The Power Habit Lab
From Test Maven
It's easy enough to say that you should learn from your mistakes. What that actually looks like in practice is another question.
Power Student readers already know that you haven't learned from a mistake unless you've created a new habit because of it. Mistakes made have to be translated into lessons learned. Red ink has to be turned into Green Lights.
Because the Green Light method is about creating new habits based on the corrections you've received, each piece of feedback has to be translated into terms that can support a positive change in behavior. That is, each Green Light statement has to be positive, definite, and repeatable.
Keep these three qualities closely in mind as you develop your Green Lights, and you'll be amazed at your own progress.
A negative statement won't help you create better habits, for the simple reason that not doing something is the opposite of an action. You can't make a habit of not doing something.
So to create effective Green Light statements, you need to flip the sign: convert any negative feedback into positive statements.
If the red ink says, "fragment" or "oops, wrong sign" or "what were you even trying to spell here," you have to translate it into a positive action in order to benefit from it. "Don't write sentence fragments" is not a Green Light. Instead, write, "I will check each sentence to ensure it is complete." Instead of "Don't lose track of the negative signs in math problems," write, "When I finish solving a problem, I will review the steps to make sure I kept the right sign for each term at each step."
If your teacher is wise and compassionate, you're probably getting some positive feedback, too. Great! You don't have to flip the sign on that feedback. But do create a Green Light from it, so that you keep doing whatever you did right this time.
Vague ideas don't translate well into action. "Get better at quadratic equations" is not a Green Light. In order to improve a skill like factoring quadratics you need to identify what step in the process you're missing or performing incorrectly, and work on that. For example, you might conclude that you're forgetting to check whether the coefficients in a quadratic expression have a common factor. In that case, your Green Light statement would be, "When I start factoring a quadratic equation, I will check the coefficients for a common factor." Even better would be a physical action that you can visualize, like "tap the coefficient of each term with my pencil."
With an appropriately definite Green Light statement, you'll know exactly what to do next time, without even having to think about it.
On the other hand, if you get too specific with your Green Light statement, it will never apply to any situation except the one in which it originally arose. Take the following statement:
This aspect of Green Lights can be more difficult to master than the others. Sometimes it isn't obvious how to extend the idea beyond the particular situation. If you missed a True/False question on a history quiz, and the only mark is a red slash through the number, what can you really do with that? You could create a list of history facts you've had trouble recalling on quizzes, and that would have some value as a study guide. But it wouldn't be a Green Light list.
To develop a repeatable action out of a case like that, you may have to dig a little bit. The key is to ask "why" until you get down to the original cause:
"Why did I miss that True/False question?"
"Because I didn't know the answer."
"Why didn't I know the answer?"
"Because I didn't notice it in the text book."
"Why didn't I notice it in the textbook?"
"Because I wasn't taking notes on key facts."
And there's your repeatable action: when you study your history text book, you will take notes on key facts.
What I've learned from many years of teaching and tutoring is that a lot of problems ultimately come down to the same root causes. So you can often track down what's happening just by reviewing a study skills troubleshooting guide like the comprehensive skills checklist that I include in the Power Student Habit Lab.
Make sure your Green Light statements can apply to situations similar to the one you're looking at, not only situations that are exactly like it.
When to Review
Just writing down the Green Lights is a very effective first step towards improving your work and making future tasks easier. By applying the three criteria (Positive, Definite, and Repeatable) to each statement, you've forced yourself to think carefully and concretely about exactly what your weakness is and how to overcome it.
But just writing down the changes is not going to change anything. You need to revisit these Green Light lists regularly.
So how often should you review them? As often as you have opportunities to practice.
Every time you have a new task, that's a chance to put your Green Lights into practice and solidify them as habits. If you've been adding your Green Lights to a separate list for each subject area, it should be easy to find the one you need for the task you're doing. Getting ready to write a paper? Pull out your "Composition Green Lights" list. Time for math homework? You need your "Algebra Green Lights" list.
Train yourself to refer to these lists as soon as you start working on each task. As soon as you pull that list out, you're really on your way to mastery. Congratulate yourself for taking that little step! That sense of accomplishment and satisfaction helps to lock in the habit.
As you read through the list, reaffirm each of those Green Light statements. Read it out loud. Imagine yourself taking that action. Again, try to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment that you're developing a great new habit that's going to make you even more awesome than you already are.
Keep at it! Right now, you're taking the first steps on a journey that will take you from discouragement and a sense of inadequacy to a confident mastery of everything you study. It's ultimately a joyful process. When you see yourself racking up more and more successes as a student, you'll start to see yourself as someone who's good at learning and even start to enjoy uncovering more ways to improve. You'll feel motivated to improve rather than beaten down by a sense of failure.
You might even start to smile when you see red ink.
(By the way, let me know if you want to be invited when I open up enrollment for the Habit Lab workshop.)