Making It Meaningful: Ten Keys to Effective Learning

Wouldn’t we all like to learn more effectively and retain what we’ve learned longer and more clearly? We asked  Oak Meadow high school teachers how to make learning more meaningful and successful, and they came up with these ten keys to effective learning. Parents, we hope you’ll share these tips with your high schooler.

1. Create a rhythm

As a homeschooler, you have the freedom to create a daily school rhythm that works for you. Try to alternate activities that require a high level of focus or effort with those that are more artistic or come naturally. Pay attention to which subjects require more focus for you: for some students it could be math, while for others it could be writing. Strive for a healthy balance of physical activity and focused activity in a day.

2. Ask questions

Don’t hesitate to reach out to your parent or teacher when you don’t understand something. Even if it seems like a silly question or something that you would rather just “fudge” on an assignment, it’ll be far more rewarding (for you and for your teacher) if you adopt some patience, reach out to your teacher, and get to the bottom of your issue. When you struggle with a concept and then master it, there’s no greater thrill in education.

3. Take your time

Artists and writers understand how important it is to take breaks as they are creating, and this  can apply to any endeavor. Spending time away from your work is as important as time spent working on it. In addition, it’s hard to stay focused on a project if you’re trying to complete it in a hurry. Students often rush to get things done quickly. Usually nothing could be worse!

Homeschoolers have the benefit of a flexible schedule, so it’s best to take time, slow down, and complete work that you can be proud of. Try not to feel pressured to hand in work too quickly.

4. Overview and review

When you first open a textbook or sit down with a long article or reading passage, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with it. Look over the table of contents and scan the chapter and section headings to get a feel for the scope of the text. If a book has a glossary or index, use it to take you to information quickly (this is much more efficient than thumbing through pages).

Each time you finish a particular passage, take a minute to rephrase the section heading into a question and see if you can answer it. For instance, if you’re reading a section titled “Events Leading up to the Revolutionary War,” ask yourself, “What were the events leading up to the Revolutionary War?”

5. Maximize concentration

Real concentration lasts for about 10 minutes. Maximize concentration by focusing on information to be memorized for short bursts a dozen times a day. If you see a new vocabulary word a dozen times in 24 hours, that word sticks forever. Consider the number of times in a day that you have two to three minutes available (e.g., waiting for someone, standing in line, walking somewhere). List what you want to memorize in a small notebook that can be kept in a pocket or a purse, and take it out at every opportunity to study two or three items.

6. Take a quick fit break

A regular fitness practice will help you to retain information and think clearly. Take regular breaks to go for a walk or a run. Even a quick 10 to 15 minutes of activity while studying can help your brain work better. Consider raising your heart rate and getting your blood pumping by doing jumping jacks, jumping rope, running up and down the stairs, or getting outside for some fresh air and a brisk walk or bike ride. Also, try munching on healthy snacks (like almonds, fruit, or carrots) while working.

7. Repetition matters

Repetition is the key to learning! It’s important to have time between repetitions. For example, if you have a challenging or confusing paragraph to read, read it in the morning, again in the afternoon, and then get a good night’s sleep and read it first thing in the morning. This is much more effective than reading it three times in a row. It’s better to study in small increments, with a good night’s sleep in between those increments, rather than a long session. Another great strategy is to teach what you’ve learned. Talk to your family and friends about what you’re learning—teach them something new!

8. Immerse yourself

Some students do better focusing on one subject at a time, and when you homeschool, you can dive into your work without time limits or restrictions. If you’re enjoying your lessons from a particular subject and want to explore that subject in more depth, consider doing several lessons in a row just on that subject. It can be fun to immerse yourself completely in your math lessons for a few days and then switch gears to social studies. Don’t feel that you have to tackle each subject in each day.

9. Take five to brainstorm

For longer papers or writing assignments, give yourself five minutes to brainstorm ideas for the assignment. Jot down initial thoughts about a possible topic, scenes or selections from the text that will support your ideas, free association with key concepts or phrases, and so on. This jumps you past the often-feared blank page since you have already generated some material. Take another five minutes to organize your ideas into a brief outline, and you have a great head start on your writing assignment.

10. Reflect your understanding

Whenever possible, try to make your answers or projects reflect your own unique understanding of the subject matter. Engage your creativity and imagination as well as your intellect. Doing so helps your work more accurately reflect you as a student and a person and thus, deepens your connection to what you’re learning.

August 5, 2013


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