Study Skills, Where Did you Go?

Thanks to some local moms in my community who are using social media to talk about study skills…or the lack-there-of. In my work in my literacy clinic, I’ve seen many upper elementary / early middle school kids who have suffered from a lack of study skills – not by any fault of their own, but simply because it’s a neglected area in schools today. I worked with a 6th grader who did not realize that the best way to answer the questions at the end of the social studies chapter was to read the questions before she read the chapter, a 7th grader who didn’t know how to do a brain dump the second her teacher handed out the test, and a 5th grader who did not know how to effectively study for a test. I remember back to my 6th grade year – I took an entire semester (with Ms. Diamond) learning good old fashioned study skills….note taking, test preparation, etc. I’m not sure why study skills have gone out of fashion – by now you know that I’m obsessed with John Hattie’s Visible Literacy. The effect size of 0.59 for study skills is way beyond that critical hinge point of 0.4. Here is some of the advice I’d offer kids and parents on this topic.

1. Activate your background knowledge before you read. Do a quick brainstorm about what you already know about the topic. If you don’t know much about the topic, take no more than 5 minutes – before you read – to get a quick overview of the topic. Do a quick Google search, use National Geographic for Kids, Time for Kids, BrainPop, Kahn Academy, etc. Because our brain processes new information by grouping it with what we already know, you will better understand and retain your reading. If you’re interested, I’m happy to share the myriad of research that talks about the importance of background knowledge and schema, but for more information check out Daniel Willingham’s work.

2. If you have an assignment that asks you to answer questions after you finish reading, read the questions first! If you read the questions first, you are more purposeful in your reading as you know where to focus your efforts.

3. As you read, annotate your text. What this means is use a pencil to underline only the most important words, circle words that you don’t know, and put question marks in the margins of portions that you don’t understand. This will help you determine what information is essential and identify any sources of confusion. Want more information about close reading and text annotation? Check out this awesome video.

More to come for later....and this little teaser: Don't fool yourself (or your kids) by telling them about "learning styles" (e.g. "I'm a visual learner" - as there's no real science behind this!

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