Mom says: “Why are you watching Stranger Things? Don’t you have any homework?”
Student replies: “Nope.”
How many times has this very conversation played out in your home?
Many students erroneously believe that if homework has not been assigned or is already completed and no quizzes or tests have been scheduled for the next day, then homework doesn’t exist.
Parents, this is not necessarily the case. In fact, there is hardly ever a time during the school year when your student doesn’t have at least something that they should be studying or reviewing.
The Study Cycle
The study cycle is a learning sequence that starts at the beginning of a unit of learning and ends with assessment of that learning. For example, your teen's math teacher may have just started a new chapter. This new chapter (or "unit") will likely include the presentation of new material, homework to reinforce, periodic quizzes to assess progress, and end with a chapter test to measure content mastery of that particular chapter.
Just ask any farmer and they will happily educate you on the planting cycle (which is analogous to the study cycle).
In the spring, a farmer prepares the fields by breaking up the ground. Two to three weeks later, the fields are ready for seeds. As seedlings germinate and develop into young plants, regular watering and fertilizer are paramount to growth. Careful tending results in strong, healthy plants that will yield a robust harvest. Soil-prep, seeding, watering/fertilizing, and harvesting are the phases of a productive planting cycle.
The study cycle is much the same. A teacher often introduces a new unit with an activity that prepares the students’ minds before "planting" new information, similar to the farmer tilling the ground. As the student takes notes in class, that information is being supplanted into their minds. The student can then tend to that information by reinforcing it at home through consistent, strategic review and study. The "harvest" comes through successful completion of the in-class assessments (quizzes, tests), as well as long-term retention and application of the knowledge gained. Preview, attend, review, study, and assess are the phases of a successful study cycle. Let's take a closer look at these phases:
Before introducing new material, teachers may assign “preview” reading so that students will be somewhat familiar with the information coming their way. Teachers may also start a unit or lesson with an activity that prepares the students’ minds and gets them thinking about the new information. It is much easier for seeds to sprout when the soil is soft and fertile; it is much easier for minds to take in new information if they're prepared for it.
Independent learners often adopt the practice of "previewing" on their own. Students who skim a new chapter before class are usually more prepared, tend to be much more engaged, and ask more thoughtful questions. Encourage your student to become independent as early as possible. Previewing might seem like an insignificant practice, but it can reap dividends.
Attending class is perhaps the most obvious phase of the learning process, but it involves much more than just sitting in a seat. It's important to engage as many senses as possible during class time. As students listen to the teacher and take notes in class, that information is being embedded into their minds. As such, the way that students take notes is important. Study after study reveals that while the current trend is for students to take notes on a laptop or tablet, writing notes by hand is actually better because of how it forces our brains to process new information.
Review & Study
Students need to build a short review session into their nightly study routine, aside from mandatory homework assignments. There is a 2-24 hour window where the “soil of the brain” is still soft. Those prudent pupils who consistently take between 5-15 minutes per subject to review their notes from that day will find it much easier to study and recall later on. As students incorporate a nightly review of the day's material, they can also identify where there may be gaps in information and develop questions that need answering.
This is the best opportunity to "water and fertilize" that new information by doing one or several of the following:
- Read over the notes from that day (most basic--not best practice--but will do in a pinch).
- Re-write notes using a variety of colors and/or symbols, pictures and graphs.
- Type out notes, file electronically, and organize/ highlight/ create bullets.
- Create flashcards or Quizlet flashcards/print out a quiz.
- Make a PowerPoint or Prezi.
- Share/study/review with friends or family and have fun quizzing each other and discussing.
- Read notes out loud/record with a phone or iPod/use fun voices and listen to those recordings often throughout the week or on the weekend.
Incorporating these study habits, or "encoding strategies," causes the material to take root in your teen's mind firmly. When information is carefully encoded into the brain through repetition and consistent review, it yields quicker retrieval, long-term storage, and future application.
Students often overlook the preview, review, and study phases of the study cycle. For example, if a student doesn’t look at classroom material again until the night before the quiz or test (we call this cramming), they will not successfully move the information into their long-term memory or be able to apply the information. This is not to say that cramming doesn’t work in the short-term--all of us have had to cram at least once, and may have even earned a satisfactory grade--but that information is likely to fall out of our heads fairly quickly following formal assessment.
In addition to classroom assessments, it's important for students to periodically assess their own study methods.
Through careful previewing, attending, reviewing, studying, and assessing, by the time your student takes the quiz or test in a unit, they will have carefully “packed their neural suitcase” and will only need to perform a modest review the night before.
One final component of the study cycle that I might add is taking breaks. Students rewarding themselves by grabbing a snack, stretching, or playing a quick game can be a refreshing (and often much-needed) break for their brains. It is also advisable to take Friday night off to have fun with family and friends. Sometime over the weekend, though, schedule time to review the notes from the previous week. This will keep the information fresh in the brain while constructing a scaffold to hang the new information introduced the next week.