Learning How to Study (page 3)
Students are often asked to remember content-area material that they’ve read for a discussion, to take a test, or for an oral or written project. The traditional way to study is to memorize a list of facts, but it’s more effective to use strategies that require students to think critically and to elaborate ideas. As they study, students need to do the following:
- Restate the big ideas in their own words
- Make connections among the big ideas
- Add details to each of the big ideas
- Ask questions about the importance of the ideas
- Monitor whether they understand the ideas
Students use these five strategies as they study class notes, complete graphic organizers to highlight the big ideas, and orally rehearse by explaining the big ideas to themselves.
When students take notes, they identify what is most important and then restate it in their own words. They select and organize the big ideas, identify organizational patterns, paraphrase and summarize information, and use abbreviations and symbols to take notes more quickly. Copying information verbatim is less effective than restating information because students are less actively involved in understanding what they’re reading.
Students take notes in different ways: They can make outlines or bulleted lists; draw flow charts, webs, and other graphic organizers; or make double-entry journals with notes in one column and interpretations in the other column. Or, if students can mark on the text they’re reading, they underline or highlight the big ideas and write notes in the margin.
Too often, teachers encourage students to take notes without teaching them how to do it. It’s important that teachers share copies of notes they’ve taken so students see different styles of note taking, and that they demonstrate note taking—identifying the big ideas, organizing them, and restating information in their own words—as students read an article or an excerpt from a content-area textbook. Once students understand how to identify the big ideas and to state them in their own words, they need opportunities to practice note taking. First, they work in small groups to take notes collaboratively, and then they work with a partner.
Teachers often use study guides to direct students toward the big ideas when they read content-area textbooks. Teachers create the study guides using diagrams, charts, lists, and sentences, and students complete them as they read using information and vocabulary from the chapter. Afterward, they review their completed study guides with partners, small groups, or the whole class and check that their work is correct.
It’s also important that teachers teach students how to review notes to study for quizzes and tests. Too often, students think they’re done with notes once they’ve written them because they don’t understand that the notes are a study tool.
Students use Taffy Raphael’s question-answer-relationships (QARs) technique (1986) to understand how to answer questions written at the end of content-area textbook chapters. The technique teaches students to become aware of whether they are likely to find the answer to a question “right there” on the page, between the lines, or beyond the information provided in the text. By being aware of the requirements posed by a question, students are in a better position to answer it correctly and to use the activity as a study strategy.
The SQ3R Study Strategy
Students in the seventh and eighth grades also learn how to use the SQ3R study strategy, a five-step technique in which students survey, question, read, recite, and review as they study a content-area reading assignment. This study strategy, which incorporates before-, during-, and after-reading components, was devised in the 1930s and has been researched and thoroughly documented as a very effective technique (Topping & McManus, 2002).
Teachers introduce SQ3R and provide opportunities for students to practice each step. At first, students can work together as a class as they use the strategy with a text the teacher is reading to them. Then they can work with partners and in small groups before using the strategy individually. Teachers need to emphasize that if students simply begin reading the first page of the assignment without doing the first two steps, they won’t be able to remember as much of what they read. When students are in a hurry and skip some of the steps, the strategy will not be as successful.
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