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From: How to Teach

The term study has been used very loosely by both teachers and children.
As used by teachers it frequently meant something very different from
what children had in mind when they used it. Further, teachers
themselves have often used the term in connection with mental activities
which, technically speaking, could not possibly come under that head.
Much confusion and lack of efficient work has been the result. Recently
various attempts have been made to give the term study a more exact
meaning. McMurry defines it as "the work that is necessary in the
assimilation of ideas"--"the vigorous application of the mind to a
subject for the satisfaction of a felt need." n other words, study is
thinking. Psychologically, what makes for good thinking makes for good
study. Study is controlled mental activity working towards the
realization of a goal. t is the adaptation of means to end, in the
attempt to satisfy a felt need. t involves a definite purpose or goal,
which is problematic, the selection and rejection of suggestions,
tentative judgments, and conclusion. The mind of the one who studies is
active, vigorously active, not in an aimless fashion, but along sharply
defined lines. This is the essential characteristic of all study.

There are, however, various types of study which differ materially from
each other according to the subject matter or to the type of response
required. Some study involves comparatively little thinking. The
directed activity must be present, but the choice, the judgment, may
need to be exercised only in the beginning when methods of procedure
need to be selected, and later on, perhaps, when successes or failures
need to be noted and changes made in the methods accordingly. Another
type of study needs continual thinking of the most active sort all the
way through the period. Just the proportion of the various factors
involved in thinking which is present at any given study period must be
determined by the response. A type of study which would be completely
satisfactory for one subject needing one response, would be entirely
inadequate for another subject needing another response. To illustrate,
in some cases the study must deal with habit formation. The need felt is
to learn a mechanical response of a very definite nature to this
situation; the problem is to get that response. The thinking would come
in in deciding upon the method, in watching for successes, in
criticizing progress, and in judging when the end was obtained. A large
part of the time spent in study would, however, need to be spent in
repetition, in drill. Of such character is study of spelling, of
vocabularies, of dates; study in order to gain skill in adding, or speed
in reading, or to improve in writing or sewing. Much of habit formation
goes on without study--in fact, to some it may seem to be ludicrous to
use the word "study" in connection with the formation of habits. t is
just because the study elements in connection with responses of this
type have been omitted that there has been such a tremendous waste of
time in teaching children to form right habits. This omission also
explains the poor results, for the process has been mechanical and blind
on the part of the student. At the other extreme in types of study is
that which can be used in science and mathematics, in geography and
history, when the major part of the time is given to selecting and
rejecting suggestions and seems required by the goal. n this type the
habituation, the fixing of the material, comes largely as a by-product
of the factors used in the thinking.

Study may, then, be classified according as the response required is
physical habit, memory, appreciation, or judgment. These types overlap,
no one of them can exist absolutely alone, but it is possible to name
them according to the response. Study may also be classified into
supervised study, or unsupervised study, into individual or group study.
We might also classify study as it has to do with books, with people, or
with materials. The term has been rather arbitrarily applied to
activities that dealt with books, but surely much study is accomplished
when people are consulted instead of books, and also when the sources of
information or the standards are flowers, or rocks, or textiles.

Study, then, is a big term, including many different varieties of
activities, of varying degrees of difficulty and responsibility. t
cannot possibly be taught all at once, according to one method, at one
spot in the school curriculum. Power to study is of very gradual growth.
t must proceed slowly, from simple to complex types. From easy to
difficult problems, from situations where there is close supervision and
direction to situations where the student assumes full responsibility.
Knowing how to study is not an inborn gift--it does not come as a matter
of intuition, nor does it come in some mysterious way when the child is
of high school age. t is governed by the laws of learning, or
readiness, exercise, and effect, just as truly as any other ability is.
f adults are to know how to study, if they are to use the technique of
the various kinds of study efficiently, children must be taught how. Nor
can we expect the upper grammar grade or the high school teachers to do
this. Habits of study must be formed just as soon as the responses to
which it leads are needed. Beginning down in the kindergarten with study
in connection with physical and mental habits, the child should be
taught how to study. The type must gradually become more complex; he
must pass from group to individual study, from supervised to
unsupervised, but it must all come logically, from step to step. True,
it is not easy to teach how to study. A careful analysis of the various
types with their peculiar elements should be a help. First, however,
there are some general principles that underlie all study which must be

