Helping Students Study
A Survival Guide for Parents and Teachers
#1 Getting organized is half the battle!
Kids and families are so busy today that just finding time to do homework can be a challenge. Because of this, homework time must be scheduled. For children in the primary grades and those with learning or attention difficulties, homework should be done at the same time and in the same places as much as possible. A firmly set homework routine gives the student the security of knowing exactly what to expect and relieves the parent of endless negotiating about when the homework should be done.
As students become more and more involved in outside activities, it is helpful to write down on a schedule, all of the standing commitments for the week. Then looking at the available time, write-in a time for each day that will be designated for homework.
A complaint of many parents and teachers is that students forget what they are supposed to study or do not take the appropriate materials home. Students must have a place to record and keep their assignments. A folder for primary grades works great. For upper graders and secondary students a notebook divided by subject is probably best.
Assignments to be completed should be placed in the front of the appropriate section. Completed homework to be turned-in should always be put in the same place. That can be in the front of the subject section, in the pocket in the front of the notebook, in a special folder, or whatever works for the student. The key is consistency. Completed work always goes in the same place in the notebook or folder.
At the front of their notebook, students should have a weekly assignment sheet and a long term calendar. The assignment sheet can be nothing more elaborate than a grid with the days of the week across the top and the subject areas listed down the side. The student should get in the habit of writing down the assignments for each class as they are given and checking them off as they are completed.
Assignment sheets can be tailored to fit the needs of individual students by adding special columns. For example, a student who frequently forgets to bring materials home could have a column next to each subject that he could check-off when he had put his materials in his backpack.
For a student who has difficulty copying from the board or writing down information given orally, a narrow column can be added for the teacher’s initial. The teacher checks the student’s assignment sheet to be sure all assignments are completely and accurately recorded.
#2 – A time-saving strategy for remembering what you read
Most students, if asked how they study a chapter for a test, will say, “I just read the chapter over and over.” Besides being very time consuming, this is a very ineffective way to study. Instead, have students make note cards for themselves, as they read the chapter for the first time and have a much more efficient study tool.
Use 3×5 cards to study vocabulary, science, history, or other content areas. Write a word or key concept on one side of the card and the meaning or statement about it on the other. Or, write questions about the material on one side and the answer on the other.
Lay the cards out in “concept groups.” In other words, group concepts and vocabulary together that relate in some way. Tell yourself how they relate. Then group them in another way and give yourself rationale for that grouping. Work with a partner or parent. One person gives the definition or description and the other has to give a question to match. Be creative. There are lots of ways to question each other about the material on the cards that can be fun and effective at the same time.
#3 – Conquering test anxiety
When students become tense or anxious about tests, they actually switch off some of their resources. They forget information they know they studied, become confused about things they thought they knew, and may draw a complete blank. The frustrated they become, the more they cut-off their thinking and the more fear they build-up for future tests.
A very simple technique called a “Release” can help students to approach tests more calmly.
The student sits in a chair with both feet planted on the floor. With eyes closed, he (or she) slowly tenses each muscle from the toes to the torso and the fingertips to the top of the head. When the whole body is tensed, he takes a deep breath and releases all the tension as he exhales. He should feel the tension flowing out through his fingers and toes. Take a second breath and release it all out. Notice how relaxed the shoulders and all the muscles feel.
Each time the student sits down to study for the subject or test that causes them anxiety, they should start with a release. This way, they are associating the subject or task with a calm, prepared feeling rather than with stress. At test time, the student can simply take a few deep breaths and let them out slowly to help his body and mind “remember” the relaxed, ready feeling.
#4 – What if my child won’t… Making homework a priority
Research has shown that students who do their homework achieve better in school. Your child or teen must know that homework is a priority in your home. A homework time must be established and enforced. If you know your child can do the work but is choosing not to, he needs to understand that that is his choice. Privileges such as TV, playing, visiting friends, etc are available only when homework is finished. If the student can do the work but chooses to sit at the desk and not do it, he also chooses not to have the other privileges. When parents calmly and assertively stick to this policy, children often begin to make better choices.
#5 What if my child can’t …Recognizing signs of a learning disability
If your child’s homework is not getting done, is taking forever, or is really turning out to be your homework, but you know the child is really trying, there may be some kind of underlying learning problem interfering. This should not be ignored. You need to seek help.
Start by going to the teacher. Discuss your concerns and get suggestions. If the problems continue, you may need to get some outside help. The teacher may be able to help you determine whether your child just needs boost with basic skills or whether he is more likely dealing with a learning disability. Schools can provide testing and special services for students who qualify. Private tutoring (for students who need a little extra help along the way), educational therapy (for remediating learning disabilities and missing skills) may also be needed.
Here are a few of the symptoms that may indicate the presence of a learning disability:
- Seems very bright and competent in some areas but is very weak in others.
- Has attention problems that are specifically related to academics (or a particular area of academics such a reading related task).
- Is a terrible speller. Can’t sound out words. Can understand when read to but not when he does the reading.
- Can read anything but can’t comprehend. Cannot follow oral directions easily. Does not understand jokes. Misinterprets what people say.
- Easily frustrated. Has developed lots of ways to avoid schoolwork. Hates to read. Tends to be a perfectionist and gets angry when he makes mistakes (which is often).
- Poor handwriting. Letter and number confusion and reversals.
There are many different types of learning disabilities. They can affect one area or many. The key to knowing when to get help is recognizing when a child’s learning differences are keeping him from learning as efficiently as he should. Children with average or above average ability can and should learn comfortably in school. When kids are trying, and parents and teachers are supportive, but the learning is not occurring, it is time to get help. Learning disabilities do not have to be a life-long “thorn-in-the-flesh.” They can be overcome with programs that already exist and are being used.