G Practice, Practice, Practice: How to Improve Students’ Study Skills N

Practice, Practice, Practice: How to Improve Students’ Study Skills
Michael E. Rozalski, State University of New York at Geneseo
enerally, teachers are good
students. Most know how to
successfully address a variety
of academic tasks demands. Many
know how to compensate for any
personal weaknesses they have with
specific skills. Sometimes teachers are
such good students that they forgot
what it was like to struggle to learn
something. Unfortunately, students
with emotional and behavioral
problems are constantly reminded of
how difficult learning is. These
students typically lack basic study
skills, including listening, notetaking, thinking and analysis,
memory, and test-taking skills (Bos &
Vaughn, 2002; Schloss, Smith, &
Schloss, 2001, Yell & Rozalski, 2008).
The development of these skills is
crucial if students are to succeed
academically (Ellett, 1993; Marshak,
1984; Wood, Woloshyn, &
Willoughby, 1999). We know from
research that instruction in these
skills has been effective in increasing
students’ abilities (Fremouw &
Feindler, 1978; Gall, Gall, Jacobsen, &
Bullock, 1990; Tuckman, 2003) but
that, as teachers, we sometimes focus
on teaching content rather than these
prerequisite skills. The focus of this
article will be to provide some simple
strategies for developing listening,
note-taking, thinking and analysis,
memory, and test-taking skills that
can be integrated into the regular
classroom curriculum.
Listening Skills
On their first day in a new school
or class, regardless of grade level,
students hear an overwhelming
amount of information. The first few
days of the new school year, I heard
the following when wandering
various hallways:
‘‘You must be in your class and
out of the hall by the second
N ‘‘Please hang your rain jacket on
the hooks, not on the back of your
N ‘‘You need a pass to be at your
locker if class is in session.’’
N ‘‘The bathroom is down the hall to
the left.’’
Then class actually starts and
‘‘despite decades of advice to the
contrary, teachers at all levels still
lecture’’ (Devine, 1987, p. 19). Some
teachers spend as much as half of
their available instructional time
presenting information through
lectures (Putnam, Deshler, &
Schumaker, 1993), a challenge
particularly for students with
emotional and behavioral problems
whose strengths do not generally
include the ability to listen.
Listening skills can be taught and
practiced in a variety of engaging
ways (Devine, 1987). Teachers of
younger students can play simple
group games such as Simon Says.
They can also create listening centers,
where individual students can listen
1. songs, such as the ‘‘Itsy Bitsy
Spider,’’ and then retell the tale;
2. audiobooks and then identify the
story sequence or explain the
main point; or
3. four to six distinct sounds on
tape and then write a story
recalling the order of the sounds
(referenced as ‘‘sound stories’’ by
Devine, 1987).
While lecturing, teachers of older
students can have students practice
listening skills by playing listening
bingo (see Table 1 for a study skills
content sample) or asking students to
identify the ‘‘choke,’’ the one factual
error in a lecture that is incongruent
with the reading the students
completed on the same topic.
Teachers can also give an oral test
with silly questions (Custer et al.,
1990). For example, read the
following aloud to students (don’t
cheat—have someone read it aloud
for you):
You are driving a bus with three
passengers to start at the main terminal. You go north 8 miles, turn right,
and go east 4 miles. You pick up seven
passengers and one disembarks; then
you turn south and go 8 miles. You
pick up four passengers, and two
disembark. You then go west 4 miles,
and all but two disembark. How old is
the bus driver? How many passengers
are still on the bus? Where are you?
Note-Taking Skills
When taking notes, students
often struggle because they attempt
to write too much. These students
have difficulty identifying the main
idea or important details and lose
their way by trying to write
everything (Schloss et al., 2001).
Teachers can solve this problem for
students by providing completed
notes or a summary of the material to
students in advance (Suritsky &
Hughes, 1996). Research, however,
indicates that providing completed
notes may not be the most effective
way to assist students (Hamilton,
Seibert, Gardner, & Talbert-Johnson,
2000; Kiewra, Benton, Kim, Risch, &
Christensen, 1995; Kiewra et al., 1991,
1997; Kiewra, Mayer, Christensen,
Kim, & Risch, 1991; Robinson &
Kiewra, 1995). These studies found
that students who take notes and
review them perform better than
those students who do not take or
review notes. In fact, students who
used outline notes, which contain an
outline of major points and subtopics
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Thinking and
Note Taking
Oral tests
Listening center
Guided notes
Three-column system
with some points missing, or matrix
notes, which provide a visual display
of major points and subtopics, were
the most likely to recall and
synthesize information.
The practical difficulty is that
students will eventually need to take
notes in situations in which a teacher
is not going to provide these
supports. To take effective notes,
students must learn to be focused in
their efforts; they must write down
fewer words without sacrificing
understanding (Devine, 1987;
Suritsky & Hughes, 1996). Teachers
18 B E Y O N D B E H A V I O R
Think alouds
Prediction and
Test Taking
Songs or rhymes
Method of place
Test preparation checklist
can instruct students on how to take
notes using modified shorthand or
abbreviations (e.g., bxp for behavior
problems), although a more
comprehensive approach would
incorporate effective note-taking
strategies with other learningenhancing principles.
