It can be excruciating to watch your child be so hard on himself. We have had moments both as teachers and as parents when we would have done or said nearly anything to alleviate the paralyzing self-doubt that our students and children were experiencing, particularly during the pandemic.
Memorization techniques—or “tricks,” as you call them—can be useful, but they need to follow deeper comprehension. To better retain what he’s learning, Tom should focus on understanding the material before committing it to memory. Then all those facts he needs to recall for the next day will have something to stick to.
The question is how to build that initial comprehension. For many students, a bulky block of text is difficult to process. Start off by guiding Tom to create visual systems for organizing the information he is trying to learn, such as a chart laid out with categories for different kinds of facts. For example, if he’s studying clouds he could develop one column for the name of each type of cloud, a second column describing what each type looks like, and a third that includes the conditions under which each kind of cloud forms. A list of phrases or bullet points is far easier to remember than lengthy sentences. Similarly, drawing and labeling clouds may help Tom remember which names and characteristics belong to which.
There’s also the issue of pacing. We can’t emphasize enough how beneficial it is to study information in stages rather than cramming the night before a test. So let’s say it is Monday afternoon, and Tom’s science teacher has just announced a test on Friday covering the three types of clouds. Tom looks at 10 pages of class notes on cumulus, stratus, and cirrus clouds and starts to panic. Whether he tries to memorize all the material on Monday evening to get it over with, or on Thursday to make sure the information is fresh in his mind, he will be in trouble come test day.
Encourage him instead to break up the material into three sections, and divide those up among the days available to prep. For example, on Monday evening, Tom should try to learn about cumulus clouds using a chart, a drawing, and flashcards. On Tuesday, he can learn about stratus clouds. But on Wednesday, he should not yet move on to cirrus. Instead, Tom should take a review day to make sure that cumulus and stratus are firmly in his brain. This way, by the time he gets to cirrus, he won’t forget what he learned in the first two days of studying. If he is able to leave time for a practice test—whether that is going over the material in conversation with you, quizzing and being quizzed by a friend, writing out facts on his own, or preferably some combination of these—that can really help too. Reviewing the material using different methods will strengthen Tom’s knowledge and boost his confidence.