Want your student to learn effectively? Use these 2 techniques

We’re in the throes of back-to-school. It’s a wonderful time (finally regular routines!).

But if you have kids that don’t necessarily breeze through their coursework like I do, it can also be a pretty stressful time.

As a parent, I want to support my boys in their studies. But beyond supervising their homework and taking a structured approach to positive reinforcement, I am not sure what learning techniques will be most useful for them in the long run.

Fortunately, I came across this article on Time.com today titled: Highlighting Is a Waste of Time: The Best and Worst Learning Techniques. Researchers at Kent State, Duke, University of Wisconsin, and UVA have systematically evaluated common learning techniques and identified which ones are, in their lexicon, “high, medium, or low utility for improving student learning.”

Here are the key takeaways from their research

The Good

Two techniques emerged as having high utility for learning: an approach called “distributed practice” and another called “practice testing.”

The first is probably best understood by its negative expression: don’t cram. For example, my oldest has a spelling test at the end of each week. Rather than waiting until Thursday night to prepare for his test, he will be much better off if we go through the words on his list, or at least segments of the list, each night. That’s a really useful data point for parents who naturally set the standard for practicing this kind of thing.

The second — practice testing simply means testing, but not for a grade. The study showed that “the mere act of calling information to mind strengthens that knowledge and aids in future retrieval.” As a parent, you can implement this technique using tools like flash cards. Again, something easy for Parents to implement at home.

The Meh

Five commonly used learning techniques have been shown to be “medium utility” — not a complete waste of time, but not particularly effective either. They are:
1. Mental imagery – coming up with images to help you remember (sounds exhausting!)
2. Elaborative interrogation – asking yourself why as you read something
3. Self-explanation – forcing yourself to explain the text you’ve read rather than passively rereading it
4. Interleaved practice – mixing up different types of problems
5. keyword mnemonic – associating new vocabulary words, usually in a foreign language, with an English word that sounds similar

None of these, with the exception of self-explanation, would really occur to me to use as a parent. I’m glad I don’t need to learn them!

And the Ugly

Basically, you can go ahead and throw away those highlighter pens. The research showed that highlighting was the least effective learning strategy. Why? Because it draws attention to individual facts [which] may hamper the process of making connections and drawing inferences.”

Rouding out the bottom: underlining, rereading and summarizing or writing down the main points contained in a text.

Key Takeaway

The bottom line reinforces something that I’ve long believed: the more you can help your child develop the habit of daily practice the better. I know over the coming months, I’ll be looking for ways to positively reinforce the act of doing daily work — and I’ll be support them with practice tests at home.

It’s also not a bad thing to know for your own learning goals!

What do you do to support your students?