AS I was researching an apt term for my niece’s habit of staring at her books with the best of intentions and not being able to dive into the chapters that need to be revised, I happened to come across an interesting word — ‘languishing’. It fit right into her context — hanging around, aiming for the best and skirting the task at hand, not really delving into it.
Many students suffer from a syndrome that may be described as ‘not knowing how to study’. They don’t necessarily lack direction or ambition, they simply don’t know what is required. Some are lost in a sea of resources where the information overload is hugely off-putting, some have punishing tuition schedules that leave them gasping for some time away from books, some suffer from a fear of failure that ensures they stay clear of books that demand time and attention.
For those, like me, making an attempt to help our young ones develop study habits, it may be pertinent to remember that the cause of ‘languishing’ isn’t as important as the need to steer them in a productive direction. Drawing up study schedules is a self-defeating act — those of us who have experimented with it would know how devastating it is for an individual to look at a list drawn up painstakingly, only to find that not one slot on it has been successfully ticked off. Not all of us are blessed with the ability to follow schedules diligently.
The inability to study goes by many names — ‘languishing’, ‘procrastinating’, ‘avoiding’, ‘escaping’ are just some ways to describe a deep-rooted phenomenon that plagues many a student’s life. Like most ailments, the trick is to catch it early and nip it in the bud. Unfortunately, motivation for many bright students doesn’t come from external influences. The younger generations cannot be dragged like a herd of sheep towards history narratives, math formulas or poetry analysis.
What skills do students need to streamline their studying ability?
This is a YouTuber generation that will only learn what captures their imagination. The ‘why must I learn this’ question needs to be addressed before any information can be sent in their direction, and the meaning and context of learning is established through a link to necessity and experience.
What skills do they really need to streamline their studying ability? Time management seems to be the obvious one and, perhaps it would serve us to recognise that time is perceived differently by our digital natives who like to browse a mile a minute through realms of information that would’ve taken their ancestors no less than half a year. Dividing tasks into small chunks and revisiting them works more constructively for them, rather than mulling over long chapters for hours on end. While studying, they also need to do something with their hands — this is a generation that types faster than ever before, juggles three devices at one go and relies more on graphic information than textual analysis.
In class, a structured approach to seeing graphic information, hearing their teacher talk about it in context, with examples and demonstrations, saying what they’ve heard aloud by summarising it for peers and writing about it in their own words through paraphrasing may help with retention and revision. The students’ active involvement in the learning process is critical to the development of study skills that will not only serve them well in their academic life but also have spillover benefits in their careers.
Teaching students to create mind maps or illustrate the key information using a variety of diagrams may serve better than passively taking notes that they will shelve and ignore later because the text may be too daunting to revisit.
A system of triage, for example, seems to work well for those to whom planning doesn’t come intuitively. It’s followed in emergency departments where tasks are prioritised according to what requires the most urgent action and can be used successfully to help students compartmentalise study topics. Using ‘triage’ helps ease the overwhelming anxiety that students feel, usually brought on by an information overload and several attempts to work through all subjects simultaneously.
Another useful technique for those who tend to procrastinate is to try and teach their peers what they know. Traditionally, study groups have worked well for they provide the opportunity for collaborative work in a friendly environment, but this may require stringent discipline in terms of planning focus time and sticking to it.
Often mentorship by an adult who isn’t actively teaching but can spare time to help students ‘self-test’ their work in small chunks may help track progress. Most students will eventually figure out what processes work for them, with a bit of encouragement and a lot of self-belief. Most students who end up achieving their targets do so because they believe they can.
The writer is working as senior manager, professional development, at Oxford University Press, Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2021