“If it isn’t hard, you probably aren’t doing it right!” I heard my father call out from behind me as I slowly came to a stop on my bicycle. Most people would just coast and not expend any energy. I was pedaling backwards. I guess I just like to feel like I am working even if it is getting me no where.
Studying for a test with inactive study strategies is similar to pedaling a bicycle…backwards. The posture is correct: the rider is sitting on the seat, hands positioned on the handlebars, feet resting on the pedals. Even the motion looks accurate: the pedals are spinning, which is the same process by which the apparatus is given locomotion. Similarly, a student’s posture may be correct: facing the desk with books sitting in front of her, pen in hand, eyes to the page. Even the motion may look accurate: eyes moving across the page, pen working back and forth, pages flipping at appropriate intervals.
But the uptake of information is not actuated: the pen must be moving back and forth across the page, not in the air to affect a positive uptake of information, just as the pedals must be moving forward to affect a positive uptake of exercise and locomotion. It is a slight change that gives the task its intended worth.
It is not merely the application of effort or “putting in the time” that is required when completing academic tasks. The right strategies make a big difference: students should be encouraged to put their pen and highlighter on the page and mark up that textbook (as long as they own it), take two-column notes while reading and write a summary within 24 hours, talk through information with a classmate or parent, and answer questions provided by the textbook, teacher, classmate or self-constructed questions from the two-column notes. And as with many things in our lives, goals drive achievement and praise for that achievement (attaining goals) drives future success. Create tangible goals for the implementation of study strategies and celebrate their use, not only the improved grades that they are intended to bring about.
Stop spinning the wheels with ineffective strategies and get down to some active engagement with learning. This is not easy. In fact, as a parting thought I will leave you with the name of a book on the topic: William Armstrong’s Study is Hard Work.
Submitted by Michael Hildebrandt, PhD. student at University of New Hampshire’s School of Education and former Landmark School Faculty Member