What EVERYBODY should know about studying
In these days of swift scientific and social change adults as well as school children need to keep studying to keep up with the world. Here’s some scientific advice for both groups
Ever since the launching of Russia’s first satellite last October spectacularly demonstrated that the West was lagging in at least one branch of scientific research, the crisis in education has been front-page news. From now on it seems likely that our children, and everyone else in Canada, will be called on to do a good deal more hard thinking than we have had to do in the past.
Eggheads are coming into fashion. The educational pendulum is swinging away from progressive methods toward stricter discipline and harder study. Since the Calgary Board of Education issued its “work or get out” ultimatum in October, 1954, other schools in the prairie provinces and in Ontario have followed suit. Principal V. L. Belyea of Saltfleet District High School near Hamilton, for instance, recently initiated a “get tough” policy that threatens lazy students with expulsion and awards prizes to those who get top marks in each subject. Last April W. J. Dunlop, Ontario’s minister of education, announced, “We are going to improve our educational system until the last shreds of socalled progressive education are gone.”
It is not only the younger generation that faces a crisis in education. Intelligent adults, aware of the need to keep abreast of a world growing in scientific, political and economic complexity, are beginning to ask themselves: Can we learn to study? Can we train ourselves to concentrate, to remember important facts, to cut down the time we waste in daydreaming and undirected endeavor? Can a man in his forties, finding as all of us do that we have to go on learning long after we leave school, pick up the studying habit he should have acquired in his teens? And can we help our children develop a disciplined way of thought they can rely on for the rest of their lives?
While there’s no successful route that bypasses hard work, some ways of studying are more effective than others. Learning is easier when we know enough about memory to take advantage of the way it works. Analyzing our own mental processes helps us answer questions like these: Is it better to study at night or in the morning? How much time can we save by training ourselves to read more quickly? Has television changed study habits? Should parents help with homework?
Though we can borrow shortcuts from psychologists, most educational authorities say the key to learning is the ability to study independently. G. R. Davy, associate professor of political economy at the University of Alberta, says, "The greatest deficiency in our freshmen is their inability to study. Their homework has been in the form of a few problems or a certain number of pages to read, and so when they don t get specific assignments at university they're completely lost. Students who stop their formal education at the end of high school run into the same difficulties. Most employers prefer employees who don’t have to be prodded all the time.”
Dr. Murray Ross, vice-president of the University of Toronto, says: "We find that students can get into university by memorizing material without understanding it. When insight, a grasp of the relationships between ideas, is required of them, they’re sometimes helpless. They ve been trained to do what some external authority suggests, but they’ve never learned self-discipline. Why do so many PhD students finish all the work for their degree except the thesis? Is it because they've never learned to function independently? I've an impression that some ot them are terrified when confronted with a project they have to do entirely on their own.”
Some critics claim that “permissive” school systems have allowed our capacity for sustained mental effort to wither away like an unused muscle. Dr. Rudolf Flesch, who attacked current teaching methods in Why Johnny Can’t Read, says, “U. S. elementary and public high schools are by now so devoid of any serious learning that it’s no wonder that teen-agers arrive at college without any study habits whatever—and I understand that conditions in Canada are not too dissimilar.”
What are the schools doing about study habits? While everyone thinks that children should be trained to organize their working methods, educationalists disagree on how they should be trained. In Ontario and the prairie provinces the guidance courses taught in secondary schools include classes on how to study, and there is some evidence that they produce outstanding results. A recent experiment by Mary L. Balanchuk of Fort William-Selkirk Collegiate and Vocational Institute tested the effective-
This synthesis of advice ► from many authorities on study is designed chiefly to help high school and university students. But it can apply equally to a housewife taking an adult education course in political economy or a businessman working toward self-improvement in salesmanship or cost accounting
ness of study programs by comparing the examination results of a class of grade-nine girls |
who had had no special study training with those of a similar class who were given an intensive study program for six weeks. Each girl in the latter group was asked to list her own study difficulties and to plan a timetable for the next month, checking off' every day's work and having it initialed by her parents for weekly inspection by the teacher. The experimental group also saw |
a series of film cartoons on study habits, followed by class discussions. The failure rate of the untrained group was more than four times higher than that of the experimental group.
Some authorities, on the other hand, feel that the way to study each subject is best explained by the teacher of that particular subject in the ¡¡
course of regular work. "This incidental type of teaching would seem to me to be perhaps more satisfactory than an additional course added to an already overcrowded curriculum." says Dr. L.
