I’ve heard from plenty of teachers, “Well, in my class, they should already know how to study, so I don’t teach the students how to do it.” This, in my opinion, is unwise.
If you want your students to put forth effort, then they need to believe that their effort will pay off. This is the Effort belief — one of five at play in the heart of any child at any time. (I write about these beliefs at length in chapter two of These 6 Things.) At first, you might be able to get them to believe this through nice words, motivational speeches, and a strong relationship. But once that first assessment comes, they’ll have a stronger indicator of whether or not effort actually pays: the results of the assessment.
So if they spent five hours “studying” the night before a test — inspired by you, your encouragement, your belief in them — and then they end up getting the same results they usually get, guess what? They’ll still like you, but they’ll start to doubt whether or not effort pays.
The only fix is for you, the lead learner in the room, to teach them how to study so that the five hours pay off.
Teach mini-lessons on things like:
- What kinds of study environments work best? (Environments conducive to focus and deep work.)
- What review methods are best? (Self-quizzing and dual-coding — see Erica’s post for more.)
- How long should study sessions be? (Short and spaced out is far better for long-term retention and mental health than last-minute, mega-cram sessions.)
Even if your school teaches these things explicitly to students in younger grades, guess what? You should teach them, too. Even if your school has a “study skills” class, guess what? You should teach the skills in your class, too. There’s no question: the best place to learn learning strategies is in the class that the learning is for. There will surely be similarities between how students should study for my class versus their math class versus their health class — but still, each of us teachers should teach students the kind of effort that works best.
And if we don’t know what kind of effort works best, let’s do a book study with our colleagues. We could read:
- Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel
- How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens, by Benedict Carey
- What If Everything You Knew About Education Was Wrong?, by David Didau
(That last one from Didau stretches way beyond just the science of learning, but it’s a masterpiece.)
Don’t have time for a book? Just use the Learning Scientists. They distill the research into all kinds of bite-sized goodies.
This is an excellent, yet often under-discussed, topic. Stopping making assumptions about what learners “should” know has been transformational in how I work with students, and I aim to explicitly model all the skills I expect my students to demonstrate, no matter how minor. Thanks for writing this!
My pleasure, Brooke — thank you!
Robbie Pock says
This is a brilliant bit of insight, Dave. I support university faculty in innovating and improving their teaching, and as you might imagine, university professors can be resistant to teaching “study skills”. Two points you make are critical: 1) students will interpret their performance on exams or other high-stakes assessments as indicative of the value of effort and 2) the kind of effort that works best will, at least to some degree, differ from discipline to discipline.
I’m not sure how I will get university profs on-board with teaching students how to study, but I will for sure be directing them to this article and to your These 6 Things.
Robbie, thank you for this encouragement. If you have luck with your colleagues, let me know how you did it! The process of group consensus creation and wise change-making is fascinating to me. Cheers.
Dave, your emails & blog posts are the ones I always take time to read because they are genuinely valuable to me as an educator. Thank you for writing concise, relevant materials that provide actionable steps to solve problems rather than simply discussing them. I’ve read more PD recommended by you than anyone else!
Jill, thank you 🙂