Recently I was sent a journal called The Brain which is issued by the Queensland Brain Institute. This issue discussed how memories are made, asked if smart drugs work and emphasised how important it is to have good teachers. However, the article that intrigued me the most was on science-based study tips on how to boost learning.
- Minimise distractions. This first one seems obvious but I know many parents of teens who have lost the war over headphones and music during study. Other battles that probably rage in most homes is about studying while on social media or watching television. Parents, the science is in and it states irrefutably that your child will learn better without any distractions. It may seem old fashioned, but finding a quiet place to study without a phone and all other apps on the computer closed, is the absolute best way to boost learning.
- Use active testing or recall. Some students struggle as to whether or not they are best to review their notes, even try and memorise them, or to do questions and practice tests. The brain research suggests that practice quizzes and doing questions are much better to memory and learning. In fact the best way to memorise something (such as lines to a play) is to practice the lines even when they are imperfectly learned. It is best to make mistakes because every time you make those mistakes your brain is learning. Reviewing notes is a very passive activity. Another excellent way for students to study is to “teach” what they are learning. If you know what you are on about you should be able to explain it simply to a third party. Get your students to explain to you what they are learning, not so they regurgitate some facts, but really explain it. If they have not explained it well enough continue to press them for a more complete explanation. Ask them penetrating questions so that their understanding is tested. This is a great way to learn.
- Spread learning out. I know your teen thinks they do better when they cram the night before the exam without previously preparing for it but the science is in and they are wrong! The benefits of spreading out learning work consistently from Prep right through to Year 12 and into university are now proven facts. Encourage your children to have regular study habits which are manageable rather than one long session before a test. The benefits of getting a good amount of sleep before the test can’t be overstated. This is another problem with the cramming approach as it prevents sleep from taking place.
- Mix things up. In the past there was an emphasis on not moving on to a new study area until the first was thoroughly mastered. However, it is now know that interleaving study skills can boost learning and performance long term. Variety is the spice of life and study! In the same way the brain is also amazing at the way that it can hold concepts in tension, they do not have to be sequential and at times it is even better learning that takes place when this is the case.
- Combine spoken words with images. Two different areas of the brain are used for visual and auditory processing. This is not multitasking which research shows is actually a myth and distracting to deep learning. Research shows that using related pictures and spoken words together will enhance the learning process. In its simplest form, flash cards are used to help the very young learn words but the principle stays true throughout life. In this respect watching a relevant clip on YouTube when coupled with appropriate text learning can reinforce those neural pathways that are developing and connecting. This is what learning is after all.
- Use stories. It’s amazing how good our children are at remembering stories but ask them to tell us what they learnt from a textbook or study material and it is a different tale. Story-based learning is a powerful tool and can be used in and outside the classroom. Encourage your child to make up stories to help them learn new material and older students to create memorable mnemonics to remember important facts. For example, the order of planets: My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us Noodles – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
If you would like to read the full journal with the other articles you can read them here: The Brain, Issue Two.
Mike Curtis, Principal