Study learning tips

study tips for learning a language and study tips for students with learning disabilities
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Published Date:02-07-2017
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Strengthening the Student Toolbox st udy str ategies to Boos lt earning 1 By John Dunlosky gies are actually the most effectiv and a e, t least on the surface they do seem sound, perhaps because, even after pulling an all- t’s the night before her biology exam, and the high scho ni ol gh ter, students manage to squeak by on exams. Unfortunately, student has just begun to stud she tak y. es out her highlighter in a r ecent review of the research, my colleagues and I found that 2 and reads her textbook, marking it up as she goes alon sheg . these strategies are not that effect e iv s e p ,ecially if students want Irereads sentences that seem most important and stayst u o r p etain their learning and understanding of content well after most of the night, just hoping to get a good enough grasp of the the exam is o ver—obviously, an important educational goal. material to do well on the exam. These are study strategies that s o, why aren’t students learning about the best strategies? I she may have learned from her friends or her teachers or thac t an onl she y speculate, but several reasons seem lik c ur el r y. icula are simply took to on her ow s n. he is not un usual in this regard; many de veloped to highlight the content that teachers should teach, so students rely on strategies such as highlighting, rereading the fo , and cus is on providing content and not on training students cramming the night before an exam. how to effectively acquire it. Put differently, the emphasis is on Quite often, students believe these relatively ineffective str w ah tat e- students need to learn, whereas little emphasis—if any—is placed on training students h the ow y should go about learning John Dunlosky is a professor of psychology and the director of experimental the content and what skills will promote efficient studying to training at Kent State University. His research focuses on self-regulated support robust learning. Nevertheless, teaching studen t ts o how learning and how it can be used to improve student achievement across learn is as important as teaching them content, because acquir - the lifespan. 12 AMERICAN EDUCATOR FALL 2013 ILLUSTRATIONS By DANIEL BAXTERing both the right learning strategies and background knowle gies th dge at teachers could coach students to use without sacrificing is important—if not essential—for promoting lifelong learnin too m g. uch class time and that any student could use. We excluded Another reason many students may not be learning abo a v ut ar iety of strategies and computer-driven tutors that show ee ff ctive strategies concerns teacher preparat lie o a n r .n ing stra - t promise but require technologies that may be unavailable to egies are discussed in almost every textbook on education man aly s tudents. Although some of the strategies we reviewed can psychology, so many teachers likely have been introduced t bo a e im t plemented with computer software, they all can be used least some of them e . ven so, my colleagues and I found that, in succes sfully by a motivated student who (at most) has access to large part, the current textbooks do not adequately cova p er the en or p encil, some index cards, and perhaps a calendar. strategies; some omit discussion of the most effective ones, and most do not provide guidelines on how to use them in the c - lass room or on how to teach students to use them. In some cases, the 3 strategies discussed have limited applicability or benefit so I . sympathize with teachers who want to devote some class time to teaching students how to learn, because teacher preparation typically does not emphasize the importance of teaching stu- dents to use effective learning strategies. Moreover, given the demands of day-to-day teaching, teachers do not have time to figure out which strategies are best. the good news is that decades of research has focused on evaluating the effectiveness of many promising strategies for helping students learn. Admittedly, the evidence for many of these strategies is immense and not easily deciphered, especially given the technical nature of the literature. Thus, to help promote the teaching and use of effective learning strategies, my col- leagues and I reviewed the efficacy of 10 learning strategies: 1. Pr actice testing: self-testing or taking practice tests on to-be-learned material. 2. Dis tributed practice: implementing a schedule of practice that spreads out study activities over time. 3. I nterleaved practice: implementing a schedule of practice that mixes different kinds of problems, or a schedule of study that mixes different kinds of material, within a single study session. 4. el aborative interrogation: generating an explanation for why an explicitly stated fact or concept is true. second, we chose to review some strategies (e.g., practice t - est 5. self -explanation: explaining how new information is ing) because an initial survey suggested that they were relatively 4 related to known information, or explaining steps taken effe ctive, whereas we chose other strategies (e.g., rereading, during problem solving. highlighting) because students reported using them often yet we 6. rereading: restudying text material again after an initial wonder ed about their effectiveness. reading. Finally, the strategies differ somewhat with respect to the 7. h ighlighting and underlining: marking potentially kinds of learning they promote. For instance, some strategies important portions of to-be-learned materials while (e.g., keyword mnemonic, imagery for text) are focused on reading. improving students’ memory for core concepts or facts o ther . s 8. s umm arization: writing summaries (of various lengths) of (e.g ., self-explanation) may best serve to promote students’ to-be-learned texts. comprehension of what they are reading. And still others (e.g., 9. K eyword mnemonic: using keywords and mental imagery pr actice testing) appear to be useful for enhancing both memory to associate verbal materials. and comprehension. 