In this Infographic, we have illustrated 13 good study habits.
Reading comprehension isn’t about being able to string words together, it’s about deriving meaning from the text. In other words, just because a child can read a text doesn’t mean they truly understand it.
It’s the difference between reading Shakespeare and getting Shakespeare.
But the implications go far beyond appreciating literature. Comprehension is about reading between the lines, understanding vocabulary and figurative language, inferencing, verbal reasoning, grammatical development, and oral expression. It’s about being able to understand the reason something has been written, or what the stance of an author is on a particular subject.
In this day and age, the ability to comprehend text is more important than ever. Being able to look beyond the written words of a text can, for example, help a reader differentiate between fake news, biased news, and genuine news.
Catching a struggling reader early is relatively easy, but students who have trouble with comprehension may go under the radar and only be found when they fail standardized comprehension tests. But all hope is not lost. This post is going to give you five ways to support students who are struggling with reading comprehension.
1. Try different subjects
Sometimes all it takes to get a student to comprehend what they’re reading is to get them to read something they are genuinely interested in. Feel free to look beyond what is traditionally considered “school material”. It could be fiction, it could even be a comic book. The point is to see if they are really able to absorb the matter.
Ask your child to pick some reading material for themselves, and get involved with their reading. Younger students may also be open to reading aloud for you. Every now and then, under the guise of curiosity, interject a question that will ask them to think about the meaning of the text. This will give the student an opportunity to become “the explainer” and subtly ask them to practice comprehension.
2. Teach vocabulary
One of the most basic ways to make for a richer reading experience for your child is to bolster their vocabulary.
Get a word-of-the-day calendar, use flash cards, or anything else—there are dozens of ways to help improve a students vocabulary, more than we can cover in this post. A simple game that you can play almost anywhere is to say a simple definition of a word and ask your child to identify the word.
Additionally, a strong vocabulary enhances fluency. We’ve all experienced it— we come across a new word, and that interrupts our reading flow. This can be especially frustrating for a child who is already having trouble comprehending a text.
So the other side of teaching vocabulary is to frame these instances as positive. Assure your child that even you don’t know all the words. Encourage them to view these instances as an opportunity to learn a new word.
3. Oral essay questions
Older students may not be comfortable reading out loud for you, but there’s more than one way to get involved in their reading.
Get your child’s buy-in to do this exercise—it could be seen as an invasion of privacy if you just dip into their reading material, no matter how good your intentions, and that will be the end of the whole thing right there.
The point of getting into their reading is to pose essay type questions now and then. Dig into the “why” of something that happened, what does your child make of a certain event or certain action that a character took, what real-world parallels can they draw, and so on.
A word of caution, however: be sure never to give spoilers. Nothing is worse for a child reading a beloved book.
4. Urge note-taking
This is a practice that we use even as adults. Any time we see something interesting, we mark it. If we come across a passage or term we don’t understand, we highlight it so we can come back and look it up. We jot down points of interest that will help us summarize a text for a presentation. We are always taking notes, in some form or another.
Urge your child to take notes and make marks when they need to read for comprehension, no matter how trivial the text may seem. This will get them into the habit of looking out for and identifying pieces of text that could be important for its comprehension. There is no shame in writing in the margins, and in fact it’s a skill they will use more and more as they progress through life.
One the best—and simplest—ways to test comprehension is to ask your child to summarize a text.
Ask for a 1-page book report on whatever they are reading. It doesn’t even have to strictly be a book. But you’ll be able to judge if:
- They can identify the main points of interest.
- They can tell you what the text is about.
- They can draw out the meaning or intent behind the text.
You can make it a fun experience with a little bit of gamification and some kind of reward mechanism. For example, 5 satisfactory summaries earns a special treat.
As with any method to help a child, the main thing to remember is to be patient. Remind your child that struggling with reading comprehension is merely a facet of processing information, and not of intelligence. Like all subjects, any child can get better at it with practice.
The best thing you can do is try to bring the areas your child is struggling in into daily life. Take it “out of the classroom” and give it real world context. You can test comprehension on a movie, or an episode of a cartoon. If they are watching the half-time analysis of a basketball game, you can ask them to summarize the main points. Make it fun and relevant to your child and you will see them develop the skills they need to succeed in school.
Many of the habits that we carry throughout life, for better or for worse, are developed in childhood.
American philosopher William James wrote, “Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state.”
But what does a child know about these matters? They can’t possibly know what they’re getting themselves into. They merely observe their environment and adapt accordingly from a very early age. In fact, research has established that many fundamental processes that have to do with thinking, reasoning, and learning are present and fully functioning at birth or develop by the time a child is 4-5 years old (Goswami, 2008).
As parents, we need to help inculcate good learning habits in our children. It’s not only about doing their homework every day, which is no doubt important, but also about how they learn. After all, homework will one day end, but learning never does, and developing a positive attitude towards learning is paramount for them to have a successful life.
Habits form early in a child
Habits form and get entrenched in the human brain automatically based on an individual’s environment unless there is a conscious effort to shape them.
Once habits set, they are very difficult to break, because repeat habits set up a dopamine release loop in the brain which creates a feeling of pleasure and strengthens the habit.
When it comes to kids, you need to catch them while they’re young—research shows that children develop habits by age 9.
But that doesn’t mean you should wait until you think they know what you’re talking about. Kids pick up on more things than we realize, and as mentioned above it starts from an early age.
