Study Skills 101

So this year Gabe starts high school.

He has had lots of transitions academically over the past few years, and has done very well.

When I first met him, he was in grade 4 and not doing so hot. I noted he didn’t really do any homework and thought that was really strange. But, my oldest was only in grade 1 – so what did I know? But it didn’t feel quite right….

I also knew that this kid had been living the divorce hell for a little while, so his schooling had been clearly placed on the back burner while everyone else was in fight and survival mode.

So by the time I entered the picture, he was clearly struggling. Just being a girlfriend, I said little. I saw Rob working like crazy, and his new nanny was not the strongest academic type either. I had no idea where things stood with Gabe’s mother, but Gabe was clearly slipping through the cracks.

One day Rob came back from a school meeting and told me that they were suggesting Gabe be put in the equivalent of a resource class for struggling students, and this was being supported by his mother. While I am fully supportive of resource classes and think we need more of them, I think they are truly for children who need extra support. Not for children who do no work.

Of course, this is where my relationship with Gabe’s Mom took a very negative turn. With Rob’s permission (hers as well, but she later denied this), I gave Gabe a quick standardized assessment of his language/reading skills – something being an SLP I do, and then also reached out to my colleague to confirm analysis of the results of the assessment.

No problems found. Sure, everyone has strengths and weaknesses, but nothing was screaming this child needs to go into a resource class. I shared the results with Rob and Gabe’s Mom (which led to a nasty note a few days before our wedding threatening my license and reminding me of my place in her son’s life… but I digress).

Regardless of the Mom freak out – this was Rob’s son too so he needed to push back and insist on what he thought was best based on his gut feeling, the evidence he had been given, and the knowledge that unfortunately Gabe’s academics had been sacrificed due to divorce drama.

His decision: no resource help at this time. This kid needed to show what he could do when he put some effort in and consistently did some work. Providing a structure, routine and teaching some good study habits wouldn’t hurt too.

So grade 5 began and it was rocky. But it was very clear that Gabe was capable and slowly his academics started improving.

Fast forward another 3 years and this kid has reason to be proud!!! We certainly are.

Gabe’s academics have dramatically improved, his study skills are coming along so well, and now, he is independently asking to learn even more skills to make himself even more successful!

The lucky part of being an SLP working in brain injury is that I work in so many areas of brain function. I have had the opportunity to work with so many kids with their studies, teaching them the study skills they need. I have moved through the years with them from public school, to middle, to high school and college. Along the way, I have learned so much too about study skills!

So when Gabe asked what he can do to learn more about study skills, I jumped at the chance to share. I have a few amazing books that I use with clients, and decided it would be fun to set aside a bit of time each Family Hone Evening to share a skill – adapted from my books to suit the needs of our children.

This week we started. As we were getting into it, a couple kids wanted to know if we could write these down – so I thought the blog would be a perfect way to keep a record – that they can refer to forever. I’ll make it our “Study Skills Series” ( much like the money series I did last year).

This week was really an introduction to the idea. We also took the time to discuss the importance of   “Getting ready to study”. We reviewed these ideas:

1) Find a location in your house to always study. Make sure you have lots of space. In our home, it’s the dining room or kitchen table. It allows Rob and me to be available to help and everyone is there so it creates a study atmosphere. The brain will eventually associate studying to a certain location, so try to keep it consistent.

2) Pick a time to study. Generally, for us, it’s right after school or whenever the kids get home. Sure a little downtime for a snack and a chat, but don’t even think about turning the TV on!! Which is another point for our littler guys. If they aren’t studying with the older ones, they need to go find somewhere else to hang out so they aren’t too distracting (this is a hard one for our family as everyone likes to be around:)

On weekends, we try to encourage early in the day studying – and for sure have it all done on Saturday. Eveyone has a “best time”. Each person needs to figure out when their mind is most alert. Early mornings work for me. It takes me half the time to write a report in the morning than it does in the afternoon! You can be much more productive during your “best time” and save yourself a lot of frustration and wasted time.

3) Amount of time to study varies of course depending on age, grade and subject. But it also varies depending on how well you’re doing! In the “olden” days, Gabe tried quoting the school board policy about homework – how much time should be spent on it, what teachers are allowed to assign etc. Irrelevant. If you are struggling – you are working (we got a tutor in for two years to help alleviate the struggling – as the work needed to be done).

The big thing I wanted to emphasize with the kids is the need to break up study time into small chunks of time. If you have a test, you need to start studying days in advance for small periods of time. If you have a lot of homework, you may need to alternate subjects and take little breaks. Doing small chunks of anything makes it all manageable. The brain can only handle small chunks. It’s like eating and digestion. We feed ourselves several times a day. We don’t try to have all our calories in one sitting! It doesn’t work. Same goes for feeding information to our brain: give it small snacks!

That’s what we covered so far! Much more to go…. But little chunks!

Developing good study skills is half the academic battle so I’m very glad that Gabe has wisely chosen to try to learn them more now – and I know all the kids will greatly benefit! I’m sure Rob and I will too – as study skills are often about time management and organization.

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