Vivian Franz, Ph.D.
How many of us think study skills as an aid to school achievement is based on strategies? If so, we are only partly correct. The primary factor in school success is motivation, and motivation is tied to responsibility. Students who know they are responsible, within their abilities, for doing well in school -- will do so.
There are many children, some with only average ability, who take their work seriously, meet all the requirements, do all their homework and outside assignments and yet have little formal instruction in how to study. Their willingness to work shows them the way, whether it is habitually using the index and the glossary in the text or asking the teacher when there are questions.
There are others to whom life has given much, children of high ability, who, for whatever reasons, squander their gifts and do not achieve. They have not yet learned that knowledge is an integral part of successful adulthood. These students may be helped by a teacher who is significant to them.
Ideally, all teachers would teach study skills in the context of subject matter. Study skills taught in a vacuum will not be remembered. Before students are asked to outline, teachers should show them how outlining is accomplished within the subject matter being taught. The same is true of taking notes.
Teachers who require in-and-out-of-class dictionary or encyclopedia work are teaching study skills. Those who interrupt the lesson to clarify the meaning of a word are teaching study skills. The teacher is demonstrating the importance of stopping to look up words in context.
Formal instruction in study skills, knowing how best to read the text, can be summarized by the SQRRR method, a method practiced until it is habitual. For example, prior to reading the chapter, students survey the entire chapter, paying attention to special vocabulary, graphs, pictures, and captions. Then they read the questions at the end of the chapter or pose their own. The answers will be found within the text.
With surveying and questions out of the way, students have a framework for understanding what is to come. It is like entering a house and knowing ahead of time where all the rooms are. Now, having been prepared, they read. After reading, they should be able to answer the questions. That step is the "recite." If they cannot answer the questions, they review. So, it is survey, question, read, recite, review.
Students can take classes in learning these methods, but unless methods are taught in the context of subject matter, taken seriously, and used habitually, they will accomplish little. Many think there is some magic in the technical steps to school performance, but without an on-going acceptance of responsibility by students and by significant others, technical strategies can fail.
Fortunate are those young people who have thoughtful support systems by parents and teachers, by adults who understand how great is the need, who know the importance of individual responsibility of all concerned, and who have the capacity to pass on that understanding and knowledge to others.