Humans are creatures of habit. Studying is a habit-forming endeavor. It does not take long to develop habits, both good and bad. As parents, it is imperative we help our children develop good habits when it comes to studying and to other habits of the mind. The acronym “STUDY” illustrates general, but key, elements of effective studying. STUDY stands for S-Solitude, T-Time on Task (or TOT), U-Underline, D-Do not cram, and Y-You can do it!
Solitude: Students should have peace and quiet at home, sacred space and time set apart for studying. Parents should make this a priority. The ability to concentrate is enhanced by quiet surroundings. Encourage students to avoid, as much as possible, up tempo/popular music while studying. Students may be able to listen to music, or hear the sound of the TV, and complete school work that doesn’t require great attentiveness, but if long-term knowledge acquisition and complex thinking are the intended outcomes of studying, you will want your child to study without the distractions. An exception to this may be what some researchers have called “The Mozart Effect.” Some studies have shown classical music, e.g. Baroque, to actually enhance concentration and memory (note: this may be a matter of correlation and not causation). Supporters of this effect point to the calming influence of Baroque classical music and its 60 beats per minute which are in line with the number of beats of a normal heart rate. Whether your child studies in silence or while listening to soothing classical music, it is important he knows that study time is critical time.
Time on Task (TOT): There is no substitute for time on task. Any good athlete or musician will tell you there are no shortcuts to success. Practice makes perfect, or as some say, perfect practice makes perfect. Either way, time is of the essence. The mind needs repetition (as the truism goes, “Repetition is the mother of all learning.”) and multiple exposures to content before it becomes part of long-term memory. Students must study in an appropriate environment and consistently over time.
Underline (or highlight): At Founders, students will read a great deal in all content areas: history, literature, science, etc. Our teachers will show students how to engage in “close reading” of text. This means underlining (or highlighting) key points, and writing notes and questions in the margins. Close reading means actively engaging with the ideas in the text and pausing when questions arise in order to find answers to questions from within the text itself or from an outside source; close reading also involves annotating. This is the opposite of what inexperienced readers do—they may read to “get it over with” or to merely “complete the assignment.” Still others think they do not have to take notes in books because they can read and remember it all (unfortunately, this doesn’t normally work out so well). Close reading is also different than what people do when they read for pleasure. If you read a popular novel, chances are you do not underline and annotate the pages, nor should you. At Founders, students in upper grades have the opportunity to write in a majority of their books. They can underline and highlight. In grammar school grades, where students do not have as much of an opportunity to mark in books, or for upper school students who have some books they cannot mark in, an alternative is available. Thin, multi-colored Post-it Notes can be used for a similar effect. When placed in appropriate places on a page, these Post-its can be used to write important comments or questions on the page.
Do not cram: We’ve all done it at one time or another. We may or may not have performed well on the test, but we’ve all lost it shortly after the exam. In other words, cramming impacts “short term memory” which is rather limited. Our goal as parents and as educators should be to help students acquire knowledge that will be useful to them over the long run, as all learning is built upon previous learning. Cramming is a bad academic habit. We must encourage consistent studying, done over time. This is a recipe for both short-term and long-term success. As far as study methods go, there are multiple ways to study, and assessments in math, composition and history may each require different types of preparation, but a well-researched, tried and true method includes "self-quizzing." This is done when students have made study cards (paper or digital notecards) with all of the test topics or questions on one side and the answers on the other. Depending on their age, students can quiz themselves multiple times, or have parents, siblings or others quiz them in this way. Once students are able to answer questions, they can put aside cards about topics they know and focus on the others. This manner of studying not only helps students to review and focus on topics that need more emphasis, but it also leads to longer term memory.
You can do it: Self-efficacy is the gist of this last element of studying. Students must know that as a result of good study habits, they will become more successful students. There is something to the power of positive thinking; however, positive thinking must be connected to positive activity. In the realm of philosophy, there is something known as the Aristotelian Principle. This principle expresses the idea that people take more pleasure in doing something as they become more proficient at it. With this idea in mind, if students can see the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to putting in study time, they will be more likely to make the effort and may actually get some enjoyment out of it. Parents—make every effort to lead your children toward good study habits. Help them to STUDY!
Jason Caros, Headmaster