see that this is not just something that we practice in class for the sake of it.

Having a natural, meaningful conversation in an authentic situation makes a huge difference in how a language is acquired. Of course, it is impossible to be in such real life situations that offer opportunities to use a different language all the time. This is why we become creative in the classroom and try to recreate a variety of scenarios.

Connecting language and culture makes any language come alive. And this is how Sra. Riestra and I felt during that conference. I am thrilled to see that our students also appreciate and value being surrounded by the sounds of French and/or Spanish.

¡Hasta la vista!

Oh, How Times — and Foxcroft Athletics — Have Changed

By Matthew Mohler, STEM teacher and multi-sport coach

I remember how a year ago we had grass fields behind the gym. We had an upper field for soccer and a lower field for lacrosse. Before that I remember when we had a flag pole between those two fields. And before that, I remember home plate for the softball field being in the far left corner of the upper field, with the right field foul line next to the woods.

Across from Stuart Hall, our newest dorm, we currently have a field often traversed by riders on their way to the stables. That field once had tennis courts on it. What I remember most about them are the lumps, valleys, cracks, and water. Turns out the courts were sitting over artesian wells.

And then there was the gym itself. It was pretty much a basketball court and an office. The “athletic center” was a bench, a bar, and some loose weights. And the “training room” was the AD’s office, some tape, and a bucket for fetching ice.

Back in those days rain forced softball to practice indoors not only on the day of rain but often, for many days thereafter. On top of that, every team would have to horse trade for limited time on the basketball court when it was too cold or wet outside. And tennis — forget about it. The courts were becoming virtually unplayable even in good weather.

How times have changed.

Just the other day, we had a huge cloud burst. The dirt field for softball turned into mud. What happened? Rainout? Nope. Postponement? Nope. We hosted a game on our new turf field.

If you haven’t seen these fields, they are truly amazing: Two full-size fields suitable for field hockey, soccer, and lacrosse, that include the softball diamond. Surrounding the huge expanse is a three-lane asphalt track.

This is just the latest in an impressive run of sports facility upgrades I’ve witnessed. Tennis? Moved and improved, the beautiful blue courts can handle four singles and three doubles matches simultaneously. Gone are the lumps, valley, cracks, and water.

And the gym. It’s now a state-of-the-art facility. The old basketball court was updated with a new floor, new baskets, and a sound system. The Mary Louise Leipheimer Gym, aka the “double box” allows for three simultaneous full-court basketball games, not to mention volleyball, and has an indoor track where 12 laps make a mile.

The fitness center is a thing of beauty with ellipticals, treadmills, free weights, and every machine imaginable. And the training room is as good as any I’ve seen.

I can honestly say these facilities have transformed the way we think about and conduct athletics at Foxcroft. Our new fields are always ready and playable. We don’t have lumpy terrain with the occasional rock. We have a surface that is level, smooth, easy on the legs, and downright beautiful. When we head out to practice or compete we head toward fields that are fun to play on. Like the tennis courts and gym before them, they instill pride. One could say they are a dream come true.

Try the Arts — and Find Your Whoa! Moment

By Eric Dombrowski, Fine Arts and World Languages faculty

As the Festival of Arts approaches, or really by the time this is published has past, I’ve been thinking about arts in schools, the importance of the arts, and how the arts have influenced my own life.

Honestly, I’m not interested in whether or not students go on and study the arts in college. I’ve had students at Foxcroft pursue higher degrees and that’s awesome, but not the end game. That’s kind of an odd statement coming from someone who holds multiple degrees in music performance.

I truly believe Fine Arts are so important to developing soft skills: discipline, nuance, communication, self awareness, confidence, and many other characteristics. One thing I love about the Festival of the Arts and the musical — this year the show was Legally Blonde —  is that students come out their shells and try something, anything new. That’s the point. Go ahead and try something. Go fail. Go be successful. Be proud. Be confused. It’s okay. Some of the greatest moments in my concert history were the “Whoa, HAHA, let’s not have have that happen again,” paired with, “Whoa, that was incredible!”

