As students transition to middle and high school, they are expected to depend less on the teacher to manage their instruction and to put increasing energy into becoming self-managing learners. But students must master essential study and organizational skills before they can function as independent learners. Individuals with strong study and organization skills are able to break class and homework assignments into subtasks and use time efficiently to complete those assignments, save and store graded papers and handouts for later retrieval, regularly review class notes and course readings, and practice effective study techniques. Instructors can accelerate the development of students into self-managing learners by explicitly teaching and evaluating study and organization skills and by delivering structured lessons that students can easily follow and capture in notes. Here are a range of ideas that can assist students to study more effectively and become more organized:
Independent Work. Create Customized ‘Common Mistakes’ Checklists (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Students can develop an individualized checklist of the kinds of errors that they commonly commit on independent assignments and use this checklist to reduce or eliminate mistakes before turning in those assignments. As a class exercise, give several examples to your students of common mistakes that you find on their assignments (e.g., failure to show all work on math problems; incomplete entries on term-paper outlines). Next, have the class brainstorm a list of mistakes that they are most likely to make. Then direct each student to review the class list and create a customized checklist by selecting the 4-5 mistakes that he or she is most likely to commit. Direct students to keep their customized error checklists and use them to review their assignments before turning in.
Independent Work: Assign an Adult Advisor (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Struggling students will do a better job of managing their many academic work and study requirements when they can have informal weekly meetings with an adult advisor. The advisor can be any school staff member who has a good relationship with the student. The role of the advisor is to communicate with other members of the student’s team to ensure that the student is caught up with all homework and classwork assignments and is doing a satisfactory job of preparing for tests and quizzes. The advisor should plan to meet with the student at a fixed time at the start of each week for a brief meeting (1) to review academic progress, (2) help the student to get organized for upcoming assignments and prepare for tests, and (3) provide the student with encouragement and ‘mini-skills’ lessons in organization and study skills as needed.
Independent Work: Have Students Break Larger Tasks into Smaller Sub-Tasks (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Students who easily become overwhelmed when given a large assignment to do independently can boost their confidence when taught first to break that assignment down into smaller, more manageable sub-tasks. Select an upcoming assignment that students are expected to complete on their own (e.g., term paper, homework assignment with multiple math problems). Demonstrate for the class or to the individual student how to partition the larger assignment into smaller steps or ‘chunks’. Have the student(s) complete the assignment independently, one sub-task at a time, using your work plan. On the next assignment, have the student(s) subdivide the task into chunks to create their own work plan while you observe and provide feedback.
Independent Work: Teach Students to Adapt Worksheets (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). If students seem to struggle with the format of complex worksheets, teach them tricks to reduce the complexity or ‘busyness’ of the sheet. If students appear to become anxious or to lose their place when given a worksheet with a large number of math problems, for example, suggest that they fold the page or use a blank piece of paper to hide all problems except the one on which they are currently working. Or if a double-sided worksheet has a complex informational graphic (e.g., a map) on one side of the page and questions to be answered on the flip side of the worksheet, give the student an extra copy of that worksheet so that the student can look at the questions and the graphic at the same time.
Instruction: Preview & Review Lesson Objectives (Beyda, Zentall, & Ferko, 2002; U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Teachers can help students to retain the key points of a lesson by previewing the important learning objectives, labeling important points during the lesson, and reviewing those points at the close of the instructional session. Open the lesson by telling students what they will be learning that day and the materials that they will need to accomplish the lesson. During the lesson, emphasize important information that students should write into their class notes. At the end of the lesson, briefly review the central points again to improve student retention.
Instruction: Signal Key Words or Concepts That Will Be on the Test (Sprick, Borgmeier, & Nolet, 2002). Teachers can improve students’ motivation and boost their performance on tests by writing the examinations first and then structuring course content and review activities to help students to successfully pass these tests. The instructor constructs the test in advance so that it contains the essential elements of course content that students must master. During instruction, whenever the teacher presents to the class any concept, fact, or operation that will appear on the test, the instructor announces that ‘this will be on the test’ as a cue to alert students to attend closely to the information. The teacher also selects review activities that allow students to practice and master course material before they are tested on that material.
Study Skills: Effective Studying Requires Preparation & Follow-Through (University of North Dakota Learning Center, n.d.). Effective study habits require that the student prepare before class to more fully understand the instructional content, attend carefully during class for clues about what facts or concepts the teacher views as most important, and quickly review notes after class to fill in any missing information and to cement understanding. In preparation for the class period, the student completes any assigned reading, and looks over notes and quickly skims the reading from the previous class session. During class, the student focuses on the instructor, listening carefully to how the instructor ‘cues’ the class that information is important (e.g., tone of voice, repetition, notes written on the board). If the teacher announces that a particular fact, concept, or idea will appear on a future test, the student records this information in his or her notes. Within 24 hours after class, the student reviews the class notes to help him or her to capture this course information in long-term memory .The student also uses this review opportunity to additional any additional details, to reword notes to clarify their meaning, or to check with other students or the teacher to fill in any gaps in the notes.
