Over the years I have occasion to have conversations with friends that are parents (many of them educators themselves) discussing what makes a child a successful student. Throughout those conversations we have had, I believe we have identified a few key factors that make students successful.
We were able to look back at our study habits and practices were when we were in grade school, junior high, high school and college and discuss similarities and differences. Some of the methods we used were taught to us by teachers and some by our parents or siblings. Much of our methods or strategies were/are profoundly simple. Our experiences led to the following:
First the student must work hard. It is just a fact in reality—you must work hard. However, you cannot only focus on working hard, you must work hard doing things right and doing the right things. Many times I have had conversations with students and one of the first things s/he will say is, “This year I’m going to really work hard… I will do my homework and turn it in on time and I’m going to study for tests…” Well they start off doing just that and then they realize their grades aren’t getting better. They are basically doing the same thing they were doing before, just more of it and getting the same results. You can’t take inadequate study skills, do them more often and expect improved results. The cycle of disengagement and frustration begins and they think, “Well, I have done all that I’ve could… I’ve worked hard”—and they simply give up.
I remember my junior high social studies teacher, Mr. Maltinsky, telling a few of us that we should write out questions to accompany our notes to help us remember and understand the information. He even “jump started” us by giving a few examples of questions that would help us link cause and effect. Sly man he was—effectively engaging students in learning and taking ownership of the learning process. Later in college I developed that skill to make and take pretests to help focus and identify what I needed to learn. By using practice tests the student can develop higher level thinking skills that allows them to analyze, evaluate and create arguments—elements of critical and independent thinking. We discovered that studying for tests was much more than memory-based activities. An exam is not a test of memory for you to show how much you can remember, but how you use what you remember.
Another factor is the ability to be resilient and persistent. The reality is that you will not be able to score 100 percent on every assignment, quiz or test. You have to be able to pick yourself up after a poor performance and go at it again. You have to be able to take a few hard lessons and learn to punch through difficult material and concepts. Learning the habit of grit was a common thread that my friends and I acquired first through our parents and then reinforced throughout our education by our teachers, tutors, professors and other mentors we’ve met along the way. You have to realize that not everything will come easy to you the first time. Reflect, take time, realize and be prepared for the consequence and work that is ahead of you to get back on track.
Part of working hard is being self-motivated and self-disciplined. This is the ability to sit down and work consistently and eliminate (or avoid) distractions like watching three hours of TV and “blooper videos” on YouTube and excessive time on social media. Part of self-discipline is learning to manage or budget your time. The goal behind this is to create balance of your responsibilities. Some mistakes that we made growing up and what I see in some students today are unrealistic time table schedules in the week. Most of the time this is done because the student first blocked out unrealistic study time and then filled in the schedule with social activities, sports, chores, and their job (if applicable). The result inevitably was a schedule that they could not hold and thus failed to provide what is needed. The more successful strategy is to schedule your responsibilities first and then honestly list your habits and evaluate what you need to adjust to create time to study. Next, schedule time for study and be honest with yourself because the result you want is to have something in every day that you like to do. Usually the result is being happy and being happy helps tremendously in being balanced. The sense of being balanced helps lay the foundation for being consistent throughout the year.
In summary, you not only have to work hard, you need to work hard at doing the right things. Learning is more than memorizing facts—learning is demonstrating how you use what you remember. To be successful and happy you need to realistically budget your time with work and play.
Carl Brown is the assistant principal at Greenville High School. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.