I was talking to a student performing in Legally Blonde and she shared with me her experiences of being in the musical and why she signed up. I was very curious about the why, as every individual, including myself, has our own story and journey.  

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t “I like to act,” “I wanted to learn to be actress,” or “I want a career in the arts.” The reason was, “I know down the road no matter my career, I will have to stand in front of people, present, and communicate clearly. I wanted to challenge myself and overcome the fear of being in front of people. Hopefully, in the end I will be more confident.” As we flushed out the conversation, it became clear that arts weren’t a professional goal. There wasn’t any interest in performing at Carnegie Hall or grandiose dreams of world tours, but through the arts and specifically the musical, she chose to better herself and the community.  

Why are the arts important in schools? How does one build confidence and discipline? How can we better ourselves and challenge ourselves and be successful outside of our comfort zone? As someone who has navigated the world of Fine Arts, first as a student and now as a teacher/performer, I have experienced the stress, discipline, peer review, public review, and being my own worst critic. I happen to make music. In the end, though, I continue to grow as a person and a professional. This is why we wake up in the morning, because by the evening we have hopefully bettered not only ourselves, but also the community we live in.

I want every student to give it a try. Go ahead and enjoy the arts. There really is only rule: Give it your best and enjoy the journey. Go find your own “Whoa . . .” moment.  

Student-Driven Initiatives: Who’s Really in the Driver’s Seat?

By Josie Ross, Assistant to the Office of Student Life

At Foxcroft I wear many hats: Lead Dorm Parent, Climbing Coach, weekend duty team manager; however, one of my most rewarding hats is advisor to the Student Activities Committee. This Committee is made up of eight students (two representatives from each grade) who are chosen as freshmen and then remain on the committee until they graduate. With support from the Office of Student Life, these students are charged with curating the weekend experience for students at Foxcroft.   

A few years ago, during one of our weekly Activities Committee meetings, much to my dismay, I discovered that I am, in fact, “old” and no longer on top of the latest teen trends. Shocking, I know, but it wasn’t something that I had actively considered. The effect, though, was that this realization, once made clear, opened the door for a candid conversation about what we could do to freshen up the weekends. In fact, this conversation became a pivot-point for Activities. No longer would we utilize a kind of copy-and-paste planning method. Instead, we would reboot to a truly student-driven approach to our weekend planning.  

The members of Activities decided they needed more student voices in the planning of their three biggest events: the Winter Mixer, Semi-Formal and Junior/Senior Prom. So, they decided to open up their membership and three additional committees were formed, chaired by members of the Activities Committee. These committees are open to any student who wants to join and who would like to contribute to student life at Foxcroft.

However, it quickly became clear to me that student-driven does not mean student-executed. In fact, in the beginning, a student-driven approach meant a lot more work for me. I spent time nurturing hard skills like creating meeting agendas, vetting email communications, and reviewing whether or not school-wide announcements were informative enough, energetic enough or even appropriate. I spent, and still spend, even more time on soft skills. We discuss how to effectively delegate, what a student should do when her friend on the committee isn’t following through on those delegated tasks, and how to do self check-ins to make sure that one leader isn’t picking up all of the extra work.

At times, this extra effort doesn’t seem worth my while. But then I see a pair of juniors, during dance breaks at our winter mixer, patrolling the hallway to make sure the decorations they spent weeks planning are still intact. I see the frustration and a new perspective gained when a student committee head is the person who gets let down when their committee member doesn’t follow through. I see the relief and satisfaction after an event is over and a student’s classmates are still raving about it on social media a week later. I see my initial time investment flourish in the growth these leaders experience when they are fully invested in the ups and downs of an event and its planning. And, even as my committee heads internalize these lessons and are ready to “drive the car,” I remain in the passenger seat as the instructor and advisor, with words of encouragement and my foot hovering over the brake. Just in case.

In My Students’ Shoes

By Rebecca Wise, Director of International Student Services

Last week, I did a grammar activity with my Advanced English as a Second Language students to review the past perfect tense. I put up photographs from my Spring Break and they called out sentences starting with “Before Spring Break, Ms. Wise had never….”

I started with a photo of an airplane screen showing our route over the Arctic Circle.

