When a parent or student asks if you can suggest ONE study strategy please, what is your response?
For any of us in that position, have we settled on an answer we feel will get the most bang for the buck and has at least a chance of being implemented by the student and can be easily monitored and reinforced by a parent?
After offering different favorite strategies and providing appropriate explanations and making a reasonable case for giving each one a try, I finally decided the ONE Thing, as author Gary Keller would call it, is self-testing, just making sure you actually did read and understood that homework assignment or even that project plan at work.
It has been comforting to find the outpouring of educational and psychological research, with advances in neuroscience and detailed studies exploring how the brain works, changes, does amazing things which allow us to extend our ability to perform in every aspect of our lives.
In this one instance, the answer might include the example of a student with a homework assignment to read ten pages in a textbook, or on an iPad. For most students, the routine is to read the ten pages and move on to the next assignment. The vast majority of students I encounter who report grades lower than they are capable of, agree that one or two poor quiz scores made the difference. In other words, “I thought I read those ten pages. Not sure why I did poorly on the quiz the next day.”
The remedy? If students test themselves to prove that they have read – understood – the information on each page of the assignment before going to the next page, there are so many benefits that they are more likely to give it a try. Let’s join them and see how a student might put theory into real practice.
If I have just read page 82, I cover the page and out loud, using my name, ask the question “Gerry, what is important about this section/page?” If I cannot recite the answer to that question, it may be that I was mind-wandering, distracted, or just did not understand the material. Now I will give it another look and probably be more attentive. Can I now recite the answer to the question? Great. I move on to the next section/page and use that recite process on each page. It may be a section of a page in some subjects; e.g., math, foreign language grammar rules, science. At other times I could be reading entire pages.
After the tenth page, I go back and review the pages by covering each page and reciting the answers, taking a look at any pages that might need additional attention. So my review is a quick recite step.
Students admit that doing their homework following the above smart practice approach is much like what is expected of them when they have to practice for sports, music, dance, debate, cheerleading, a role in a play, etc. They may question using their names and asking questions out loud, but after agreeing that they are activating two additional senses, hearing and voice, and that they are, in fact, practicing what might happen in class the next day and will no longer be surprised by a question or quiz, you can feel that many are coming around and willing to give it a try.
It is a special thrill when a student reports, “Hey, it happened.” A teacher asked a question in class that the student asked in the same way the night before by calling on herself and answering it out loud, just as she was able to do the next day when the teacher called on her by name and asked the same question.
Other advantages? Students are using the study strategy considered to be the most effective at all levels and it is no longer just the opinon of a single person. A list of resources can be provided to support the choice of self-testing.
This one change in the way students can approach study-reading leads to more consistent and efficient study habits, enhances test-preparation, can markedly improve grades by raising a C+ to B- for one typical example but provide even more dramatic academic results for many students. The high achievers appreciate the time saved by not having to re-read so many times to get their good grades.
When self-testing is combined with one or two other powerful study strategies students are now actively involved in learning how to learn rather than getting bogged down in just reading print or trying to cram through content on a short-term basis.