The Value of Academic Reinforcement

April 16th, 2014

The Value of Academic Reinforcement

 

In almost two full years of working at the Study Hut, I’ve been able to see just how important supplemental education (in many forms) is for today’s young students. It’s nuanced at times, but there are myriad ways that seemingly inconsequential aspects of learning can change everything. Some of these things are just natural aspects of putting college students and grads in a room together and telling them to talk about academics, but in my tenure here I’ve watched the company grow and I’ve grown as a tutor and a person along with it. A particular session comes to mind here, and not because of how unique it was, but because it was extremely typical.

 

One of my weekly students, who we’ll call John Conner, came to me earlier this year to study for a history final. We hadn’t worked much together on history to this point, and John needed to catch up on almost everything covered on this test–we had our work cut out for us.

 

The first thing he asked me was: “Wait, so do you have this all memorized?” It was an honest question, and legitimate. Intuitively speaking, one would probably need to know a lot about US History to prepare someone study for a final exam nearly from scratch, but because of the way we work at the Hut, the way the Hut taught me to teach, and the very nature of supplemental academia, the session wasn’t about what I knew. It was about what John needed to know. We spent that hour combing through the text and his in-class notes to piece together what we agreed were the areas of importance. We spent the time looking for the questions, not the answers.

 

What I mean by all of this is that knowing is never part of my job. It’s about finding out, whether that means learning the material along with the students or just learning about the students themselves. The achilles-heel of today’s schools is the inability of schools to teach on a more personal level with each student. Of course, it’s a numbers game and it would be impossible for even the greatest instructors to personally teach lessons to all of their kids. But that’s the point. Because we’re in a unique position to help bridge the gap between teacher and student, concept and practice, we can always provide an invaluable set of tools for students of all kinds.

 

My knee-jerk reaction to John’s opening question was to say, “No, but you will soon.” This, to me, was the job in a nutshell. We don’t have the answers to the test your student will take, but we might know where to look.

Memorization

March 25th, 2014

Memorization is a constant struggle for most people. One of the best (and immediately useful) classes in college I took discussed how people learned different material. We also went over various memorization techniques. Here at the Study Hut, these skills are obviously applicable and important to our students.

We all know about short-term and long-term memory. But did you know that your brain often filters out information it does not think is useful to you? So when you are trying to study for that geometry test, and you keep telling yourself that the material is not important, this can definitely work against you. That is why repetition, used as a memorization technique, is often useful. Your brain thinks that if you come across that piece of information so much, it must, and should be worth memorizing.

You also learn information in groups. Information can be grouped together either by the environment in which you learned or encountered the information. This is why smells and sounds, like songs, can bring up many other memories. It is then not surprising, that when college students ate dark chocolate in a research study, and then during or shortly before an exam, they were able to recall more information. Taste is mostly olfactory in nature; which means taste is mostly constituted of smell. The researchers also theorized that the caffeine in dark chocolate might have also played a part, but the results were not conclusive. In addition, because we learn information in groups, it can be far easier to remember associations between words, rather than simply the individual words or terms themselves. When studying vocabulary, try to connect meanings and sounds to each other in a story or sentence. When studying history, try not to memorize random dates but connect the important events in a story. This will also, of course, give you a deeper understanding of the meaning of events and no doubt help you write more introspective essays.  In science, try not to remember individual terms but how they connect to one another in a process or function.