While study habits can be built later in life, start with teaching your kids self-control. Research has shown that children who learn self-control at an early age are set up for more success later in life. Children who exhibit tendencies like impulsivity, aggression, and hyperactivity struggle emotionally, socially, and academically throughout life (Spira & Fischel, 2005).
However, this post is going to focus specifically on developing successful learning habits in young school-going children.
Habits take time to develop consciously
It’s a popular internet-fuelled belief that it takes 21 days to form a habit. But a study out of University College London suggests that the truth is not so simple.
While the 21-day rule may be applicable for simpler habits, like drinking a glass of water after breakfast, a more complex routine can take the better part of a year to cement itself.
As you work with your children to develop the following habits, understand that it will probably take some time for them to stick. Forming a habit isn’t easy, but once the initial inertia is overcome your child will benefit from it for the rest of their lives.
Now let’s get into the 7 essential learning habits that every child should develop.
1. Designate a study area for your child
Help your child create a study area, a place that is dedicated to school work and projects. As they become habituated to this space, it will help set the tone for concentration and productivity.
The “real” study area is, of course, in their mind. The ability to dip into and out of “focus mode” will serve them immensely later in life.
2. Keep short breaks between bursts of concentration
Sometimes referred to as the “Pomodoro technique”, this famous and well-loved productivity technique recognizes that the human brain cannot focus for too long without getting exhausted. It’s just nature.
Instead, your child can focus for a long period, typically around 25 minutes, followed by a short break of 5 minutes to allow the brain to rest and recuperate for the next burst of concentration. After 3-4 cycles like this, a longer break of usually 15 minutes follows.
Having to sit and concentrate for hours together can feel like a daunting task. This method, among other things, tricks the brain by setting a shorter time limit. 25 minutes doesn’t seem quite as long as 2 hours, so it doesn’t feel as daunting. The short break then rejuvenates the mind and makes it easy to keep going.
3. Understand how long work will take and prioritize
Encourage your child to learn how much time a particular task will take for them. They need to familiarize themselves with their working styles (while always improving simultaneously).
Then they can prioritize their tasks. Perhaps they want to do the ones that will take longer earlier in the day, and keep the shorter ones for later when they will have less energy.
We often don’t worry about these skills until we are in a professional setting, so helping your child form these habits will give them a massive head start.
Additionally, by developing learning habits that enable them to be in control of their work, you encourage them to realize what they actually enjoy more. This will help them make a more carefully considered career choice later on.
4. Let them solve things by themselves
It’s a natural tendency for parents to “come to their child’s rescue” whenever the child is faced with a problem. But doing this too much will make them over-reliant on outside help.
Instead, get them into the habit of solving things for themselves. Don’t just hand them solutions, guide them. A major part of learning—and life in general—is experimenting with solutions, figuring out what works, and even sometimes failing.
This kind of habit also can also help spark a natural curiosity in your child.
5. Build a growth mindset in your child
This mostly has to do about how you praise your child. We have covered this topic more extensively in our post on growth mindset, but here’s the gist:
- Overly praising them for doing well can make them think that everything should come easy to them.
- Overly praising their effort can also be damaging.
- Instead, focus on praising the process. It’s not so much about the result, it’s about how they achieved it.
Promoting a growth mindset produces in your child an attitude that intelligence, creativity, and personality can be cultivated through effort, makes them resilient to the specter of failure, and emboldens them to face challenges.
6. Foster creativity and curiosity
Creativity and curiosity are not always innate characteristics. Sure, kids like to explore and discover things when they are young, but some researchers believe that this is not indicative of inherent creativity.
Encourage your children to seek new forms of stimuli. Show them the thrill of discovering something new. You might even share some of your own hobbies, if only to show them how much joy it gives you.
Creativity and curiosity do occur naturally in spades in some children, but they are also habits that can be developed with constant stimuli.
7. Help them to be gritty
As an adult, you know that to succeed in life you have to invest a lot of time in what you do. This takes grit and determination. It’s very important to develop this habit in your child, especially since we live in an age of instant gratification.
Grit can be defined as “passion and perseverance for especially long-term goals.” Research from psychology Professor, Angela Duckworth found a correlation between grit and rank in the US National Spelling Bee, educational attainment, grade-point average in Ivy League undergrads, and retention of West Point cadets.
It’s easy to be interested in something initially and then quickly lose interest in it. But if your kids want to see the rewards, they have to stick with it. They’ll be naturally inclined toward certain things, so help them connect a purpose to their hard work in that area.
The best habit they can have
The habits discussed in this post are all geared towards making your child a resilient and strong learner.
It is important to build these habits in your child from an early age when their brains are still very impressionable. At that age, it’s far too easy to fall into bad habits that can stick around for a long time (possibly their entire life).
It’s paramount that parents guide their children. But we aren’t the only influences on our child’s mind. Our children’s minds are constantly bombarded with input from the media, other kids at school, their teachers, and other adults. There is no stopping this, whether we like it or not.
So the best habit you can give your child is to question everything.
They might be influenced by something they saw on TV or something someone said at school, and they can’t possibly have the knowledge and experience to inform them of what they might be getting themselves into.
Teach them that this is OK, and in fact completely normal. Teach them that no one has all the answers, not even you, and that life is about figuring these things out bit by bit. Ensure them that when they have a question, they can rely on you to figure it out together.
After all, life is a constant game of learning.
The habits discussed in the post, taken together, will give your child the tools they need to maintain curiosity, spark creativity, and find success in life—whatever that winds up meaning to them.