Time Management: The Tomato Method

Monday, April 17, 2017

With readings days fast approaching and finals week close behind, we are all struggling at the end of the semester to find motivation for this last push before the summer break. Ugh, why can’t it be here already? If you’re like me right now, who is so close to feeling burned out, finding the patience and determination to stay focused on small or large tasks seem daunting and unrealistic. One method that I have heard and used as a great strategy for those with short attention spans or low drive would include The Pomodoro Technique, also more simply and commonly known as The Tomato Method.

This time management technique was developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. It’s super easy to implement and can increase productivity when doing tasks. Look at it this way: it’s like you have to run miles and miles to get to your destination, but with the Tomato Method, you accomplish this by doing many sprints with short breaks in between. That way you don’t just procrastinate and give up at the beginning of the line. There are tasks when we can just fly through them, but others times, its just such a drag. In a way, this technique is a lot like chunking your time and task. Check out this short 2 minute video that explains how to get started. Here is a quick summary on how to it all works: tumblr_nnjxvcPVbz1senxz2o1_1280

If you want to use some other websites or other apps on your tech besides a simple time keeper, here’s a list from LifeHacker.com that might be useful as well:

  • Marinara Timer (Web) is a webapp we’ve highlighted before that you can keep open in a pinned tab. You can select your timer alerts so you know when to take a break, or reconfigure the work times and break times to suit you. It’s remarkably flexible, and you don’t have to install anything.
  • Tomighty (Win/Mac/Linux) is a cross-platform desktop Pomodoro timer that you can fire and forget, following the traditional Pomodoro rules, or use to customize your own work and break periods.
  • Pomodorable (OS X) is a combination Pomodoro timer and to-do app. It offers more visual cues when your tasks are complete and what you have coming up next, and it integrates nicely with OS X’s Reminders app. Plus, you can estimate how many pomodoros you’ll need to complete a task, and then track your progress.
  • Simple Pomodoro (Android) is a free, open-source timer with a minimal aesthetic. Tap to start the timer and get to work, and take your breaks when your phone’s alarm goes off. You can’t do a lot of tweaking to the work and break periods, but you get notifications when to take your breaks and when to go back to work, and you can go back over your day to see how many Pomodoros you’ve accomplished over the day. It even integrates with Google Tasks.
  • Focus Timer (iOS) used to be calledPomodoroPro , and is a pretty feature-rich timer for iPhone and iPad. You can customize work and break durations, review your work history to see how your focus is improving, easily see how much time is left in your work session, and the app even offers a star-based rating system to keep you motivated. You can even customize the sounds, and hear the clock ticking when you lock your phone so you stay on task.

Say “bye bye procrastination!” with this technique. Try it out! Or come into Weingarten to try it out with a Learning Instructor.

Staff Writer: Victoria Singh Gill

Bigger Pictures: Make a Note

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

“I don’t know what I think until I’ve written about it.” ~  Various Attributions

Of all the things I talk about here at your learning center, the one I always feel a little bit guilty about is notetaking. I always feel like the subject is like a benignly neglected child in a big family, the kid who basically raises herself in a household that is far too stretched and busy to worry about someone who is more or less okay. That’s notetaking.

Lombard_scribeAcademic notetaking has been largely conscribed by one thing:  the lecture. And historically, this makes sense. Back in the mists of time, professors would intone and, well, profess, and students would scratch away, trying to get down every word. It wasn’t uncommon for “serious” students to learn how to take shorthand in order to get down every word.  This technique can be described as truly Mediaeval, with its roots planted firmly in the monastic scriptorium, where sacred text was read aloud while Brother Scribes took down copy. What a gig.

Academia has embraced a few technological advances since the Monastic era, most notably the slide deck. Ah, yes. PowerPoint. Our frenemy. No matter where you come down on the ubiquitous deployment of PowerPoint in the higher ed classroom, there is one undeniable plus: the mad rush to get down every word has been alleviated, at least somewhat. So long as the slides are made available, you don’t have to worry about copying out the entire slide during class. All you really have to worry about is what is said off slide.

