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.
According to Wikipedia, “Study skills, academic skills, or study strategies are approaches applied to learning. They are generally critical to success in school, considered essential for acquiring good grades, and useful for learning throughout one’s life.
Study skills are an array of skills which tackle the process of organizing and taking in new information, retaining information, or dealing with assessments.”
And, study skills can be learned. So even if your student is struggling, there are many ways that parents can help.
Organization is Essential
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.
For teens, a distraction-free zone is even more important. According to KidsHealth.org, “An important way to help is to make sure your teen has a quiet, well-lit, distraction-free place to study that’s stocked with supplies. Distraction-free means no phone, TV, or websites other than homework-related resources. Be sure to check in from time to time to make sure that your teen hasn’t gotten distracted.”
Creating Systems and Learning Time Management
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.
It’s important to note that time management is not intuitive. According to Eileen Kennedy-Moore Ph.D. in a recent Psychology Today article entitled Time Management for Kids, “A sense of time develops over time. Two and three year olds enjoy the predictability of routines but live mostly in the present, their sense of time involves mainly “now or not now,” and they have limited ability to wait. Five and six year olds have a clearer understanding of past, present, and future. They can anticipate happy events and have some grasp of “next week” versus “tomorrow” versus “a long time ago.” Seven to ten year olds have the arithmetic skills necessary to use clocks and calendars.”
When Specialized Study Skills are Needed
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.
If your child still needs more help, a 1-on-1 study skills tutoring may be the answer. Since 1985, Back to Basics Learning Dynamics has offered 1-on-1 study skill instruction for kids of all ages. To learn more, please call 302-594-0754. And, help your child make this the best semester ever!