Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

09.03.21What I Told My Kids About Doing Well In College/University

This is an odd post… more personal and covering not what I usually write about. I’m not sure how useful or interesting it will be to readers. But here goes.

When I first started writing about teaching my own kids were tiny, but time flies and I now have two college/university age students. They were good students in high school, but college is a bit different: it requires more time management; the amount of reading is different not to mention the portion of what you learn that comes from the reading; the teaching is different too- as are relationships with professors.

What to tell them about learning at the next level as they went off the make their way in the world? I tried to limit my advice to a few practical things that would make the greatest difference.

It struck me that other people might find it helpful too.  So here it is: What I Told My Own Kids About Doing Well in College (or if you’re in the UK: University)


  1. Don’t miss class: When your alarm goes off and you were out late you will say: “I’ll just do the reading.” But if you go to class, the reading becomes a form of retrieval practice. It elaborates on and connects to and reviews what you discussed in class. It helps to create long term memory. Get up and go to class. Take a nap after if you need to.
  2. Take notes by hand during class. You remember more of it if you write it out physically than if you type it. And you can’t go quite as fast so you have to be more selective. You can supplement what you write with diagrams. You are more likely to look up from the page (versus the screen) to look at the professor and thus increase your own attentiveness to what she’s saying. If possible re-type your notes later to process them and create a version you can study from.
  3. Read in hard copy; always. Underline and annotate in pencil or pen, not a highlighter. You remember more and can interact more actively when you read in hard copy. And not having your computer in front of you reduces distractions. So you are also more likely to be in a generally more attentive state of mind.
  4. Don’t wait til the night before to start readings/assignments/papers; weekdays when you’re not in class are key: schedule regular times to get work done ideally during the day when you’re not tired.
  5. Go see the professor. Even if you’re not sure you need to. Build a relationship. Practice talking to a professional about an area of study informally. Practice asking good questions.


That’s it. Now you know what I know.  As I write this I realize I probably didn’t stress self-quizzing as the best means of studying enough… I guess that’ll be next.

Also there’s one more pet theory I had in college that I’ve been reminded of and still believe in: Whenever possible choose classes based on the professor. A good teacher will make anything interesting.

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