If you have a son or daughter entering middle or high school this coming fall, you may be feeling apprehensive about the increased workload, the increasing difficulty of the curriculum, and the impending expectation that your student will be able to apply proper study habits. Being able to take good notes, engage in active reading, develop study and memorization techniques, and prepare adequately for upcoming tests and quizzes are all essential skills that students need in order to do well in school. And even though good study habits and proper study and organizational skills are crucial for student success, these important tools are not often taught in a traditional classroom setting. Students are simply expected to develop proper study techniques throughout their academic career. But most pre-teen and teen students need some extra support in the area of study and organizational skill development. So how can you help your child improve on these important skills in time for back-to-school next fall? Here are a few study strategies to start working on this summer:
Turn off the “noisemakers.” As most parents can readily attest, children are drawn to the television (or their phone or tablet) like bees to honey! When it’s time to study or get homework done, it should be a no-brainer to turn off these “noisemakers” or electronic devices. You know your children best – if a little music helps them focus and stay on task, then moderation is the key. And of course it couldn’t hurt to invest in a set of headphones!
Pick a specific area at home for studying and school work. A really critical component to successful studying is to identify a space where your children can focus, free from distractions. This often means that the best place for them to study isn’t always the place of their choosing (i.e. on the couch in front of the television – see Tip 1). Ideal spaces may include your child’s bedroom or the dining room table. For whichever area you select, be sure to set the stage for success by ensuring that there is adequate desk space and lighting. Most desks for young people don’t really have sufficient space to spread out materials such as textbooks, workbooks, planners, scratch paper, resource materials, etc. A table that allows for all necessary supplies and other essentials can make a huge difference in your child’s study time! You can start preparing for the fall by identifying your study space now.
Set a consistent schedule and realistic expectations. Balancing homework, extracurricular activities, and family life can sometimes seem harder than herding cats, as the saying goes! But as difficult as setting a consistent schedule may be, it can pay dividends for your child’s productivity and the family’s sanity. One simple step is to try to organize the household so that dinner is served at a standard time during the week. Once dinner is over, you can designate that time as study time. Of course homework can always be done before dinner if your schedule permits, but providing a predictable schedule for everyday activities like dinner and baths makes it much easier for your children to plan their day and meet expectations in the classroom and at home. Speaking of expectations, it is important to consider your child’s developmental level and attention span when setting the amount of time for homework. While a high school student can generally remain focused on a single task for over an hour, a first grade student may struggle to last more than 15 minutes! Allow your child to take breaks as needed – you can even plan them as rewards for finishing a section of the work.
Get organized. Get a large calendar, one that allows space for jotting down things in the daily boxes. Rip it apart so that you and your
child can sequentially mount the school months for the current semester. For example, you can tear off September, October, November, December and January and mount them from left to right across one wall. Have the child use a bold color highlighter or felt tip pen to mark exam dates in one color, reports that are coming due in a different color, etc. For older students with “smart” cell phones, there are several free calendar applications with multiple useful features that can also easily be used to highlight important dates and set reminders. For younger children, consider placing a bulletin board in your child’s room so that he or she can post pertinent school items and keep them visible to ensure they are completed on time. Academic planners are strongly encouraged for older children. This can be a simple pad of paper or even a free application on your child’s phone or tablet (if applicable). This allows students to jot down assignments and set reminders for due dates.
Encourage your child to go above and beyond what the assignment calls for. One of the most common misconceptions about doing schoolwork is that you simply need to complete the assignment; when in reality, you need to do much more to learn and retain the information you’re reviewing. In order to build these strong study habits and lifelong learning skills, encourage your child to do things like take notes while reading a chapter, learn to skim material for important information, pay attention to tables and charts, summarize reading passages in his/her own words, make flash cards for quick review of important information like key dates, formulas, etc. You can also help by making sure that the important materials and resources are in ready supply. This includes highlighters, pens, pencils, erasers, blank note cards, rulers, and scratch paper.
Take strong notes. Effective note-taking is a skill that most students struggle to master. Many feel as if they have to write down every word the teacher says, while others have difficulty figuring out which concepts are important enough to write down and end up with very little information at the end of class. All students can benefit from learning how to take effective notes.
Many students find an outline version of note-taking to be easy to adopt. Outlines allow students to arrange information from general to more specific. Students can create outlines using any symbol or form they find helpful, whether formal (i.e. Roman numerals) or informal. And well prepared teachers present their material in a format that lends itself to outline form. An outline is only one form of effective note-taking. Students should be encouraged to find the format that best suits their learning styles and preferences. Students may also wish to rewrite notes, particularly if a lot of material was covered and the student had a hard time writing quickly and organizing the information appropriately. Rewriting notes can be an excellent review of the subject matter. However, rewriting notes isn’t worth the time unless they are used for review and recall of important information.