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Improve Your Study Techniques

Annette is a language and drama teacher with a master's degree in education.

Make It Worthwhile

Make It Worthwhile

Connect With Your Learning

Curiosity is a natural phenomena of humankind and studying should quell that curiosity. Conquering new territory, gaining knowledge and new skills are empowering and add to self worth, but unfortunately many see studying as chore: ‘Increasingly, learning and innovation skills are being recognised as the skills that separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments in the 21st century, and those who are not’ (Burnage, 2018).

Aimlessly reading textbooks, highlighting every word on a page, or making summaries by rewriting the textbook is unfortunately boring and of little use. To learn effectively you need to think about what you are doing, ask questions that need answers, and explore the big concepts you need to understand and apply. Deep learning requires the student to take an active role (Marton, 1976).

This is a six-week study skill plan to be used by instructors, teachers, and students.

Objectives

  1. Learning needs to be hard and messy. If it is easy, you are not learning. There is ‘considerable empirical evidence to support the claim that confusion is prevalent during complex learning’ (D’Mello et al., 2014).
  2. Understanding is developed through ‘continued situated use’ (Brown et al., 1989).
  3. Learning is anchored in the ability to negotiate new meaning (Wenger, 2013).
  4. Consider the value of vicarious learning (Cox and Bandura) and Sfard’s (1998) participation metaphor.
  5. Form a Community of Practice. ‘Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly’ (Wenger).

Week 1

Evaluate current learning techniques and be honest and open to change. It is easy to fall into a rut of habitual methods, but if this is not reflected in grades or shows improved outcomes, it is not a successful method.

Students who have difficulty obtaining good grades tend to use reading, summaries, underlining and highlighting to study.

Accentuate the importance of a healthy balanced lifestyle and the usefulness of planning studying to not become overwhelmed. Online tools such as Trello are free and easy to use. Paper and pen work as well.

Technique 1: Concepts and Methods (Relates to the Feynman Method)

Introduce concepts and methods (simplify, deconstruct, metaphor).

Example 1

Deconstruct the first scene of Romeo and Juliet by identifying possible themes. The play starts with a fight and therefore it can be assumed that violence might be a theme. Think about the characters and their purpose in the scene and possibly in the play. At this point, most ideas are assumptions that will be revealed throughout the play. The benefit is that the student has a set of questions now and will test their assumptions as they read.

Example 2

Simplify complicated concepts by finding synonyms for complex words and rewrite the concept or definition in simpler terms and the student's own words.

Example 3

Use metaphors to clarify abstract concepts. In algebra, for instance, it can be useful to use the idea of a scale. Whatever is on the left side of the equal sign should be the same as what is on the right side. Keep the idea of a balance scale in mind, which means if you remove anything from one side you should do the same on the other side. This can create a visual representation for students who have difficulty with the abstract notions of algebra.

Task

Find a topic from any subject and identify and use the most effective method above to study said topic.

Concepts, Metaphors and Synonyms

Concepts, Metaphors and Synonyms

Week 2

Report back on effectiveness and highlight any problems or questions.

Technique 2: Subject Specifications, Marking Specifications and Assessment Outcomes

Have subject specifications on hand. Print or download the online version and use red, amber, and green colouring system to identify topics you are familiar with or are having difficulty with. Paste this on a wall or have it close by on Trello or any other project management site to allow you to continuously interact with it.

Understand and know the assessment outcomes and marking criteria for specific questions. If anything is vague ask for clarification. For example, will you be penalised if you write too much or too little? This will differ from subject to subject or even question to question within a subject. Understand all the expectations and ask if you do not know.

Task

Choose a difficult topic from any subject and use the colour system to identify specific areas that you need to work on. Find questions on that topic and look at the assessment objectives and marking criteria for those specific questions.

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Week 3

Report back on effectiveness and provide own examples. If the students work in a group learn best practices from each other.

Technique 3: How to Use Video Effectively

Most students use video to help with difficult concepts and it can be effective if used correctly. Both Khan Academy and Veritasium have YouTube channels. Khan Academy uses instructional videos while Veritasium uses vicarious learning methods. There is an argument that Veritasium’s ideas are more effective as students learn by watching common mistakes that others make.

If video is used incorrectly, it has no value and it is therefore important to know how to interact with video resources. GCSE-Pod has short videos, around five minutes each. After watching the video, the student needs to answer a set of questions before moving on. This interactive method is effective as the student will immediately know which questions, they got wrong and will then have an opportunity to watch the video again. With a specific question in mind, the student is actively busy learning and will retain the information better.

Teachers can advise students on effective YouTube channels, but it is important to know that some of these videos can be long and the student need to control their learning by stopping the video and recall the information before continue watching. With mathematics for instance, it is easy to think you understand the solution as it is explained, but unless the student attempts it there is no way of knowing if the understanding is real or superficial. This is what Sealy Brown refers to as ‘situated learning’.

Task

Experiment with topic and technique.

Learning is a path with many obstacles and learners should not be led to believe otherwise.

Talk About It, Write About It

Talk About It, Write About It

Week 4

Report back with specific evaluation on the topic studied, effectiveness, and possible improvements.

Technique 4: Self-Testing

Self-testing by practising questions, and exam papers is invaluable. It can be very effective even before the student 'knows' the topic. The questions relate to curiosity and the student is more determent to find the answers. Formulating their own questions on a specific topic helps students to think about the purpose of the question as well as which assessment outcome and marking criteria that would be the most suitable. Students need to understand that this is the time to make mistakes and get things wrong, and then to fix those mistakes, relearn the topic and try again.

Task

Choose a difficult topic and practise the challenging questions on the topic.

Week 5

Report back on the experience and its effectiveness.

Technique 5: Write Long-Form Answers Clearly and Concisely

In long-form questions and essays, the student usually has to make an argument. In science-based subjects, there might only be one correct answer, but in subjects such as English literature, there can be a variety of interpretations. Interpretations need to be justified with evidence from the text and a reason for the interpretation. It is good to keep the words, ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ in mind. Being able to provide more than one possible interpretation is evidence of critical thinking and the student's ability to entertain more than one idea.

A Basic Plan for Writing

  • Topic sentence (point)
  • Explain the point made.
  • Provide evidence (quote/ paraphrase).
  • Explain the premise of the quote and zoom in on a word or phrase if necessary.
  • Is there another possible interpretation or counterargument? This might not apply to essays based purely on scientific facts.
  • Is an introduction and closing paragraph necessary? This can be subject-specific so it is important to understand the expectations for each subject.

Task

Collect the necessary information for an essay or long answer that needs to be written. Know the assessment criteria and attempt to answer. Assess finished work based on the criteria. Note areas for improvement. Redo if necessary (it is almost always necessary to rewrite the original draft).

Week 6

Report back and show evidence.

Technique 6: Teaching a Friend, Toy or Cat

Consider communities of practice and collaboration.

The best way to test understanding is by talking or writing about it. Talking and writing are ways to make sense of your own thinking. Other methods that can be explored to assist include, mind maps, graphic organisers, visual representations, drawing, etc.

It is important to use a variety of techniques, and students should focus on challenging themselves the entire time.

Do not be afraid to be wrong. Be wrong and then find the correct method, content, or/and skill and practise it.

© 2021 Annette Hendley

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