Study Skils Coaching 

I.  Definition of Training Piece

  1. Purpose for Instructor
    If you are delivering instruction to students and students say that they are studying the course material, but assessment shows that they are not understanding and/or remembering what they learned, where is the gap? Some students will complain that they read the textbook, and they still failed the test. These students think that reading the material is studying the material. They may tell you that they understood what they were reading, but they didn't know that they had to remember what they read. Other students will say, "But I came to class everyday and took notes," implying that class attendance and paying attention should equal success. Still others will tell you that they studied their notes, but what they really mean is that they reread their notes. The dilemma is that the students believe that they are trying very hard, but the results are just not there. Each student may have a piece of the learning puzzle, but the whole picture is not together yet.

    By the end of this module, you will be able to identify the overall process of studying and understand the steps in a successful studying process. You will be able to help students see the whole studying picture as well as the individual steps. You will learn a note taking strategy that follows this model, and be able to show students how to apply the model to a concrete task. This model and note-taking strategy can be easily shared with students in any academic subject.

  2. Material Covered
    The content of this module will introduce you to a model of the studying process called the "Information Processing Model" by Wong. This model has been adapted to the classroom setting and is called here the "How to Study Model." It will serve as a guide for coaching students through a note-taking process which will help students apply the How to Study Model to a specific activity. The model can also be applied to many other tasks in the studying process; note taking is just one of these activities.

II.  Foundation

A.  Definition of Concept and Theory

Flippo and Caverly (2000) recommend that "Rather than just teaching specific strategies, teaching students about the processes that underlie the strategy use is more worthwhile"(p. 94). The purpose of this module is to provide a basis for coaching students in study process by presenting a model that can be used with any subject matter. Threaded through this process is a note taking strategy, which applies the stages of the How to Study Model through rehearsal and feedback to assessment. This provides a schema that helps students tie all the pieces together instead of seeing each step as an isolated unit.

The How to Study Model

Note that the beginning of this model says "Class," but it could also include reading the textbook before class, homework, projects and discussions outside of class with other students. But as a starting point, most students will say that you have to go to class, and just as the first day of class begins fresh, so this model starts with class at the beginning. Also, most instructors would agree that learning is the outcome; students on the other hand see tests as the outcome. So to set the studying process in a practical context, tests has been used as the end product of the How to Study Model. You may substitute assessment, understanding, learning, application, or evaluation in this category. The most important elements are the interim steps. Students frequently go directly from short-term memory to tests without understanding that there are interim steps. And the most frequently skipped step is long term memory retrieval. For most students this is something that is only practiced for the first time during the test, not before.

Note taking Strategy

The Cornell Note taking strategy developed by Walter Pauk at Cornell University provides a framework for taking notes that is part of the whole How to Study Model.

Step 1. The basic Cornell format is a divided page with 2.5 inches designated to the left-hand side as a wide margin. Students take notes to the right of the margin.

2.5 inch margin6 inches here to take notes.

Step 2. After the lecture and before the next class, students need to review their notes and fill in any missing information. This helps move the information from short-term memory to the next step of rehearsal.

Step 3. Students need to invent possible test questions and write them in the left-hand margin. The better they get at predicting test questions, the easier their studying will be because they will be able to identify what is important. Students actually need to write out the test question opposite the answers that appear in the right hand margin. This provides the transitional step from rehearsal to feedback. It also builds in a mini review that helps them avoid the forgetting curve. (Ebbinhaus)

Step 4. Before the quiz, students fold back the answers and test themselves on the test questions. This provides feedback and helps in the process of moving the material to long-term memory.

Step 5. Students Practice long-term memory retrieval by reviewing questions from previous weeks.

B.  Summary of Relevant Research

Cognitive psychologists have long established a short-term to long-term memory model. However, students learning to learn are not often exposed to this model in the context of classroom learning. Wilhite in Self-concept of academic ability, self-assessment of memory ability, academic aptitude, and study activities as predictors of college course achievement, (1992) suggests instructors can help students by demonstrating strategies that can facilitate achievements. Using the research in the area of memory and applying it to studying and learning in such a way as students begin to see the relevance of theory to application will help both the instructors and the students understand the process and benefits of learning to learn.

III.  Benefits

A.  Instructor

By learning about the whole how to study cycle and communicating this to students, both you and your students will have a common ground to move the learning forward. Instead of each person seeing only one piece of the puzzle, you and the students will begin to see how all the pieces are parts of the whole and how all have to work together for the common goal of learning. Students will begin to see how the lecture, the notes and the readings all combine in the learning process. Then when there is a break down in the learning process, it will be easier to isolate the problem areas because both instructors and students have a common model to work from. For example, when a student says "I knew the information yesterday but forgot it for the test today," you may ask if they practiced long-term memory retrieval. Maybe this was material that they learned three weeks ago and they knew it then, but they hadn't practiced getting it back from their long-term memory. For other students, it may be that they read and reread their textbook and their notes, but they didn't have any feedback, any quizzing. In this case, they are rehearsing without feedback.