“Before Spring Break, Ms. Wise had never flown over the Arctic Circle.”

Next was a photograph of Cathy and Read McGehee smiling over a kimchi pancake in a Seoul street market.

“Before Spring Break, Ms. Wise had never eaten street food in Korea with Mrs. and Dr. McGehee.”

It went on: Ms. Wise had never ridden a gondola in a traditional Shanghai water village with Sabrina and her family; had never gone shopping in a narrow Beijing hutong with Florence, Maya, Finy, Catherine, and Claire; had never walked the Great Wall. She had never met her advisee Maya’s mischievous little brother and had never spoken with so many amazing Foxcroft alumnae who could tell touching, funny stories and about life as an international student at Foxcroft “back in the day.” 

It was fun, doing this grammar activity in my classroom with the very girls I had traveled to visit over break. Just a few days earlier, we had been eating rose cakes and drinking tea together, browsing Chinese folk art, walking past Joseon-era palaces in Seoul, and driving around Beijing to see the Forbidden City lit up at night.

I have been teaching international students for more than ten years. I am well-versed in the things students find confounding and frustrating about American culture. I have fielded countless questions and cases of homesickness. But this trip to Seoul, Shanghai, and Beijing was the first time I had the opportunity to really step into my students’ shoes and let them be the teachers.

There were moments of discomfort, and I leaned on the students for help. I was constantly asking the girls questions like “is there meat in this?” and “what does that sign say?” and “can you call me a taxi? Can you like, tell the driver exactly where to take me?”

The students rose to the challenge with grace. They, and their parents, were wonderful hosts. Thanks to their hospitality, we had unforgettable experiences and lots of incredible meals. Cathy and I felt connected to our alumnae and parents in China and Korea in a totally new way, and we cannot wait to return and see more of our Foxcroft family in Asia. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to represent Foxcroft on this trip, and I am grateful to have had such an exciting Spring Break.

More than anything, though, I am grateful for those moments of helplessness, when one of my students had to guide me through a menu, jump in a taxi with me so I wouldn’t get lost, or explain a plaque at a museum so I could learn something new.

I never want to forget how brave our girls are for leaving everything they know at age 14 and immersing themselves in a new language and culture. My travels over break took only a fraction of the courage our international girls demonstrate when they choose to make Foxcroft their home for four years. I am grateful for the reminder, because it helps me do my job better and strengthens our international student program.

When we got back to school last week, the girls gave me knowing nods in the hallways: they knew that, for once, I was as jet-lagged as they were — head pounding, desperate to curl up in bed. I was miserable, and I was so grateful.

Lessons from the Cup

By Patty Boswell, Hound Backer (1998 – ), Registrar, and Dorm Lead

The tradition of Fox/Hound has withstood the test of time and continues to honor Foxcroft School’s founder, Charlotte Haxall Noland — aka Miss Charlotte — and the values she instilled in the School. Through Fox/Hound, Miss Charlotte continues teaching us the value of hard work and friendship, and the girls soak up these lessons and share them with New Girls each year.

We just finished a week of Fox/Hound events and the girls were exhausted yet exhilarated when they left for Spring Break. During the week, the Fox/Hound Officers and Mascots sang cheers, held Teas, announced basketball and dance teams, practiced for the games, and had Big Sing Sing. Their display of spirit pumped up the students and faculty, and by week’s end the air was thick with anticipation.

Through it all, the thing that is so clear is how much these girls care for each other. It is not uncommon to hear a Hound basketball team member wish a Fox basketball team member well in the game and vice versa. The games are very emotional and the girls play to win yet they don’t hesitate to help their opponent up if they fall or to apologize if they become overzealous in their efforts.

There is always a winner and a loser for every game according to the score, but in the game of life, we are all winners because of Miss Charlotte’s vision. She taught us that friendly rivalry is great and healthy but, in the end, our friendships are so much more important. We cheer for one another in our wins and encourage each other when things are tough. We never forget that we can go for that Cup again next year, but that the gift of friendship needs to be nurtured each and every day because it is even more valuable than the Cup.