Study must have, as has already been stated, a purpose. The individual,
in order to exercise his mind in a controlled way, must have an aim. The
clearer and more definite the aim, whether it be little or big, the
better the study will be. From the beginning, then, children must be
taught to make sure they know what they are going to do before beginning
to study. t may be necessary to teach them in the early grades to say
to themselves or to the class just what they are going to accomplish in
the study. Teach them when the lesson is assigned to write down in their
books just what the problem for study is. Warn them never to begin study
without definitely knowing the aim--if they don't know it, make them
realize that the first thing to do is to find out the purpose by asking
some one else. Better no study at all than aimless or misdirected
activity, because of lack of purpose.

No study worthy of the name can be carried on without interest. The
child who studies well must be brought to realize this. The value of
interest can be brought home to him by having him compare the work he
does, the time he spends, and how he feels when studying something in
which he has a vital interest with the results when the topic is
uninteresting. Of course, as will be pointed out later, much of the
gaining of interest lies in the hands of the teacher necessarily, but if
the child realizes the need of it in efficient study, some
responsibility will rest on him to find an interest if it is not already
there. No matter how expert the teacher may be, because of individual
differences no problem will be equally interesting to all pupils in
itself, and no incentive will have an equal appeal to all children.
Therefore children should be taught to find interest for themselves.
Certain devices can be suggested, such as working with another child and
competing with him, "making believe" in study, and finding some
connection with something in which he is interested, working against his
own score, and the like.

Not only do the demands of economy require that the topic of study
receive concentrated attention, but the results themselves are better
when such is the case. Half an hour of concentrated work gives much
better results than an hour of study with scattered attention. An hour
spent when half an hour would do is thus not only wasteful of time, but
is productive of poorer results and bad habits of study as well.
Children need to be taught this from the beginning. Much time is wasted
even by mature university students when they suppose themselves to be
studying. Children can be taught to ignore distractions--to train
themselves to keep their eyes on the book, despite the fact that the
door is opened, or a seat mate is looking for a book. They should be
encouraged to set themselves time limits in various subjects and adhere
to them. t is economical to follow a regular schedule in study--either
in the school or at home. Let each child make out his study schedule and
keep to it. Teach children that the best work is done when they are calm
and steady. That either excitement or worry is a hindrance. Therefore
they should avoid doing their studying under those conditions, and
should do all they can to remove such conditions. Training children to
do their best and then not to worry would not only improve the health of
many upper grammar grade and high school children, but would also
improve their work.

Study requires a certain critical attitude, a checking up of results
against the problem set. n order to be efficient in study a child
should know when he has reached the solution, when the means have been
adapted to the end, when he has reached the goal. This checking up, of
course, means habits of self-criticism and standards. Sometimes all that
is necessary is for the child to be made conscious of this fact so that
he can test himself, for instance, in memory work, or in solving a
problem in mathematics. On the other hand, sometimes he will have to
compare his work with definite standards, such as the Thorndike
Handwriting Scale, or the Hillegas Composition Scale.[19] n other
instances, he will have to search for standards. He will need to know
what his classmates have accomplished, what other people think, what
other text-books say, and so on. Gradually he must be made conscious
that study is a controlled activity, and unless it reaches the goal, and
the correct one, it is useless. He must be made to feel that the
responsibility to see that such results are reached rests on him.

