Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Study strategies redux

We've been talking a lot here about studying and study habits (testing versus studying, three proven study techniques, and Mike's awesome summary of study tips). Among the key findings of Academically Adrift are that students are studying less and that group studying in particular does not seem to contribute much to student learning.

Here are a couple of other tidbits on studying I came across:

Evidently, a lot of the CW about studying is wrong. From NYT:
For instance, many study skills courses insist that students find a specific place, a study room or a quiet corner of the library, to take their work. The research finds just the opposite. In one classic 1978 experiment, psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms — one windowless and cluttered, the other modern, with a view on a courtyard — did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room. Later studies have confirmed the finding, for a variety of topics.
Shifting the type of material studied appears to help too:
Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time. Musicians have known this for years, and their practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work. Many athletes, too, routinely mix their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills.
No news here: Cramming doesn't work, but here's a nice analogy that explains why:
Cognitive scientists do not deny that honest-to-goodness cramming can lead to a better grade on a given exam. But hurriedly jam-packing a brain is akin to speed-packing a cheap suitcase, as most students quickly learn — it holds its new load for a while, then most everything falls out. ...When the neural suitcase is packed carefully and gradually, it holds its contents for far, far longer. An hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall, without requiring students to put in more overall study effort or pay more attention, dozens of studies have found. 
And again, the merits of tests as a study tool:
The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way the information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future....Dr. Roediger uses the analogy of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics, which holds that the act of measuring a property of a particle (position, for example) reduces the accuracy with which you can know another property (momentum, for example): “Testing not only measures knowledge but changes it,” he says — and, happily, in the direction of more certainty, not less. 

This one's not about studying directly, but it bears on the AA findings about group versus solitary studying, and the merits of solitude in general:
...sharing an experience with someone is inherently distracting, because it compels us to expend energy on imagining what the other person is going through and how they’re reacting to it....“People tend to engage quite automatically with thinking about the minds of other people,” Burum said in an interview. “We’re multitasking when we’re with other people in a way that we’re not when we just have an experience by ourselves.” When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what’s called meta-cognition, or the process of thinking critically and reflectively about our own thoughts.
I've often thought that learning philosophy in particular requires an ability to truly hear yourself think — to have meta-cognitive moments.

It's worthwhile thinking about the implications of these ideas for how we might help students study philosophy more effectively.

1 comment:

  1. I just discovered this blog a few months ago through a friend and I've already learned a lot! I teach biology at a community college, and I give my students a study guide for each exam (really, just a list of learning objectives that I use to select test questions). The most common complaint I get is "I wrote out 20 pages worth of responses to every single learning objective, and I still only got a C on the test!" As a response to that, I spent some time in class talking about study strategies and I'll mention some of these tidbits today. Thanks!


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