10. Im agery for text: attempting to form mental images of text In the following sections, I discuss each of the learning strate- materials while reading or listening. gies, beginning with those that show the most promise for im -prov ing student achievement. Before describing the strategies in detail, I will put into context The Most Effective Learning Strategies a few aspects of our review. First, our intent was to survey strate- We rated two strategies—practice testing and distribut -ed prac tice—as the most effective of those we reviewed because they can My collaborators on this project were cognitive and educational researchers help students regardless of age, they can enhance learning and Katherine A. Rawson, Elizabeth J. Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan, and Daniel T. Willingham. comprehension of a large range of materials, and, most important, Willingham regularly contributes to American Educator in his “Ask the Cognitive they can boost student achievement. Scientist” column. AMERICAN EDUCATOR FALL 2013 13Practice Testing recall key information from memory is that it does not require Test, exam, and quiz are four-letter words that provoke anxiet cr y in eating a bank of test questions to serve as practice tests. many students, if not some teachers as w s ell. uch anxiety may not second, students should be encouraged to take notes in a be misplaced, given the high stakes of statewide exams h ow . ever, manner that will foster practice tests. For instance, as they read by viewing tests as the end-all assessments administered onl a ch y apter in their textbook, they should be encouraged to make after learning is complete, teachers and students are missing o flashc ut ards, with the key term on one side and the correct answer on the benefits of one of the most effective strategies im for proving on the other. When taking notes in class, teachers should student learning. encourage students to leave room on each page (or on the back In 1909, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois dem pages of not - es) for practice tests. In both cases, as the material 5 onstrated that practice tests improve student perform and ance b , ecomes more complex (and lengthy), teachers should en -cour more than 100 years of research has revealed that taking practice age students to write down their answers when they are testing tests (versus merely rereading the material to be learned) c thems an elves. For instance, when they are studying concepts on substantially boost student learning. For instance, colleflashc ge stu ar - ds, they should first write down the answer (or defini- dents who reported using practice tests to study for upcomin tion) of the concept the g y are studying, and then they should 6 exams earned higher grades a ,nd when middle school teachercom s pare their written answer with the correct one. For notes, administered daily practice tests for class content, their stthe uden y c ts an hide k ey ideas or concepts with their hand and then performed better on future tests that tapped the content the attem y pt to write them out in the remaining space; by using this 7 had practiced during the daily tests. strategy, they can compare their answer with the correct one and easily keep track of their progress. Third, and perhaps most important, students should continue testing themselves, with feedback, until they correctly recall All of the strategies we reviewed can each concept at least once from memory. For flashcards, if they correctly recall an answer, they can pull the card from the stack; be used successfully by a motivated if they do not recall it correctly, they should place it at the back student who (at most) has access to of the stack. For notes, they should try to recall all of the im - por tant ideas and concepts from memory, and then go back through a pen or pencil, some index cards, their notes once again and attempt to correctly recall anything and perhaps a calendar. they did not get right during their first pass. If students persist until they recall each idea or concept correctly, they will enhance their chances of remembering the concepts during the actual The use of practice tests can improve student learning in both exam . They should also be encouraged to “get it right” on more 8 direct and indirect way c sons . ider two students who have justh t an one occasion, such as by returning to the deck of cards on read a chapter in a textbook: Both students review the mos another d t ay and relearning the materials. Using practice tests important information in the chapter, but one student reads the may not come n aturally to students, so teachers can play an information again, whereas the other student hides the answ im er por s tant role in informing them about the power of practice and attempts to recall the information from memor c om y. pared tests and how they apply to the content being taught in class. with the first student, the second student, by testing himself, is N ot only can students benefit from using practice tests when boosting his long-term memory. Thus, unlike simply reading as tudying alone, but teachers can give practice tests in the c - lass text, when students correctly retrieve an answer from memor room y, . the idea is for teachers to choose the most important the correct retrieval can have a direct effect on memory. ideas and then take a couple minutes at the beginning or end of Practice tests can also have an indirect effect on studen- t le e a ac rn h class to test students. After all students answer a question, ing. When a student fails to retrieve a correct answer dur t in eac g a her s can provide the correct answer and give feedback. The practice test, that failure signals that the answer needs t mo o b re e c losely the practice questions tap the same information restudied; in this way, practice tests can help students make b th eta ter t w ill be tested on the in-class examination, the better stu- decisions about what needs further practice and what does not dents . will do. Thus, this in-class “testing time” should be devoted In fact, most students who use practice tests report that the to the mos y do t critical information that will appear on the actual 9 so to figure out what they know and do not know. exam. even using the same questions during practice and during Based on the prevailing evidence, how might students us the e test is a reasonable strategy. It not only ensures that the stu- practice tests to best harness the power of retrieval practice? F