Gracie and Grandmother

A Triad student and her grandmother prepare for the school year.

The end of summer heralds back-to-school shopping for clothes and supplies. But there's plenty to do to get back into the swing of things.

Parents and Caregivers: Read below for tips on how to help your kids through the school year. Share the articles on the left with those who are old enough to read.

Help Your Child Study Better

Emphasize their learning preferences.

Do they like drawing and looking at pictures? Do they enjoy talking or listening to others? Do they like making lists or writing things down? Do they like moving around and acting things out? Help them discover their learning preferences and try to incorporate them within studying and notetaking.

Take notes the right way.

Many students take notes during class by writing down what the teacher says or puts on the board. Great notetakers do more than that.

The KWL method can help young students think about what they already know about the topic (K), what they want to know (W), and what they’ve learned (L). The Cornell method, for middle schoolers and beyond, involves writing down keywords, a summary of the class, and questions they still have for the teacher. But make sure they don’t get hung up on the format.

“Try different ways to take notes until you find what works for you,” says Amanda Phillips, Online Student Navigator at Guilford Technical Community College. “If you like colors, use colors. If you don’t like taking notes, do a brain dump after class, where you write down everything you remember. Draw scenes from what you’re reading in an English class.”

Moreover, Phillips says, “it’s okay to change the way you take notes as often as you want.”

Take notes while reading.

Many students — and people — have trouble focusing while reading. But taking notes as they go can not only keep them focused but help them later when they study.

Gracie Reading

Show them how to write down thoughts they have as they read: predictions for what comes next, how one idea connects to something else they’ve learned, whether something seems confusing. They can ask themselves questions about what they read, and write those questions down — plus their predicted answer. If the book isn’t theirs, or if they’re reading online, they can write down their thoughts on a separate piece of paper, and record the page or paragraph number.

“It’s about having a conversation with yourself,” says Phillips.

They can also highlight or underline key words and main ideas, or put a star by things they think they’ll be tested on later. But make sure they don’t highlight, underline, or star too much.

Instead, or in addition, have them make summaries of the chapters or sections they read. That way, they can read their summaries instead of full chapters later.

“It can be hard to figure out what’s important to write about the paragraph or chapter and what isn’t, but that’s part of the process,” Phillips says. “It gets easier with practice.”

Make and use flashcards the right way.

Flashcards work for all learning preferences, says Phillips. Students can touch them, read them aloud, write them out, and even draw pictures on them.

But don’t put too much on them. Each card should have one item on the front (a question or vocabulary word, for instance) and one on the back (the answer, the definition). Students should make them as they read the chapters, look at them every day, and study only the ones they don’t know.

“Try to think of what your teacher is going to test you on, and have a flashcard for all those things,” Phillips says.

Take breaks.

No one should work for hours on end.

“We take breaks naturally: to pee during commercials and slow down during exercise,” says Phillips.

Set a timer for however long your student can focus intensely — anywhere from five to 35 minutes — and then make them take a break. The Pomodoro method recommends working for 25 minutes and taking a five-minute break, but those with low attention spans or in lower grade levels should study for shorter periods, like five to eight minutes.

“The timer can also make you realize you’re off task,” Phillips says.

Break the task into chunks.

Although the reasons for procrastination are varied, students can avoid it by breaking down a large chore into smaller steps.

If your child has to write a paper, encourage them to work on it for 30 minutes a day for five days rather than for two-and-a-half hours in one day. They can create an outline on day one, write a couple paragraphs on day two, write the rest on day three, and edit on days four and five.

Studying can also be done in short increments — 10 minutes a day instead of several hours all at once — which will help them remember more and keep them from making a lot of mistakes at the last minute.

Give them rewards.

Not all of us feel motivated by getting praise from others or feeling proud of a job well done. Sometimes, we need external rewards. If your child doesn’t want to study, show them how to treat themselves after the study session, such as by spending time on social media, playing a video game, or eating a cookie. If you use this technique yourself, tell them what works for you.

Tutor Your Child the Right Way

Put them in charge. 

No matter how much help they need, make sure they stay in control of the pencil, mouse, keyboard, or device. Get a pencil and paper to use for yourself, if needed. This will show them that their work is their own, not someone else’s.

Ask engaging questions. 

Instead of telling them the answer or pointing out what they did wrong, get them to think about what they’ve done — which will reveal their thought process to you. Ask, “Why did you do it this way?” or “What’s the next step?” Look at the textbook or handout explanation together, if needed. Leading questions like “What if we did this instead?” will lead them closer to the answer if they are lost, while open-ended questions like “Why do you think this works?” can help those who are a little more clued in. If they want you to give them the answer, ask, “What do you think you should do?”

Use a similar example. 

Rather than helping with questions assigned for homework, find questions in the textbook or online that involve the same principles. This allows the student to learn the concept and then apply it to their homework. It’s okay to help with one homework question if they are truly struggling, but then give them the space to try the next one themselves. The exception is writing: Studies show that students get the most help when they work on their own writing rather than exercises or examples that aren’t theirs.

Gracie Studying

Give feedback, not answers. 

By now, you know to offer guidance rather than answers. Tell them what they did well, but also give constructive feedback. With writing, you might ask, “Can you think of a better way to word this?” or “How does this sentence relate to the next one?” Even if you don’t know the concepts, there are plenty of websites that can help you and the student learn more.

Expect more than memorization. 

True understanding comes when students can explain back to you what they’ve done and why. Push them even further by asking how their homework relates to other things they’ve learned, or other things in their lives. A student learning about percentages, for instance, could be introduced to how a savings account works, using their own allowance as an example.

Resources

Stay connected with what your child learns.

Nsta.org/parents: how to support K-12 science learning

Sites.google.com/dpi.nc.gov/k-12-sci: multi-subject support for K-12

Kat taught and tutored in higher education for more than a decade in the Triad. She was a tutoring coordinator at Guilford Technical Community College from 2015 to 2018.

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