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Study Skills – Learning How to Study

Research has found that students who have a solid foundation of study habits and the ability to stick with difficult subject matter, until they master it, will develop the techniques to learn any academic subject. The Academic Life Coaching program focuses on helping students develop both core academic skills, as well as a variety of executive functioning skills (study skills). Addressing and honing both sets of skills makes it possible for students to learn academic lessons more quickly and effectively.

Core Academic Skills

Core academic skills focus on the actual process of learning. These types of skills are measured by things such as standardized tests or grades, and they make up only a small part of human intelligence. What makes the Academic Life Coaching program so successful is that it helps students develop their academic skills, as well as study skills, emotional intelligence, and leadership. Students who develop all of these areas are more proactive, organized, and are better equipped to manage the various areas of their life.

We have worked with hundreds of students over the years, and we have identified a few core academic skills that students need to develop in order to be successful in school.

  1. Ability to create context and add meaning to class material. For new material to make sense, a student must have a way to place it in the context of their life and interests, or it must meaningfully build on what they already know and understand. Adding context and meaning could be as simple as connecting information learned in different class subjects or finding a link between what is talked about in class and something a student has experienced.
  2. Memory strategies. Students who are able to memorize lists of facts, vocabulary words, names, dates, and definitions tend to do better in school. In the Academic Life Coaching program, students explore learning styles and memorization methods/systems that work best for them. From this point of view, grades become a source of feedback on a student’s system rather than a judgment on her or his intelligence. We have seen many struggling students improve their grades by improving their memorization systems.
  3. Critical thinking. Being able to understand various aspects (the what, why, and how) of one topic is a useful technique for remembering information, and it enhances the overall learning experience. In the Academic Life Coaching program, students will discover their own personal thinking styles and learn ways in which they can improve areas where they are not as strong.

Executive Functioning (Study) Skills

Study skills (skills not directly taught or addressed in school) are often known as supporting or executive functioning skills. For example, in the Academic Life Coaching program, students learn about specific patterns in their learning process and receive support to create systems. Furthermore, they develop all the other skills that make it possible to learn academic lessons more quickly and effectively.

  1. Maintaining a positive relationship with the teacher. The student–teacher relationship is crucial for students to feel supported and to understand that the teacher wants to help them learn. Most teachers make themselves available to answer questions and provide extra guidance, but students often neglect their relationships with teachers, usually when they need it most. In the Academic Life Coaching program, students will work on developing powerful relationships with teachers, parents, and peers. This part of the program emphasizes the importance of the student taking a proactive role in the quality of her or his relationships with others.
  2. Keeping track of assignments. While adults might find it easy to keep track of events, tasks, and deadlines with a daily planner, it is surprisingly common for students to ignore using a planner. The ability to use a planner is not just about keeping track of assignments, it is also an effective structure for students to stay on top of their academic workload and extra-curricular activities. Saving a student time, a planner also decreases anxiety because the student knows what she or he needs to accomplish and when it needs to get done. With less stress and a structure for organization, students are more engaged in class, confident that they have completed assignments, on track with projects, and have scheduled time for study and review.
  3. Maintaining motivation. As students are not only required to handle a lot of information in school, they also must have the ability to focus on a task and complete it before moving on to another. Maintaining the motivation to complete tasks plays a huge role in a student’s success. In the Academic Life Coaching program, a student explores their motivation styles and how they can sustain effective motivation for different types of work.
  4. Note-taking. Generally, students take notes by simply copying what the teacher has written on the board or what a teacher says. The student will spend class time scribbling as quickly as she or he can to keep up with the teacher. The problem is that students are not really thinking about the meaning of the material they are taking notes on. The Academic Life Coaching program exposes students to their academic thinking styles and prompts them to create meaning and context for the subjects they are learning. With this method, note-taking shifts from a passive activity to proactive engagement by organizing students’ thoughts in a way that makes sense.
  5. Focus. Being able to focus is a catchall concept for students who tend to get distracted by significant events or things like social media, television, or video games. A student’s ability to focus and manage one thing at a time allows her or him the chance to create time and space to study effectively. When students take the time to learn a subject deeply, they actually end up saving themselves time and energy in the long run by avoiding panic before tests and night-before cram sessions. A student’s ability to focus is the source of her or his energy and serves as the basis for the other study skills.

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