There are always people lamenting the fact that they, their students, or their kids have terrible or simply nonexistent study skills. Begging the obvious question, why? Well, let’s not forget that like all skills, whether they be carpentry, writing, or singing, study skills require both teaching and practice.
But how many schools do you know of that still teach “study skills”? How many parents take the time to talk to their kids about what it means and looks like to study? How many parents know how to communicate and define good study skills for themselves in the first place?
Well, while this post can’t and won’t be the be-all-end-all of enabling you to establish amazing study skills, the following tips and exercises are excellent places to start:
1. Don’t Just Study for the Test
For a lot of students, studying means “stuff you do to prep for an exam.” And, while you certainly do need to study to prepare for any exam, if you begin by conceptualizing studying as this and only this, then half the battle is already lost. Studying “just for an exam,” is a quick way to not only decontextualize knowledge (and thereby make it harder to find interesting, to retain, and to think critically/creatively about) but also a quick way to decontextualize studying as a whole.
So, what does it mean to study for more than the exam? Well, it means that…
2. Studying Begins in the Classroom
When most students think of studying, they think Exams! and After School. But this seems to suggest that studying consists primarily of wading around in whatever the teacher shoved in front of you earlier that week.
Really, studying needs to begin with note-taking in class and thinking critically about the information you’re being introduced to as you’re being introduced to it. Think of it as a conversation with someone incredibly good looking, I mean so good looking that it makes you nervous: you’ve got to keep on your toes and continuously search for that next cool, witty idea that grooves with what they’re saying.
In other words, don’t think you’re teacher is giving you information just to give you information – that information exists for everyone and it’s up to you to make it meaningful. So, begin looking for context and connections as soon as you receive that initial dose of New Knowledge.
3. Habits Take Developing – Always Schedule a Time to Study
Regardless of what you’re practicing or how much you love it, whether it’s the bassoon, marathon running, acting, painting, mathematics, or chemistry, you’ve always got to set aside a time for it or it simply won’t happen. How much time you set aside depends upon any number of factors, but a quick and dirty rule would be to set aside at least an hour each night (varying, of course, by grade level – according to the National Association of School Psychologists, reasonable homework expectations are “that children do 10 minutes of homework for each grade level. Therefore, first graders should be expected to do about 10 minutes of homework, second graders 20 minutes, third graders 30 minutes, and so on.”). An hour, however, is a good, general starting place because it gives students a lot of leeway for getting started and buckling down. After all, we all know how the “getting ready” drill tends to go: you have to be in the right comfy clothes, the right comfy place, have a snack, go to the bathroom, take out the trash, etc. – when study time rolls around, other chores often begin looking more and more appealing as a way to spend an afternoon. So, make a date with Studying, turn off your cellphone, and get down to business!
4. Be Positive!
Oftentimes one of the hardest parts of studying is relearning things that students may not have fully understood the first time around while in class. This can make studying not only a dreaded thing, but can add immeasurable amounts of stress and make students feel dumb, defeated, and hopeless. One of the best things you, as a friend or parent, can do in order to make studying a better and more effective experience, is to make sure and approach it as a “safe space.” For example, if you are a parent studying or working with your child on their homework, don’t be disappointed, sarcastic, or surprised when your kids don’t know or understand something that you believe they already ought to. After all, they’re the students and not you; if they already knew and understood everything, then why should they be studying at all? If your child/student doesn’t understand something or is struggling with a particular type of problem, be supportive and make sure they feel comfortable asking you questions about how to move forward or how to rethink a problem. Very often students can feel judged for not picking up on things right away, especially if it’s something that’s often perceived as or spoken of as if it were simple.
Make sure that Study Time is a safe place for students/kids to explore, ask questions, and think creatively about the problems and information they’re facing.
- Bright Children Should Start School at Six, Telegraph UK
- When Your Child Doesn’t Want to Go to School, Parenting Blogs NYT
- Do Kids Have Too Much Homework?, Smithsonian Mag
- The Rebirth of Recess, Slate