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Small tips on studying

Anyone can learn more easily, better, and faster.

"I believe everyone can learn how to learn," said Terry Small, who shared his strategy for learning with parents and students Feb. 7 at Whistler Secondary.

A teacher for 25 years, who has taught elementary and high school, Small also teaches learning skills and techniques at seminars offered through continuing education services.

He believes that forming a strategy for learning can have a marked impact on the ability to recall and understand material as well as improve grades.

"A big part of the strategy is that studying should be an active process," said Small.

"Human beings do our best work when we are actively involved."

Using the analogy of a baseball game, Small points out that spectators can learn something of the game. But the way to really learn about the game is to play.

It’s the same with learning. Anyone can learn something by listening or reading but real comprehension is achieved when people listen, read, take notes, question themselves, and follow-through on their ideas about the subject.

Small refers to this type of learning as "multitracking."

If you take two students, he said, one who only listens and one who takes notes and listens the notetaker will remember 50 per cent more after 30 days even if they never refer to the material before being tested.

"Brain research is clear," said Small, "when you are learning on more than one pathway to the brain at the same time you are going to remember more."

One of the most important strategies for better learning is the use of memory and mastery cards.

The cards have a question on one side and the answer on the other, or for example a French word on one side and the English translation on the other.

Recipe or index cards work best.

Small says they are an important tool because students learn things to the point of recall.

Other methods of learning often bring kids to the point of recognition but that only helps them if they are answering multiple choice questions.

It’s also a good idea, said Small to use coloured pens to create the cards.

The question could be in black, the answer in blue, and key words could be underlined in red.

Studies have indicated that using different coloured pens when making notes can make them up to 13 per cent more memorable.

The beauty of the card system is that students can study anywhere with them. And once they have mastered what is on the card they can put them to the side and concentrate on the information they are still focused on remembering.

It may be hard to imagine kids studying cards while they wait for the bus, on the bus, or around school. It may even seem geeky,

But, "make no mistake," said Small, "students do it by the thousands and do it happily because it works and it works very quickly."

"My sense is that kids are as dialled into getting good grades as they have ever been."

Believe it or not one way to help your kids is to make sure they get enough water to drink.

Picture the brain as a pot of boiling soup, said Small.

"Soup is made up of mostly of water, like the brain which is 78 per cent water, and so the last thing you want is for the pot to run dry," he said.

It takes about two hours for the water you drink to reach the brain so its important to drink even when you are not thirsty. Kids need an eight ounce glass of water for every 25 pounds of body weight.

Small also suggests that students do more than they are asked.

"The people that get ahead in life always do a little extra," he said.

"When you have finished an assignment look at it and ask yourself what is one more thing I can do that the teacher didn’t ask me to do?

"Could I put a plastic cover on it, could I colour the title page or do a bibliography? Those extra touches make a difference."

It’s also important to let kids just be kids.

"Kids today carry schedules that would break the back of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company," said Small.

To help his own kids Small has them schedule study-time and down-time right along side their soccer games, dental appointments, and social events.

"One of the smartest things we ever did as parents was to give a weekly time chart to our kids," said Small.

There are thousands of other useful tips to help kids learn better. Here are just a few Small likes to share.

• Write it down. Don’t just listen to lectures, take notes;

• Always study with questions. Students who write down questions while they read are much more likely to retain what they read;

• Use memory tricks. If you have trouble remembering how to spell a word make up a silly sentence for that word. For example to remember the names of Great Lakes think of each letter in the word HOMES: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior;

• Take brain breaks. Students remember the first and last points they learn so have lots of starts and finishes;

• Get up once in a while so that oxygen reaches the brain. Research indicates that you retain 10 per cent more of what you learn while standing that you do while sitting;

• Binders are better than notebooks. And better still is to have a maser binder for all subjects as it is easier to be organized;

• Get parents involved. One of the main predictors of a child’s success in school is how much their parents are involved;

• Do not study with the TV or radio on. If you must listen to music make it Baroque as research shows that it improves memory and has a calming effect that boosts productivity. Good choices include works of Telemann, Vivaldi, Bach and Scarlati;

• Ask and answer questions out loud as it activates more channels of the brain;

• Start homework with the subject you like least and finish with your best subject.

For more information and resources call Small at 1-604-535-0063 or e-mail him at terry_small@telus.net

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