Teachers frequently come up to me after a workshop and say, “I wish kids were taught study techniques. They come to my class room totally unprepared.” The ironic thing is that it doesn’t matter what grade they teach, they all feel like last years’ teacher should have taught the kids how to study.
It’s time we teach kids how to study.
The ability to organize information as it goes in to the memory system, so students can efficiently get the information out when needed is an important skill of the frontal executive network. Like other executive functions, the ability to memorize efficiently improves over time. Most kids don’t start to spontaneously use memorization techniques until 10 or 11. But, interestingly, if adults lend them relatively simple structures to organize information, younger children’s ability to memorize information is as good as a much older student.
Unfortunately, through high school and even college, most students utilize the least efficient memorization technique: rehearsal. Read the information over and over; write the information over and over. Its easy to “zone out” and not get any benefit from the study session whatsoever. Even if this technique is resulting in A’s this year, as the amount of material to be memorized increases, eventually rehearsal techniques will fail.
Here’s a well kept secret: learning study techniques in isolation, like from a book or a study skills workshop, is essentially useless. Techniques must be learned in the context of information to be memorized; Introduce your child to one study technique at a time, in the context of information they need to learn. My website has a dedicated section, A+ study techniques, that are regularly updated. So as soon as you know when the next test is scheduled, pick a technique, practice it with your child using the information they need to learn for the upcoming test. If it results in an A, its a keeper. If it didn’t fit with your child’s style, try another technique next week. By the end of the school year, your child will have a study tool kit of 4 or 5 effective study strategies they know well. This puts them WAY ahead of their peers and in a great position to tackle next years tougher material.