B.  Student

Most students do not know what happens when they study. Either they get good grades or they don't. In either case, they have few strategies to employ or build on when they meet a difficult subject or a hard course. In some cases, the previously successful students are at a greater disadvantage because "learning" always came easily. Now that they are not doing as well, they don't know what to do and oftentimes become frustrated and angry. By identifying the steps in the study skills process, they now have a process that they can work through and see where the learning is breaking down. This provides a focus for the students who in the past had a shotgun approach to learning, trying everything and anything, just hoping that something would work. By having a schema, they can identify what is working and what is not working and have a starting place to improve their study skills from beginning through fruition.

IV.  Implementation

A.  Exploration Exercises for Instructor

Exploration 1:
Review the How to Study Model and determine where your teaching fits into this model. For some it will be just at the beginning and the end of the model.

Exploration 2:
Choose a topic that you will teach with which students typically have difficulty. Review the How to Study Model. Design some interim activities between class and the test to help students utilize the how to study process. Use the information below to assist you:

B.  Student Exercises

Exercise 1:
Have the class build a how to study model. Do not pass out the model outlined in this module until the end of the exercise. The goal is for the students to build on previous experiences to emphasize what has worked and to frame it in the overall model.

Ask students:

  1. What is studying?
  2. What do you do when you study?

With the model in mind, fill in the student input on the blackboard. Leave space at the top to overlay the how to study model as a guide to student input.

Once you have gathered all the input that students can give (don't be discouraged if it is very minimal), hand out the model and have them help label the various parts of the model that they did identify.

Have them walk through the model and identify pieces that they do not typically do. Discuss the process with them and together work on the learning process.

For example, there may be review questions at the end of the chapter in the textbook. This is a good way to provide rehearsal and feedback. Students may be encouraged to do the review questions and check their answers if provided in the textbook. The teacher may decide to use one of the review questions at the beginning of the class to reinforce rehearsal and feedback. Students may decide to make up their own textbook question and bring it to class either to clarify a point or to quiz other students.

Exercise 2:

Step 1. Explain the Cornell Note taking system to the students.

Step 2. Have students take notes on your lecture in Cornell style.

Step 3. Have students write test questions after class in the left-hand column

Step 4. Then you can create test questions on the lecture.

Step 5. Next class give "open notes" quiz where students are allowed to use their notes.

Step 6. Have the student's star the questions that they created which match the teacher created questions.

Step 7. Review the whole process, so students can see how lecture notes fit into the test taking process.

C.  Skill Connections

  1. Effective Conferencing Skills: A good way to insure that students understand and are using good study methods is to schedule conferences with individual student either in a face-to-face situation or in an on-line forum. For information about designing conferences, visit the Effective Conferencing Skills module.
  2. Math Study Skills: Mathematics is a difficult subject for many students. Research underscores that students with an understanding of the specific study practices relevant to mathematics are more likely to succeed in math. To learn about these study practices, view the Math Study Skills module.

V.  Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I have so much material to cover, how can I ever take time to do study skills as well?
A: Working with students on the studying process will actually save time in the long run. This means you will not have to spend as much time reviewing for tests and debriefing tests, since students will be able to study for them better once they know the process. Although this may take a little more time up front, it is a one time only item. The successful process is just repeated over and over again. Students will be able to build upon their successes because they understand the underlying process of how studying works.

Q: Don't students already know how to take notes?
A: Many students think that note taking is a process of outlining the lectures. Yet so few instructors lecture in outline format. So while students concentrate on this format, they often forget what the notes are for. They don't tie note taking into the whole process of studying. Once they can see the whole process, then even those students who take poor notes have a way of checking their notes and improving upon them because now they have a purpose for taking notes.

Q: Isn't studying just reading the textbook and reviewing the notes?
A: While these are certainly elements in the studying process, students need to know what "reviewing" means. Reviewing does not mean rereading the notes. It means quizzing yourself and checking to see if you know the material and if you don't know the material, going back through the process. Once the students have the how to study schema, they can see how the pieces fit together and where things go wrong in the studying process.

VI.  Helpful Resources

Flippo, Rona F. and David C. Caverly. Handbook of College Reading and Study Strategy Research. (2000)Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Arlbaum Associates, Inc..

Pauk, W. (2000). Study Skills. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Wong, L. (2000). Essential Study Skills. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Wilhite, S.C. (1992). Self-concept of academic ability, self-assessment of memory ability, academic aptitude, and study activities as predictors of college course achievement.

Web sites
This web site provides more information on notetaking

Workshop Information to attend a workshop on this topic or bring one to your campus, visit this site or call Faculty Training at (800) 856-5727.