by Beverly Stewart, M.Ed.
What exactly are study skills? If your child has struggled in school, this is likely a catch phrase that has been bandied about by well-meaning teachers and administrators, but not always fully explained.
Study skills are simply a collection of techniques that children can use to become more successful in school, and ultimately, in life. Best of all, study skills can be learned. So take heart!
First, your child needs to get organized. Sounds simple? For some children, organization is intuitive or quickly learned from the adults in their life. For others – those who lose completed homework in the depths of a chaotic locker or repeatedly forget upcoming assignments – getting organized appears overwhelming.
How parents can help: Organization starts with establishing a daily routine for your child. Setting up a dedicated work area and keeping supplies close at hand can make a dramatic difference for students who have a hard time getting started.
Creating a “work system” is also a key component. Whether it’s a three ring binder for all homework, a calendar for upcoming tests, or a computer system with steps spelled out for projects — the system that works best is the system that fits your child.
Next, time management needs to be improved. How many of us have a child that is chronically running late – consistently underestimating the amount of time needed for everything from getting ready in the morning to walking home from a friend’s house? Or a child who takes on so many projects or activities that they are all completed hastily – or sometimes, not at all?
How parents can help: Improving time management means learning two important concepts: setting goals and planning ahead.
Have your child set the goal – maybe handing in a report one day early for extra credit. Then take that goal and plan ahead. How much work needs to be done each night in order to complete the task? Ask your child, “What happens if you have another commitment during the allotted time?” If your child builds in fail-safes you’ll avoid the all too familiar “9:00-the-night-before-the-project-is-due-wail – but I need poster board!”
Setting up a calendar is another easy way to keep track of completion goals. And, posting the calendar in a highly visible spot stops procrastinators from “forgetting” about upcoming deadlines.
Finally, there are specialized study skills – such as effective note-taking, learning how to make an outline, recognizing style strategies, and reading for meaning — that can all be incredibly helpful, especially as your child reaches increasingly challenging middle school, high school and college level work.
How parents can help: If your child is still struggling in school, despite improved organization and time management, they should be taught very specific strategies including:
Test preparation. Well in advance of a big test, first determine the type of test (short answer, multiple choice, essay) and the material the test will cover. Next, take steps to prepare including a nightly review of outlines or notes or formation of a study group. In addition, taking practice tests will help develop a plan of attack and help determine how much time is needed for each question. Finally, eliminate test taking anxiety with relaxation and visualization techniques.
Mnemonic devices. These are, very simply, phrases or rhymes that are used as a memory tool. These devices can help students remember common lists or orders that need to be memorized. An example is “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” which stands for the specific order necessary to solve a math problem: parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction.
Graphic organizers. A graphic organizer is perfect study tool for a more visual learner. This visual display is basically a map that depicts the relationships between facts, terms, and or ideas. Graphic organizers are also sometimes referred to as knowledge maps, concept maps, story maps, or concept diagrams.
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