Sunday, January 8, 2012

An Educated Parent's Guide to Being a Good Student

Kids, I have been around a while, and I have a lifetime of evidence that the advice below will work if you give it a chance.  So listen up.

Number One, Get organized.  This will take care of about half, maybe more, of what it takes to do well in school.  You can’t do well if there is no discernible pattern or rhythm to your life.

a.    Sleep: Wake up around the same time each day.  Don’t take naps even if you choose to go to bed late.  Disconnect from devices before you go to bed (this means turn them off).  Daytime learning best gets into long-term memory if there is adequate sleep, meaning not too little and not too much.  Six to eight hours of sleep is all you need, but only if it is of high quality.
b.    Time: Use a calendar and load all classes, work time, study time, and deadlines into it.  Treat each entry as you would an appointment that you have committed to keep.  Set multiple alarms on important assignments, exams, and deadlines.  Your cell phones, for which we pay monthly, are great tools if you use them to be productive.
c.     Space: Clean, organize and de-clutter your living spaces.  It really does have an effect on our moods and brain function.
d.     Exercise: Three or four times per week, 30-40 minutes each time.  Almost anything you can do in this area is better than nothing, and it will help your brain function at its best.
e.    Study: In your calendar you should schedule study blocks in the gaps of time you will have between waking and work or other committed time.  Shoot for no less than two or three 90-120 minute study blocks each day, including weekends.  Each block should be dedicated to a different subject.  Disconnect from devices when you study.  Study only in quiet environments with few distractions, and try to choose the same environments every time.  Avoid studying in your beds and in front of the TV.
f.      Rewards: Only engage in rewarding behavior such as cell phone use, TV use, listening to music, Facebook time, hanging with friends, etc., AFTER you have kept your appointments for the day.  You will have less stress and worry if you do this because you will get things done, and when it’s time to play you will be guilt-free.

Number Two, Get involved in productive pursuits.  Part-time commitments and campus organization activity are proven to be associated with better grades.  Vegetating with friends, sleeping all day, watching TV, doing little meaningful activity is proven to be associated with poor grades.  It’s as simple as that.  A good rule of thumb to go by is to engage in this type of activity at least once or twice per week, outside of school and your regular work.  Don’t listen to those who want to pull you away from these activities or your study time.


      Number Three, Use proven study methods.  It is already known what types of studying work best.  These include:

a.     Use all your senses while studying: Using vision (reading), hearing (listening to recordings, rehearsing) and touch (highlighting, writing and re-writing notes and index cards) while studying is superior to using only one, like reading.
b.     Use the Cornell method of note-taking: (See for more information on this method).  Also create index cards for every significant category of learning from class, and for quizzes and exams.  (See for information about using index cards).
c.     Use chunking for comprehension of material: In all your reading and note-taking, take time to group information into meaningful categories containing no more than three or four items each, and assign a level of significance to each grouping so you know what to focus on when studying later.  Using highlighters to categorize is very helpful.
d.    Use a study group or the buddy system when studying, especially for exams: This is a form of rehearsal in that you can quiz each other and listen to how others have grasped the material.
e.    Use repetition: Use your study blocks to repeatedly go over the same material, which should be easy if you use the methods above, because you will already have written and highlighted material.

f.      Use distributed studying and avoid massed studying: This is a fancy way of saying that study in small blocks over a long period of time is superior to cramming.  Our brains embed things in long-term memory better this way.

The last tip, Number Four, is the most important and that is to remember and stay focused on why you are in school.  Keep your hopes and dreams close to you at all times.  We don’t ever get to a destination if we don’t have some sort of compass to consult.  Look closely at what successful people do; they know there is no short cut and it takes consistent hard work.  Your Mom and I believe in you and want only the best for you, but we can’t live your lives for you.  We’ve lived long enough to know that there’s nothing more hellish than a meaningless or wasted life.  And life goes by faster than what you think right now.  So we pray that you choose a path which will enable you to leave something good behind you.  No matter how lofty our goals are, we cannot accomplish them without some basic discipline and good habits, like the ones listed here.  Now go get ‘em!