den ir ts w st, ill be learning what teachers have decided is most im - por student learning can benefit from almost any kind of practice ttan est,t , but also affirms to students that they should take the whether it involves completing a short essay where students ne in-c ed l ass practice quizzes seriously. to retrieve content from memory or answering questions in a Distributed Practice multiple-choice forma r t es . earch suggests, however, that students will benefit most from tests that require recall from memory, and A se cond highly effective strategy, distributed practice is a not from tests that merely ask them to recognize the cor str reai ct gh tforward and easy-to-use technique c ons . ider the follow- 10 answer. They may need to work a bit harder to recall key materin i- g examples: als (especially lengthy ones) from memory, but the payoff will be A first-grader studies for a spelling test. Using a worksheet to great in the long run. Another benefit of encouraging students t guide her pr o actice, she might take one of two approac shes he . 14 AMERICAN EDUCATOR FALL 2013could practice spelling the words by writing each one sev lik eral el y not be successful. similarly, when playing video games, times directly below the word printed on the sheet. After pr - actic students see their abilities and skills improve dramatically over ing one word repeatedly, she would move on to the next one and time in large part because they keep coming back to play the game practice writing that word several times belo this w it k . ind of in a distributed fashion. In these and many other cases, students practice is called masspr edactice , because the student practices realize that more practice or play during a current session will not each word multiple times together, before moving to the next o help m ne. uch, and they may even see their performance weaken An alternative strategy for the student would be to pra ne ct ar the end of ice a session, so, of course, they take a break and writing each word only once, and after transcribing the final w r or et d, urn t o the activity lh at o er we . ver, for whatever reason, students going back and writing each one again, and so forth, until the don’t t ypically use distributed practice as they work tow -ard mas practice is complete. This kind of practice is called distribut t e er d ing course content. practice, because practice with any one word is distributed across time (and the time between practicing any one word is filled with another activity—in this case, writing other words). In this example, the student either masses or distributes her practices during a single session. Now, imagine an eighth-grader trying to learn some basic concepts pertaining to geology for an upcoming in-class examh . e might read over his notes diligently, in a single session the night before the exam, until he thinks he is ready for the test—a study tactic called cramming, which practi- cally all students us o r e, as an alt . ernative, he might study his notes and texts during a shorter session several evenings before the exam and then study them again the evening before. In this case, the student distributes his studying across two sessions. students will retain knowledge and skills for a longer period of time when they distribute their practice than when they mass 11 it, even if they use the same amount of time massing and dis - tributing their practice. Unfortunately, however, many students believe that massed practice is better than distributed 12 practice. o ne reason for this misconception is that students become familiar and facile with the target material quickly during a massed practice session, but learning appears to proceed more slowly with distributed practice. For instance, the first-grader quickly writes the correct word after practicing it several times in succession, but when the same practice is distributed, she may still struggle after several attem lik pts ew . ise, the eighth- The use of practice tests can improve grader may quickly become familiar with his notes after reading them twice during a single session, but when distributing his student learning in both direct and practice across two study sessions, he may realize how much he indirect ways. has forgotten and use extra time getting back up to speed. In both cases, learning itself feels tougher when it is distributed instead of massed, but the competency and learning that students may feel (and teachers may see) during massed practice is often Not using distributed practice for study is unfortunate, because ephemeral. By contrast, distributed practice may take more effor the em t, pirical evidence for the benefits of distributed (over but it is essential for obtaining knowledge in a manner that w mas ill se d) practice is overwhelming, and the strategy itself is rela- be maintained (or easily relearned) over longer, education tiv all el yy e asy to understand and us eve en s . o, I suspect that many relevant periods of time. students will need to learn how to use it, especially for distributing Most students, whether they realize it or not, use distrib pr ut actice acr ed oss multiple sessions. The difficulty is simply that most practice to master many dier ff ent activities, but not when they s a tr uden e ts begin to prepare and study only when they are reminded studying. For instance, when preparing for a dance recital, mos that t the next exam is tomorrow. By that point, cramming is their would-be dancers will practice the routine nightly until the onl y ha y option. ve to dis tribute practice over time, students should set it down; they will not just do all the practice the night befor ase ide blo the cks of time throughout each week to study the content recital, because everyone knows that this kind of practice for wi e ll a ch class e.a ch study block will be briefer than an all-night cram session, and it should involve studying (and using practice tests) for material that was recently introduced in class and for To learn more about massed versus distributed practice, see Daniel T. Willingham’s material they studied in previous sessions. article, “Allocating Student Study Time,” in the Summer 2002 issue of American to us e distributed practice successfully, teachers should focus Educator, available at willingham.cfm. on helping students map out how many study sessions they will