Monday, October 19, 2020

From the High School Lesson Book - Study Skills for Success

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A question came up recently in our co-op about what writing skills students should already have learned by the time they start high school English composition. That's another article for another day, but it got me thinking about general study skills that I believe homeschooled students should develop in their high school years. I've been teaching writing and literature classes for high schoolers in our homeschool co-op and have seen those students as well as my own needing work in these areas. I call them study skills, but they are much broader than just cramming for an exam!

Understand the Assignments or Expectations

Every week in the co-op classes I try to be very clear about the instructions for the homework and assignments, where to find the details in the textbook, which pages to read, and how to submit the essays, or whatever else. I encourage the students to ask their questions before class is dismissed. But it's not that unusual to have students who turn something in that doesn't follow the instructions. For instance, it takes several weeks into the school year before I get everyone on board with submitting their essays in the correct format - double-spaced, specific font size, header information, and all of that. 

Is it a big deal? Well, yes and no. Does it really matter that much if the essay is in 11-point rather than 12-point font? Nope, to me it actually doesn't. But in some college classes, believe it or not, it does. It matters that they follow instructions and the parameters for the assignment. It's going to matter even more at college level, and it's easy to see how it will matter in many work settings. There's a place for being creative and individual, and there's a place for making sure that you follow the instructions you've been given. 

My advice to students: Understand the assignment and do your best to follow all the instructions given.
My advice to homeschool parents: If your student is in a co-op or receiving instruction from someone other than you, remind your student of the importance of following instructions. If you're the teacher, be clear and consistent about assignments and how you're grading.

Manage Your Time

This is something that doesn't come naturally to very many of us, from what I can tell, and because homeschoolers have a lot more flexibility with their time, it seems to me that we don't always do a great job of teaching the skill. If students haven't learned this by the time they get to high school, these are the years they need to work on it. Students are working on multiple subjects each semester, and have responsibilities in the home. Many have part time jobs. All have things they want to do in their personal time - social life, hobbies, personal interests, and more. Now is the time to figure out how to budget time so that all of those things get correctly prioritized. Know what the deadlines are for schoolwork, and how much time each assignment will take. Plan that time so the work will get done in a timely manner, without procrastination or panic. 

Get a student planner or a calendar and use it. Find a system that works for you to keep track of your homework and study schedule, and is efficient for keeping on track and balancing time between school and other responsibilities. 

When my sons were in high school, they had part time jobs and other responsibilities, but did not do any classes at a co-op. I was the only teacher they had to deal with, and I knew exactly how much work they had in each subject and what else was taking up their time during the week. And too often I adjusted deadlines to balance things for them. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because that's why we homeschool, right? But I should have let them figure out how to balance. My daughter did several classes at a co-op during her last two years of high school. Her French instructor gave the class homework without any regard for whether they also had coursework in English or Algebra, or if they had extra hours at work this week, or if they were planning to go away over the weekend. And she had to figure out how to meet the deadlines. As a co-op teacher, I sometimes get emails from students apologizing for turning something in late or incomplete, and the reason given is that they had a lot of other homework in other subjects or a very busy week. The very blunt response would be that I don't care. Of course I don't say that to them, but I do think it! Because unless it's something really unusual - some kind of crisis - it shouldn't matter. For the rest of your life, kids, you will have to juggle school, work, church, family, personal life, and more; and it is your responsibility to make the balances and adjustments.

My advice to students: Learn time management skills now.
My advice to homeschool parents: Work with your student on time management, especially planning for deadlines. Don't be afraid to let natural consequences reinforce the lessons.

From the High School Lesson Book - Let's Get to Work! on Homeschool Coffee Break @ - It's that time of year when motivation is hard to come by, but we need to stick to plan and get our schoolwork done! We have a couple areas we need to work on . . .

