Before we get started, I have a quick question.
How many of us, as parents and teachers, truly loved studying at school? I mean relished it. Couldn’t wait to get home to study in the afternoons?
I think it’s safe to assume that the answer is not many of us did that. Ever. I know I was definitely not one of those students. I dragged my feet, endured the gnashing of my parents’ teeth and finally relinquished by getting my butt into gear and finally getting to my studies. But by this stage, it was known as cramming!
And the reason why I hated studying so much? Because I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. No one sat me down and taught me how to study, or why studying mattered so much. No one told me that I was capable of studying and doing well either. No one gave me the tools. I was just told to ‘go study’. So my method of studying was best known as ‘winging it’!
How many of you can relate? Please tell me I wasn’t the only one!
If this is the background that we bring to our precious sprogs, how do we change it for them? How do we encourage them to love learning and to actually enjoy the studying process?
Well, we start off by teaching them the following 5 concepts:
(Yes, I know, it’s not a step 1, step 2 mechanical method but getting these 5 things right from the beginning will form a very firm foundation to explore the diverse methods of studying out there.)
- A positive attitude
- Daily summarising
- Spaced repetition
A positive attitude
A positive attitude towards studying is paramount because the positivity will push them through the tough times. When we are positive, it gives us the energy that can push through the yucky bits like the moments of wanting to give up or even just trying to get started. When you start anything off with a negative attitude or mindset, you are almost guaranteeing defeat or at least a burdensome journey. Studying is for the long haul, especially if you’re at the beginning of your academic career. If you go in hating it, or develop a dislike for it, it’s only going to make the journey all the more treacherous. Developing a positive attitude towards studying is like making studying your friend, not your enemy.
Now we all understand that studying can be tough going, especially when there are ‘better’ things to be doing. But if we can instil a positive attitude or mindset in our children, they will see themselves as capable and ultimately victorious over their ‘study monster’. What a treasured lifelong gift to give them.
Summarising is an amazing studying skill that everyone should learn to master as soon as they are able to. It is the ability to pull out the important points in the subject that is being learnt and being able to re-write it one’s own words in a shortened way. This can be done in shorter sentences, bullet points, mind-maps and so on. In order to be able to do this one needs to understand what is being taught firstly, and secondly one needs to use critical thinking skills to assess what is important, relevant and needs to be kept, and what is not. These are important life skills that can be developed from an early age.
When should summarising be done though? Ideally, at the end of each day of school/varsity/college etc. Why daily? Information is still fresh at the end of the day and if it is not revisited within a day of learning, the memory begins to decay rapidly. According to psychologist Herman Ebbinghaus, who researched and analysed memory in the 1880s, memory fades quickly unless it is reinforced at certain intervals over a period of time. He represented this in the Forgetting Curve. The curve shows that up to 50% of memory can be lost within a day!
So how long should summarising take each day? If you break it down, it won’t take long at all. Think about lessons at school particularly. Very often previous work is revisited, homework is checked, the teacher is trying to get students to settle, yet the actual time spent learning NEW material is surprisingly less than you’d think. If summarising is up to date, the only thing to summarise is the work of that day.
In order for the Forgetting Curve not to take effect though, spaced repetition is highly recommended. Ebbinghaus put it this way: “With any considerable number of repetitions, a suitable distribution of them over a space of time is decidedly more advantageous than the massing of them at a single time.” Basically he’s saying that spaced repetition is far better than cramming!
But what on earth is spaced repetition? Well, a simple definition for spaced repetition is going over your work (study material) at pre-determined time intervals that increase as time goes on. The aim of spaced repetition is to be able to retrieve the memory quickly. Sort of like walking through a forest; the more you walk on one path the sooner a permanent path will be formed and the easier it is to get to your destination.
Now, what would be the ideal time intervals in spaced repetition? Though it is difficult to make specific recommendations because each person is different and each subject is different, the intervals could look something like this:
First repetition (questioning and summarising): Day 1 (the day of learning)
Second repetition (reading and questioning): 7 days after day 1
Third repetition (reading and questioning): 16 days after day 7
Fourth repetition (reading and questioning): 35 days after day 16
And so on..
Does this mean that all your child will ever do is summaries and repetitions, with no space for anything else in their lives? Not at all. The trick with spaced repetition is that the information that is not remembered with ease is repeated, information that is remembered does not need to be repeated. There are many methods to achieve this, two of which are the flashcard system or practice tests and exams. (More on these methods in upcoming blogs)
Though this is an easy concept to understand, the practical side of it can be a little more challenging.
Life is busy and rushed at the best of times, but consistency with forming a study habit is so important. The more consistent a person is, with any habit, the less resistance will be experienced. The same goes for studying.
Consistency requires a positive attitude, parental encouragement (not reprimand) and goals. Studying goals help students achieve what they’ve set out to do. They will know what needs to be done, and when it needs to be done by, thus providing a framework for consistency.
It also needs a slight bit of wiggle room though. Life is life, and things can get turned upside down in an instant. These days will happen. The key is not to let that derail the progress made. The key is to shake the dust off and adjust the sails, and keep going.
Now understanding what is being studied would seem like an obvious thing to do while studying. But sadly it doesn’t always happen. Many students try and ‘parrot’ learn their studies, especially when they don’t understand the subject, hoping that when they get to the test or exam, something will make sense and they’ll be able to spit out some legible answer that might give them enough marks to pass.
We must remember that the objective of learning is to understand and gain knowledge. In many subjects, this understanding is vital because new information is built on previously learnt information. If the previously learnt information is not understood, the subject stands the chance of tumbling down, just like a building with faulty foundations and weak walls.
What we need to remind students is that it is their responsibility to assess whether or not they understand what is being taught, and to ask for help when they don’t understand. As parents and teachers, we will not be able to tell if they don’t understand until test or exam time. By that stage, it may just be too late.
We need to teach our students that there is no shame in asking for further explanations, be it in class, or after class. We need to encourage them to be hungry for understanding. Learning with no understanding is like baking a cake, but never mixing the ingredients together and hoping that something yummy appears out of nowhere! It simply doesn’t work like that.
And on a final note, we as parents and teachers get to play a vital role of encourager and motivator to so many students. We can pick them up and dust them off when they want to give up, and we also get to be their cheerleaders reminding them to keep going, to figure it out and to push themselves when the going gets tough.
The journey of learning is filled with wonder. Let’s help our sprogs make a path through the forest by giving them the tools they need.
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