Keys to Better Study Habits​

Why is it so hard for students to change their habits when it comes to studying and schoolwork? Even after they have been given tools, skills, and support, they sometimes fail to budge from their old habits, leaving the adults around them frustrated and puzzled. Often, the resistance to change comes down to two things: the investment of emotions and time. Today I'll discuss emotional investment, and next week I'll talk about time investment. Without emotional investment, it is much harder to change. If a student does not care about becoming more organized, getting work in on time, or following up on missing work, it is far less likely that they will do it, even after learning the skills. Further, if they don't have strong emotions about what kind of work they turn in or what kind of grades they get, they are less likely to work toward habit changes. From the outside, a lack of caring can seem flippant or lazy, and I hear these words used to describe students fairly often. But in most cases, these descriptors are far off the mark. More likely, there is a complex web of circumstances and feelings stewing underneath the surface. Students may have a learning difference that wasn't noticed or addressed well and they feel ashamed that they have fallen behind; they may feel stress from mounting pressure from teachers and parents; they might struggle with anxiety or depression; they may not be sure how to ask for help or feel embarrassed to do so; or they may have encountered difficult relationships with peers or family members. This only scratches the surface of possibilities. Taking some time to understand the emotional landscape of the student can give us an understanding about why making changes can be so difficult, even if the changes look simple from the outside. This is when it may help to find a skilled counselor, therapist, or life coach to guide your student through these complexities and get to the emotions behind the habits. Emotions run especially high with teens and it can be tricky to get them to open up. I recommend working with a therapist because often students won't open up to a parent, but feel okay with telling a therapist. I have therapists and coaches I can recommend. Once the emotions are uncovered, and a student is guided through solutions for facing and working with them, they are more likely to be open to, and willing to work on, making a change. They may even discover something that they can use as a motivator. For instance, they may not be excited about school, but they can see that doing all of their homework in a timely manner will give them more time for skateboarding (and consequently, less stress). Taking time to draw a map of a student's emotional landscape and then putting supports in place is an excellent use of time and can lead to a more productive, balanced student. ​

Guessing is Better Than Memorization​

Today I want to point you toward an article I discovered in Edutopia that demonstrates how making educated guesses is more effective when learning and studying than memorizing material. As the article points out, memorizing is not an efficient way to study. Rather, connecting some meaning to material and even some struggle actually enhances learning. When students make educated guesses, they are using "productive struggle," which helps students engage with the material and utilize perseverance. "When students try to answer questions on their own—as opposed to when answers are given to them—they engage in productive struggle, which helps them make sense of what they’re learning. Posing questions to students helps them think through a problem, bridging the gap between what they know and what they don’t," the article points out. Moving away from the seeming perfection of memorizing material and into a space where making thoughtful guesses is okay will actually help students retain the information. Often, when students use rote memorization to study for a test, the material is lost not long after because they didn't make a meaningful connection to it. ​

Reading Recommendations for the Break​

The holiday break is nearly here and students often feel like it's their chance to let loose and not think for a week or two. However, we both know that it's better for them to at least do some reading during the break to help keep their brains sharp. For students who find reading challenging, choose a book you can read aloud to them, or an audio book you can listen to together while preparing food, traveling, or puzzling. Grab some titles from the school or public library this week or find some e-books or audio books on Epic, Overdrive, or Audible. Here are some titles that I've enjoyed lately. Picture books:The Secret Life of the Little Brown Bat by Laurence Pringle, an informative and lively book that teaches children all about brown bats. Features gorgeous illustrations by my good friend Kate Garchinsky. Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. For all the foodies out there, a fun exploration into Korean cuisine and street food in LA. Middle-grade fiction:The Poet's Dog by Patricia McLachlan, a heartwarming, charming and short novel about two children and a dog, set in a snowy cabin in the woods. This would make a great read-aloud. Wishtree by Katherine Applegate, a book about a special tree that watches over a neighborhood and the children who befriend her. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, a novel about Melody, a brilliant girl with cerebral palsy who refuses to be defined by her difference. YA fiction:Dreadnought by April Daniels. I really enjoyed this novel about a transgender teen superhero who is getting comfortable with herself and her powers as she saves the world from a powerful villain. Scythe by Neal Shusterman, a fascinating premise in which no one dies anymore and teens are selected as scythes, members of society who glean (kill) people to keep the population under control. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. A complex, intimate, and excellent portrait of a teen dealing with mental illness. ​

When to Talk About Plagiarism​

Plagiarism is a serious offense at most schools, with the punishment ranging from failing an assignment to being expelled from the school. So when should you start talking with your student about plagiarism? I would recommend starting around fifth grade. Students at that age will need to turn in longer pieces of writing, and students in middle school will be asked to do essays and research projects. In your plagiarism discussion, talk about why it is inappropriate to copy another student's work and also discuss how copying word-for-word from research documents or textbooks is not acceptable. With online materials comprising a significant portion of a student's research these days, it is imperative that students understand that a simple copy and paste from an online article is not acceptable. They also need to understand how to properly cite others' work, and they will generally be asked to do this starting in middle school. Proper paraphrasing is another skill that takes time to learn. While some schools do a good job of teaching the fundamentals of ethical writing, other schools do not, and I have seen instances where students were unsure of best practices and inadvertently plagiarized. I've also seen students outright copy and paste something from the internet and put it into their writing, calling it their own. In each case, the students had been unclear about the ins and outs of ethical writing. To get started, here are some excellent resources: 1. has informative and in-depth articles and videos about the topic. Start with this article and then read this one on preventing plagiarism. 2. You may also want to learn more about the software many schools and teachers use, called This site helps teachers determine the originality of a piece of writing. Students turn in work through the site and its algorithms detect the level of originality. When it notices a string of words or sentences that are an exact or near match for another piece of writing, it will flag this in the student's document. Some teachers allow students to resubmit after seeing the results of that scan. You can learn more about how works here, and learn about the common misconceptions about the software here. 3. The Purdue OWL site is my favorite for helping students understand how to properly cite others' work in a variety of different settings. It is also a fantastic resource for all different types of writing and includes information on proper grammar. Finally, find out what your school's policy is with plagiarism. Check in with your student to see if they know and understand the policy, and if they don't, explain it to them, or work with the school counselor, librarian, or a classroom teacher to help your child gain the best possible understanding of the consequences of plagiarism. ​

The Importance of Reflection​

Reflecting on what you learn makes your learning more effective. A study done by HEC Paris, Harvard Business School, and the University of North Carolina determined that time spent thinking about what you just learned is more effective than repetition. The researchers found that synthesizing information from a lesson or articulating the key points helps us retain what we learned. Students are often asked to do this as part of their homework; just think about the questions they answer at the end of a history or biology textbook chapter. But students can also: • create a mind map of how key terms are related to each other• give a spoken summary of what they learned to a person or dictate it into their phone• act out what they learned or use hand gestures to describe the information• teach someone what they learned These are all effective study habits. Another important aspect of reflection is for students to ask questions about how they did on an assignment or test so they can improve and grow. Asking themselves, "what would I do differently next time?" can lead to innovative thinking, creative solutions, and increased confidence as they learn from their missteps and take action.​


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