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6 Myths About How Kids Learn

Parents trying to instill good study habits in their children might do well to forget everything they think they know about how kids learn.   It turns out that the most commonly-held theories regarding studying and retaining information are completely wrong. In fact, the study habits we encourage in our children might actually be making it more difficult for them to succeed in school.

Cognitive scientists have known for years that there are learning approaches that reliably increase what a student retains when studying.  But these techniques directly contradict what most of us believe and are routinely ignored by schools and parents alike.

But with school back in session, there is no better time to brush up on the subject of study habits.  Here’s are six myths regarding effective learning.

Learning Styles – It has long been held that there are three learning styles that categorize how a person takes in, understands, expresses and remembers information:  Auditory, kinesthetic, and visual learning.  But while most of us assume that our child must fall into one of those categories and that there’s an optimal way for them to learn, a recent review of the relevant research by psychologists found almost no support for that idea.

Teaching Styles – As with learning styles, psychologists say the notion that some methods of instruction get better results than others is not based on scientific evidence.  In reality, studies have failed to identify a common thread among successful teachers in regard to their classroom demeanor.

Study Environment – Common wisdom holds that a student needs a quiet and consistent place to study.  But while the jury may still be out regarding the benefit of silence while studying, research has found that students actually do better when they vary the location where they hit the books.  Experts believe that by studying in different rooms, the brain makes multiple associations with the same material, thereby enriching the information and providing more “neural scaffolding” in the brain.

Mixing Content -Many believe that intensive immersion is the best way to master a subject.  But experts say that  mixing up the content while studying actually results in better retention of the material.  By doing a little math, a little reading and a little science in one session, the material makes a deeper impression on the brain.

Cramming – While a marathon study session might help a student pass a test, experts say this kind of speed-packing the brain results in only temporary retention that is soon lost.  But by devoting the same amount of study time spaced out over weeks instead of one evening, a student’s recall and retention is improved.

Testing – The T word may strike fear into a student’s heart, but experts say that tests and quizzes do more than assess a student’s progress.  The process of taking the test actually alters the way the information is stored in the brain and makes it easier to access in the future.

Image: lifeinflux/Flickr

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