These, then, are the general factors involved in all types of study, and
therefore are fundamental to good habits of study: a clear purpose;
vital interest of some kind; concentrated attention, and a critical
attitude. There are further additional suggestions which are peculiar to
the special type of study.

n study which is directed to habit formation, the student should be
taught the danger of allowing exceptions. He should know the possibility
of undoing much good work through a little carelessness. Preaching won't
bring this home to him--it must come through having his attention
attracted to such an occurrence in his own work or in that of his mates.
After that knowledge of the actual experiences of others, athletes,
musicians, and others will help to intensify the impression. The value
of repetition as one of the chief factors in habit formation must be
emphasized. The child should be encouraged to make opportunities for
practice both in free minutes during the school program, and outside of
school. He must be taught in habit formation to practice the new habit
in the way it is to be used: practicing the sounds of letters in words,
the writing movements in writing words, swimming movements in the water,
and so on. Practicing the whole movements, not trying to gain perfection
in parts of it and then putting it together. t is important also that
the learner be taught to keep his attention on the result to be
obtained, instead of the movements. He should attend to the swing of the
club, the lightness of the song, the cut the saw is making, the words he
is writing, instead of the muscle movements involved. n breaking up bad
habits it is sometimes necessary to concentrate on a part or a movement,
when that is the crux of the error, but in general it is a bad practice
when forming a new habit. The child must also learn to watch the habit
of skill he is forming for signs of improvement and then to try to find
out the reason for it. t has been proved experimentally that much of
the improvement in habits of skill comes unconsciously to the learner,
and necessarily so, but that in order for the improvement to continue
and be effective, it must become conscious. Of course, at the beginning
and for a long time it must be the teacher's duty to point out the
improvement and to help the child to think out the reasons for it, but
if he is to learn to study by himself the child must finally come to
habits of self-criticism which will enable him to recognize success or
failure in his own work. n all this discussion of teaching children to
study it must be constantly borne in mind that it is a gradual
process--and only very slowly does the child become conscious of the
technique. Which elements can be made conscious, how much he can be left
to himself, must depend on his maturity and previous training. n time,
however, he should be able to apply them all--for only by so doing will
he become capable of independent study.

When the study is primarily concerned with memory responses, all the
elements which have just been discussed in connection with habit apply,
for, after all, memory is but mental habit. There are other factors
which enter into and which should be used in this type of study. First,
the child should realize the need for understanding the material that is
to be learned, before beginning to memorize it. He will then be taught
to read the entire assignment through--look up difficult words and
references, master the content, whether prose or poetry, whether the
learning is to be verbatim or not, before doing anything further.
Second, he will need to know the value of the modified whole method of
learning, as well as its difficulties. f in the supervised periods of
study and in class work, this method has been followed, it is very easy
to make him conscious of it and willing to adopt it when he comes to do
independent study. Third, he must be taught to distribute his time so
that he does not devote too long a stretch to one subject. The value of
going over work in the morning, after having studied the night or two
nights before, should be emphasized. Also the value of beginning on
assignments some time ahead, even if there is not time to finish them.
Fourth, the child should be taught not to stop his work the minute he
can give it perfectly. The need for overlearning, for permanent
retention, must be made clear. How much overlearning is necessary, each
child should find out for himself. Fifth, the value of outlining
material as a means of aiding memory must be stressed. Sixth, the child
should be taught to search for associations, connections of all types,
in order to help himself remember facts. He might even be encouraged to
make up some mnemonic device as an aid if these measures fail. f
instead of simply trying to hammer material in by mere repetition
children had been taught in their study to consciously make use of the
other elements in a good memory, much time would be saved. But the
responsibility should rest finally on the child to make use of these
helps. The teacher must make him conscious of them, sometimes from their
value by experiment, and then teach him to use them himself.

