The staffroom: How study skills can help learners to succeed

Finding the time to embed study skills can be a challenge but doing so repays itself in increased confidence and ability, explains Saj Mohammad

Finding the time to embed study skills can be a challenge but doing so repays itself in increased confidence and ability, explains Saj Mohammad

21 Nov 2022, 5:00

Vocational learners at level 3 can sometimes struggle with written work and the related study skills needed to achieve their qualification, such as referencing. While these skills should be embedded throughout their programme of study, they can fall by the wayside as this embedding is not usually required by the awarding body. Time and money are also limited in FE, so KPIs can take precedence over the ‘hidden’ curriculum that helps learners succeed.

However, if study skills are integrated into your scheme of work, they will support students at every stage of an assignment and have a beneficial effect on their achievement. You should have staff in your setting working as librarians and/or learning support practitioners who can help with ideas, resources, and delivery to embed study skills. These skills include decoding command verbs in assignment briefs, structuring written work, referencing, and proofreading.

Firstly, do your learners understand what you’re asking them to do? Try asking them to explain the difference between ‘analyse’ and ‘evaluate’ and you’ll probably have your answer. If your learners don’t have a good grasp of command verbs in assignment briefs, the danger is that they will write too much when it isn’t needed and vice versa. Spending time during induction to begin covering this kind of ground will prevent problems later.

Secondly, did you notice that I previewed the content of this article in the last sentence of my introduction when I talked about ‘decoding command verbs in assignment briefs, structuring written work, referencing, and proofreading’? What about the fact that I’m trying to be persuasive, so I’m using rhetorical questions, albeit liberally? Each of my paragraphs also encapsulates the topic of that paragraph in the first or last sentence. I’m also using discourse markers like ‘firstly’ and ‘secondly’ to highlight the flow of ideas in this piece.

If study skills are integrated, they will support students at every stage

Structure-related skills will make writing easier, so do support your learners with outlining, paragraphing, purposes of texts, literary devices, and so on.

Thirdly, I’ve lost count of the number of times when I’ve seen a student in tears because they haven’t been referencing as they go or they can’t get their heads around the required referencing standard. Luckily, there are a number of technological solutions available to simplify referencing. Evaluate these and use the right one to make your students’ lives easier.

Your setting may already have access to tools to help with referencing, but they simply haven’t been publicised widely. Talking about referencing is also a good opportunity to talk about researching with good quality sources and why plagiarism must be avoided. Referencing is also a valuable skill to teach which prepares your students for the transition into higher education.

Finally, proofreading can’t be left entirely to spell checkers when you’ve used the wrong word, but it’s spelled correctly. While your learners may get a kick out of inadvertently writing about the ‘Grate Exhibition’, external verifiers and Ofsted will take a dimmer view. Having a fresh pair of eyes is a great way to proofread too, so get your learners supporting their peers by checking each other’s work. Having a good understanding of spelling, punctuation, and grammar still matters despite technology and will allow students to thrive in so many ways.

In conclusion, level 3 vocational learners need support with study skills, but don’t always get the input they need. Resource constraints can make embedding them difficult, but the positive impact on learner attainment means it’s worth investing in.

Decoding command verbs helps learners to understand exactly what they need to do. A mastery of structure ensures learners understand exactly how to plan and execute their writing. A good knowledge of referencing will encourage your students to research more widely and avoid plagiarism. Focusing strongly on proofreading also enhances learners’ knowledge of spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

Study skills, embedded in the right way, can help students see that written work doesn’t have to be an ordeal.

This article is one of a number of contributions to The Staffroom from the authors of Great FE Teaching: Sharing Good Practice, edited by Samantha Jones and available from SAGE.

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