VV. Shaw, deputy minister and director of education for Prince Edward Island.
D. A. Middlemiss, director of curriculum and research for New Brunswick, says. "The same methods of study cannot be applied to both mathematics and literature. Courses on how to study may not produce good study habits, just as a study of health may not produce good health habits.” j
Eike other educational issues, study problems can’t be solved by the schools alone. "An organized school and a disorganized home cancel each other out,” says J. H. Stewart, head of the guidance department at Oakwood Collegiate Institute, Toronto. Since most studying is done at home, parents can help in several ways:
I. Foundations for sound work habits should be laid early. "A child's attitude to work begins in nursery school.” says Dr. Mary Northway of the Institute of Child Study in Toronto. “When he's three or four he should know that there are certain things, like getting dressed, that must be done in a businesslike way. jobs to be taken seriously though not solemnly.” The way your child learns to look at work may color his approach to it all through life. Don't bribe him or give him tasks so hard that he loses interest or can’t get them done. Children need help in organizing a work routine because the whole idea of time is hard for them, continued on page 52
Follow these ground rules when you start to study
Begin by checking your basic skills. To study efficiently you should be able to: write legibly; take concise, comprehensive notes; read quickly and thoroughly; do simple arithmetic in your head; listen and observe carefully and describe things accurately: know the common rules of spelling and grammar so well that you use them instinctively.
Next, spot your own special stumbling blocks. We all find that some things that seem easy for others are particularly hard for us. If you have difficulty with certain subjects, you can sometimes trace your resistance back to an early failure, or to weakness in one of the basic skills that the subject requires. Training your memory helps you to cope with the vocabulary and grammatical rules needed for French and other languages, while mathematics and sciences call for the ability to solve problems by seeing the relationships between things.
If possible, have a special place to work, a room or at least a desk that automatically suggests a working frame of mind. Some researchers claim that subdued noise such as traffic or music helps you to concentrate, but loud noise is harder to escape than almost any other distraction. Students often complain that they can't escape the sound of the TV set. If you can't find quiet and privacy at home, use a library or school study room. Some surveys have shown that students who habitually study in the library get higher marks than those who work at home.
Even more important than the place you study is the way you organize your time. Guidance counselors suggest rules like these;
1. Draw up an hour-by-hour chart for a typical week, filling in fixed activities and allotting tentative periods to the subjects you have to study. Be realistic: if you make your schedule too tough you'll get discouraged and drop it.
2. Try your plan for a week or two and revise it to allow more time for subjects that need most work. Keep it flexible so that sickness or unexpected engagements won't catch you off base.
3. Break up blocks of time into fiftyminute study periods alternating with brief rests. You get more done when you space out periods of intensive work with a coffee break or a short walk.
4. Don't spend all evening on one subject. Warm up with something straightforward, then tackle your toughest sub-
ject, leaving the medium-hard things for the end of the evening.
5. When you have to do several hours of work on the same subject, space them out over a few days. Eight separate periods cover more material and fix it better in your memory than a full day’s work.
6. Allot one study period in a subject as soon as possible after a class, conference or discussion on that subject. When your interest is still high you'll retain more of what you read.
7. Put your hardest assignments at the times you find you work best. Some people think most clearly in the morning while others can't get up steam until late at night.
8. Make use of minutes. Odd quarter hours on a bus or in a restaurant can be used for memorizing formulas or idioms if you carry notes in your pocket.
When you sit down at a desk, dig in right away. The longer you stall, the harder it is to start. Some people find they can shake off inertia and blot out distractions by spending the first few minutes running over previous work in the same subject.
By building up a picture of yourself as a good student who sets to work immediately you can. according to psychologists, prevent mental blocking. For the same reason, you should try to convince yourself that the subject you're studying is worth the effort.
Begin a new assignment with a quick survey of the material you have to cover, spotting the important points and the best way to approach them. If you're working with a book, start by reading the introduction and the table of contents, then leaf through the chapters. Sometimes you'll find that you’ll have to read slowly, memorizing details and formulas; sometimes you should skim rapidly to get a general idea of trends. As you read, look for answers to specific questions and try to relate new information to things you already know.
Always write a running outline of the material you’re reading. Jotting down key points and technical terms fixes them in your mind and provides notes for review.
Stopping at intervals and mentally running over the material you've just covered helps your memory. When you finish reading a long prose section straight through, you probably won’t remember more than half the key points because the forgetting process has been going on even while you read. Unless you reinforce your memory by reviewing, you retain only about one tenth of the material two weeks later.
