Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Study Groups: Worth the Effort?

Although the following article's headline sounds like something from The Onion, it does post an interesting question:  Why don't high schools encourage the formation of study groups?  I fairly well agree with the article, that study groups would require a lot of effort to implement.  And they work best when they are voluntary for students - making them possibly not worth the investment of paying staff to supervise them.

That said, parents hosting study groups in their homes is a great idea.  Parents who have participated in study groups could very effectively encourage their own children as well as a few others to study together.  But would it be difficult for parents who have never participated in study groups of their own to host such an event?  Probably.

I once read that low-performing schools need to embrace the co-parenting challenge in order to raise achievement.  I believe that's true.  It's not useful to ignore the obstacles that come along with groups of students who attend schools in low-income areas.  The school's only hope at success is to identify the obstacles and come up with creative solutions. 

At first glance, study groups seem like they may not be worth the obstacles that they'd come along with - transportation, finding time in working or very busy students' schedules, lack of motivation, lack of study skills.  However, learning how to participate in a study group would go a very long way for students who do enter college.  They also, if done successfully, could put learning in a really positive light.  And they take adults out of the equation - allowing students to monitor one another rather than asking a parent for help. 

I personally find study groups really enjoyable as well as helpful.  I think study groups could be a really great way to augment daily learning for students who attend low-performing schools - and I'm for anything that effectively extends the school day by helping students spend more time learning. Any other thoughts out there?

ABQ/ COLUMN: Studying in Groups Can Be Effective

By Leanna Landsmann [syndicated columnist]
ABQ Journal
September 6, 2011

Q: As a mom working on a master’s degree, I’m part of a study group and love it. When I see my son, a high school sophomore, struggle with his homework, I wonder why high schools don’t encourage the formation of study groups. Is there a reason?

A: Some high schools promote study groups. Others don’t for reasons ranging from educators remaining unconvinced of their effectiveness to a lack of staff to manage them. The vice principal of a Michigan high school says, “With budget cuts, we hardly have enough people to oversee study halls. Plus, study groups are hard to make work. Some students don’t want to be there, and the distractions, like one kid having a new iPad or a cute girl texting, are enormous.”

Educators who take this view may be missing a big opportunity to accelerate teens’ learning, says Atlanta adolescent-literacy expert ReLeah Lent. “Some teachers are still in the ‘I lecture; you take notes’ mode, which practically shuts down kids’ brains.” This is unfortunate. If effectively run, study groups can prepare students for college and careers, Lent says. “The Partnership for 21st Century Skills defines collaboration and teaming as essential workplace skills. Research tells us that collaborative learning develops problem solving, critical thinking, empathy, deeper understanding of content and even produces higher test scores.”

You may not be able to do much about a school’s policy, but Lent says you can help your son learn more and learn better by forming, managing and hosting a student study group in your home. “We know that learning is not a solitary activity. We’ve all had the experience of learning something more deeply when we’ve explained it and discussed it with others. Studying in a group is perfect for this generation of active multitaskers who can’t sit still, much less learn alone,” Lent says.

What’s a parent’s role with study groups?
“Call four or five of your son’s classmates’ parents to describe your idea and initiate meetings at homes for the purpose of studying, doing projects, talking through difficult content or reading assigned books,” Lent says. “Schedule meetings once a week, for two hours, no more than three. Choose the topic ahead based on assignments. Offer snacks and breaks. Because kids know from the outset that the purpose of the gathering is to learn, they take the group seriously and discover that learning with others is satisfying and effective.”

Help students and parents understand techniques that make the groups effective, such as encouraging members to think out loud, share ideas, hash out problems, discuss and compare class notes taken to clarify concepts. Reinforce the importance of participating each week and acknowledge and draw upon the different strengths each student brings to the group. Identify distractions that can become time-wasters, but “don’t hang over the kids demanding that they stay strictly on task. The idea is to have your teens create lifelong study habits that encourage thinking, discussing, and probing for answers; in other words, working with others in a quest to learn.”

The College Board offers practical tips at:

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