Research School Network: Teaching the Tools to Study Making it easy for students to study by teaching them how


Teaching the Tools to Study

Making it easy for students to study by teaching them how

by Bradford Research School
on the

Mark Miller is Director of Bradford Research School

If you’ve ever taught a class with upcoming exams, you’ll have given the speech’. This is part Sir Alex Ferguson hairdryer, part We will fight them on the beaches’. It’s designed to inspire, to motivate, to ensure that students will study appropriately for what’s ahead.

But it doesn’t always work. Because even if the will is there, sometimes our students just don’t know how to study. And when students don’t know how to study, they won’t do it. Or they will choose inefficient methods. They may default to studying only those subjects that they know how to study in, or with easy entry points to study like watching videos or rereading notes.

Subject specific strategies

Consider your subject: What are the things that students have to study? What are the best ways for studying that material? Once you have the answer to those questions, you can teach them how to do it.

In the English classroom, one area of study focus is memorising quotations. We want students to learn them but also be able to use them well. Finding and understanding quotations isn’t the problem; it’s recalling them and using them in exams.

So we might help pupils design flashcards. We could spend time looking at what makes an appropriate cue for retrieval, and how these cues might need to be reduced over time.

Tools 1 Cues

Students seem to enjoy creating flashcards, but they don’t always use them. So they need methods to get the most out of them. We could teach the Leitner system and explain how it could help structure revision sessions. But we would also practise this in class.

We don’t want these quotations simply memorised – students need to use them. So we can teach some simple elaboration questions e.g. where does this occur in the text? How does this quotation link to a particular theme? Which other quotations compare and contrast? We can also teach ways to organise and link flashcards e.g. rank chronologically, place on a continuum etc.

This isn’t a blog on English teaching, but I use these to illustrate that students need to know what good revision looks like in a particular subject.

Curriculum time is precious, but spending some time in class to teach some high-leverage approaches that will pay back exponentially in study sessions is essential. So if you want students to self-quiz using their Geography knowledge organisers, they can benefit from some guided practice in class. 

General approaches

Are there generic approaches that can be shared at a whole-school level? Certainly, as long as methods are adapted for subjects.

We love the Quiz It, Link It, Map It, Shrink It’ strategy shared by Kelly Tatlock at Beckfoot School here. It’s a good example of a consistent approach that can look slightly different in each subject. You therefore have the benefit of consistency, but flexibility to ask what these things look like in my subject.

QILIMISI’ is a technique that brings Knowledge Organisers to life. If we don’t think about how we do this, these are not useful tools at all – they’re just a waste of our photocopying budget. We have some further thoughts on how to make the most of Knowledge Organisers.

The EEF share this list from Zimmerman (1989) in the Metacognition and Self-regulated Learning guidance report of features of effective independent learners:

  • Setting goals
  • Using appropriate strategies to attain these goals
  • Monitoring their performance
  • Restructuring their physical and social context
  • Managing time efficiently
  • Self-evaluating
  • Attributing causation to results
  • Adapting future methods

We should ask which of these elements pupils are less likely to stumble upon’. And then teach them the tools.

For example, if we realised that there was a difficulty for students in monitoring their performance, we could teach them how to write and use a checklist, or we could develop our own version of these simple monitoring questions originally used for writing:

  • How well am I doing compared to my last attempt?
  • How well am I doing compared to my original plan?
  • How well am I doing compared to my general writing targets?
  • How well am I doing in relation to audience, form and purpose?
  • How well am I doing in relation to the marking scheme?

So next time you think that students won’t study. Ask whether they won’t or whether they can’t.

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