Study Skills: Study Actively (University of North Dakota Learning Center, n.d.; Wright, 2002). Students get much more out of study sessions when they use strategies to actively review the material--such as summarizing main ideas from passages, formulating possible test questions from class notes, reciting information aloud, and studying with others. When reviewing readings from the course, the student should pause after important passages to attempt to summarize the main idea, or ‘gist sentence’ of each passage. While reviewing class notes, the student should attempt to identify concepts or facts from the notes that are likely to appear on an upcoming quiz or test. The student then formulates a possible test question that would be answered by the selection from his or her notes. Some students also find that they retain information more effectively during review when they occasionally read aloud sections from their course readings or class notes. Studying with others is another good method for reviewing course material, as students can motivate and encourage one another during the study session.
Study Skills: Teach a Structured Note-Taking Process (Pauk, 1989). Students benefit in two ways when using a highly structured note-taking process such as the Cornell System: Not only do they recall more information from lectures because they made the effort to capture it in the form of notes, but students also have a more complete set of notes to which they can refer when studying for quizzes and tests. The Cornell Notetaking System is organized into the following steps: (1) The student draws a vertical line on blank lined note paper. The line separates the page into a left-margin section that is 2.5 inches in width and another on the right that is 6 inches in width. (2) During reading or lectures, the student jots all notes in the 6-inch section of the page. (3) After leaving class or finishing the reading, the student reduces the notes into key words or key phrases. These condensed words or phrases are jotted into the 2.5-inch left margin of the page. (4) When reviewing course material, the student looks over his or her notes and jots down possible questions from the content that might appear on a test. The student then covers the notes (6-inch section of the page) and attempts to recite answers to the questions that he or she has created--using the key words or phrases in the left margin as prompts. (5) The student reviews notes periodically (e.g., 2-3 times per week), repeating the procedure outlined in step 4.
Study Skills: Use Student Study Schedule (Wright, 2002). A daily study schedule can ensure that the student makes the most efficient use of study time. Each day, the student makes a written schedule for homework and study. The study schedule should also include time for leisure activities—and the student should be sure to limit leisure activities to the time allotted. A study schedule has greater weight if the student’s parent(s) monitor the student’s adherence to the daily schedule.
Work Materials: Organize the Backlog of Old Papers (Sirotowitz, Davis, & Parker, 2003). Students are much better organized when they can identify old papers that should be saved for later review, have a system for labeling and filing these archived papers, and stay caught up by filing papers promptly. The teacher or parent (helping adult) first assists the student in carrying out a 'paper search', rummaging through the student's backpack, school locker, bedroom, notebook, or any other location where old papers may have collected. Next, student and helping adult sort through the pile of amassed papers, deciding which should be tossed in the trash and which should be saved. (Candidate papers to save include old tests, teacher handouts, and graded homework.) Then student and adult write at the top of each saved page the subject, the approximate date that the paper was created or handed out, and any other important identifying information (e.g., the textbook chapter or page that a series of handwritten notes were drawn from or are linked to). For each subject, label a manila folder. File all old papers for that subject in the folder, organized by date or by chapter/page number (depending on which scheme seems a more useful way to group the material). Put all folders of sorted papers into a single file cabinet drawer, crate, or other easily accessible location. Then encourage the student to sort through old papers each day and file those that are to be saved away in the appropriate folder. Also, remind the student to review the contents of folders when studying for quizzes and tests.
Work Materials: Schedule Regular ‘Clean Outs’ (Gleason, Colvin, & Archer, 1991; U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Students are most productive when they are periodically given time and guidance to organize their work- and storage spaces to better manage the ‘paperflow’ of school work. Prepare a class mini-lesson to present suggestions on how your students should organize their desk or other class workspace, backpack, and/or locker. Work with your class to develop organizational tips (e.g., what does belong in a locker and what does not) and a rubric to judge the degree to which each student’s work- and storage spaces are appropriately organized. Schedule time periodically for the entire class or selected students to organize their work and storage spaces under your supervision. Have students refer to the class rubric and provide teacher feedback as they organize their spaces.
Beyda, S. D., Zentall, S. S., & Ferko, D. J. K. (2002). The relationship between teacher practices and the task-appropriate and social behavior of students with behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 27, 236-255.
Gleason, M.M., Colvin, G., & Archer, A.L. (1991). Interventions for improving study skills. In G. Stoner, M.R. Shinn, & H.M. Walker (Eds.) Interventions for achievement and behavior problems. National Association of School Psychologists: Silver Springs, MD.
Pauk, W. (1989). How to study in college (4th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Sirotowitz, S., Davis, L., & Parker, H. C. (2003). Study strategies for early school success: Seven steps to improve your learning. Plantation, FL: Specialty Press.
Sprick, R. S., Borgmeier, C., & Nolet, V. (2002). Prevention and management of behavior problems in secondary schools. In M. A. Shinn, H. M. Walker & G. Stoner (Eds.), Interventions for academic and behavior problems II: Preventive and remedial approaches (pp.373-401). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
U.S. Department of Education (2004). Teaching children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Instructional strategies and practices. Retrieved August 20, 2005, from http://www.ed.gov/teachers/needs/speced/adhd/adhd-resource-pt2.doc
University of North Dakota Learning Center (n.d.). Making notes instead of taking notes. Retrieved September 25, 2006, from http://www.und.edu/dept/ULC/study/makingnotes.html
Wright, J. (2002) Managing test anxiety: Ideas for students. Retrieved September 23, 2006, from http://www.interventioncentral.org/htmdocs/interventions/study/testtips.php
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