But there is another part of notes that gets routinely neglected, and that is the notes you make to yourself, and if you don’t do that now, I’d encourage you to give it a go, especially if you are currently in the type of humanities or social science courses that require you to come up with your own paper topics. These notes capture what you think about the lecture topics or reading material. Think of these kinds of notes as the record of what you think.

And one more thing: these types of notes don’t have to be declarative. Solid questions arising from the reading material count as notes too.

Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor

Bigger Pictures: Keep It Classy, Quakers

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

“Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers”   ~  Sana, Weston & Cepeda

Is it even possible to run a spoiler alert before the title of an academic paper?  Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers.  Talk about ruining the ending.

In any case, I’m not planning to rehash the paper – I trust you can read that for yourself, and I hope you do.  What I am going to talk about is something far more basic.

So, first, a question:  how many times have you yourself watched another student “multitasking” during class?  I’m not talking about watching someone type lecture notes, I mean watching somebody respond to their email, update their Facebook status, check out 21 Adorable Child Stars Who Grew Up Sooo Ugly?

Okay, now how many times has that been you?

Yeah, I know.  But don’t worry.  It’ll be our secret.  Not that you and I keeping our mouths shut about these multitasking indiscretions matters, because someone else knows, too.  Do you know who that is?

digit 2

That’s right, your professor.  More than likely, your TA as well.  Don’t think for one minute that the person tasked with operating the front of the house is somehow clueless about what’s going on out there in the rest of the room.  They see.  They know.  Some of them even keep tabs.

But even that’s not the bigger issue here.  Sure, it is bad if you don’t get the full 10% for class participation.  That piece of the final grade might make the difference between a B+ or an A-, and I always advise students to never leave points on the table.  The bigger issue here is that “multitasking” during class is, quite simply, rude.  Your actions tell your teacher that what’s going on in the front of the room is far less interesting and of far less import than what’s going on in social media.  So don’t do it.  It’s not nice to passively insult these people.

Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor



Writing Strategies: What’s Your Positionality?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Reflecting on, fleshing out, interrogating, and conveying your positionality relative to a research orientation is critical to ensuring the validity of your research stance. After all, no one can be 100% objective. The researcher’s beliefs, values systems, and moral stances are as fundamentally present and inseparable from the research process. In fact, even the most passive methods of data collection and quantitative analysis have some interactional aspects, and it is impossible to absolutely control for and ensure the unobtrusiveness of research applications and interventions. Power dynamics flow through every vein of the research process; therefore, it is our ethical duty to intentionally and mindfully attend to our role(s) in the contextual power interplay of the research process.

In addition to the technical qualitative and quantitative research methods for ensuring validity, a preemptive and fundamental step in attending to the ethics of the research process is to critically reflect on, flesh out, interrogate, and state one’s positionality. A great place to labor with and develop one’s positionality is in a researcher reflection memo, which provides a safe, brave, intentional, self-reflexive, and critical space to consider and respond to questions about one’s positionality:

  • How do my personal, professional and/or intellectual positionalities (identities, contexts, experiences, and perspectives) cohere with or diverge from my research inquiries?
  • What legacies (personal, communal, societal, national, transnational and/or global) inform the social constructedness of my positionality?
  • In what ways, or not, am I conscientiously, or not, reifying, resisting, disrupting, and/or changing the constructs of my positionality through this research process?
  • How has my own positionality changed, or not, over time, and why? In what ways has it remained static, and why? In what ways has it been dynamic, fluid, emerging and/or generative, and why?
  • How does my positionality recognize, honor, and/or problematize intersectional notions of difference (politics, economic class, race, ethnicity, nationality, citizenship, legality, age, ability, education, sexuality, gender, and/or religion?) as a conceptual praxis of analysis for my research context?


For more support come into Weingarten to meet with a learning instructor during an individual consultation on any and all undergraduate and graduate research or join our working group series called Dissertation Bootcamp.

Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Instructor and Research Fellow

Tech Tuesday: Duolingo

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A great app that’s been deemed “fun and addictive” when it comes to learning a new language would be Duolingo. Here is a quick breakdown of the app:


If you have any experinces with this app, let us know your thoughts on it in the comment section below!

Staff Writer: Victoria Gill


Duolingo Review: The Quick, Easy and Free Way to Learn A Language

Duolingo Review

Classroom Participation: Making Contributions that Count

Monday, September 5, 2016

It has been known through surveys that the population fears public speaking more than death (Croston, 2012).  How do we reconcile this when, in some cases, 15%-40% of your grade can depend on this category called “class participation”? Some classes are now being “flipped” in that the professor facilitates conversation and guides the classroom discussion. This style of instruction is so that students can learn from each other instead of blankly and passively receiving knowledge from a teacher. Here are some simple strategies that may alleviate the reluctance to participate in class.

Before Class:

  1. Be prepared: This means doing the readings, familiarizing yourself with the syllabus and course materials. Each week there usually is a theme or concept being covered in class, so make sure to engage with that topic through the readings and assignments.
  2. Make notes: during the readings or homework, try to explicitly make connections and link the main ideas of the week. Write down anything you found interesting enough to react to, agree with, disagree with, or have questions about.

During Class:

  1. Engage in the Discussion: get involved when someone asks a question, or ask a question yourself, or provide a comment. If you’re really nervous, try to say something at the beginning of class so you don’t get more anxious as time passes.
  2. Make your comments brief and to the point. It’s better to be clear than attempt to sound “smart” by being long-winded.
  3. Direct your comments to the class instead of a particular individual. Democratic discussions aren’t about attacking individuals, but rather collectively interrogating ideas.
  4. Jot down notes during the discussion, that way you can relate to what is being said and organize your thoughts and comments accordingly. You may even use those notes for an exam or paper later in the semester, or even perhaps continue the conversation with the professor or TA in office hours.


Classroom participation tips adapted from K. T. McWhorter (1986) College Reading and Study Skills.

Croston, G. (2012). The thing we fear more than death. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-real-story-risk/201211/the-thing-we-fear-more-death.

Staff Writer: Victoria Gill 

Friday Feature: Super Secret Study Spots

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Weingarten Learning Resources Center
3702 Spruce St., Suite 300
Hours: Monday-Thursday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.


Trying to figure out where to study this weekend? I’m here to tell you about some of the best, lesser-known study spots. We all know that Van Pelt can get a little crowded, especially around midterms and finals, but the study spots we feature in this blog may provide you with a little more peace and quiet and a lot more table space for all of your flashcards, books and notes.

The Weingarten Learning Resources Center is best place to kickoff this year’s profiles. Our office is located on the second floor of Stouffer Commons, which is directly behind the WaWa on 38th and Spruce. In addition to offering lots of services including individual learning instruction sessions and informative workshops, our office doubles as an ideal study space. Plus, you have a huge white board, SMART monitor and all of our awesome time management calendars and planners at your disposal!


Our main study area has tables as well as a couches and plush chairs so that you can be comfortable as you work. Our office is generally very quiet, and it is nearly silent on Sundays when it is less populated than usual. There are also a few computers and a printer available to students.

Additionally, if you’re studying in our offices and you decide you want a quick meeting with a learning instructor, you can always stop in to our walk-in hours (12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays).

With all of these amazing amenities, it’s pretty hard to resist our office. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Staff Blogger: Cassie Lo

Why Learn?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

“In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
~ Eric Hoffer

I have an admission: I’m a quote collector. I pick them up everywhere – from reading, of course, but I get them from song lyrics and movies, too. Something catches my eye or my ear and then it’s a short trip into a notebook. As a result there’s no real order or context to these entries, which leads to some interesting juxtapositions. Another quote I came across while looking for the one above is Agent Smith’s long speech in THE MATRIX, you know the one, about how humans aren’t actually mammals but a virus, the one that ends with Smith telling an almost-broken Morpheus, “human beings are a disease…and we are the cure.” Great stuff, that. But not for today’s Blog.

