What is studying?
During my school days, I remember my friends and myself sitting in front of our textbooks for long hours. Despite this, we would not finish even a single chapter. When my mom asked what I was doing, I would conveniently say I was studying. Today, 20 years after graduation and another 20 years as a teacher I ask myself the same question – What is studying? I am doubly sure that most parents have pondered on the question – Is my child really studying?
Let us break down the process into steps that can be measured, to arrive at an answer. What is Studying? Studying is different from reading but reading is an important part of studying. Over the last two decades I have been researching the idea of studying that is critical for in-depth learning. Here are my thoughts on this topic.
The dictionary-meaning of study is, “devote time and attention to gaining knowledge of (an academic subject), especially by means of books”. It follows from the definition that studying is an effort towards gaining knowledge by means of books. Therefore, it is different from learning via different faculties of our body to gain knowledge.
Now that the definition is clear, let us look at what our children do when they say they are studying. For convenience of understanding, I am going to break it down to 8 questions, inspired by Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga.
Question 1: Is your child setting goals before sitting before the book?
This step is very critical. It sets measurability criteria to check at the end of the time spent in front of the book. By setting goals, they can check if the time spent in front of the book has yielded the required result. Also, they can be truthful to themselves about what they have achieved.
Question 2: What are their activities before, during and after studying?
Does your child have a fixed time and place to study? This conditions the brain to achieve things in a stipulated time. Does your child sit in front of the T.V/entertainment media and multi-task? Are they sufficiently relaxed before sitting to study? Do they cool off from other activities before studying? Observe the habits of your kids. If they are multi-tasking or jumping from other activities immediately into study, then they are spending more time to concentrate. Most of the time it doesn’t do any good.
Question 3: Do they practise breathing exercises to calm their minds before starting any activity?
A calm mind is extremely important while studying. A quick 4-second breathing technique or the analoma viloma pranayama done 12 times would help calm the mind. Also, observe how well the study area is prepared with the books needed to study. A lot of children simply waste their study time in cleaning their table or the reading area. Help your child keep things organised and ready so that study time gets their full focus and attention.
Question 4: Do they have the right posture while sitting to study?
If the child is sleeping on the bed or sitting in an uncomfortable posture, it is not helpful. The mind is usually diverted towards finding a comfortable state for the body. Let them sit on a chair with their back straight while studying. If they sit on the floor, it is better to sit slightly away from the wall, with a straight back. This helps in keeping the concentration on their task for a long time.
Question 5: Do they have a proper timetable to guide them in their efforts?
A proper planned effort reduces unnecessary effort in the wrong direction. Allocation of time and breaking down the tasks into smaller milestones helps in measuring success intermittently. This keeps motivation high. Use the Eisenhower time management matrix to help them understand where they ought to spend their time.
Question 6: Do they have the necessary knowledge of study techniques?
Question 7: Do they know any memory techniques, and do they use mind mapping for revision?
Most students have trouble remembering the answer during the exams. So, it is very important that they learn some memory techniques. Memory palace, Pegging and Associative memory techniques are some examples to start with. Mind mapping is an extremely effective technique for revision and consolidation.
Question 8: Do they have enough practice tests before going to the final exam?
Exams are the reality of a student’s life and it is necessary for them to prepare well. Help them test themselves by solving practice tests before any critical exam. This reduces the nervousness and tension that they experience. It also helps them keep their mind calm and score better in their exams.
Now, one might argue why do we need to talk about these things in 21st century education. Even in the 21st century, exam scores are the mainstream metrics of children’s academic success. Not only that, they are also the entry barriers for educational and professional opportunities. It is imperative therefore, that we accept the reality and prepare our children for it.
Let us closely look at the above 8 questions with respect to our children. We should also check regularly if they need any support from us or from an external agency. We need to provide the necessary means to equip them well to succeed in the academic world.