Bos and Vaughn (2002) have
suggested a note-taking strategy
called the three-column system,
which places more responsibility for
the note-taking task on the student. In
this system, a student must take notes
by completing simple tasks before,
during, and after the lecture. As
shown in Figure 1, students must
move from key concepts and singlesentence content summaries in
preparation for class in which they
will take notes to multiple-paragraph
summaries of reading notes when
debriefing the experience after class.
This encourages students to avoid
passive summarizing strategies (i.e.,
underlining or highlighting), which
often have little value (Custer et al.,
1990; Devine, 1987).
To emphasize the importance of
making the note-taking process one
1. Surveying
Understand the big picture
2. Questioning
Identify the purpose
3. Reading effectively
Monitor what you are reading
4. Reciting
Repeat important points
5. Reviewing
Review big picture, purpose,
and details about what you
that includes mental activities that
occur before and after the lecture,
teachers can also teach general
strategies that help all students to
integrate and process information.
For example, teachers could make
some of the note-taking task a group
activity by using the following:
1. Think-Pair-Share (Kagan, 1994),
which encourages students to
(a) think silently about the
problem or questions presented,
(b) pair with another student to
discuss the answer, and (c)
share the most important points
with the class.
2. K-W-L (Ogle, 1986), which
requires students to monitor
their understanding before
(‘‘What do I Know?’’ and ‘‘What
do I Want to Learn?’’) and after
(‘‘What did I Learn?’’). Teachers
can ask students to share their
K-W-Ls with other students and
to develop additional questions
that the group should seek to
Thinking and Analysis Skills
For students to succeed in school,
they must be taught thinking and
analysis skills (Algozzine, Ysseldyke,
How to Meet the Goal
% Survey the entire book, including preface and table of contents
% Survey the chapters, summaries or conclusion, and sub/headings
% Find the pages of your assignment
% Estimate the time you need to complete the assignment
% Ask what you expect to learn, jotting down the question you want
% Turn the sub/heading into questions
% Be prepared to answer any questions that appear at the beginning
or end of the chapter
% Read actively, checking predictions and unknown vocabulary
% Read and summarize tables, figures, and other visual material
% Skim the less important parts
% Repeat and record important concepts
% Retell stories or the main points to another student in your own
% Resurvey the summaries and sub/headings
% Reread and answer chapter questions
% Go back to any section that you cannot remember
& Campbell, 1994; Algozzine,
Ysseldyke, & Elliot, 1997; Devine,
1987). In addition to basic prediction
and correction techniques, Algozzine
et al. (1997) suggested specific
strategies that allow students to
practice these skills, including the
1. Think-aloud strategies: Teach
students to think aloud when
solving a problem. For instance,
when deciding how to respond to
a question about what caused the
current political situation in the
Middle East, start by stating,
‘‘OK, I know that the region is
characterized by economic,
religious, and social difference.
What historical events should I
consider before responding?’’
2. HDYKT: Teach students to
critically evaluate facts. For
instance, when a student
answers, ‘‘oil,’’ to the above
question, persuade others to ask,
‘‘How do you know that?’’
Students will grow accustomed
to backing their evidence with
Another strategy that encourages
students to evaluating the source is
the SQ3R Method (see Table 2;
Robinson, 1946).
Memory Skills
Students with emotional and
behavioral problems often have
difficulty remembering and recalling
information. Teaching students
simple ways to create unique or
meaningful relationships (Rafoth,
Leal, & DeFabo, 1993) to the new
concepts they are learning allows
these students to perform better
academically (Bos & Vaughn, 2002).
Commonly used memory strategies
include mnemonics, acronyms and
acrostics, keywords, methods of
place, and rhymes or songs (Bulgren
& Lenz, 1996; Petercsak, 1986;
Willoughby & Wood, 1999; Yell &
Rozalski, 2008). Table 3 provides a
summary of strategies and examples
of several memory devices.
Test-Taking Skills
Prior to subjecting students to test
taking, teachers should instruct
students on basic test analysis skills.
There are two broad categories of tests
that students encounter: recognition
and integration. Tests that require
recognition of knowledge have the
correct answer included in the
question prompt and include true/
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1. Mnemonics
2. Acronyms and
3. Keywords
4. Method of place
5. Rhymes or songs
A visual mnemonic for remembering the number of days in the months can be created by putting two closed
fists together. Starting with January from the left pinkie knuckle and labeling each valley and peak (knuckle)
thereafter, you can see that each knuckle represents 1 month with 31 days.
An acronym for remembering effective presentation of instructional materials is LEMMINGS (Yell & Rozalski,
Let the focus be on the learner
Establish the context
Maintain a brisk pace
Model or clearly demonstrate the skill
Inquire about student understanding
Never bore; maintain your enthusiasm
Get students to respond
Supply corrective feedback
A keyword for music students remembering the lines of the treble clef is visually picturing Elvis’ Guitar
Breaking Down on Friday
A method of place for remembering memory devices is to visualize yourself in a grocery store
NWhen you get your cart, ‘‘see’’ that it contains a big mnemonic.
