Friday, September 17, 2010

Study Skills: What Every Teaching Parent Wants for their Student

Presently, I am teaching a class to Middle School students on study skills. We meet for one hour a week at our co-op and then the students complete reading and labs at home. I have truly enjoyed my class of students - they are excited about life, although not always excited about studying. As a teaching parent, I want my students to learn and to love to learn. However, in order to learn, I am aware that they have to have some basic study skills. How do I know this? Well, I made it all the way to college before I figured out how to study. The tools that I deliberately learned during my freshman year in college are the same tools that I am teaching to 11-13 year old students today. Why wait, when the tools are easy to understand? Learning these tools changed my approach to my academic studies for the better - and although I didn't get as much out of my college experience as I probably should have, I got far more than I would have if I had not gained these skills.

Because this topic is so important to me I wanted to share my knowledge with students, hence the development of my study skills course. As I was working on the course, I acquired a large number of books on study skills. Many of them were books I glanced through and disregarded as too dry, too odd, too wordy, too.... well, you get the idea.  I now have what I think is a solid collection of books on the matter of study skills - although I probably got rid of as many books as I kept.

A friend of mine is looking for a book to teach outlining and I wanted to save her some $$, hoping that she won't buy a book that doesn't meet her needs, so I started to send her a list of the books that I have, which led to me writing a description of each of the books, which led to me adding in my opinion, which turned the list into reviews! Never one to waste words (when I have so many of them), I decided to post my reviews here.

I have provided links to the books as a matter of convenience and not because I receive any financial incentives, monetary or otherwise, from the various vendors. Enjoy - and do leave some comments, especially if you have experience with any of these books or others of similar ilk!

Studies Skills Strategies: Outlining by Mary Mueller (Welch) - This book is an excellent resource. The meat of the book covers patterns in writing (compare/contrast, giving info; cause/effect, etc) and gives strategies for each pattern: recognizing the pattern, reading strategies, the main idea, titling reading, renaming sub-steps, using a graphic organizer and designing the outline. It is a very thorough book, taking students through the process of distilling information into a concise format. This is high school level, although an 8th grader with good reading comprehension skills would be able to navigate it.

Note Taking by Deborah White Broadwater (Mark Twain Media/Carson-Dellosa) - This book is designated for grade levels 4-8. Reading selections are easily understood by a fourth grader who is reading at grade level, which means a student at the top of the range might find the selections immature. There are five sections: note taking from textbooks, note taking from novels, note taking from research, note taking from online sources and note taking in class. This book makes heavy use of graphic organizers. Outlining is covered in the textbook section, however only in the most basic format - no subheadings below the Roman Numerals. This serves a younger student as an excellent and gentle introduction to study skills but would be lacking for an older student. It is probably more appropriate to grades 4-5.

Summarizing: Focusing on Main Ideas and Details and Restating in Concise Form by Norm Sneller (Instructional Fair)   The subject matter for the reading selections is excellent and they would be easily understood by a student reading on grade level. There is no instruction provided in the book either for the teacher as to teaching methods or for the student as to how to go about writing a summary. I would characterize this book as an advanced reading comprehension book. There is one page where the equivalent of IEW's key word outlines is taught, but no other mention of that skill. I would not recommend this as a study skills book, but would recommend it as a reading comprehension book that goes beyond simple multiple choice answers. This book is designated for grades 5-6

Summarizing Strategies by Cynthia Guidici (Steck-Vaughn) The particular book that I have is grade 6 - there are books for younger grades. This is an excellent book that teaches students how to read effectively. Beginning sections teach how to find the main idea,the supporting details, how to create a summary and determine the theme of the writing. Like Study Strategies: Outlining, this book moves through  different patterns encountered in reading. It also covers some more advanced reading comprehension skills, such as making inferences and generalizations. This book is well organized. Each section starts with an explanation of the summarizing strategy and an example, followed by two articles and a graphic organizer that can be used to apply the skill. There is only one copy of the graphic organizer, however teachers have permission to make copies for their own classrooms. Many of the reading selections in this book are narrative in nature, although there are enough factual articles to give the student a good idea of how to find needed information. Section titles include: compare and contrast; understanding graphics; problems and solutions; plot; sequence of events; fact or opinion and many others. This book would work well with students at the 5th-7th grade levels. The older students may find some of the narratives to be immature.