After two decades as the Hound Backer and a few more observing the tradition, each year, I continue to be amazed by the outstanding young women at Foxcroft; they are our future and they are preparing well.

What If I Taught Girls the ONLY Math Class They Ever Took?

by Anne Szymendera, STEM teacher

“Imagine your students were only required to take one math class in their career. How would you teach them? What would you teach them?” These questions prompted a weekend of inspired learning from math teachers across the country. When I attend the Teaching Contemporary Mathematics conference hosted by North Carolina’s School of Science and Mathematics last month, I was eager to learn ways in which I could answer these questions in regards to my own students. This two-day conference invites presenting teachers from around the country to share their ideas on how to incorporate technology, find realistic applications, and increase student involvement in their classes.

As a second-year teacher, much of my time preparing for classes feels like doing what I can day-to-day, and just continuing to keep learning and doing better with each lesson. I work hard to create interesting and exciting lessons, and I pride myself in trying to thoughtfully execute each day. Inevitably, though, the day-to-day can get exhausting, and it becomes about keeping my head above water, and doing what I can until I have time to plan something better. Then, suddenly, I find myself falling into a pattern – a pattern in which I have to ask myself, “Am I really doing everything I can to make these girls’ learning worthwhile?”

The conference introduced me to ways in which I can create both small goals each day in my classroom to help avoid this pattern. I learned ways to think about how I can make students’ time in my classroom time well-spent by improving how my students learn, not just teaching them material, and growing in what they learn. I ask myself: If mine was the only math class these girls were required to take, would they want to come back for more?

The two days of the conference were spent attending hour-long sessions, on topics that piqued our interest. One that I found really inspiring was a session on GeoGebra, an online mathematics program used to create interactive lessons; I immediately saw ways in which I could incorporate even just five minutes of this online math program to deepen levels of understanding and learning with my students. Even better, the session’s presenter answered the question: How can we make students leaders of their own learning? He noted that even weaker students flourish from discovery-based learning, and providing opportunities for students to guide their own encounters with new concepts is monumental in their long-term understanding. This may not be a novel approach, and it is one I have used before, but it’s an important one that can get lost in the day-to-day of teaching.

Other sessions I attended addressed a variety of stimulating topics. One highlighted specific math problems that can be carried through, and repeated in, different math classes throughout high school in order to inspire connected learning; another looked at problem-based learning as a basis for classroom teaching. Yet another focused on how to incorporate computer programming in any of your classes, not just computer science.

I was inspired anew as a learner, as well as a teacher. I was filled with ideas and the desire to bring new ideas to my classroom each day. After these two days, I realized that it is not about overwhelming myself by trying to create an epic classroom using every new thing I learn. It’s about reminding myself why I am planning each night. It’s about remembering who I am teaching. It’s about making small, thoughtful changes that leave big impacts on my students’ learning. It’s about never being intimidated to try something new and possibly daunting, if it means your students might really flourish.

I want to be the teacher I set out to be each day — one who inspires personal growth and an interest in learning within a mathematical framework. I was reminded after the Teaching Contemporary Mathematics conference of my purpose in being in the classroom each day, and I continue to reflect on, and work towards answering this question: Would my students be lucky to take my class as their only required math class?

Mission Accomplished: The 2019 Paul K. Bergan Poetry Festival

by Anne Burridge, English Department Chair

Foxcroft Mission
To help every girl explore her unique voice and to develop the skills, confidence, and courage to share it with the world.

Burridge_Anne

As a community of educators, we are continually seeking ways to create authentic and meaningful learning experiences that reflect the ways in which girls learn best, allowing them abundant opportunities for self-knowledge and personal growth within a nurturing environment that celebrates their creativity and individual voices. Nowhere does this mission manifest itself more vividly than during one wintery day each year when the Foxcroft community takes a hiatus from the regular class schedule to hear, compose, and recite poetry.

