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Daily Studying Issues

The successful high school student

Mastering the art of daily studying is perhaps the key to consistent school success.

There are numerous areas that we work upon in order to enhance student studying capacity.

Here are a few:

Turning the Passive and Boring into the Active and Intense

“I keep reading and don’t understand anything.” We heard this recently from a student from East Lyme High School.

She, like most students, was studying by “looking over” her assigned material.

Such students believe that they are reading. While their eyes are meeting the page and they might be appear to be reading, most often they are engaged in what we call “split-brain” attention. Part of their brain is “reading” while some other part of the brain is thinking about something else (friends/the other sex/video games).

This problem is heightened significantly if the students are engaged in texting while they do homework.

We recently worked with a student from Old Saybrook High School who seemed to peek at his phone every few minutes to read or send a text.

“Split-brain” activity creates enormous inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

Students look at the material and either do not comprehend the material (yet claim they did their homework) or recognize that they did not understand the material and then spend extra time re-reading the material.

At The Learning Consultants, we employ several strategies for transferring passivity into intensity.

We call one such technique “study bursts.”

We ask students to monitor themselves, with a stopwatch, while studying. They note how long they stay focused prior to being affected by split-brain. They are usually stunned by the results. In the majority of cases, the drifting begins in the 5-8 minute range.

In the typical pattern, the student struggles to focus for the next 15-20 minutes, and then the homework battle is lost to their more interesting thoughts.

“Study bursts” are a method to help increase intensity level.

With study bursts, the student is asked to stay intensely engaged for a designated time period. Since they are aware of the challenge, they do their best to push themselves to reach the designated goal.

Initially, this may mean that the student is fully engaged for as little as 10 minutes. Over time, the student is taught to lengthen their study bursts to at least 20 minutes.

Thereafter, the student is trained to have three or four such study bursts during each study session.

Surprisingly, many students like the technique. There are two reasons for their appreciation:

1) Homework becomes less boring. Active engagement is always more enjoyable that passive detachment, even if the activity itself may not be intrinsically enjoyable.

2) They get their work done more quickly. Intense work leads to efficiency.

We recently worked with one of our favorite students from Clinton, CT. He had transferred out of Xavier High School in Middletown, CT because he could not keep up with the study demands. Attention was his main study issue. After only five minutes, he was bored with his studies.

It struck him as counter-intuitive that he should be more engaged to get less bored. But he did what we asked and would come back each session with greater enthusiasm about “those bursts”. He needed that extra intensity to stay engaged.

He thrived at Morgan High School in Clinton, CT and now is using those same techniques to do well in college.

Learning to Use Time Management Paradigms

This may come as a surprise, but a good number of struggling students actually study as much as their more succesful peers. They do not, however, use their time as efficiently.

Stephen Covey of “7 Habits” fame developed a four-quadrant approach to time management in which he classifies time into: 1) important and urgent, 2) important but not urgent, 3) not important, but urgent, 4) not important, not urgent.

In the context of being a student, a test the next day would be considered “important and urgent”; term papers due in several weeks would be “important but not urgent”; busy work, such as history notes for assigned daily reading, would be “not important but urgent”; and standard teenage activities such as instant messaging, talking on the phone, playing video games, and watching TV would be “not important, not urgent”.

We have tweaked the usual view of the Covey’s quadrants.

Students are certainly inundated with busy-work. Nonetheless, students must do their homework or face significant consequences so, in effect, all homework must be important.

In addition, while activities such as talking on the phone and instant messaging would be characterized as “not-urgent, not important,” we temper Covey’s characterization of non-work activities to focus on quality. Some socializing is high quality. That should be protected. Some socialization is filler. That can be limited.

The same approach applies to TV, video games, music and other leisure activities. With that said, we are mindful of the view that every family has values that govern the amount and type of media and social activities that are permissible.

The biggest problem that conscientious students have is failing to do “important but not urgent work,” such as studying for finals that will occur in a couple of weeks or preparing for term papers that are not due until next month. We move their thinking to focus more on “important, not-urgent” studying by building such work into their daily schedule.