STUDY SKILLS Practice, Practice, Practice: How to Improve Students’ Study Skills Michael E. Rozalski, State University of New York at Geneseo G 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: N ‘‘You must be in your class and out of the hall by the second bell.’’ N ‘‘Please hang your rain jacket on the hooks, not on the back of your chair.’’ 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 to 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 W INTER 2 0 0 8 17 STUDY SKILLS Table 1 LISTENING BINGO (STUDY SKILLS CONTENT) Thinking and Analysis Listening Note Taking Bingo Choke Oral tests Listening center Abbreviations Shorthand 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 Figure 1 SAMPLE THREE-COLUMN SYSTEM 18 B E Y O N D B E H A V I O R Think alouds HDYTK SQ3R Prediction and correction Memory Test Taking Mnemonics Keywords Songs or rhymes Method of place Predict DREAMS SEWERS 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 STUDY SKILLS Table 2 SQ3R METHOD (ADAPTED FROM YELL & ROZALSKI, 2008) Step Goal 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 learned 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 answer. 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 answered % 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 words % 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 following: 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 sources. 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/ W INTER 2 0 0 8 19 STUDY SKILLS Table 3 MEMORY SKILLS: STRATEGIES AND EXAMPLES Strategy 1. Mnemonics 2. Acronyms and acrostics 3. Keywords 4. Method of place 5. Rhymes or songs Example 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, 2008): 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., 1990). N Easy questions must be answered first. Skip the hard ones initially. 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 revisit). N Similar and absurd options can usually be eliminated (Hughes, 1996). 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 explanation. 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). STUDY SKILLS Figure 2 TEST PREPARATION CHECKLIST (ADAPTED FROM BASSO & MCCOY, 1996) 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 to N Sign their name to the test; N Examine the test, estimating how long it will take to complete; N Write down any mnemonics or memory aids that they have memorized; N Exhale and focus; N Read the instructions carefully, highlighting what is important; and N 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 W INTER 2 0 0 8 21 STUDY SKILLS 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). Summary 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). 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