NAs you walk through the fresh vegetables, pick up an acronym and acrostic.
NIn the meat section, grab a keyword.
NHappy to be done, sing a little ditty (rhyme or song) as you check out.
A rhyme for remembering how to spell many words with ‘‘e’’ and ‘‘i,’’ such as retrieve, is ‘‘I before E, except
after C, or when it sounds like ‘A’ as in neighbor and weigh.’’
false, multiple choice, and matching.
Before taking a recognition test,
teachers should consider teaching and
posting the following mnemonic
DREAMS (Yell & Rozalski, 2008):
N Directions must be read carefully. Students should look for
keywords to determine what
you are attempting to evaluate
(e.g., incorrect, wrong, right, worst,
best, none, never, less, least, more,
most, all, always).
N Read all answers before committing to one (Custer et al.,
N Easy questions must be answered first. Skip the hard ones
N Absolute qualifiers (e.g., no, none,
never, only, every, all, always) are
usually false.
N Mark questions as you read them
(i.e., cross out the ones you have
completed and place a star next to
more difficult ones you need to
N Similar and absurd options can
usually be eliminated (Hughes,
20 B E Y O N D B E H A V I O R
In contrast, tests that require
students to remember and integrate
information include fill in the blank,
short answers, and essays. When
taking these tests, students with
learning and behavioral problems
often struggle to interpret test
questions correctly (Bos & Vaughn,
2002; Schloss et al., 2001). Teaching
students the importance of reading
instructions carefully and what tasks
are required by common keywords
can greatly improve their test-taking
skills. For example, students should be
explicitly taught that keywords such
as compare, contrast, analyze, evaluate,
relate, and criticize signal that students
must compare at least two concepts or
terms. Terms such as list, outline,
define, and state require students to
briefly describe, whereas terms such
as discuss, explain, summarize, interpret,
and justify require longer answers or
Regardless of the type of test,
students must be taught more explicit
test-taking skills that they can employ
to perform better on the task at hand.
Without this preparation, test-taking
strategies are unlikely to help
students succeed. Because these skills
can be used before, during, and after
the test, let us address each in turn.
Even before test day, students can
practice skills that will improve their
performance on tests. Teachers can
help students achieve this success by
instructing students on the importance
of being organized prior to the test
day. Encouraging the use of a calendar
or assignment to keep track of when
tests are scheduled, emphasizing the
importance of carefully managing
their study time (e.g., by creating study
aids in advance), and allowing
students a few minutes at the end of a
class to schedule study sessions with
their peers can help a great deal
(Hughes, 1996). Students should know
as much as they can about the test,
including what kind of test they will be
taking. If teachers will not provide this
information, students should predict
the test and question type before the
day of the test (Bos & Vaughn, 2002).
They should also attempt to complete
a test preparation checklist (see
Figure 2).
On the day of the test, as the
period approaches, some students’
blood pressure, heart rate, and
anxiety levels immediately increase.
This is particularly true for students
with emotional and behavioral
problems because they often lack
appropriate test-taking skills (Bos &
Vaughn, 2002; Schloss et al., 2001).
Although tests can be stressful
events, teachers can teach various
anxiety controls such as deep
breathing and positive self-talk
(Basso & McCoy, 1996; Beidel,
Turner, & Taylor-Ferreira, 1999;
Wood & Willoughby, 1999) that can
reduce anxiety and allow students to
focus. Teaching students to follow
the SEWERS strategy may help. The
SEWERS strategy requires students
N Sign their name to the test;
N Examine the test, estimating
how long it will take to
N Write down any mnemonics or
memory aids that they have
N Exhale and focus;
N Read the instructions carefully,
highlighting what is important;
Survey the entire test before
turning it in.
The final step for turning
students into successful test takers is
to teach them how to debrief the
test process after they have
completed the test and received
feedback. Immediately after the test,
they should check the predictions.
For example, if they did not know
the type of test in advance, they
should ask themselves if their
predictions were accurate (i.e., Did
the test cover the content they
studied? Did the test have the types
of questions they anticipated?). After
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receiving the graded test, student
must carefully check to determine
where they erred because they need
to determine how they can avoid
those same mistakes in the future
(Custer et al., 1990).
Students with emotional and
behavioral problems often lack basic
study skills. Teachers should not
expect that students will develop
these skills by themselves. Instead,
teachers can help students succeed by
teaching students specific listening,
note-taking, thinking and analysis,
memory, and test-taking skills (Bos &
Vaughn, 2002; Schloss et al., 2001, Yell
& Rozalski, 2008). Given the
importance of nurturing these skills
for the long-term academic success of
students (Ellett, 1993; Marshak, 1984;
Wood et al., 1999), teachers must
provide explicit instruction and
reasonable opportunities for students
to practice these skills.
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