How to get your students studying efficiently

While you’ve probably spent your entire teaching career recommending to parents that their kids get in the habit of studying from a young age, there’s much debate about how young is too young. 

It’s not easy to convince students that study is super important. It’s on par with trying to convince them that cleaning up the classroom is a great idea, sleep is essential, sugar rots your teeth and, if you stare at a screen for too long, your eyes will turn square.

While you’ve probably spent your entire teaching career recommending to parents that their kids get in the habit of studying from a young age, there’s much debate about how young is too young.

It was a question asked within a recent study by Stanford University in the US, which revealed that it is better for kids if they started studying later, rather than earlier. The study, which focused on Danish school children (who start school at the age of six), showed that kids starting their studies at the age of seven showed lower levels of inattention and hyperactivity.

Yet the digital age has turned everything upside down – in good ways and in disturbing ways too.

Social media is filled with advice about how to get young people to stop staring at endless YouTube clips of skateboard tricks, cats behaving badly and Godzilla vs. King Kong – but how do you get your students to focus on technology when they need it most: study time?

Put simply: if technology and screen time is here to stay, how can students use it to their greatest advantage (for studying purposes) instead of purely for mindless entertainment? The answer might be a simple one.

More than 500 Australian high school and tertiary students were surveyed recently, with a finding that using the pen/pencil/paper combination from the ‘olden days’ is one way to get kids into good study habits. Why? For the simple reason, it takes them away from the distractions of the digital world… They’re not going to be tempted to google ‘weird rubbish left behind on Mount Everest’ if they’re not staring at an iPad in the first place.

One striking revelation is that four in five Australian students print out their work as a study aid.

The survey found 68 per cent of students find colour coding important, 62 per cent print their course notes, 45 per cent underline important information, 42 per cent hand write notes in the margin to remember important facts, and 31 per cent print images.

The overwhelming factor here is all about printing – students find it a lot easier to understand something if they can print it, scribble notes on it and make great use of the ubiquitous yellow fluoro textas in your classroom. So, what's the simple answer?

You might think you’ve already lost the battle against technology. But all is not lost. Once your students find the information they want on their laptop/iPad – and let’s face it, there’s usually plenty in the lead up to assignments, tests and exams, encourage them to print it.

In doing so, they can use the paper in ways that are not possible with technology – physically hold it in their hands, make use of notes, scribbles and highlighting. Study notes can be printed, you can check them to make sure your students are on track and then they can be taken home to blue-tack onto bedroom walls and enhance the learning process.

The possibilities are endless and all roads lead to one solution: print the information first, get the kids to use the papers for note taking, helpful hints in the margins and highlighting… and watch your students’ learning outcomes improve.

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