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What EVERYBODY should know about studying

n these days of swift scientific and social change adults as well as school children need to keep studying to keep up with the world. Here’s some scientific advice for both groups


What EVERYBODY should know about studying

In these days of swift scientific and social change adults as well as school children need to keep studying to keep up with the world. Here’s some scientific advice for both groups

Janice Tyrwhitt

Ever since the launching of Russia’s first satellite last October spectacularly demonstrated that the West was lagging in at least one branch of scientific research, the crisis in education has been front-page news. From now on it seems likely that our children, and everyone else in Canada, will be called on to do a good deal more hard thinking than we have had to do in the past.

Eggheads are coming into fashion. The educational pendulum is swinging away from progressive methods toward stricter discipline and harder study. Since the Calgary Board of Education issued its “work or get out” ultimatum in October, 1954, other schools in the prairie provinces and in Ontario have followed suit. Principal V. L. Belyea of Saltfleet District High School near Hamilton, for instance, recently initiated a “get tough” policy that threatens lazy students with expulsion and awards prizes to those who get top marks in each subject. Last April W. J. Dunlop, Ontario’s minister of education, announced, “We are going to improve our educational system until the last shreds of socalled progressive education are gone.”

It is not only the younger generation that faces a crisis in education. Intelligent adults, aware of the need to keep abreast of a world growing in scientific, political and economic complexity, are beginning to ask themselves: Can we learn to study? Can we train ourselves to concentrate, to remember important facts, to cut down the time we waste in daydreaming and undirected endeavor? Can a man in his forties, finding as all of us do that we have to go on learning long after we leave school, pick up the studying habit he should have acquired in his teens? And can we help our children develop a disciplined way of thought they can rely on for the rest of their lives?

While there’s no successful route that bypasses hard work, some ways of studying are more effective than others. Learning is easier when we know enough about memory to take advantage of the way it works. Analyzing our own mental processes helps us answer questions like these: Is it better to study at night or in the morning? How much time can we save by training ourselves to read more quickly? Has television changed study habits? Should parents help with homework?

Though we can borrow shortcuts from psychologists, most educational authorities say the key to learning is the ability to study independently. G. R. Davy, associate professor of political economy at the University of Alberta, says, "The greatest deficiency in our freshmen is their inability to study. Their homework has been in the form of a few problems or a certain number of pages to read, and so when they don t get specific assignments at university they're completely lost. Students who stop their formal education at the end of high school run into the same difficulties. Most employers prefer employees who don’t have to be prodded all the time.”

Dr. Murray Ross, vice-president of the University of Toronto, says: "We find that students can get into university by memorizing material without understanding it. When insight, a grasp of the relationships between ideas, is required of them, they’re sometimes helpless. They ve been trained to do what some external authority suggests, but they’ve never learned self-discipline. Why do so many PhD students finish all the work for their degree except the thesis? Is it because they've never learned to function independently? I've an impression that some ot them are terrified when confronted with a project they have to do entirely on their own.”

Some critics claim that “permissive” school systems have allowed our capacity for sustained mental effort to wither away like an unused muscle. Dr. Rudolf Flesch, who attacked current teaching methods in Why Johnny Can’t Read, says, “U. S. elementary and public high schools are by now so devoid of any serious learning that it’s no wonder that teen-agers arrive at college without any study habits whatever—and I understand that conditions in Canada are not too dissimilar.”

What are the schools doing about study habits? While everyone thinks that children should be trained to organize their working methods, educationalists disagree on how they should be trained. In Ontario and the prairie provinces the guidance courses taught in secondary schools include classes on how to study, and there is some evidence that they produce outstanding results. A recent experiment by Mary L. Balanchuk of Fort William-Selkirk Collegiate and Vocational Institute tested the effective-

This synthesis of advice ► from many authorities on study is designed chiefly to help high school and university students. But it can apply equally to a housewife taking an adult education course in political economy or a businessman working toward self-improvement in salesmanship or cost accounting

ness of study programs by comparing the examination results of a class of grade-nine girls |

who had had no special study training with those of a similar class who were given an intensive study program for six weeks. Each girl in the latter group was asked to list her own study difficulties and to plan a timetable for the next month, checking off' every day's work and having it initialed by her parents for weekly inspection by the teacher. The experimental group also saw |

a series of film cartoons on study habits, followed by class discussions. The failure rate of the untrained group was more than four times higher than that of the experimental group.

Some authorities, on the other hand, feel that the way to study each subject is best explained by the teacher of that particular subject in the ¡¡

course of regular work. "This incidental type of teaching would seem to me to be perhaps more satisfactory than an additional course added to an already overcrowded curriculum." says Dr. L.