AMERICAN EDUCATOR FALL 2013 15need before an exam, when those sessions should take place (suc inh g a cumulative exam that forces students to review the most as which evenings of the week), and what they should practice impor tant information is another way to encourage them to during each session. For any given class, two short study blo st c ud ksy con tent in a distributed fashion. Admittedly, using cumu- per week may be enough to begin studying new material and l ta otiv e exams may seem punitive, but if the teacher highlights restudy previously covered material. which content is most likely to be retested (because it is the most important content for students to retain), then preparing for a cumulative exam does not need to be daunting. In fact, if stu- dents continue to use a distributed practice schedule throughout a class, they may find preparing for a final cumulative exam to be less difficult than it would be otherwise because they will already be well versed in the material. Strategies with Much Promise We rated three additional strategies as promising but stopped short of calling them the most effective because we wanted to see additional research about how broadly they improve student learning. Interleaved Practice Interleaved practice involves not only distributing practice across a study session but also mixing up the order of materials across different topics. As I discussed above, distributed practice trumps massed practice, but the former typically refers t - o dis tributing the practice of s the ame problem across time. Thus, for spelling, a student would benefit from writing each word on a worksheet once, and then cycling through the words until each has been spelled correctly several times. Interleaved practice is similar to distributed practice in that it involves spacing one’s practice across time, but it specifically refers to practicin-g differ ent types of problems across time. consider how a standard math textbook (or most any science textbook) encourages massed practice: In a text for pre-algebra, Students will retain knowledge for students may learn about adding and subtracting real numbers, and then spend a block of practice adding real numbers, followed a longer period of time when they by a block of practice subtracting. The next chapter would introduce multiplying and dividing real numbers, and then practice would distribute their practice than when focus first on multiplying real numbers, and then on dividing them, they mass it. and so forth. Thus, students are massing their practice of similar problems. They practice several instances of one type of math prob- lem (e.g., addition) before practicing the next type (e.g., su- btrac tion). In this example, interleaving would involve solving one Ideally, students will use practice tests to study the previo problem fr usly om each type (adding, subtracting, multiplying, and covered material. If they do, they will quickly retrieve the pr dividin evi- g) before solving a new problem from each type. ously learned material after just a handful of sessions, which w o ill ne aspect of massed practice that students may find appeal- leave more time for studying new matero ial. f course, students ing is that their performance will quickly improve as they work may need help setting up their study schedules (especially ww hith a p en articular problem. Unfortunately, such fluent p -erfor they are younger), and they may need some encouragement t mo ance c an be misleading; students believe that they have use the strategy. But by using distributed practice (especiall learne y if d a problem well when in fact their learning is fleeting. it is combined with practice testing), many students will begin In terleaved practice has not been explored nearly as much to master material they never thought they could learn. as practice tests or distributed practice, but initial rese -arch out teachers can also use distributed practice in the classrcomes h oom. ave shown that interleaved practice can dramatically The idea is to return to the most important material and con im -prove student achievement, especially in the domain of prob- cepts repeatedly across class days. For instance, if weekly quiz lem s - olving. zes are already being administered, a teacher could easilA y study in which college students learned to compute the include content that repeats across quizzes so students w volume of fo ill ur different geometric solids illustrates this advan- 13 relearn some concepts in a distributed manner repe . ating key tage. In two practice sessions (separated by a week), a student points across lectures not only highlights the importance of the either h ad massed practice or interleaved practice. For massed content but also gives students distributed practice. Adminis - pr t actice er , students had a brief tutorial on solving for the volume 16 AMERICAN EDUCATOR FALL 2013of one kind of solid (e.g., a wedge), and then immediately pr - ac Why does interleaving work so well? In contrast to massed ticed solving for the volume of four different versions of the practice , interleaving problems requires distributing practice, particular solid (e.g., finding the volume of four differwhic ent h by itself benefits student achievement. Moreover, massed wedges). They then received a tutorial on finding the volume of practice robs students of the opportunity to practice identifying another kind of solid (e.g., a spherical cone), and immediatp el ro y blems, whereas interleaved practice forces students t - o prac practiced solving four versions of that solid (e.g., finding t tice doin he g so. When students use massed practice, after they volume of four different spherical cones). They repeated thiscor rectly solve a problem or two of a certain type, they can massed practice for two more kinds of solids. almost robotically apply the same steps to the next problem. That For interleaved practice, students first were given a tutor is, the ial y do not have to figure out what kind of problem they are on how to solve for the volume of each of the four solids, and solvin g; they just have to apply the same rules to the next prob- then they practiced solving for each of the four versions of solids in turn. They never practiced the same kind of solid twice in a row; they practiced solving for the volume of a wedge, followed by a spherical cone, followed by