Much less can be done as a matter of conscious technique when the
occasion of study is to further appreciation. A few suggestions might be
offered. First, the child should be taught the value of associating with
those who do appreciate in the line in which he is striving for
improvement. He should be encouraged to consciously associate with them
when opportunities for appreciation come. Second, he should know the
need for coming in contact with the objects of appreciation if true
feeling is to be developed. t is only by mingling with people, reading
books, listening to music, that appreciation in those fields can be
developed. Third, the value of concrete imagery and of connections with
personal experience in arousing emotional tone should be emphasized. The
child might be encouraged to consciously call up images and make
connections with his own experience during study.

Study, when the object is to arrive at responses of judgment, is the
type which has received most attention. This type of study includes
within itself several possibilities. Although judgment is the only
response that can solve the problem, still the problem may be one of
giving the best expression in art or music or drama. t may be the
analysis of a course of action or of a chemical compound. t may be the
comparison of various opinions. t may be the arriving at a new law or
principle. t is to one of these types of thinking that the term "study"
is usually applied. mportant as it is, the other three types already
discussed cannot be neglected. f children are taught to study in
connection with the simpler situations provided by the first two types,
they will be the better prepared to deal with this complex type, for
this highest type of study involves habit formation often and memory
work always.

n the type of study involving reasoning, because of its complexity, and
because the individual must work more independently, the child must
learn the danger of following the first suggestion which offers itself.
He must learn to weigh each suggestion offered with reference to the
goal aimed at. Each step in the process must be tested and weighed in
this manner. To go blindly ahead, following out a line of suggestions
until the end is reached, which is then found to be the wrong one,
wastes much time and is extremely discouraging. No suggestion of the way
to adapt means to end should be accepted without careful criticism. The
pupil should gradually be made conscious of the technique of reasoning,
analysis, comparison, and abstraction. He must know that the first thing
to do is to analyze the problem and see just what it requires. He must
know that the abstraction depends upon the goal. The learner should be
taught the sources of some of the commonest mistakes in judgment. For
instance, if he knows of the tendency to respond in terms of analogy,
and sees some of the errors to which accepting a minor likeness between
two situations as identity lead, he will be much more apt to avoid such
mistakes than would otherwise be true. f he knows how unsafe it is to
form a judgment on limited data,--if from his own and his classmates'
thinking first, and later from the history of science, illustrations are
drawn of the disastrous effect of such thinking, he will see the value
of seeking sources of information and several points of view before
forming his own judgment. n his study the child should be taught not to
be satisfied until he has tested the correctness of his judgment by
verifying the result. This is a very necessary part of studying. He
should check up his own thinking by finding out through appeal to facts
if it is so; by putting the judgment into execution; by consulting the
opinion of others, and so on.

Study may be considered from the point of view of the type of material
which is used in the process. The student may be engaged on a problem
which involves the use of apparatus or specimens of various kinds, or he
may need to consult people, or he may have to use books. So far as the
first type is concerned, it is obviously unwise to have a student at
work on a problem which involves the use of material, unless the
technique of method of use is well known. Until he can handle the
material with some degree of facility it is waste of time for him to be
struggling with problems which necessitate such use. Such practice
results in divided attention, poor results from the study, and often bad
habits in technique as well. Gaining the technique must be in itself a
problem for separate study.

Children should be taught to ask questions which bear directly on the
point they wish to know. f they in working out some problem are
dependent on getting some information from the janitor, or the postman,
or a mason, they must be able to ask questions which will bring them
what they want to know. Much practice in framing questions, having them
criticized, having them answered just as they are asked, is necessary.
Children should be aware of the question as a tool in their study and
therefore they must know how to handle it. n connection with this
second type of material, the problem of the best source of information
will arise. Children must then be made conscious of the relative values
of various persons as sources of a particular piece of information.
Training in choice of the source of information is very important both
when that source is people and also when it is books.

