Help your students to study wisely and learn better

How can students learn more deeply and more effectively?  How can you improve your students results on tests?  How can you get them to learn more effectively?

Recent research suggests many answers.  Today, I will talk about four ways to help your students help themselves.  Some of the best research on effective learning techniques was published by the Association for Psychological Science.  There are also others online, as well as the great book, Brain Rules, but today we will talk about four ways to improve learning.

1.  Distributed practice–One of the two ways that researchers found the most effective among most students in the most situations was distributed practice.

What does this mean?  Review, review, review.  In other words, teachers should spread out the material they teach.  Do not teach items in large chunks and assume that the kids learn it.

For example, in the teaching of language it is common to do one structure and several practices, then go on to the next, having assumed that since the material was “covered,” the students must know it.  This is not effective.

A better way?  First, teach the material, then do some practice, enough that the students are comfortable with it, and move on.  As you progress, review the previous material frequently.

The main point here is to not expect students to learn things in blocks. As Henry Roediger of Washington University says, “Certainly, some blocked practice might be necessary for initial learning, but then practice schedules for problems should be intermixed.”

2. Retrieval Practice–Students also benefit from practice on remembering information.succeed1

“If students practice retrieving information, they can keep it in an accessible state (at their mental fingertips, as it were) and they can retrieve the information.”

How can you put this into practice?  This can take the form of short tests, or quizzes as well as simple things, such as flashcards. Having a very short test at the start of class can serve as a warm up and get students to practice recalling the information.

There are countless ways to do into practice even in a short time. For example, a short quiz at the start of class about what you taught in the previous few classes is one way.  Having students make quizzes for one another is a one more way which students enjoy.

You can have students form groups of 3 or 4 where they ask each other questions.  Assign one students as a teacher to ask questions to other students.  After a few minutes, change teachers.  This would also be retrieval practice, and as an added benefit, they would enjoy it.

3.  Exercise–Exercise boosts brain power.

Most teachers know this, but research has shown it also.  For example, a recent article in the New York Times on the effects of exercise on learning, they did some experiments on humans as well as mice where scientists had the subjects do aerobic and weight training exercise, and a control group that did only stretching.  Then they compared these groups.  They found that the groups that exercised did much better on the tests, though there was a slight difference in the benefits.

The director of one study said, “The differences in the effects of each type of exercise were subtle, she says, while the effects of exercise — any exercise — on overall cognitive function were profound.”

How can you get your students to exercise more?  Good question.  Even governments struggle with it

4.  Using time wisely, scheduling: Show them how to manage time.

One of the things that most kids have problems with is using time wisely.  They tend to spend lots of time doing fun stuff and only study late at night the evening before the test or on the day of the exam.  This is not wise.  Teaching kids how to make a schedule and effective guidelines for using their time can really help them.

Here are some ways to put this into practice:

Teach them a few rules to manage their time wisely.  These can be researched easily, but some that I use are to take a break between each subject, plan study time in 30-50 minute periods of one subject each, to review frequently, and to plan fun time also as a reward.

Finally, if you use these four tips, you may help your kids do better on tests.  Yes, there are many aspects of their lives that you will have no effect on, but there is always some positive effect you can have if you try.  Next time, I will talk about the effect of music on learning, as well as some other interesting tips from recent science.