a spheroid, and so forth, until For interleaved practice, when a new they had practiced four problems of each tr yp ee gar . dless of whether practice was massed or interleaved, all studen -ts prproblem is presented, students need ac ticed solving four problems of each type. to first figure out which kind of h ow did the students fare? The results presented in Figure 1 (on the right) show that during the practice sessions,- perfor problem it is and what steps they mance finding the correct volumes was considerably higher for need to take to solve it. massed practice than for interleaved practice, which is why some students (and teachers) may prefer massed practice. The reason not to stick with massed practice is revealed when we examine performance on the exam, which occurred one week after the final practice session. As shown in the bars on the far right of Differences in Performance Figure 1, students who massed practice performed horribly. By When Students Used contrast, those who interleaved did three times better on the Figure 1 Massed Practice versus exam, and their performance did not decline compared with the Interleaved Practice original practice session If students who interleaved had pr - ac ticed just a couple more times, no doubt they would ha- ve per formed even better, but the message is clear: massed practice 100 leads to quick learning and quick forgetting, whereas interleaved practice slows learning but leads to much greater retention. 90 Massed Interleaved research shows that teachers can also use this promising 14 strategy with their students. Across 25 sessi c oo nl s, lege stu- 80 dents with poor math skills were taught algebra rules, such as how to multiply variables with exponents, how to divide - vari 70 ables with exponents, and how to raise variables with exponents to a power. In different sessions, either a single rule was intro- 60 duced or a rule that had already been introduced was reviewed. Most important, during review sessions, students either (a) 50 practiced the rule from the previous session (which was analo- gous to massed practice), or (b) practiced the rule from the 40 previous session intermixed with the practice of rules from even earlier sessions (which was analogous to interleaved practice). 30 During the first practice sessions, the two groups achieved at about the same level. By contrast, on the final test, performance 20 was substantially better for students who had interlea- ved prac tice than for those who had massed practice. This interleaving 10 advantage was evident both for application of the rules to new algebra problems (i.e., different versions of those that the stu- 0 dents had practiced) and on problems that required the novel Practice Performance Test Performance combination of rules. Given that the review sessions were basi- Accuracy at solving problems during practice cally practice tests, one recommendation is sound: when cr - eat session and on the delayed criterion test. ing practice tests for students (whether to be completed in class SOURCE: JOHN DUNLOSKY, KATHERINE A. RAWSON, ELIzABETH J. MARSH, MITCHELL J. NATHAN, AND DANIEL T. or at home), it is best to mix up problems of different kinds even . WILLINGHAM, “IMPROVING STUDENTS’ LEARNING WITH EFFECTIVE LEARNING TECHNIq UES: PROMISING DIRECTIONS FROM COGNITIVE AND EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY,” PSy CHo Lo GICAL SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST 14, NO. 1 though students initially may struggle a bit more, they will ben- (2013): 40. DATA FROM DOUG ROHRER AND KELLI TAYLOR, “THE SHUFFLING OF MATHEMATICS PROBLEMS IMPROVES LEARNING,” INSTRUCTIo NAL SCIENCE 35, NO. 6 (2007): 481–498. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION OF SAGE PUBLICATIONS. efit in the long run. AMERICAN EDUCATOR FALL 2013 17 Accuracy (%)lem. For interleaving, when a new problem is presented, st Elaborative Interr u- ogation and Self-Explanation dents need to first figure out which kind of problem it is and what elaborative interrogation and self-explanation are two addi- steps they need to take to solve it. This is often a difficult aspect tional learning strategies that show a lot of promise. Imagine a of solving problems. student reading an introductory passage on photosynthesis: “It Interleaving has been shown to improve performance (as is a process in which a plant converts carbon dioxide and water compared with massed practice) in multiple domains, including into sugar, which is its food. The process gives off oxygen.” If the fourth-graders learning to solve math problems, engineering student were using elaborative interrogation while reading, she would try to explain why this fact is true. In this case, she might think that it must be true because everything that lives needs some kind of food, and sugar is something that she eats as food. she may not come up with exactly the right explanation, but trying to elaborate on why a fact may be true, even when the explanations are not entirely on the mark, can still benet fi - under standing and retention. Students who solve new problems that involve transferring what was learned during practice perform better when they use self-explanation techniques. If the student were using self-explanation, then she would try to explain how this new information is related to information that she already knows. In this case, perhaps she might consider how the conversion is like how her own body changes food into energy and other (not-so-pleasant-as-oxygen) fumes st uden . ts can also self-explain when they solve problems of any sort and decide how students learning to diagnose system failures, college studen to pr ts o ceed; they merely explain to themselves why they made a learning artists’ styles, and even medical students learnin par g t tic o ular decision. interpret electrocardiograms to diagnose various diseas -es. Ne W v hile practicing problems, the success rate of solving them is ertheless, the benefits do not extend to all disciplines no differ ; for ent for students who self-explain their decisions com- 15 instance, in one study, college students learned French voca pb ar - ed with those who do not h o . wever, in solving new problems ulary from different categories (body parts, dinnerware, foot ds ha , t involve transferring what one has learned during practice, etc.), and students did just as well