Teaching children to use books in their study is one of the big tasks of
the teacher. They must learn that books are written in answer to
questions. n order to thoroughly understand a book, students must seek
to frame the questions which it answers. They must also know how to use
books to answer their own questions. This means they must know how to
turn from part to part, gleaning here or there what they need. t means
training in the ability to skim, omitting unessentials and picking out
essentials. t means the ability to recognize major points, minor
points, and illustrative material. Children must be taught to use the
table of contents, the index, and paragraph headings. They must, in
their search for fuller information or criticism, be able to interpret
different authors, use different language, and attack from different
angles, even when treating the same object. Children must in their
studying be taught to use books as a means to an end--not an infallible
means, but one which needs continual criticism, modification, and

Study may be supervised study, or unsupervised study. To some people the
requirements in learning to study may seem too difficult to be possible,
but it should be remembered that the process is gradual--that one by one
these elements in study are taught to the children in their supervised
study periods. These periods should begin in the primary grades, and
require from the teacher quite as much preparation as any other period.
Many teachers have taught subjects, but not how to study subjects. The
latter is the more important. The matter of distributed learning
periods, of search for motive, of asking questions, of criticizing
achievement, of use of books; each element is a topic for class
discussion before it is accepted as an element in study. Even after it
is accepted, it may be raised by some child as a source of particular
difficulty and fresh suggestions added. ery often with little children
it is necessary for the teacher to study the lesson with them. Teachers
need much more practice in doing this, for one of the best ways to teach
a child to study is to study with him. Not to tell him, and do the work
for him, but to really study with him. Later on the supervised study
period is one in which each child is silently engaged upon his own work
and the teacher passes from one to the other. n order to do this well,
the teacher needs to be able to do two things. First, to find out when
the child is in difficulty and to locate it, and second, to help him
over the trouble without giving too much assistance. Adequate
questioning is needed in both cases. t is probably true that
comparatively little new work should be given for unsupervised study.
There is too much danger of error as well as lack of interest unless a
start is given under supervision.

Studying, especially unsupervised, may be done in groups or
individually. The former is a stepping-stone to the latter. There is a
greater chance for suggestions, for getting the problem worded, for
arousing interest and checking results, when a group of children are
working together than when a child is by himself. Two things must be
looked after. First, that the children in the group be taught not to
waste time, and second, that the personnel of the group be right. t is
not very helpful if one child does all the work, nor if one is so far
below the level of the group that he is always tagging along behind.
More opportunities for group study in the grammar grades would be

When it comes to individual study, the student then assumes all
responsibility for his methods of study. He should be taught the
influence of physical conditions or mental reactions. He will therefore
be responsible for choosing in the home and in the school the best
possible conditions for his study. He will see to it that, in so far as
possible, the air and light are good, that there are no unnecessary
distractions, and that he is as comfortable bodily as can be. He must
think not only in terms of the goal to be reached, but also with respect
to the methods to be employed. He should be asked by the teacher to
report his methods of work as well as his results.


1. Are children always primarily engaged in thinking when they study?

2. What type of study is involved in learning a multiplication table, a
list of words in spelling, a conjugation in French?

3. How would you teach a pupil to study his spelling lesson?

4. n what sense may one study in learning to write? n acquiring skill
in swimming?

5. How would you teach your pupils to memorize?

6. Show how ability to study may be developed over a period of years in
some subject with which you are familiar. Reading? Geography? History?
Latin translation?

7. s the boy who reads over and over again his lesson necessarily

8. Can one study a subject even though he may dislike it? Can one study
without interest?

9. How can you teach children what is meant by concentration of

10. How have you found it possible to develop a critical attitude toward
their work upon the part of children?

11. Of what factors in habit formation must children become conscious,
if they are to study to best advantage in this field?

12. How may we hope to have children learn to study in the fields
requiring judgment? Why will not consciousness of the technique of study
make pupils equally able in studying?

13. What exercises can you conduct which will help children to learn how
to use books?

14. How can a teacher study with a pupil and yet help him to develop
independence in this field?

15. How may small groups of children work together advantageously in

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