Maximize Your Strengths

When you're responsible for your own schedule, you can plan to study and work on assignments when you're at your best during the day. You can also work in a setting in which you're comfortable. You might still have to attend that class in person or online at whatever time it's scheduled, but you can work on your assignments in the morning or evening or whenever you're at your best. You should probably dress for success when attending co-op, but if laying on your bed in your pjs is the most comfortable way for you to do the required reading, do it. As long as the work gets done.

Maximizing your strengths also means knowing how you learn best - your learning style - and making it as easy on yourself as possible. If you focus best when there are no distractions, plan your study space accordingly. If you focus and listen best when you can doodle or take notes or fidget, have your notepad handy and, if you're in a classroom setting, find a way to do what you need to do without distracting others. If reading is difficult, listen to an audio version while following along. Be creative in using your learning strengths to your advantage and compensating for your weaker areas.

My advice to students: The goal is to get schoolwork completed and learn. Figure out the best way for you to do your best work.
My advice to homeschool parents: Your student's preferred study space or learning style might be different from yours. As long as they are getting the work done well, and on time, try to allow them the freedom to do it their way. They may need help figuring out how to adjust their learning style preferences and strengths to outside classes and expectations. Do step in when they need you, but allow them to be their own advocate as much as practical. They will need to be able to do that on their own someday too.

Find Your Motivation

Students should be involved in choosing their coursework and curriculum as much as possible. The more the student has invested personally, the more likely it is he'll succeed. Being able to have some control and ownership over what they are studying and how will help students take ownership. And that will help with motivation. What keeps your student motivated? Being able to check things off a list? Taking lots of short breaks during the day and switching things up, or having the freedom to concentrate on one subject until that project is complete? Little rewards along the way, or working towards a big reward at the end of the semester? Some kids are motivated by the grade itself, or the praise of the instructor. 

And of course, students that have a good idea of what they want to do after high school find motivation in preparing for that. Obviously they will be motivated to apply themselves to the subjects that they are interested in, but it may also help them be determined to do what needs to be done. One of my sons had very little patience for grammar and writing skills, but when he decided he was interested in a journalism related career, he understood that he'd need those skills to be sharp in college, and applied himself without much more complaint. My daughter never liked math and found it difficult, but she also did not want to have to take a remedial math in college so she worked at it, and made it through her required first year math. 

My advice to students: Think of a good way to reward yourself and keep yourself on track. And ask someone to keep checking on you and keep you accountable.
My advice to homeschool parents: Encourage, encourage, encourage! And reward your student suitably for jobs well done, as well as for diligent effort in areas that don't come easily.

Use Proven Strategies

You don't need to reinvent the wheel! A lot of time honored study strategies have been in use for generations because they work. We all need to review things we've learned in order to make them stick and we all need to practice things in order to get better at them. So yes, do plan on reviewing all the pages from the textbook that your co-op teacher lectured from in class today. Chances are very good that she didn't cover everything on those pages, and even if she did, the chances of you accurately remembering every bit of it are slim. Review it. Practice conjugating your Spanish verbs. Practice piano. Practice your golf swing. Practice solving equations. Practice your speech or presentation. Musicians and athletes are often told that the way you practice determines the way you'll perform. That's good advice. 

Learn how to proofread and critique your own writing. Learn how to take notes effectively - handwriting on paper is much more effective than typing! Make use of flash cards and highlighter pens and those kinds of tools to help you remember and understand information. Come up with mnemonics to help you memorize facts and formulas. Find a study buddy to work with and hold each other accountable. 

My advice to students: Give some of the "old-fashioned" learning tools a fair try. Technology is great and so useful, but make sure you're using your amazing brain to its fullest potential too!
My advice to homeschool parents: Remind and encourage your students to follow instructions and advice about how to study. 

Books in Print and Handwritten Notes on Homeschool Coffee Break @

What study skills do you think are most important? How can we help our students develop those skills? Leave a comment and contribute to the conversation!

See my related posts:

High School Assignment Tracking on Homeschool Coffee Break @  From the High School Lesson Book - Time Management and Motivation on Homeschool Coffee Break @ - The time crunch is on, so this is when we see how good we really are at time management!

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