when their practice thos was e who initially used self-explanation perform better than massed within a category as when it was interleaved acros - s c thos at e who did not use this technique. In fact, in one experiment egories. In another study, interleaving did not help high scwher hoole s tudents learned to solve logical-reasoning problems, final 16 students learn various rules for comma usage. test performance was three times better (about 90 percent versus c ertainly, much more research is needed to better under - less than 30 percent) for students who self-explained durin - g prac 17 stand when interleaving will be most effective. Neverthele tice th ss, an for those who did not. interleaved practice has shown more than enough promise for o ne reason these two strategies can promote learning and boosting student achievement to encourage its use, especicom ally pr ehension and boost problem-solving performance is that given that it does not hurt learnin to th g. at end, I suggest thatthe y encourage students to actively process the content they are teachers revise worksheets that involve practice problems fo, b cus y ing on and integrate it with their prior knowle evd en ge . rearranging the order of problems to encourage interley ao vu ed n g students should have little trouble using elabora- tive inter practice. Also, for any in-class reviews, teachers should do their rogation, b ecause it simply involves encouraging them to ask the best to interleave questions and problems from newly taugh ques t tion “why?” when they are studying. The difference between materials with those from prior classes. Doing so not only this t will ype of “why” and the “why” asked in early childhood (when allow students to practice solving individual problems, b this is a common ques ut it tion to parents) is that students must take also will help them practice the difficult tasks of identifyin the time t g o develop answers. This strategy may be especially useful problems and choosing the correct steps needed to solve them as st . udents are reading lengthy texts in which a set of concepts 18 AMERICAN EDUCATOR FALL 2013builds across a chapter, although admittedly the bulk of the under whic h each may be most useful. For instance, they might research on elaborative interrogation has been conducted w insith truct s tudents to use elaborative interrogation when studying isolated facts. At a minimum, the research has shown that enco - gener ur al facts about a topic, or to use self-explanation when read- aging students to ask “why” questions about facts or simple con ing or s - olving practice problems in math and science. cepts that arise in class and in lengthy discussions benefits their teachers should keep in mind that these two strategies did not learning and understanding. receive the highest rating in our team’s assessment of learning 18 In most of the research on self-explanation, students are gs iv te r n a tegies. o ur lower marks for these strategies, however, little instruction on how to use the strategy; instead, they ar stemme e just d from the fact that we wanted to see even more evidence told to use a particular question prompt that is most relevth ana tt es to tablished their promise in several key areas relevant to what they are studying. For instance, if they are solving a problem, they might be instructed to ask themselves, “Why did I just decide to do X?” (where X is any move relevant to solving the problem at hand). And if they were reading a text, they might be instructed to ask, “What does this sentence mean to me? What new informa- tion does the sentence provide, and how does it relate to what I already know?” to tak e full advantage of this strategy, students need to try to self-explain and not merely paraphrase (or sum- marize) what they are doing or reading, because the latter strate- gies (as I discuss below) do not consistently boost performance. Rereading has inconsistent effects on student learning, and benefits may not be long-lasting. some p otential limitations of using these strategies are rather intuitive. For instance, students with no relevant knowledge about a new content area may find it difficult—if not impossible—to use elaborative interrogation, because these students may not be able to generate any explanation about why a particular (new) fact is education. o nl y a couple of experiments have demonstrated that true. Thus, although research shows that students as young as elaborative interrogation can improve students’ comprehension, those in the upper elementary grades can successfully use elabo- and only a few investigations have established their efficacy rative interrogation, the technique may not be so useful for within a classroom so . , in writing our review, we were conserva- younger students with low levels of background knowledge. As tive scientists who wanted every piece in place before declaring students learn more about a particular topic, elaborativ - e inter that a strategy is one that students should absolutely us - e. Never rogation should be easier to use and will support more learning. theless, other cognitive scientists who have studied the same As for self-explanation, it should not be too difficult, or require 19 evidence enthusiastically promote the use of these strat egies, much time, to teach most students how to take advantage of this and as a teacher myself, the overall promise of these strategies is strategy. Nevertheless, younger students or those who need more impressive enough that I encourage my students to use them. support may benefit from some coaching. For instance, as noted above, paraphrases and self-explanations are not the same and Less Useful Strategies lead to different learning outcomes, so teachers should help (That Students Use a Lot) younger students distinguish between an explanation of an idea Besides the promising strategies discussed above, we also and its paraphrase e. ven so, a gentle reminder to use elaborative reviewed several others that have not fared so well when con- interrogation or self-explanation may be all most students need sidered with an eye toward effectiveness. These include reread- to keep them using these strategies as they learn new course con- ing, highlighting, summarizing, and using imagery during study. tent and prepare for examinations. Because they show promise, I recommend that teachers