As it always does, the festival began with the keynote poetry reading by award-winning poet, Dr. Tina Barr, who began her own journey as a writer at Foxcroft.  As Tina read from her latest work, Green Target, she interwove some marvelous stories about her life as a Hound and field hockey player at Foxcroft as well as the inspiration she found on our beautiful campus as a young, aspiring poet. I was struck by her descriptions of the various ways she finds material for her poetry — a fusion of true stories, philosophical musings, striking imagery, and emotional volatility, all of which communicate both the frail beauty and the pain of life. Listening to Tina, we were all riveted and eager to break out into our poetry writing workshops and play with some words for ourselves.

We all got that chance as each student chose two separate poetry workshops to participate in, one following Tina’s reading and one later in the afternoon. The subjects varied from ekphrastic poetry (which comments on the visual image in works of art) and “found” poetry to a poem illustration workshop. I led a nature writing workshop that used our gorgeous outdoor campus as inspiration for charting landscapes of the heart and mind.

“I absolutely loved the nature poetry workshop. It really helped me connect with myself and understand things about my feelings that I hadn’t been able to before,” wrote one student. Another participant found the experience unexpectedly enjoyable. “I love to be outside — except when it’s cold,” she wrote. “The Nature Poetry workshop was based on going outside. At first, I was hesitant, but rather than sitting outside being unhappy, I wrote down all the things that do make me happy and ended up writing a poem dedicated to a place I love very much and how even it changes with the seasons.”

With the setting of the sun came the Festival’s finale — an Open Mic session followed by the free-wheeling Poetry Slam — events that capped off an extraordinary day devoted to celebrating the written and spoken word by offering every girl another chance to explore her unique voice and share it.

During Open Mic, the girls gathered at round tables in candlelight (battery-powered, of course) in sometimes raucous support of their peers, who took the stage to share original poems, offer colorful puns and limericks, or sing favorite songs that invited the cheers and whoops of an exuberant, appreciative audience.

The Poetry Slam featured the largest number of contestants in memory, young slammers who inveighed on issues of gender, identity, social awareness, politics, justice, and feminism. That we as an English Department can create a loving environment in which our girls feel safe in exposing their vulnerabilities in slam poetry that invites authentic self-discovery testifies to the power of English program as well as single-gender education at its finest.

The Art of Teamwork

By Julie Fisher, Digital Arts Instructor

Fisher_JulieDesign is everywhere. Almost all things we touch were imagined and realized through an intricate process of design. Art teachers try to instill in their students a keen understanding of these stages of development from initial idea to final form. Each project I present to my class is a unique design challenge through which I help students navigate their own creative paths.

This past semester, I was charged with teaching Foxcroft’s Introduction to Engineering class, which delivers a curriculum developed by Purdue University called Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS). In this design approach, an entire class has to coalesce into a team and deliver a single solution to a creative problem. Our mission was set to design and manufacture something that could add value to the community, and we focused our efforts on Foxcroft School’s very own Office of Student Life.

This EPICS team successfully established a climate of open communication and eager collaboration. The girls’ confidence grew as they initially worked independently. This allowed them to recognize their individual strengths as they worked through concept development to prototype building. Through the critique process, the girls ultimately understood their unique contributions to their team and they began to coordinate their efforts. Sophomore Eunice Y. says, “I learned that everyone’s idea can be innovative, and we only need to trust ourselves.“ Adds senior Lizzie S., “I felt really proud of how my group worked as a team. We all brought different strengths and ideas to the table. I was impressed with how well we meshed.”

The specific design challenge was to create a multipurpose pop-up shop that could be used by clubs and other organizations to spread some “Trail Magic” — surprising and thoughtful activities that might bring a little unexpected joy into our lives. Together, the girls brought to fruition a fun, transportable, and interactive station that will enliven events both on and off-campus for years to come.

The Office of Student Life worked closely with the engineering students throughout the entire design process. There were a number of community members invited to design reviews to provide valuable feedback. These students had to navigate public speaking and pitch their designs to an audience that was ready to push the functionality, feasibility, and aesthetic quality of their work. Georgia G. ’20 observes, “The critical design review was a great experience, for multiple reasons. I felt like it really involved everyone and we could explain our ideas in our own spot lights. It made us get the feel of what it’s going to be like in the real world.”

