The Study Dude – How We Learn

A+ Study Breaks and Study Places

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to do something called prewriting so that you acquire an expert’s voice come essay-writing time.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s Study Dude article delves into part two of the book How We Learn by Benedict Carey. This article examines the benefits of prewriting, of mixing and interrupting study sessions, and of boosting your memory power through strategic sleep habits. You can have your sleep and A+ too.

Are You the Expert? With Prewriting and Journaling, Yes
I previously read the book They Say; I Say by Cathy Birkenstein and Gerald Graff. Excellent book. The book revealed a lot about making templates for common people to enter intoacademic dialogue. I emailed Cathy and Gerald to let them in on Benedict Carey’s tidbit on the roles of prewriting and journaling in gaining an expert voice. I thought they mightdo a study on the value of prewriting in inserting your own voice into the academic debate. Prewriting, journaling, and following templates can give you the authority in your writing that so many undergraduates miss out on. Don’t you want to be an expert?

Personally, the more I journal and engage in prewriting, the better a person I become. I don’t just mean academically: journaling makes me better able at coping and sorting out my thoughts. With benefits such as these, journaling and prewriting help you to see the trees through the forest and the A’s through the sweat and tears.

So, if you want to do more that regurgitate other people’s ideas in your papers, do prewriting and journaling. Benedict Carey reveals more on the topic:
– Your own insights and wisdom matter just as much, if not more, than those from academic researchers. Write your papers so that you include your own thoughts and views.
– One researcher (Dively, as cited in Carey, 2014) found great success in giving her students prewriting assignments. These assignments consisted of the following steps: (1) assessing an interview, (2) explaining a keyword and how it relates to the academic discourse, (3) responding to some controversy on the topic, and (4) doing additional assignments to drill the key ideas home.
– Dively also had students journal their feelings and reactions toward the researched topics. Students wrote whether they agreed with the various researcher’s points-of-view, whether they thought the researchers had any inconsistencies or issues, and whether they felt the readings “made sense” (p. 145). All of these activities helped the students gain that coveted expert voice.
– So, it is important for you, as a student, to frequently journal your views on topics you research. Express your views of what you just read. Did the reading suck? Why or why not? Define terms as you see them.

Mix Up Study Sessions and Interrupt Them
I stared endlessly at the same math problems for hours on end each day: without fail. Boring. My back would ache. My enthusiasm waned. My environment always stayed the same. Plain white walls. A corkboard. Hoards of scrap paper at the foot of my chair. No music. Silence. The kind of things a math geek needs to get an A+ on a calculus exam.

I hardly took a break lasting more than fifteen minutes?just one break a week for an hour or two. The thoughts of ungluing my butt from the chair cushion disturbed me. Determined to get an A, I tortured myself to stay focused like a Navy Seal blasting out of a plane over frigid waters with nothing but a parachute?except without the adrenaline.

In the previous Study Dude article, I showed that Benedict Carey argues that I could have done much better academically if did the following things frequently: changed up the subjects I studied, switched study places, and rotated the music I played. He also argues that doing different things and switching from one task to another aids with learning. Don’t just do math problems. Also, read your math textbook and look at some math YouTube videos. Variety is the spice of GPAs. Change things up, and your learning will skyrocket.

Here’s what Carey says about that:
– Carey practiced things he wanted to master. Other people who practiced less seemed to “just get it” more than he ever did. So, what was his problem?
– First, don’t just practice things over and over again to nauseating lengths. Mix it up. Live a little.
– Kerr and Bernard (as cited in Carey, 2014) showed that children who tossed beanbags at just one target did worse that children who did the same amount of practice, but tossed beanbags at two different targets. The children who tossed beanbags at just one target seemed to have an advantage in that the target for the final test for both groups was the one only the single target children practiced on. Yet, the children who tossed at two targets, neither of which was on the final test, did much better. This means, vary your practice. Don’t just focus on one topic or activity. You’ll perform better if you change things up. Take two or more different approaches to your study of math, for instance, not just one. Do problem. Read your text. Watch math videos. Recite formulas. Get that A.
– Goode and Magill (as cited in Carey, 2014) showed that participants who practiced one single tennis serve over a length of time did poorer than participants who practiced multiple serves over the same period of time. Mix things up and make the grade.
– Carey (2014) says that Schmidt and Bjorkshowed that “whenever researchers scrambled practice sessions, in one form or another, people improved more over time than if their practice was focused and uninterrupted” (p. 156).
– Bjork and Landauer (as cited in Carey, 2014) showed that students performed better on memory recall of names when the study sessions were interrupted.
– So, scramble your study tasks and switch your study locations regularly.
– Reduce your time on one task to ten to fifteen minutes if you can. Switch to a slightly different task or even an unrelated task. Return to that initial task refreshed.

Stay Up Late or Get Up Early? The Best Strategies for Memory Consolidation
Why must we sleep at all? We could accomplish much more if we slept less, thereby gaining more waking hours for studies, work, and play.But I did one all-nighter in graduate studies, and I looked like a gargoyle for about two days after. The essay I wrote during that fright night lacked clarity. After handing in the paper, I wanted to do nothing more than lay down on the grass and sleep. I even considered lying on a convenient nearby cement sidewalk. Had I gotten my sleep, I might have learned something.

Research says that sleep provides memory consolidation essential to learning. More specifically, the different stages of sleep each perform a unique job at storing into memory what we learn. So when we sleep, we learn. And, a good night’s sleep feels like bliss.

Carey dives into some great research on the various states of sleep and how each stage consolidates different memories:
– REM sleep helps you consolidate pattern recognition and creative problem solving. REM also helps you find relationships in events or ideas that you weren’t originally aware of. REM also helps you to process heightened emotions during the day. In other words, if you threw a temper tantrum at your professor that day, REM sleep will help you get over it. REM sleep is in abundance just before you wake up. So, sleep in to solve your problems creatively.
– Stage 2 sleep helps consolidate motor learning that takes place through things such as sports or music lessons. Stage 2 sleep is in abundance prior to an hour before you wake up. So, sleep in if you are learning how to bust a move.
– Stage 3 and 4 sleep consolidates “newly learned facts, studied vocabulary, names, dates, and formulas” (p. 208). This stage of sleep happens most abundantly during the first three hours of falling asleep. So, get up early if you have to, but make sure you get that initial rest to achieve top performance on exams in history, English, or other fact-based disciplines. In other words, don’t do the all-nighter when you have to regurgitate facts the next day.
– Carey calls the above the “Giuditta-Smith-Stickgold Model of Learning Consolidation” (p. 206), which he shortened to the “Night Shift Theory.”

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Carey, Benedict. (2014). How We Learn: The surprising truth about when, where, and why it happens. New York, NY: Random House.