tell Rereading and Highlighting their students about these strategies and explain the conditions these two strategies are particularly popular with students. A survey conducted at an elite university revealed that 84 percent For more on why reading comprehension depends largely on knowledge, see 20 of the students studied by rereading their notes or text books. “Building Knowledge” and “How Knowledge Helps” in the Spring 2006 issue of Despite its popularity, rereading has inconsistent effects on stu- American Educator, available at index.cfm. dent learning: whereas students typically benefit from rereading AMERICAN EDUCATOR FALL 2013 19when they must later recall texts from memory, rereading do Summarization es not always enhance students’ understanding of what they read, summ arization involves paraphrasing the most important ideas and any benet fi s of rereading (over just a single reading) may not within a text. It has shown some success at helping undergradu- be long-lasting s. o, rereading may be relatively easy for students ate students learn, although younger students who have dic ffi ul- to do, but they should be encouraged to use other strategies (such ties writing high-quality summaries may need extensive help to as practice testing, distributed practice, or self-explanation) when benefit from this strategy. they revisit their text and notes. 22 In one study, teachers received 90 minutes of training on how to teach their students to summarize. The teachers were trained to provide direct instruction, which included explicitly describing the summarization strategy to students, modeling Students need to know that the strategy for students, having students practice summarizing and providing feedback, and encouraging students to monitor highlighting is only the and check their wors k t . udents completed five sessions (about beginning of the journey. 50 minutes each) of coaching, which began with them learning to summarize short paragraphs and slowly progressed to them using the strategy to take effective notes and ultimately to sum- The use of highlighters seems universal—I even have a fav- or marize a text chapter st . udents who received coaching recalled ite one that I use when reading articles. As compared with s mor im- e important points from a chapter as compared with stu- ply reading a text, however, highlighting has been shown to h den ave ts who were not coached. And other studies have also shown failed to help students of all sorts, including Air Force traine that tr es, aining students to summarize can benefit student children, and undergraduate studen evts en w . orse, one study performance. reported that students who highlighted while readi -ng peN revertheless, the need for extensive training will make the formed worse on tests of comprehension wherein they neede us de of this strategy less feasible in many contexts, and although to make inferences that required connecting different ide summ as arizing can be an important skill in its own right, relying 21 across the text I .n this case, by focusing on individual concepon it as a s ts trategy to improve learning and comprehension may while highlighting, students may have spent less time think not b ing e as effective as using other less-demanding strategies. about connections across concepts still, I w . ould not take away Keyword Mnemonic and Imagery for Text highlighters from students; they are a security blanket for read- ing and studyingh . owever, students need to know that high Fin - ally, the last two techniques involve mental imagery (i.e., lighting is only the beginning of the journey, and that after the developin y g internal images that elaborate on what one is study- read and highlight, they should then restudy the material us ing). ing s tudents who are studying foreign-language vocabulary, more-effective strategies. for example, may use images to link words within a pair (e.g., for the pair “la dent–tooth,” students may mentally picture a dentist (for “la dent”) extracting an extra-large Effectiveness of Techniques Reviewed tooth). this strategy is called key- Table 1 word mnemonic, because it involves developing a keyword to represent Technique Extent and Conditions of Effectiveness the foreign term (in this case, “den- Practice testing Very effective under a wide array of situations tist” for “la dent”) that is then linked to the translation using mental Distributed practice Very effective under a wide array of situations imagery. Interleaved practice Promising for math and concept learning, Imagery can also be used with but needs more research more complex text materials as well. Elaborative interrogation Promising, but needs more research For instance, students can develop Self-explanation Promising, but needs more research mental images of the content as they read, such as trying to imagine the Rereading Distributed rereading can be helpful, but time sequence of processes in photosyn- could be better spent using another strategy thesis or the moving parts of an highlighting and underlining Not particularly helpful, but can be used as a first engine. This strategy is called imag- step toward further study ery for text. Summarization helpful only with training on how to summarize Mental imagery does increase Keyword mnemonic Somewhat helpful for learning languages, but retention of the material being stud- benefits are short-lived ied, especially when students are tested soon after studyin hg o . wever, Imagery for text Benefits limited to imagery-friendly text, and research has shown that the benefits needs more research 23 of imagery can be short-lived, and the strategy itself is not widely appli- 20 AMERICAN EDUCATOR FALL 2013cable. c oncernin g the latter, younger students may have difficul- ties generating images for complex materials, and for that matter, Tips for Using Effective much content in school is not imagery friendly, such as when the ideas are abstract or the content is complex enough that it Learning Strategies cannot be easily imagined. c ertainly, for students who enjoy using imagery and for materials that afford its use, it likely will Based on our review of the literature, here are a not hurt (and may even improve) learning. But as compared with handful of suggestions for teachers to help students some of the better strategies, the benefits of imagery are rela- take advantage of