Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Teaching Students to Study

In college I was hired by the student services department to teach a class on effective study strategies. A wonderful woman named Karen instilled in me the importance of learning HOW to study, not just how much to study. It made all the difference in my college career and is something that I pass on to my students. During the first couple of days of class I toss out many strategies on how to be successful in high school and beyond. Our current system of education runs on testing as a major part of evaluation. Good or bad, it is the reality of our institutions of learning. Students take tests all the time, but few of them really study in high school. This is something that is learned in that first year of college when they are asked to read 100 pages by the end of the week and are tested over a semesters worth of material for the majority of their grade. Some learn how to study and some fail out after a year or two of hell (academically speaking, the rest of college was amazing!). I want my students to have tools to prepare them for the reality that is higher learning.

Active vs Passive Studying

Ask the kids in your class how they study for an exam. Those that do (I will bet less than half) will probably tell you that they "read over the notes" they took in class. Then ask them if they have ever read a page in their textbook, got to the bottom, and had NO IDEA what was on the page. They will all raise their hands. We all do it. Many of you are probably doing this now with this blog. When we get to the bottom of that page and realize that we got nothing from it, do we go back and re-read? Never. We assume that because our eyes went over the letters we absorbed (magically) some material. We move on. I contend that you never read the page! You have wasted your time.

The key to effective study strategies is the word effective. I always tell my students that high school and college are about more than classwork and grades. There are so many distractions in both realms that it is hard to keep up with everything. In college you may have a job, a sport, or want to go to that party at the purple house on Thursday night. If you have a girlfriend, forget about it! You don't have time to study for six hours before your test at the end of the week. Studying becomes a drag on life; there are better ways to spend your evenings. What if you could study in a half hour as effectively as you did in the three that your roommate is always putting in at the library? Then you can go to the party, or yoga, or the sporting event you want to attend, whatever.

Lets go back to the textbook problem. You read, but didn't read. Here is how to fix that. As you read, write in the margins after every paragraph, a short sentence that describes what is in there. If you look at my college texts, there are annotations all over the place. They are notes to myself about what was in the paragraph. Many people highlight which I think is dumb. (Even more concerning are those who look for used books that are already highlihgted!) I tried this book art and figured out that all I was doing was highlighting the first sentence of every paragraph. Why bother? Annotating forces me to think about the passage, making me an ACTIVE learner rather than a PASSIVE reader. High School teachers may be thinking that that is great and all, but you will be fired if students wrote all over your $100 textbooks. Mine use Sticky Notes. They go crazy with different colors, one for definitions, one color for equations, etc.

This makes you an active learner using the text. Then before the test, you don't re-read the chapter, you simply look at your sticky notes. If one doesn't make sense, then re-read only that section. You can get done with reading it once and still make it to the party on Thursday night.

In future posts, I want to talk about student note taking and how to develop active learning strategies for that.

As always any comments are greatly appreciated.