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Study Skills: Keys to School Success

Published in The Spotlight Newspaper, September 5, 2012
by Marea Gordett

Can you imagine an ideal world where your child would sit down every evening at an organized desk and complete his or her homework efficiently? Can you picture your child free from distractions and confusion? Can you imagine your student knowing proper reading, note-taking, listening and memorization techniques with just enough of an edge to turn deadlines into motivation? Wouldn’t that be amazing?

While some students have an inborn sense of organization coupled with excellent motivation, most don’t. Most students need to learn how to learn. Once they have mastered the tricks, school becomes much easier, as they give themselves an advantage by imposing order on their lives. (And parents can stop nagging!)

The following tips and techniques can help all students and parents make the road to success possible. The key is to put these into place at the beginning of the academic year and consistently check in to re-organize the system.

You will be amazed at how efficient students can be when they couple organizational techniques with an optimistic attitude. It’s not magical, but this combination sure does help.

1. Pay attention to the personal component. Adopt a positive, calm attitude toward your child’s study habits.

A parent’s attitude can have a huge effect on student success. Although parents want to create great learners, success and motivation are in our students' hands. The most important gift a parent can give her child is her own positive, optimistic attitude. The following tips will help.

Praise the effort, not the grade

Avoid saying: "You're so smart. Look, you got an A on that test."

Use this helpful comment instead: "I'm proud of how well you did on that test (or paper). I can see you spent a lot of time on it (or gave a good effort to it)."

Express an encouraging attitude

Avoid saying: "If you don't work harder (or pass in your homework on time) I'll ground you for a week (or month!)."

Use this helpful comment instead: "I know how happy you'll be when you do well in school. Let's sit down and make a plan to have that happen."

Create a clear, easy-to-follow plan

Some parents buy a new agenda book so that students will be able to make a weekly list of important school tasks and then draw boxes next to the jobs. The student will then check off the boxes when he or she completes the tasks. The visual reminder of finished jobs greatly aids motivation.

Make the student personally accountable / Show a visual map of the week to a caring adult

The old saying, "the organized parent has disorganized children," can often be true. Make sure that your child is following through with the plan by requiring that he or she personally check in with an adult, such as a teacher, parent or mentor weekly. The child, not the parent, should conduct this meeting right after the week is completed.

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2. Impose structure on your child’s life.

We all know that order is important, but with the busy schedules of today, how can anyone expect routines and structure? Although you may find that an organized evening meal has gone into the sunset of yesterday, it still may be possible to impose various points of strict order in your child’s day which will give the message that organization is important.

Make sure your child receives adequate rest and nutrition

This point is obvious but cannot be overstated. Children work best when their physical needs are well taken care of. Try to avoid sugary treats and sugar-laced breakfast cereals which give quick energy but then cause the body to “crash.” In addition, impose a strict bedtime as often as possible.

Build exercise into your child’s day

Many educators believe that the single best determinant of success in school is a definite amount of physical exercise per day. While many educators feel strongly that imaginative, adventurous play in the outdoors is best, others argue for team sports to build the character as well as the body. We believe that the type of exercise is probably much less important than the disciplined routine of some daily exercise to burn off steam and focus the mind.

Help your child develop systems to organize homework because a clear system creates a clear mind

Any type of homework routine that creates organization is very helpful. For example, we instruct students to do the same subject at the same time every day. This regularity will help concentration, as the mind will be ready and prepared for the job. In addition, students should attempt to do their most difficult subjects when they are completely alert, not after a heavy meal or right before bedtime.

Flashcards, graphic organizers, flipcharts, long-range project plans, student work plans which rank assignments in order of importance, daily checklists for studying, special homework folders, and all types of indexing and review systems will help to create order and minimize stress. You and your children should pick the most helpful for your style and needs.

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3. Help conquer procrastination and anxiety.

Help students pace themselves

We believe that two great tools are the magnet and the refrigerator. Make a copy of all long-range assignment sheets and post them in the kitchen. Create a list of deadlines and checkpoints right on the assignment. Figure out your own individual way to enforce these deadlines. Say to your child what every Ph.D. candidate is encouraged to say to herself before writing a dissertation: "It's just a series of small steps."

Remind your child to study two nights for a quiz and at least three nights for a test, and try to enforce this discipline. It will work wonders. Use this system for papers as well, although research papers will require weeks of preparation.

Help your child keep a home accordion-file with subject folders of all assignments, quizzes, and tests so that he or she can easily locate and review the material for exams. Color-code the child’s subject folders so that each subject in his or her book bag has the same color as the file folder at home. This inexpensive system will reap huge rewards.

Instill the habit of regular review and reading

Some parents find that creating a comfortable social time in the family room, with the TV and cell phone off and no distractions, can be very helpful as a quiet time for a child to read or review the day's notes in an important subject. The comfort of having someone close by who is also reading compounds the probability of success. This twenty to thirty minute session per day can be built into a family's routine.

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4. Learn some time-management academic strategies.

The following points are critical for time-management and academic success. Although we cannot develop these points here, it's important to know that all of these skills are time-saving devices crucial to success in school.

  • Effective note-taking methods, including summaries, various outline designs and word maps
  • Brainstorming techniques to jumpstart papers
  • Abbreviation skills
  • Reading comprehension skills to quickly develop understanding of main topics and the writer's aim
  • Active listening techniques
  • Effective, proven memorization techniques

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5. Remember that all students are different. Individualize your plan.

Parents should not expect their children to be alike or similar to their neighbors, friends, or cousins. All children have unique needs and talents which should be respected and celebrated. Because children learn differently, parents should try to pinpoint each child's best mode of learning. Some will learn by reading and studying notes while others need a multi-sensory approach. You can help each child best by figuring out these particular needs, although most children love to experience information and materials directly and kinesthetically. Many people learn by doing, so any method that makes a subject come to life will be fantastic.

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Of course we hope that our students will read with comprehension and speed, take meticulous notes, manage their test anxiety, and get accepted to the college of their dreams. In a perfect world, this would be the rule, not the exception. But as you work toward these goals, you will begin to see hopeful changes and a clearer, sound direction toward success. With organization comes a focused mind. Your students' good concentration and good grades will reward your great intentions and effort. Then you will all look forward to the beginning of the school year with enthusiasm.