more-effective strategies: tively limited. • Give a low-stakes quiz at the beginning of each class and focus on the most important material. Consider calling it a “review” to make it less intimidating. Even the best strategies will only be • Give a cumulative examination, which should encourage students to restudy the most impor- effective if students are motivated tant material in a distributed fashion. to use them correctly. • Encourage students to develop a “study plan- ner,” so they can distribute their study through- out a class and rely less on cramming. sing learning strategies can increase student under - • Encourage students to use practice retrieval standing and achievement. For some ideas on how when studying instead of passively rereading the best strategies can be used, see the b to ips for x “ their books and notes. UUsing effe ctive learning str ategies” (on the right). • Encourage students to elaborate on what they o f course, all strategies are not created equal. As sho ta w ble n in are reading, such as by asking “why” questions. 1 (on page 20), while some strategies are broadly applicable and • Mix it up in math class: when assigning practice effective, such as practice testing and distributed practice, others problems, be sure to mix problems from earlier do not provide much—if any—bang for the buck. Importantly, units with new ones, so that students can prac- even the best strategies will only be effective if students are moti- tice identifying problems and their solutions. vated to use them correctly, and even then, the strategies will not solve many of the problems that hamper student progress• T ell students that highlighting is fine but only the and success. With these caveats in mind, the age-old adage beginning of the learning journey. about teaching people to fish (versus just giving them a fish) applies here: teaching students content may help them succeed in any given class, but teaching them how to guide their learning of content using effective strategies will allow them to succes - s fully learn throughout their lifetime . ☐ Endnotes 12. Jennifer A. McCabe, “Metacognitive Awareness of Learning Strategies in Undergradu- ates,” Memory and Cognition 39, no. 3 (2011): 462–476. 1. Robert A. Bjork, John Dunlosky, and Nate Kornell, “Self-Regulated Learning: Beliefs, Techniques, and Illusions,” Annual Review of Psychology 64 (2013): 417–444. 13. Doug Rohrer and Kelli Taylor, “The Shuffling of Mathematics Problems Improves Learning,” Instructional Science 35 (2007): 481–498. 2. John Dunlosky, Katherine A. Rawson, Elizabeth J. Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan, and Daniel T. Willingham, “Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques: Promising 14. Kristin H. Mayfield and Philip N. Chase, “The Effects of Cumulative Practice on Mathemat- Directions from Cognitive and Educational Psychology,” Psychological Science in the Public ics Problem Solving,” Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 35, no. 2 (Summer 2002): 105–123. Interest 14, no. 1 (2013): 4–58. 15. Vivian I. Schneider, Alice F. Healy, and Lyle E. Bourne Jr., “What Is Learned Under Difficult 3. Dunlosky et al., “Improving Students’ Learning.” Conditions Is Hard to Forget: Contextual Interference Effects in Foreign Vocabulary Acquisition, Retention, and Transfer,” Journal of Memory and Language 46, no. 2 (2002): 419–440. 4. Henry L. Roediger III and Andrew C. Butler, “The Critical Role of Retrieval Practice in Long-Term Retention,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 15, no. 1 (2011): 20–27; and Nicholas J. 16. zane Olina, Robert Reiser, Xiaoxia Huang, Jung Lim, and Sanghoon Park, “Problem Format Cepeda, Harold Pashler, Edward Vul, John T. Wixted, and Doug Rohrer, “Distributed Practice in and Presentation Sequence: Effects on Learning and Mental Effort among US High School Verbal Recall Tasks: A Review and q uantitative Synthesis,” Psychological Bulletin 132, no. 3 Students,” Applied Cognitive Psychology 20, no. 3 (2006): 299–309. (2006): 354–380. 17. Dianne C. Berry, “Metacognitive Experience and Transfer of Logical Reasoning,” Quarterly 5. Edwina E. Abbott, “On the Analysis of the Factor of Recall in the Learning Process,” Journal of Experimental Psychology 35, no. 1 (1983): 39–49. Psychological Monographs 11 (1909): 159–177. 18. Dunlosky et al., “Improving Students’ Learning.” 6. Regan A. R. Gurung, “How Do Students Really Study (and Does It Matter)?,” Teaching of 19. Henry L. Roediger III and Mary A. Pyc, “Inexpensive Techniques to Improve Education: Psychology 32 (2005): 239–241. Applying Cognitive Psychology to Enhance Educational Practice,” Journal of Applied Research 7. Mark A. McDaniel, Pooja K. Agarwal, Barbie J. Huelser, Kathleen B. McDermott, and Henry L. in Memory and Cognition 1, no. 4 (2012): 242–248. Roediger III, “Test-Enhanced Learning in a Middle School Science Classroom: The Effects of 20. Jeffrey D. Karpicke, Andrew C. Butler, and Henry L. Roediger III, “Metacognitive Strategies q uiz Frequency and Placement,” Journal of Educational Psychology 103, no. 2 (2011): in Student Learning: Do Students Practise Retrieval When They Study on Their Own?,” Memory 399–414. 17, no. 4 (2009): 471–479. 8. Henry L. Roediger III and Jeffrey D. Karpicke, “The Power of Testing Memory: Basic Research 21. Sarah E. Peterson, “The Cognitive Functions of Underlining as a Study Technique,” Reading and Implications for Educational Practice,” Perspectives on Psychological Science 1, no. 3 Research and Instruction 31 (1992): 49–56. (2006): 181–210. 22. Steven D. Rinehart, Steven A. Stahl, and Lawrence G. Erickson, “Some Effects of 9. Nate Kornell and Robert A. Bjork, “The Promise and Perils of Self-Regulated Study,” Summarization Training on Reading and Studying,” Reading Research Quarterly 21, no. 4 Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 14, no. 2 (2007): 219–224. (1986): 422–438. 10. See, for example, John A. Glover, “The ‘Testing’ Phenomenon: Not Gone but Nearly 23. Alvin Y. Wang, Margaret H. Thomas, and Judith A. Ouellette, “Keyword Mnemonic and Forgotten,” Journal of Educational Psychology 81, no. 3 (1989): 392–399. Retention of Second-Language Vocabulary Words,” Journal of Educational Psychology 84, no. 11. Cepeda et al., “Distributed Practice in Verbal Recall Tasks.” 4 (1992): 520–528. 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