Hoffer’s an interesting writer when it comes to talking about learning. An autodidact, his official biography says that as a child he went blind for several years, only to have his sight return and with it a profound hunger for reading. Temperamentally unwilling to work indoors, he left the Brooklyn tenements and went west, spending the Great Depression as a migrant farm worker. Hoffer kept reading. He hopped freight trains in California looking for work, and when a job landed him in a new town, he promptly took out a library card, which was what they called Google back in the day. He wrote during down time. Eventually he wound up working the San Francisco docks. He started publishing in the early ‘50s, which in time lead to a gig as a “research professor” at UC Berkley, and becoming known ever after as “the longshoreman philosopher”. It all sounds wonderfully romantic until you’ve actually done the kind of back breaking manual labor Hoffer did.

The quote is akin to the idea that the purpose of an education isn’t learning what to think, but how to think, and that learning isn’t an end, but a means.

Anyway, I always liked this epigram, in spite of the semicolon.

Staff Blogger: Pete Kimchuk

Keep English Switched On: An International Student Blog Series

Monday, August 31, 2015

In this semester-long series, our expert Learning Instructor for International Students Julianne Reynolds offers tips for keeping English “switched on” in your daily life at Penn. If you’re only using English in the classroom, you’re missing out on a lot of learning opportunities. Follow these short and sweet tips to flip the switch to English.


In September, Weingarten Learning Resources will host a series called Academics Plus for international students who would like to learn more about proven study strategies that work in U.S. classrooms. These hour and a half workshops are an ideal space to discuss academic, language, and cultural topics with the facilitators and with other international students who have similar concerns.

Since the workshops are open to students from all 12 Penn schools, this is a great way to meet people from other academic disciplines and backgrounds.

But don’t just take it from us:

wang“I found talking to WLRC instructors very useful in fitting into the academic and social life at Penn. Also, sharing experiences with other international students gave me the sense that I’m not alone in feeling all these pressures and hardships. These workshops helped me build my confidence, so that I can better figure out my own way of study.” – Saier Wang, Social Policy, SP2 ’16

Yue Shi“I participated in two Academic Plus workshops at Weingarten in the past year, one for reading strategies and the other for student conduct. Both workshops were very interactive and practical. For the reading workshop with 30+ participants, we were randomly assigned to 4-5 groups, and were asked to read an article before the instructor started the seminar, and to redo the reading after the strategies were introduced. That task enabled us to immediately apply new skills and see the effect. For the student conduct workshop, we were given some really tricky scenarios and were asked to decide whether or not the behaviors in the scenarios were plagiarism. Before the workshop, I thought I knew what cheating and plagiarism were for sure, but after that, I realized that there were some grey areas that I, as an international student, had misunderstandings in. I felt fortunate that I went to both workshops, as they helped to improve my efficiency and ensured that I was on the right track in an unfamiliar campus culture.”  -Yue Shi, Counseling and Mental Health Services, GSE ‘15

Spaces fill quickly! Click below to reserve your spot in the Academics Plus workshops today!:

Academics Plus

Secrets from Inside a Grant Writing Panel

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Three graduate students in three separate disciplines—social sciences, humanities and natural sciences—came together at the Penn Graduate Student Center to percolate on the real process behind grant writing. Here’s what we learned:

• Get a Fan Club.
o It’s imperative to have people around you that remind you why you’re doing your work. It’s also important to have people in your field that you can relate with and share your concerns and process.
• Be Your Own Fan Club.
o Grant writing requires that you write about yourself and sometimes “sell” your accomplishments. A learning instructor can help you remove your ego (or lack thereof!) from the brainstorming experience so you can shine without concern.
• Strategize.
o A successful grant is dependent on thorough research—so start this process early and plan for extra time. Be innovative in how you approach the project and give yourself time for brainstorming and conversations with colleagues and supporters.
• Tap into Past Success(es).
o Remember how you rocked that project, presentation, dissertation? Tap into that success by remembering the time management strategies that worked for you so you can apply them to this task.
What are your secrets for success with big writing projects?