Teaching Students to Study
By Roger Barker
Middle School Science Teacher
After weeks of planning, teaching, demonstrating, tutoring, and completing labs my students failed the unit exam. How many times have I gone home depressed wondering “What did I do wrong?” or “What could I have done better?” I have studied the TEKS and researched the information. I have done the professional development. I have conferred with my peers. Why are my students failing my exams? The truth is that I did everything right. If it is not me then it must be my students. Are they just dumb? No, I know my students are not dumb but they are lazy. The answer to these questions are, that it’s not just me and it’s not just them.
As educators dealing with all the At-Risk paperwork, modifications and accommodations for special education, duty stations, parent meetings, ARD meetings, team meetings, student club meetings, and yes high stakes testing we have had to cut some corners. Unfortunately, the corners we cut end up being detrimental to our student’s education. We are so worried about getting “all” the information out to students that we have not taught students to study.
I want to make it known that I do believe in rote memorization and mnemonic devices to accomplish this. This system has worked for hundreds of years and as my father used to say “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”. With this being said, in today’s world with instant gratification in the forms of video games and microwave meals the students of today are not willing to put in the “Work” required to excel in their own education. Studying, for most people, is not a natural talent. It is something that must be taught just like reading or writing. I have created strategies that can help facilitate just this.
The first strategy is that I make no secret to students and parents about what will be taught and what concepts that will be emphasized. Students know on a daily basis what the expected learning target for the day is because it is posted on the board. Students are required to write this into their notebook daily and we refer to it several times during the lesson. Parents are notified via email and can view the learning targets on my website on a weekly basis.
The second strategy is that I believe in pre-teaching basic vocabulary and basic concepts at the beginning of the unit. My reasoning behind this philosophy is that many students do not ask about vocabulary words that are new to them. They do not want to seem dumb in front of others. The concepts that are pre-taught are at a very basic level and are designed to make students ask questions about what they are about to learn. I accomplish this by utilizing what I call an “Input/Output” page. These are notes with vocabulary used in context. Students are required to read and synthesize the information in some way. A few examples are with my younger students, I direct them as how to synthesize by having them rewrite the information in their own words or create a drawing, graph, chart, or mind map of what they read. The third strategy is that I encourage all students to redo work that is below standard. Our goal here should be mastery. So what if it takes two or three times to get a worksheet right. It only takes a few moments to check the assignment corrections.
The last strategy that I want to talk about is testing. There are two main pieces to this. First, we should be very careful of how we design our exams. What I mean is that if I spend 20% of my unit on a certain concept, the exam should only have 20% of the questions on that one concept. The second is I have students create notes to use on the exam. I call this a “Two Pager”. The day before the exam I hold a review. During this review, students can take any notes over questions or concepts. These notes are on facing pages of the notebook and during the exam students may not turn the pages in the notebook. I have found over the years that most students will not even look at the Two Pager during the exam because they studied when creating it. I do also give study guides to students. These are not just facts or concepts to have students study. The study guide should be designed like a quiz or test. Students should have to look up the information in their notebook or textbook and complete the study guide. This is studying and they don’t even realize it. The study guide should also be an outline for the Two Pager giving students ideas for other notes on the Two Pager.
In conclusion I would like to say that teaching students to study does not take much time if it is planned well. A little creative thinking and collaborating with peers can make this process even easier. Students will resist at first but once they see the marked improvement in their test scores students and parents will embrace the art of studying.