The students’ biggest hurdle was building on those conversations and reshaping their ideas into a deliverable outcome. Mimi S. ’20 writes, “One of the greatest challenges was making decisions about the different design paths that our final product could take. There were times when our prototypes were very different, and we were not sure how
to best merge them.” Many of the strongest individual ideas were carried over into the final design.

popupshop+trailmagic110618 bbs_5317 2

“The Shoppe” was ultimately conceived as two separate carts that could function both independently and together. The first was named “Charlie” after Charlotte Haxall Noland, who founded Foxcroft in 1914 and first backed the Fox team. The second was named “Millie” after Mildred Greble Davis, the first Hound backer. By the time the final construction phase was upon them, the girls were operating as a seamless team. Where one person left off, the next would pick right up and finish. “There was never someone not doing something. Whenever we finished our tasks we would find someone to help,” says Lauren S. ’20.

They were driven and, most importantly, proud of what they were doing. The wood used was reclaimed from the Brick House pergola and given a new life in the form of two rolling carts with chalkboard inlaid doors and pegboard shelving interiors. Laser-cut signage to feature the School and the hosting organization or individual was added. Amanda C. ’19 explains, “I really enjoyed the final construction with painting sealant, using a sander for the first time, and using the power saw. It was a very fun process and I feel much more confident.”

The entire project was an exceptionally rewarding way for girls to be creative, to respond to critique, adapt to change, work as a team, and to give a part of themselves to fill someone else’s needs other than their own.

Seasonal Strategies

Abbott_ErinBy Erin Abbott, Director of the Learning Center

It’s that time of year again when peppermint mocha fills our cups, holiday tunes get stuck in our heads, and the wonder and joy of the exam season excites us. . . Wait, exams? At Foxcroft, December brings exciting events like our Christmas Pageant, “Christmas in Middleburg” Parade, Lessons and Carols, and various valuable community service opportunities. This is a busy — but beautiful — time of year. In the midst of this season, our students also hunker down in preparation for end-of-semester exams.

I had a New Girl exclaim, “Mrs. Abbott, I’m so stressed out about exams!” My reply was simple and calm: “Remember, you’ve already done much of the work. You’ve prepared for every quiz and test you’ve taken this semester and attended all your classes.” I caution our girls not to fall into the drama of cram sessions and all-nighters, and to refrain from buying into the idea that “I’m so stressed out” is a badge of honor and a motto of the high achiever.

We don’t need to fall into this trap of being victims of our educational or even personal obligations. We all have the option to choose resilience and healthy coping skills. As I shared with our Freshman Class this week, planning, preparation, positivity, and self-care are stronger than the stress monster.

When it comes to exams, I encourage our girls to use their planner and specifically map out what they need to do and when. Label the actual name of the class of the exam taken on a specific day. Our first exam is World Language on Monday, and if that is Spanish 1, be specific and write that down on your planner! Look at the review guide that each teacher has created for their exams. Coding each topic with a green dot (meaning “this topic is known and understood”), yellow dot (“this topic is somewhat understood”), or red dot (“OMG, I need my teacher!!!!”) is a good place to start assessing how much time is needed for each topic and subject.

Compile all the old tests and quizzes from the whole semester and use those as a resource for the review. Does the exam contain many terms? If it does, notecards may be your best friend as the actual act of writing down terms and subvocalizing what is written activates part of the brain that reinforces the storage of the material in long-term memory. Flashcards and websites like Quizlet also promote active recall and help honestly answer, “How well do I understand this topic?” or “Is my answer complete?” Another useful strategy also offers a very honest assessment of the ability to recall information. Cover a page of notes or text and then use a whiteboard or piece of paper to write down all the facts and details that can be recalled. There are numerous strategies and tips for preparing for exams; finding the one that works best for an individual is a valuable and lifelong tool.

Perhaps the most important thing for all of us to remember, regardless of whether we are preparing to face an exam or that difficult relative who always complains about lumpy gravy during the holiday meal, is to take time for self-care. Walk, breathe, feed, and water yourself properly. Prepare for what you can control and be patient with what you can’t. Open your eyes to the kindness and love of the season.