Letter from the Superintendent

Mr. Scott Taylor, Superintendent of Schools

Over the course of my career in education, and as a parent, it is common to hear phrases about the importance of studying: “study more,” “I have to study tonight,” and “study your vocabulary.” But what are the best practices for studying? Are we providing the best strategies for students on how to study? I reflected on this as I read an excerpt from the 2013 book, How We Learn, by Benedict Carey. In this book, strategies and thoughts are reviewed on studying, remembering, and learning.  I have highlighted a couple of his insights below:  

        • Is there an optimal amount of time to study or practice?  

Carey suggests that breaking up study time into chunks over two or three days is ideal but it is important to re-engage with the material, retrieving it, and re-storing it into memory. This he calls “an active mental step that reliably improves memory.”

        • Is cramming a bad idea?  

Not always. It’s okay if you’re behind and have no choice, but the downside is that you won’t remember much after the test or performance. That’s because the brain sharpens memories only after a little forgetting has taken place.

        • So what does work?

“Self-testing is one of the strongest study techniques there is,” says Carey. “Old-fashioned flashcards work fine; so does a friend, work colleague, or classmate putting you through the paces.” So does reciting a passage from memory, or explaining a concept to yourself or a friend.  Testing yourself (or being tested) does two things: it forces you to retrieve information from memory, and it gives you immediate feedback so you know what areas still need work.

       • Is it best to practice one skill at a time until it becomes automatic, or to work on many things all at once? 

Working on just one thing (free throws, a musical scale, the quadratic equation) improves skill. “But over time, such focused practice actually limits our development of each skill,” says Carey. “Mixing multiple skills into a practice session sharpens our grasp of all of them.” Mixed practice trains the brain to match the problem types with appropriate strategies. This is especially helpful in a subject like mathematics.

In short, dig out the flash cards, quiz each other, practice with multiple scenarios, and start early!  Hopefully, the ideas listed above, as well as other best practices, will assist all of us as we continually learn.  Using these tips as we begin the second semester, will only help to deepen and support continued success!  

As we move forward together, I invite you to share your questions, thoughts and suggestions. I would love to hear about your own personal best practices and those of your children. Feel free to stop in, send an email to staylor@northcollinscsd.org or give me a call at 337-0101 ext. 1301.   

Thank you and I hope to see you along the way.


(How We Learn by Benedict Carey (Random House, 2013, p. 223-228))


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The North Collins Central School District is a safe and supportive learning environment that strives to maximize educational opportunities for all students, faculty, staff, and community members.  We nurture responsibility, creativity, energy, and open-mindedness to empower successful contributors to a global society.

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