Study Skills: Importance & Application

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Is there a possibility of linking the teaching of study skills with teaching English in such a way so that the two can be combined and successfully support each other?

It has already been acknowledged that study skills have an important cross-curricular value and should therefore be part of the curriculum design and implementation with a view to our learners’ formative development, which undoubtedly must be our primary consideration both as EFL teachers as well as educators. Strong study skills lead to effective learning, learners become inspired and motivated, thus they move towards becoming independent and autonomous.

By George Knoring, EFL Teacher, Teacher Trainer, ELT Academic Consultant, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Through our experience as teachers, we have come across a number of learners of all ages and levels lacking basic skills and not being able to effectively deal with even basic tasks such as organising their notebooks, studying a course book unit, using a dictionary, taking and using notes, using a calendar planner and daily to-do list so as to plan ahead and manage their time effectively, setting goals, monitoring their progress and self-assessing the effectiveness of their learning. Most teachers consider such skills as ‘innate’, ‘natural’ and ‘automatic’ and learners are naively expected to develop and use them, but we should concern ourselves with actually teaching them.

 

Study skills should not be simply seen as a collection of techniques that will help learners cope with problem areas such as ‘writing good essays’ or ‘passing exams’ but rather taking a much broader look at our learners’ study methods and help them identify their individual learning potential. We must, however, keep in mind that there are no general strategies that would apply to all of them, since it lies in each individual learner’s process of growing and learning to find their own suitable study method.

 

The teaching and learning process of study skills depends on a series of factors that we have to consider to better understand each and every student’s personality traits that may influence the way they go about teaching them:

  1. cognitive factors: (language aptitude, learning strategies) These factors involve cognitive functions like attention, memory, and reasoning. We have to consider what mental operations are required for a specific learning task (synthesis and transfer; recognition and discrimination; classification and organisation, etc.) and provide appropriate strategies so that learners fulfill the task successfully.                     
  2. metacognitive factors:  (individual awareness and management of the learning processes) For each particular task we must select and propose the most useful strategies for planning, monitoring, regulation and evaluation of our learners’ learning. Learners should be able to plan their learning, monitor their learning during task completion, and evaluate their learning after they have accomplished the task.
  3. affective factors (attitudes, motivation, anxiety) Each task assigned requires different kinds of attitudes. So, we also have to take into account our learners’ motivation, emotional state and interest in each of the tasks we assign them.
  4. socio-cultural factors: (group interaction, personal efficacy, role-play) Group interaction provides learners with opportunities for their language learning because while interacting with the other learners in class, they have the tendency to produce more spoken and written language than when dealing with a task on their own.  Collaboration produces a productive learning environment and their personal efficacy (courage to speak up in class) greatly improves. Role-play among learners also serves a crucial role in language learning. Role-playing improves their English language because they are given the opportunity to express emotions such as relief or pleasure. Role-playing provides an emotional support that bolsters psychological distancing and self-control for learners to express their frustration of language learning.

What study skills are though the most useful and purposeful for our learners? The answer to that question lies in how we are to determine our learners’ actual study needs and some of the criteria to take into consideration to appropriately choose the skills they need to develop should be the following:

  • what the learning situation and its demands may be
  • the techniques we provide them to deal with the situation and
  • whether learners are able to make effective use of those techniques

For example, in the case where learners come across an unknown word in a text and we ask them to use a dictionary to do find its meaning, will they know how to make the best of this learning aid? Do they know how to do without it? Have they learned how to deduce the meaning of an unknown word from its contextual use, or be able to understand word formation and the use of prefixes and suffices, etc.?

Some learners’ study needs to draw our attention to and expect our learners be able to deal with are:

  • assess the study method they use
  • know how to use their course book
  • be able to store and retrieve information (note taking/mind mapping)
  • make tables and graphs
  • know how and when to make use of their dictionaries
  • be able to self-evaluate their work
  • know how to review information
  • complete their homework on time
  • study successfully for tests
  • know how to handle stress
  • cope with writer’s block
  • avoid distractions
  • develop remedial techniques
  • apply their study skills to other classes, etc.

The above are only some broad study needs and the list is by no means exhaustive, there are numerous other ones we could add as well.

When planning materials and techniques to use in class, we should be applying the following four principles which are an essential feature of teaching study skills:

  1. Awareness-raising activities: Learners should be informed at the outset of the problem areas they may experience, so that they become fully aware of their strengths and limitations. We could do so with class or group surveys and/or discussions. This ‘socialisation’ of awareness will hopefully motivate learners to further inquire into the problem.
  2. Training in specific methods of learning:  Learners through activities in class acquire knowledge and new skills. However, they should realise that there is no single strategy that will guarantee their success. How each and every learner learns best depends on many different factors, and learners must find their own ways by choosing from a number of alternative techniques.
  3. Transferring new knowledge to own experience: Learners should be invited to try out one or more of the strategies taught in class to tackle a problem area on themselves and select the one that they think suits their personality and learning style.
  4. Evaluating new level of performance: Through self-assessment activities (individual or group) learners should evaluate their performance and assess how successful the selected strategies have been for themselves and what still needs to be done in order to meet the demands of learning tasks as effectively as possible.

Any teacher may justifiably raise the issue of the limited time available to cover the language syllabus, let alone develop or adopt a study skills programme. However, once we wish to take the responsibility of not just teaching a foreign language, but also facilitating the development of student’s individual and autonomous learning strategies, the following tips may put their minds at ease:

  • Select a course that expresses a high degree of positivity in regard to cross-curricular learning and teaching and focus on study skills development.
  • In each and every lesson try to activate any of the four principles of teaching study skills (awareness/training/transfer/evaluation).
  • Use techniques of the communicative methodology, such as surveys, questionnaires, games, problem-solving tasks and interviews. 

Transforming ourselves into learning facilitators rather than just EFL teachers, we will manage to not only have learners with a higher quality of learning strategies but also of better language competence.

I would like to encourage you to share your thoughts on this topic and/or to provide examples of study/learning skills that you teach. Please feel free to e-mail me (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). •

 

References

Cottrell, S. (2003) Skills for Success. The Personal Development Planning Handbook. Palgrave Macmillan. New York.

O’Hara, S. (2005) Improving Your Study Skills.  Wiley. Hoboken, NJ.

 

 

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