Using Study Skill Strategies to Create Independent Higher Ed Learners
By Kimberly R. Nix, Senior Professional Development Manager for N. America, Texthelp, Inc.
As instructors, by the time our students reach middle school age, we often assume students know methods for learning, and ways which are most effective for their own development. Learning how to learn from lecture, reading, and videos is rarely the focus of any class. So where do we learn what to do when we are asked to “study”?
In order for us to ensure our students will be able to master the course content, we must guide our students in the ways that will assist them in doing just that. We must be just as responsible for helping our students how to learn as we are with helping our students with what to learn. Think of education like using a GPS. Our GPS does not say, “This is where I would like you to be and then I will take you where you need to go.” It asks instead where your present location is and then it gives you directions in HOW to get there.
Helping Students Learn to Actually Study More Efficiently
When asked, students almost always equate re-reading with studying or learning and that is often because they have learned no other strategies. Rereading, however, only provides students with basic working knowledge or comprehension of the material read. Students become familiar with the new knowledge and often confuse it for true understanding. If you have ever thought you knew a topic and then received a short essay exam which asked you to explain, for example, the process of photosynthesis? Suddenly you realize you were only familiar with the topic. To demonstrate understanding you must be able to write about it and/or teach it. And most often, in order to change that new knowledge from short term to long term memory, you must interact with it, not just reread.
Organizing Information for User Interaction
Rarely do students realize how critical setting the material up in a format for interacting with it really is. Accessibility to the text should matter to all. Whether students want to take notes, make marginal comments, highlight important information or compare the course text to the lecture notes from class, it is imperative to change the text into a format that will be conducive to using any one or more of these interactive techniques.
Using the Read&Write Scanning Tool, students can scan or re-scan a file saved on their computer into an accessible PDF, with our built in OCR (Optical Character Recognition) system. This will allow for the opening of the PDF using our PDF Aloud viewer which has the text-to-speech support of reading aloud to or with a student. Text-to-Speech was once seen as a support tool from which only visually impaired students or international students would benefit. We know with the increase in text complexity and volume of material needing to be read as demanded by college coursework, having the support of hearing and seeing the text benefits all students.
Additional reading supports that will work in the PDF Aloud viewer are our Dictionary, Picture Dictionary and Highlighter tools, all of which can be used to support deeper understanding. Often students do not recognize that when given a choice of more than one color with which to highlight, each color can be used to indicate a particular category of information.
For example, when reading about the endocrine system, one may highlight the glands associated with the system in yellow, the function of each in blue, and the diseases or results of malfunctions in pink. Or, yellow could be used to signify important and understood information, blue to indicate a need to review further or ask questions, pink for key terms to learn, and green for specific examples. Color choice means we have the ability to choose the significance for each color. This concept, while simple, can really help a student to evaluate what they are learning.
The Highlighters made within the PDF Aloud viewer, may then be collected, using our Collect Highlights button, and grouped by color or position in the document. This highlighted information will then be placed onto a brand new Microsoft Word document for further study and additional notes. (Highlights can also be collected from a website or from a Microsoft Word document.)
Another strategy is targeting key words and phrases for highlighting from the assigned text, collect those main idea words and topics, then use their newly created “word/topic bank” to summarize the material read. This is another easy yet effective way to solidify understanding using Read&Write tools that benefit students.
Making a Place for Higher Level Thinking
Although the two- and three-column note format has been used to enhance learning for some time, often students do not recognize the act of organizing their material for interaction will give them better returns for the time spent doing so. This is another case where using our Scanning Tool will facilitate the easy transfer of text in PDF to Word which can be placed into a two or three column format by generating a table in Word. Having the assigned text available for marginal notes with directional highlighting adds the benefit of recording thoughts related to remembering the reading. A third or even a forth column may be added for comments made in class by instructor and students, or additional information and pictures/diagrams from supplementary sources.
The example below shows how a three-column note format aids in analysis and synthesis of topical information for study.
Figure 1: The Three-Column Note Format
The Read&Write Dictionary can give students instant access to three different types of definitions which supports independent vocabulary attainment.
Our Picture Dictionary, in addition to giving students quick visuals for familiar words, can be easily used to add pictures directly onto a Word document by simply double-clicking on the desired picture. We all like visuals and the Picture Dictionary can embed simple pictures as memory clues about course content.
Locating Additional Source Information
Another Read&Write tool which can assist in quickly and easily finding additional sources of information and images is the Fact Finder. Fact Finder is a one-click Google search for needed background knowledge, alternate explanations or additional images on a word, phrase or topic. It is important for students to know that the way their assigned text explains something may not resonate with what they know or they may require additional explains. Good readers and good students know to search for more than one source of information to clarify and get a variety of explanations.
And so as NOT to create MORE reading with background knowledge building, our Speech Maker tool, which will create MP3 files from the Word file or the Web, can allow students to listen to any information on the go! Between classes or jobs, to and from athletic events or on the commute to and from campus, students can listen to text for preview or review, their class notes or study guides…all forms of repetition and self-study.
Using Technology to Enhance Learning
Our students know how to use technology and will quickly figure out how to use the Read&Write tools. However, they often do not know how or when to use technology to help themselves learn more effectively. So even if you are not a "digital native" don't discount your knowledge about learning how to learn. Put that knowledge together with the Read&Write toolbar.
Helping students to become better learners will not only support them in learning your course content but help them in becoming independent learners for the workplace and for life.
About the Author
Kimberly R. Nix, Senior Professional Development Manager for N. America, Texthelp, Inc., travels across the United States and Canada to present on Read&Write features and their applications to enhance learning. After 14 years of middle and high school classroom experience, Kimberly has been working with educators on using Literacy Strategies for learning for the past 14 years. She has a BS in Elementary/Middle Education and an MA in K-12 Reading Education.
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