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What everybody should know about studying continued from page 27
“In poor areas pupils really work. Some in better areas feel they don’t have to”
2. When your child is old enough to do homework, see that he has a quiet place to work, out of range of the television set and other distracting family activities.
3. Once he starts working leave him alone. Don’t bother him with errands or questions that can wait till tomorrow, and don’t let other members of the family interrupt him either.
4. If he asks your advice, give him as much help as you can. "There are some teachers who actively discourage parents from ‘interfering’ with the home studies of their own children, but I believe they
are in a minority,” says Professor G. R. Davy of the University of Alberta. “In any event, no responsible parent should accept such a silly point of view.” If your child has trouble with a problem, find out the method his teacher uses and explain it to him. Don't confuse him by doing it a different way, even if you know a better one. Show him how to do it and let him do it himself; don’t do it for him. 5. Encourage him to make a working schedule and stick to it, but don’t nag him if he can't settle down to work right away. Too much supervision is just as harmful as none at all. The study difficulties of a student in a prosperous Toronto district, for instance, were traced by means of a projective test in which he was given pictures and asked to explain what they represented. Shown a sketch of a child reading while a woman appeared through a doorway in the background, he said, "That’s Mother checking up on me to see if I’m working." 6. Don’t urge him to take on more spare-time activities than he can handle. "We’ve put so much emphasis on adjustment that some parents want their kids to be junior Organization Men,” says a guidance counselor. Fun before learning? The family’s most important influence on study habits is an intangible one— the force of example. "It stands to reason that a youngster will be more likely to study if he lives in a house where education is taken seriously,” says J. H. Stewart of Oakwood Collegiate in Toronto. “If dad comes home and sits around watching television and never cracks a book, and mother goes into debt to buy labor-saving appliances, they’re a living refutation of the idea that hard work is a good thing. This is why kids with a European background generally work harder than children from an average Canadian family. In the New Canadian home it’s unthinkable that a first-class effort isn't put forth on studies. But a Canadian father will say, ‘I wouldn't spoil my kid’s fun for the world.’ A few years later that same kid will be complaining, ‘1 wish Dad had made me study.’ ” Dr. W. C. Lorimer, superintendent of schools in Winnipeg, says, "There is some dichotomy in a society in which the headlines talk about the four-day week while students in schools are being pressed to work harder and longer. There is also the obvious example of all modern advertising, which suggests that the pinnacle of success is a life of ease or holidays.” The child with the most economic advantages is often the least likely to get a good grounding in study habits. Dr. C. G. Stogdill, chief of child - adjustment services of the Toronto Board of Education, says, "At the downtown schools in the poorer parts of town the kids really work, but at some of the schools in better districts they don’t seem to feel that they have to. When they’ve had too much done for them at home, they just sit there in class and expect to absorb without effort.” When a boy who has been spoiled in this way decides in his teens that he wants to be a doctor or an engineer, he finds he can’t pick up self-discipline overnight. For a child from a poorer family, on
the other hand, incentive often grows weaker as he goes through high school. For him, the pressure to earn money may he stronger than the lure of a distant university degree. If his father stopped school at grade four and thinks of work solely as something you do with your hands, it's difficult for him to see any goal beyond manual labor.
He may find it still harder to hold out against the values of his friends. In Toronto, one fifteen-year-old who seems to be overcoming this obstacle is David, a bright, athletic youngster in grade nine. He belongs to a gang of about twenty kids, of whom only a few' are still in school, while several have served terms in reformatory. When David told a social worker that he wanted to be an engineer, she talked to his mother, explaining that he had above-average intelligence and might do well if he worked hard. His parents were pleased and surprised; though they were proud that he was still in school, they hadn't been able to think any further ahead. Helped by their approval, David began taking extra classes in mathematics. Though still attached to his gang, he’s beginning to draw aw;ay because he has found something he wants more.
Without realizing it. David has discovered the first secret of studying. Psychologists agree that the key to successful learning lies in motivation. We can recall almos* effortlessly things that interest us, while other details slip out of mind unnoticed. A woman, for instance, may remember that John Robinson is that good-looking man who went to school with her cousin Martha in Regina, while her husband thinks of him as a* fellow who sells insurance and drives a blue 1957 Mercury with power steering.
Whether you’re working for a degree, a business promotion or interest alone, the only thing that will get you started on a study program is a strong desire for knowledge or for benefits that follow it. Your motivation should be something urgent and specific, like an examination. Just thinking vaguely that you should work harder is about as effective as wishing you were thinner without going on a diet.
