Monday, February 15, 2021

Developing Study Habits

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We all need to develop healthy and beneficial habits for life, and the past year has highlighted that need for many of us. Most of us would also agree that the best time to hone those habits is while we are young. It's harder to learn or relearn good habits as we get older, despite the fact that we often are more motivated then. The problem is that we usually have to un-learn or break the bad habits. With many schools closed to in-person learning, students are having to adjust to hybrid or virtual learning and more families are joining the homeschool ranks too. I strongly encourage families to take a serious look at homeschooling and consider how they could make it work for them, but whatever education system your kids are in at this point, they will need good study habits. If you're home educating or supervising your kids in some type of distance learning, you may need to teach some of these habits. And I think we all could use a brush-up on good study habits for ourselves - for continuing as life-long learners and setting good examples, and for our personal study of the Scriptures.

For the last few years, I've been teaching writing and literature classes for high schoolers in our homeschool co-op and see that students need to work on the following areas. 

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 still students sometimes turn something in that doesn't follow the instructions. Even simple things like using the specified format for essays - paragraph layout, font, header information, etc.  

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, that little detail doesn't matter much to me; however, 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 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, we can be a bit lazy about 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. 

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 parents: Work with your student on time management, especially planning for deadlines. Don't be afraid to let natural consequences reinforce the lessons.

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.

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. You know your strengths and weaknesses, so take responsibility for making the most of your strengths.
My advice to 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

Homeschooled students can and 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. All students need to be invested somehow. So ask - what keeps your student motivated? Being able to check things off a list? 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.

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 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 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. Teachers are responsible to present the material and provide instruction, but they cannot make a student learn. We all must take responsibility for our own learning.

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 parents: Remind and encourage your students to follow instructions and advice about how to study. 

See these related articles for more help with study habits and homeschooling: 

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!

Books in Print and Handwritten Notes on Homeschool Coffee Break @

The original version of this article appeared on Homeschool Coffee Break on October 19, 2020.

This post is part of the Write 28 Days Blogging Challenge hosted by Anita Ojeda. Find all my posts for the challenge here: Write 28 Days Blogging Challenge - Disappointed

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SkatMom said...

Hi Kym, I'm not a homeschooler. My youngest is heading to grad school in the fall (YAY!). You made many good points that can benefit others. Like making and keeping a schedule. As a writer this is important. You also mentioned breaking old habits to create new ones. This is difficult. As I near retirement I'm trying to eat healthier and create an exercise routine. I'm not there yet, but if I had created those habits earlier in life they might be such a struggle now. Thanks. Google isn't letting me comment using my current blog, but you can find me on WP now, at

Anita Ojeda said...

These are all great tips, Kym! I'm a high school English teacher, and this pandemic has wreaked havoc on our students (mostly low SES kids who are behind). We just did a cohort or pod week where the most behind kids came back on campus and learned how to work in sprints to get caught up. They have planners, and that helps, but when they're at home? We haven't cracked that mystery yet. Most of them don't have involved parents.

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