VV. Shaw, deputy minister and director of education for Prince Edward Island.

D. A. Middlemiss, director of curriculum and research for New Brunswick, says. "The same methods of study cannot be applied to both mathematics and literature. Courses on how to study may not produce good study habits, just as a study of health may not produce good health habits.” j

Eike other educational issues, study problems can’t be solved by the schools alone. "An organized school and a disorganized home cancel each other out,” says J. H. Stewart, head of the guidance department at Oakwood Collegiate Institute, Toronto. Since most studying is done at home, parents can help in several ways:

I. Foundations for sound work habits should be laid early. "A child's attitude to work begins in nursery school.” says Dr. Mary Northway of the Institute of Child Study in Toronto. “When he's three or four he should know that there are certain things, like getting dressed, that must be done in a businesslike way. jobs to be taken seriously though not solemnly.” The way your child learns to look at work may color his approach to it all through life. Don't bribe him or give him tasks so hard that he loses interest or can’t get them done. Children need help in organizing a work routine because the whole idea of time is hard for them, continued on page 52

Follow these ground rules when you start to study

Begin by checking your basic skills. To study efficiently you should be able to: write legibly; take concise, comprehensive notes; read quickly and thoroughly; do simple arithmetic in your head; listen and observe carefully and describe things accurately: know the common rules of spelling and grammar so well that you use them instinctively.

Next, spot your own special stumbling blocks. We all find that some things that seem easy for others are particularly hard for us. If you have difficulty with certain subjects, you can sometimes trace your resistance back to an early failure, or to weakness in one of the basic skills that the subject requires. Training your memory helps you to cope with the vocabulary and grammatical rules needed for French and other languages, while mathematics and sciences call for the ability to solve problems by seeing the relationships between things.

If possible, have a special place to work, a room or at least a desk that automatically suggests a working frame of mind. Some researchers claim that subdued noise such as traffic or music helps you to concentrate, but loud noise is harder to escape than almost any other distraction. Students often complain that they can't escape the sound of the TV set. If you can't find quiet and privacy at home, use a library or school study room. Some surveys have shown that students who habitually study in the library get higher marks than those who work at home.

Even more important than the place you study is the way you organize your time. Guidance counselors suggest rules like these;

1. Draw up an hour-by-hour chart for a typical week, filling in fixed activities and allotting tentative periods to the subjects you have to study. Be realistic: if you make your schedule too tough you'll get discouraged and drop it.

2. Try your plan for a week or two and revise it to allow more time for subjects that need most work. Keep it flexible so that sickness or unexpected engagements won't catch you off base.

3. Break up blocks of time into fiftyminute study periods alternating with brief rests. You get more done when you space out periods of intensive work with a coffee break or a short walk.

4. Don't spend all evening on one subject. Warm up with something straightforward, then tackle your toughest sub-

ject, leaving the medium-hard things for the end of the evening.

5. When you have to do several hours of work on the same subject, space them out over a few days. Eight separate periods cover more material and fix it better in your memory than a full day’s work.

6. Allot one study period in a subject as soon as possible after a class, conference or discussion on that subject. When your interest is still high you'll retain more of what you read.

7. Put your hardest assignments at the times you find you work best. Some people think most clearly in the morning while others can't get up steam until late at night.

8. Make use of minutes. Odd quarter hours on a bus or in a restaurant can be used for memorizing formulas or idioms if you carry notes in your pocket.

When you sit down at a desk, dig in right away. The longer you stall, the harder it is to start. Some people find they can shake off inertia and blot out distractions by spending the first few minutes running over previous work in the same subject.

By building up a picture of yourself as a good student who sets to work immediately you can. according to psychologists, prevent mental blocking. For the same reason, you should try to convince yourself that the subject you're studying is worth the effort.

Begin a new assignment with a quick survey of the material you have to cover, spotting the important points and the best way to approach them. If you're working with a book, start by reading the introduction and the table of contents, then leaf through the chapters. Sometimes you'll find that you’ll have to read slowly, memorizing details and formulas; sometimes you should skim rapidly to get a general idea of trends. As you read, look for answers to specific questions and try to relate new information to things you already know.

Always write a running outline of the material you’re reading. Jotting down key points and technical terms fixes them in your mind and provides notes for review.

Stopping at intervals and mentally running over the material you've just covered helps your memory. When you finish reading a long prose section straight through, you probably won’t remember more than half the key points because the forgetting process has been going on even while you read. Unless you reinforce your memory by reviewing, you retain only about one tenth of the material two weeks later.



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