David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | david@davidaltshuler.com

How to Study

I have a Spanish test tomorrow, 20 vocabulary words, no problem, it won't take an hour, I'll just sit down and memorize the words. I know what the words are that I need to study, the words are in my Spanish book. What page? What page in my Spanish book are the words on? No problem, I know what page. I wrote down the page number on a scrap of paper that I carefully folded and placed in the pocket of my pants. Except maybe the paper is in my other pants that I think might be in the laundry and the paper might be wet and messed up. But that doesn't matter because I have a friend in the class, Mitzi. Mitzi's great. She always knows what the page the words are on that we have to study. I'll call her. She'll tell me what page the 20 words are on that I have to learn. Except I don't have her number in my phone. Which again is not a problem because I happen to know that Mitzi is good friends with Tim. Tim will know how to reach Mitzi. And I have Tim's number right here in my phone. See? It pays to be organized.

I need an A on this Spanish test to get a C for the quarter. Because my teacher hates me. That's why I might be sort of flunking. He's always talking about how I don't try, how I'm smart but lazy, how I could do better if I "managed my time." There you go. He hates me and he's an idiot: I manage my time fine. I called Tim immediately after figuring out that the paper I wrote the page number on might be in my other pants in the laundry and Tim said that he doesn't have Mitzi's number but that Mitzi is definitely over at Enrique's house which is great because Enrique lives like five minutes from here. I'll go over to Enrique's house, talk to Mitzi, get the page number, come back home, open my Spanish book and study. So all I have to do is call my mom, ask if I can borrow the car, drive over to Enrique's house, get the page number that the words are on from Mitzi, study, and get an A on this test so I don't have a failing grade for the quarter.

Why do I have a failing grade for the quarter? Why do I need an A on this test to get a C for the quarter? I already told you: my teacher hates me. He is such an idiot. "Executive functioning issues," he says. Like I know what that means. Even when he speaks English instead of Spanish, the man makes no sense.

My mom says I can borrow the car but I have to put some gas in it. Which is fine. But by the time I get to Enrique's house after stopping at the gas station, Mitzi is gone. And Enrique doesn't know Mitzi's number either. Which doesn't matter. Because I found the piece of paper that I wrote down the page number. The piece of paper wasn't in my other pants in the laundry, the piece of paper was right here in the car! So now I know what page the words are on that I need to study. Except I said I was only going to put in an hour on studying for Spanish and my time is up. I studied for a full hour. A full hour is more than enough time to learn 20 Spanish vocabulary words.

I am 100% sure I will I get an A.


What can be said about this young woman? How can we, as loving and concerned parents and educators, help her?

Strangling her is not an option. Here are two other frequently attempted interventions that also do not work: 1) Punishments and Rewards. 2) Study Skills Schtick.

1) Threats and Bribes don't work with this student. Every promise--"You can have a new car," every threat--"We'll take away your cell phone, we'll take away your computer, we'll take away your kidney" has been tried. Threats and bribes may "work"--enforce compliance--for some kids but not for this one. And upping the ante--"You can have a new helicopter" or "We'll take away your other kidney"--won't work either.

2) Study Skills Schtick is a waste of time. She already knows the lecture. Heck, she can quote the lecture: "Study in a clean, well lit, space with no distractions. Turn off the computer, leave your cell phone down stairs. Study the subject you like least first so that you have something to look forward to. Use a calendar to keep track of daily, weekly and quarterly responsibilities. Use your time wisely. Keep your assignment pad with you at all times."

This child can lose an assignment pad before you can say "Wake up, you're going to be late for school again."

What does work for this bright, lovely, but terminally disorganized child? I'm going to leave the topic open for discussion then tell you what I think may be helpful in a subsequent column.



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