Learning to Learn by Gloria Frender (Incentive Publications) Although the title of this book leads you to believe it is about learning, it is truly a book on study skills and without differentiation between the act of studying and the actual learning. That is not to say that this book is not valuable, because it is.  Learning to Learn teaches traditional time management and study skills in a concise, engaging manner. It is divided into seven sections: Learning Styles; Time Management and Organization Skills; Note-Taking Skills; Reading Skills; Memory; Test-Taking Skills and a catch all section titled Etc. The book is a bit disorganized, often mentioning a study skill that has not yet been covered, but referring you to a particular page where you can find that information. If you are using this book as the basis for a class, as I am, you will want to tweak the organization a bit. I choose to cover reading skills before I covered note taking skills, as the note taking section covered taking notes from your reading material in addition to taking notes from lectures. The note-taking section also introduces Cornell Notes - a note taking system that assumes that you have read material on a topic before you hear a lecture. Individuals may find the color-coded organizational system to be cumbersome. It would have been advantageous to include a few options on how to organize materials. Another weak area is the arrangement of the section on time management, moving from the smaller "to do" list to the larger monthly calendar. However, that may be a personal preference for some. There are well designed forms for many of the tasks, particularly for time management tasks. They are clear and free of distracting graphics. Teachers have permission to reproduce designated pages for use within their own classrooms. Instructions on the actual skills themselves are very clear and free of excessive explanation. This makes it easy for students to focus on the ideas and skills covered in the book. This is the best all around, traditional study skill book that I have found for middle school aged students. This book is designated "All Levels." A better designation would be 6th-9th grade.

Learning on Purpose by Juarez, Parks and Black (Critical Thinking Company) This book is full of promise, with its interactive format distinguishing it from other study skills books currently on the market. Organized into four units containing a total of fourteen chapters, it covers a vast amount of material. Perhaps the most valuable chapter is in the first unit: Your Goals. How do you know what to study if you don't have clear goals? How do you know how to manage your time if you don't know what you want the final outcome to look like? Additional topics include the importance of understanding what you are learning, time management, study tools, test preparation, speeches, projects, etc. as well as a unit on study methods. As the book itself seems to function as one large graphic organizer on learning, it is well suited to visual learners. It is full of graphic organizers to be completed as the student works through the book. The downside to this method is that students who have difficulty focusing on the task at hand may not be able to choose what to look at first when they turn the page. The book as a whole is not reproducible. This is a drawback, as it would be nice to be able to fill out some of the forms at different points over the course of one's academic career. Due to it's visual style, the written information is condensed to the most necessary facts and tips. This is an advantage for students who have limited time and do not wish to read narratives of applications. The strength of this book lies in it's interactive format and it's graphic organizers. Unfortunately, the graphic organizers are also it's one limiting factor as well, as a great number of people are not visual learners. Designated for grades 7-12+. This book requires some fairly developed thinking skills, so younger students may need some help navigating some of the exercises. It is perhaps best used with high school and college level students.

What Smart Students Know by Adam Robinson (Three Rivers Press)"I start from the premise that something is wrong with school" - as a home educator, that statement in the introduction to this book certainly got my attention!  The strengths of this book are numerous and I would be hard pressed to find a student that wouldn't benefit from this book. The biggest and most obvious strength is that the focus of this book is teaching the reader how to learn, not just how to study. Beginning with attitude, the author steps you through a process that is designed to help you learn any material. By using the same example throughout the book, he not only teaches the process of learning, but demonstrates it. The format is clear and easy to follow and I also found that reading this book is similar to taking part in an engaging conversation - you can hear Mr. Robinson pause and wait for your answers to his questions! Divided into five parts, the book addresses the following: How Smart Students Think About School; How Smart Students Learn (the meatiest section of the book); How Smart Students Approach Different Subjects; How Smart Students Get Their Grades and How Smart Students Put It All Together. This book is accurately geared to the high school and college level student. In this day of testing, testing, testing, I strongly recommend that parents of younger students read this book for its perspective on the learning process. I'll leave the wonderful ending to you to discover, but I do think that reading this book will change your perspective on learning and on education as a whole. This is truly a book you don't want to miss!


Bright Sky Mom said...

Thank you for these reviews! I'm bookmarking this post for future shopping reference! :)
Lee (5wolfcubs)
PS I enjoyed reading your other book a week reviews and plan to request some from the library!

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I may borrow a couple of these soon.