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Last Updated: 11/20/2017
 

 Article of Interest - Professional Development

Teaching Students Their Job
Schools Often Overlook the Need to Put Study Skills in the Curriculum
by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, January 21, 2003
Original URL: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19655-2003Jan20.html
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Of all the teachers in all the years that eighth-grader Katy Hume has been in school, she said that just one, in sixth grade, drummed into her the study skills that help her learn: how to take and organize notes.

This year, she said, her public school teachers in Princeton, N.J., simply hand out review sheets and "then they get mad at us when we don't know how to study."

Students not knowing how to study -- at all grade levels -- is a problem that increasingly worries educators, who say crowded curriculums and a focus on high-stakes standardized tests have robbed many teachers of time to help students develop solid strategies.

And while parents often try to help, many don't have enough time -- or don't know how.

"That's why I teach a lot of study skills," said Janise Mead, a sixth-grade reading teacher at Backus Middle School in Northwest Washington. "Following directions is a biggie. Kids don't read and follow directions. Then I teach them how to use the dictionary, the Internet, read maps and charts, the whole gamut. They haven't learned it before."

Some K-12 schools try to reinforce study skills, either by offering units that teach techniques such as time management and how to take notes, or by integrating those lessons into core subjects. During a lesson on photosynthesis, for example, a teacher might show students how to create a homework environment with few distractions.

But, several educators said, many teachers confuse test-taking skills -- how to decide on the best multiple-choice answer or whether to read the entire test first -- with skills that help students learn.

"It's good to be able to know how to pass a test," said Dorothy Rich, creator of MegaSkills, a District-based program to build student achievement that is used in thousands of U.S. schools and homes. "I'm all for that. But the big issue in studying is to turn yourself into a student and be curious and want to keep on learning."

Studying is a highly personal process, and many students say their methods mesh with their own learning styles.

Shameka Lloyd, a graduate student at American University, said she still uses study habits that seem well-suited for elementary school.

"When reading textbooks, I make notations and marks directly in the book," she said. "I use different colored highlighters to draw my attention to things. When scanning the text again, it is easier to locate quotations and other useful information. Good old flashcards are also useful."

Amber Krier, 18, a freshman at Arizona State University, said she taught herself to make up and take practice tests that asked factual and analytical questions. "To get all the facts down and to really understand them, I find it is best to ask 'how?' and 'why?' for everything," she said.

Educators say children can be introduced to basic study skills as early as first grade, though it is in late elementary school or early middle school when many are introduced to note-taking, goal-setting and ways to monitor their progress.

The Montgomery County public school system, for example, incorporates study skills into its middle school curriculum as part of a rotation of subjects, said spokesman Brian Porter.

Deb Van Dalen, a sixth-grade teacher in Hortonville, Wis., said she tries to train students to use assignment books as an effective tool to organize themselves.

"We begin the year by explaining the purpose, demonstrating effective abbreviations and checking to make sure each student has written in each assignment completely," she said. "Students are encouraged to include other activities and appointments -- piano lessons, baby-sitting job, baseball game, et cetera. This helps them see that maybe it's not a good idea to save that math assignment for later at home and just zone out during study time."

Michael Kenny, a senior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, said he can't recall any teacher making a great effort to teach him how to study until this year. "In the past, my teachers have usually given vague instructions on how to study," he said. "They just tell you to 'go home and read your book, and if you want, take notes on what you read.' "

Now, his teacher in Modern World History, Susan Olden-Stahl, asks students to discuss what they learned from her lesson at the end of class, asks them to write down the five most important concepts and emphasizes rewriting class notes to reinforce the lesson -- all learning tools that Kenny said he finds useful.

Many top students get through high school by being inherently bright, but they are in for a rude awakening.

Though college professors assume students know how to study when they arrive, many don't. Even at the most selective colleges and universities, "it's a rare [incoming] student who has been exposed to specific study/learning skills," said Carl Thum, director of the Academic Skills Center at Dartmouth College.

"The biggest challenge for most first-year students is time management," Thum said. "Most haven't had to make their own choices about their time. As far as learning skills, most first-year students don't have a system for taking notes, and their reading skills are crude and time-consuming."

As a result, many colleges and universities offer newcomers seminars, courses and tip sheets on how to study.

Dartmouth goes so far as to rate places to study: "The Baker Stacks are infamous for their austerity," says a university tip sheet. "Hidden away among musty-smelling books, you can't fail to concentrate. Park yourself at a carrel and get to work. Once you have hiked to the ninth floor you won't be tempted to run any errands or see what flavor frozen yogurt they're serving in food court."

Ultimately, experts say, the key to studying anything is wanting to do it.

Jane Munt, who heads the study skills department at Rochester Institute of Technology, said efforts to teach such skills to college students who have never known academic failure "generally meets with resistance" or a lack of interest.

Samuel R. John, 18, a University of Maryland Baltimore County student, said he probably would have resisted tutoring in study skills. "The most effective catalyst for academic success -- for me, anyway -- has been motivation," he said.
 

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