Study Skills – what does that mean anyway?
One of the most confusing things about school is the constant pressure to study…without ever telling children what that means. By the time kids get to me, their idea of ‘study skills’ generally involves picking up a book and reading it, doing their homework, or just giving up altogether.
A few times a year, we run study skills sessions, and I always pick up new techniques from the students I work with. Yesterday, in my years 6-9 session, a year 7 boy told me he would try sticking notes on fun things, like a sticky note on his TV saying ‘no watching TV until homework is done’. I thought that was really clever! Kids are really resourceful, but we have to give them some tools and structure to start with. For most kids, simply saying ‘go and study’ is like saying ‘go and fix that complicated machine’. They can try, but they don’t really know how, and it’s incredibly frustrating.
There’s no simple solution, and the reason we run small sessions is to make sure they are interactive. Whenever we teach study skills, children have their own goal/s in mind when they begin, to give it a real-world application. That said, here’s the approach that we find works well for most children, regardless of age.
1. Know how you learn, and what works for you
There are lots of theories about learning styles, but ultimately, we’re looking for something that makes study skills interesting – or at least tolerable. I usually start by explaining that reading has a very low rate of retention when it comes to new information. If your child is good at picking up things by listening, they might like to read aloud, or to record themselves and play it back. Podcasts and recordings can be useful.
For children who are visual, the old-school trick of re-writing and summarising new information is great. Unfortunately, it is also really boring! They may be able to get some information from video (visual stimulus), and from drawing images or diagrams. Mind maps can be useful here, as the information is short, but the layout helps children to remember and consolidate information.
Other children like to stand up or pace. They may want to create a diagram or model. Kids who are active or always doing things love to move, so think about incorporating movement while they learn. Pace and read aloud, create an art project. Anything is good, as long as it helps them to remember and use the information.
2. Have some structure
Have a place that is only for study. It might be a desk, the library or a particular spot in the house. At a pinch, the kitchen table will do if the only other activity there is eating. This helps children get into the mindset that that place is for study, not for other activities.
Know what you are studying
Before you get started, spend 5 minutes writing a list of what needs to get done. We love using SMART goals – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. Your child might decide to do a dot-point plan for an essay, find out the reason for the Berlin Wall collapse, complete 5 maths questions, or do a page of homework. You could write a list for the week and pick activities each day, or do this daily. If possible, make sure the task can be completed within 20 minutes (so for an essay, think writing a paragraph, or editing).
The worst thing for procrastination is no end-point. Time just drags on!
We really encourage our students to use the 20 minutes on, 5 minutes off method. Setting an alarm is a great way to do this, and strict pomodoro is a timer that can be used to help. Some children can only handle 10-15 minutes, and that’s fine too. This technique is so useful that a friend of mine, a surgeon, has been using it for all of her big exams and assignments for the last 10 years.
On the time management front, pick a time of day to study, and stick to it. If possible, study before anything else happens. In your home, that might be straight after school, straight after dinner, after sport, or even before school.
Finally, make sure kids know that they do have free time. Guilt-free, complete time to themselves. Once the homework is done, of course :-).
3. Beat Procrastination
We all do it. There are so many things that are more interesting than that essay or studying for a test. The tips above will go a long, long way to beating procrastination. Strict Pomodoro even blocks you from Facebook and emails during the 20 minute time limit.
Using a pen and paper can be great for beating procrastination – there are no extra windows to open, and your hands are engaged with the task. The same goes for a clutter-free environment.
Having an incentive can be great too. If your child loves video games, reading or playing outside, then knowing they can do that as soon as their goal for that day (the activity you agreed on when they started) is going to help a lot.
4. Have a goal
Have a chat with your child and see what it is they really want. Studying is going to be easier if the aim is to pass year 10/get an ATAR score/become a psychologist/get into the air force etc. Have that goal written somewhere that is easy to see. For example, when I was studying in year 12, I kept a door hanger with the logo of the university I wanted to go to. It was on the inside of the room, so every time I turned around to get up and leave my desk, my goal was right there, and I couldn’t forget what I’d promised myself.
Make sure they have a goal that is not school related as well. They might want to get into the soccer team, or even reach a level in a game. It’s all good practice, and it helps them to organise their time and approach.
Study doesn’t have to be excruciating, and study skills can be used for life. Once children understand the purpose of study, and find a way that works for them, life becomes a lot easier for everyone.