Monday, December 8, 2008

Study Skills - The Power of the Preview!

Over the summer, I worked with a student who was not taking a summer class. We spent part of the time reviewing material that she was weak on in Algebra 1. We spent the other part of the time PREVIEWING material that she would get in the first few weeks in Geometry.

I know that when we were doing this, she was frustrated, couldn't see the point of it, she didn't need to know it NOW, so why were we bothering? She is too polite and shy to actually say these things, but I could tell she was thinking it.

But, a few weeks into Geometry, she was doing well, really well. Her mother told me that the student had told her that previewing the material really helped her. That made me feel all warm and fuzzy!

Just recently, another Geometry student that I've been working with for quite awhile thought we were done with tutoring because her homework for the weekend was done; I'll call her Tamara. I knew that the chapter she had just begun was one with some new concepts and a ton of new vocabulary (incenter, circumcenter, orthocenters, etc). Because I've worked with her for over a year, I know that she has trouble remembering new things.

So, I pulled her book out and previewed the next two sections in her chapter. I know that she was thinking it was a total waste of time.

Until she was in class the next day. The teacher started presenting the new material. Often at this point, Tamara tunes out a bit, knowing that she'll be meeting with me, when she gets confused, she doesn't absorb what the teacher is saying.

Then, the teacher asked her a question.

And Tamara knew how to answer it.

When she told me about it that evening, she was soooooo excited.

Previewing works.

I know, for those of you in high school and college, your math teacher probably says, "Read the next section!" as part of your homework instructions. I also know that you probably either don't even hear the instruction or just ignore it. I know I used to laugh and say, "as if!" Like I was gonna make MORE work for myself. I mean, it isn't like I'd even understand the stuff if I did look it over.

But, just seeing the material several times helps you learn it and helps you become better at processing it.

The study system that I learned when I was in school was called SQ3R. It is a very powerful system, [and can be used for every topic: English, Science, History and Math] and I'll discuss other parts of it in other posts, but the first step, S, stands for Survey or Skim.

This steps preps your brain to get ready to learn something new. You don't have to read, absorb and understand everything in this step. This step is to just get you familiar with something you will be learning later.

During this step, look for new vocabulary words. For math sections, look for new equations or theorems; for non-math stuff, look for dates and names. Make a couple of notes about stuff you don't understand. Try to make these notes SPECIFIC. This will help you to be able to ask questions in class. Also, for math classes, look carefully at the example problems. See if you can follow step-by-step what is being done. If you can't, make a note of that.

Something I've noticed, both as a student and an observer in classrooms, is that sometimes students don't know WHAT kind of questions to ask. The teacher will give a lecture, then say, "Do you have any questions?" The students, having just seen the material for the first time and still writing notes furiously, look up with blank faces. They haven't even begun to process the material that was just presented, so they have no questions to ask.

However, if they had previewed the material, then instead of trying to absorb everything all at once, they could concentrate on the parts of the lecture that they already knew they didn't understand.

Let's look at an example

Susie is in Algebra I. On Tuesday, her class will begin covering a chapter on Rational Expressions. Susie has no idea what a Rational Expression is, but she pulls out the book on Monday night and looks over the first section. "Oh, this is fractions!" she thinks, "I know how to do fractions!"

She looks a little deeper into the section and sees expressions and equations with variables in them. That's a little scary. Looking at the example problems, she can remember that to add 1/2 + 1/4, they need to have a common denominator, and this will be be 2/4 + 1/4 = 3/4. But looking at x/(x+2) + 2/(x-2) is very confusing. She looks at the example problem, but can't quite follow it.

So in class on Tuesday, when the teacher starts doing sample problems, Susie recognizes this very problem (because teachers often use the same sample problems that the book uses) and she tries to pay close attention to this part (even though she was doodling during an earlier part of the lesson). Her hand shoots up, and she says, "I don't understand how you find a common denominator there."

Susie is on the same page as her teacher, she knows the concepts being discussed, and is ready to learn the NEW material.

Her classmate, Mark, on the other hand, is a different story. In elementary school, Mark was good with numbers. Math came easy to him. He'd just have to look at the paper, and he could do the answers. He's pretty sure he'll sail through Algebra I the same way. So far, he's done ok; not the 90% or better that he was used to in elementary school, but passing, and that's all he cares about. So, Monday night, he doesn't even open his book.

Tuesday, in class, the teacher starts covering the material, and Mark is totally lost. He knows what fractions are, but, he doesn't remember how to add fractions. If he is brave enough to ask the teacher about that, the teacher has to go back and reteach the basic concept of adding fractions with different denominators. If he isn't brave enough, then he just sits there, lost. He CAN'T learn the new thing, because he has to review the old thing. He is not prepared for class.

If you were a teacher, which student would you rather have? As a student, which one would you rather be? Would you rather be ready to learn the new material?

Previewing is a powerful tool for learning!

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