The second rule for studying is efficiency. Like industrial experts, study counselors in Canadian schools are applying “time and motion study” methods to that most complex and refractory of all mechanisms, the human brain. One of the commonest complaints of students at high schools and universities is that they spend hours at a desk without getting much done. Though they worry
endlessly about their study problems, they have trouble settling down to work and invent ingenious ways to stall off the moment when they have to open a book. Like the chorus in My Fur Lady, their slogan is Next Week is Work Week. When they finally get down to business, they're so desperate that they waste time shuffling from one subject to another, trying to cover several courses in an impossibly short time and convincing themselves that they're overworked to exhaustion. If you think of yourself as studying a lot. some experts estimate that you're
probably wasting about half your time.
Before you map out a work program, assess your general approach to learning. If your mind is curious and receptive, studying will be easier because you remember most readily the things that interest you. On the other hand, if you close off your imagination, you'll probably fall into a state of "mental fatigue” which is usually only boredom. Know your way around your course, so that you can see each subject in its context and relate it to other subjects. The earliest experimenters in memory training found
that it's much easier to learn material you understand than to memorize nonsense syllables.
To save time memorizing, psychologists suggest these shortcuts:
* Concentrate as hard as you can so that you get a clear, sharp first impression.
* Try to tie in new' material with previous work.
* Use all your senses; reading aloud, taking notes and putting information into practice all reinforce memory.
* Lise diagrams. Most of us remem-
her faces better than we remember names.
* When you review notes, illustrate important points with your own examples. Because we're all self-centred, we find our own ideas easier to remember than someone else’s.
* If you have to learn a block of related material, memorize it as a whole rather than in parts. Memorizing a poem stanza by stanza takes twenty percent longer than learning it as a whole. If the block is too big to remember, make an outline and memorize that.
* If the material you're learning is a long list of unrelated items, break it into sections. Since the average person can hold only six or seven points in his mind at once, we find it easier to remember twenty items if we split them into four groups of five.
* Spend more time on the middle of a block or list than on either end. Researchers have found that you remember the first part most easily and the last part next, while the middle section is hardest to remember.
* Forgetting begins so quickly that you should allow for it by overlearning, repeating material several times after you think you know it thoroughly.
* Since memory affects your brain like an etching process, it needs time to set. Ten-minute breaks between subjects give your mind a chance to absorb what you’ve just learned. Hard study followed by sleep has the best chance of retention. If you try to memorize one thing too quickly after another without pausing between, the second subject tends to blot out the first.
* Always follow your first attack on an assignment with a review within the next couple of days, and return to it two or three times over the next few weeks. Never review without a pencil in hand.
Cramming alone won't usually get you through examinations but it's useful in a limited way, if you take advantage of the stimulation exams provide. By making your need to study urgent, they stir up your energy and give your mental capacity a temporary boost. Don’t worry if you’re nervous; you concentrate better
at times when you're slightly keyed up.
Don't panic if you find you can't study as quickly and systematically as someone else. Some of us are naturally methodical, while others work in spurts: some respond to pressure that makes others blow up. “There has been an attempt to standardize the work pattern in children, yet a variety of work patterns is most effective in the adult world,” says Dr. Mary Northway of the Institute of Child Study. “We've all developed different habits that balance each other so we can work as a team. One person catches fire over a new idea while another likes to check details.” The important thing is to find the way that best suits your temperament without inconveniencing others, and accept the consequences.
One student in an Ontario private school used a peculiar study system that worked effectively for him though it broke all the accepted rules. Each month of the school year he worked exclusively on a single subject, switching month by month until he had covered the whole course by spring. This put him at a disadvantage in class, since he couldn't answer questions on any subject except the one he had allotted to that particular month, but the masters humored him because his eccentric method always carried him through examinations with top marks. Later he went on to succeed in an independent, highly specialized business.
Beyond the immediate benefits of information acquired and examinations passed, studying confers resourcefulness and confidence in your own ability to learn. For those who won't train themselves to study, nothing but trouble lies ahead. Vivienne Durden, program supervisor at the University Settlement in Toronto, says, “The real tragedy of the kids who don’t study is that the things that cause them to fail in school — lack of responsibility, inability to work steadily and independently — are the same things that cause them to fail in jobs and in any of the accepted patterns of society. They think they can escape responsibility by growing up, and when they find they re wrong it's too late to change.” ★