Monday, January 28, 2013

Turning Around Poor Study Habits

Are your students’ study habits causing you headaches? While it’s only half way through the school year for most of us, the bad habits that were only mildly concerning in early September are really beginning to become worrisome. Whether it’s procrastination, not writing down homework assignments, distractions, or “I did it, but I left it at home,” poor study habits consume way too much time and create way too many negative conversations.

               I know. I kept count.

               I decided that for one week, I would carry an index card and make an unobtrusive little hashmark whenever I felt that an interaction with a student was the result of poor study habits. For example, I made a little mark when I asked a student about sloppy work, gave another student with a missing planner a sheet of paper to record the assignment, insisted that everyone clip papers into binders instead of stuffing them in back packs, or held a conference with students who had not studied for a quiz. All the result of not-so-great study habits. All part of what teachers do all the time. All negative.

               On day two of my action research plan, I stopped. My index card was covered with hashmarks. To make matters worse, I only counted the comments that I made when I was face-to-face with students. I didn’t count emails to and from students and to and from their parents and guardians.

                I wasn’t hateful or even stern with my students. But these interactions are not exactly the way I want to talk with students. I like a positive classroom. I like to work with students, not confront them.

               Like every other teacher, I don’t have spare time in class to waste on frivolous matters. I do know, however, that my student’ issues with their study skills are demanding time and energy—either in a negative way or in a more positive, productive, constructive way.

               I keep lists of study skills on hand. I post them electronically for my students and I give them paper copies. Obviously, this tactic was not working. So, instead of a huge list, I narrowed it to the ones that are most crucial for my students at this point the school year. We are taking one study skill a day and weaving it into just about everything we do. Below is the list that I think will work with my students if I am ever going to move them toward taking responsibility for their own work.

               Instead of confrontations, we have conversations. It’s a shared experience instead of another adult imposing tedious and unwelcome rules. While study skills are and will always be a work in progress for my students, at least now we are working together in a positive way. Instead of being exasperated at their weaknesses, I can focus on what my students are doing correctly about managing their study skills.
  1. Make a list of your goals and the reasons you want to do well in school. This will help you stay on track when you are tempted not to give your best effort.
  2. Focus your attention in class and while you are studying. Concentration is an acquired skill; make it yours.
  3. Be an active learner when you study your notes. Don’t just look them over; underline or circle key points.
  4. When you have to read a selection and then answer questions about it, read the questions first so that you can read the selection with purpose.
  5. Use your class time wisely. You won’t have to spend as much time later if you learn the material in class.
  6. Take the time to do your work correctly the first time so that you don’t have to redo it.
  7. Always label your work and your notes with the date, subject, and page number so that you can find information quickly when you need to review.
  8. When you pack up at the end of a class, don’t just shove papers into your book bag or notebook. Spend thirty seconds stowing your work in an organized way so that you can find it quickly.
  9. Pack your book bag at night and leave it by the door so that all you have to do is grab it on your way out in the morning.
  10. When you find that your locker, book bag, or notebooks are getting messy, take a few minutes to clean them out. Staying organized is an important part of being an efficient student.
  11. Homework isn’t something you should do when you have the time. It’s something you must do.
  12. Write down your homework assignments so that you won’t have to waste time phoning around to find out what they are or worrying about whether you did the right ones.
  13. Allow enough time to study. For example, if you have homework in three subjects on the same night, you will need to spend more time than on the nights when you have homework in only one subject.
  14. Review your class notes before you start your homework. A quick review will refresh your memory and make doing homework much easier.
  15. Set aside a set amount of time each night to study. If you don’t have any written assignments, read or review your notes for an upcoming test.

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