Johnny, turn on that TV

Studying: For some kids, a quiet, well-lit room might not be the best learning environment.

March 11, 2001|By Tamer El-Ghobashy | Tamer El-Ghobashy,Knight Ridder / Tribune

When Erika Calamanan studies, the 14-year-old prefers complete silence. She sits at her desk, turns off the TV and stereo, and hits the books for up to two hours at a time.

"I can't concentrate unless it is very quiet in my room," said Erika, a ninth-grader from New York who maintains an 85 average.

But according to a new study conducted at St. John's University in New York, researchers believe some students can do better by altering their traditional study environment.

In fact, listening to music or munching on snacks while studying may actually help some middle-school students improve math test scores.

"When students modify their study environment to respond to their learning style, they achieved higher test scores in math than ever before," said William Geiser, author of the study.

He said the modifications included doing traditionally distracting things like listening to music, working on the floor or the couch, and even snacking.

"Music definitely helps me concentrate," said Keith McBride, a 14-year-old student with a 97 average.

"I listen to classic rock at a medium volume. If I don't have it in the background, I get bored with math."

Over a period of three months, Geiser worked with 130 ethnically diverse 13- and 14-year-old students at St. John's Center for the Study of Teaching and Learning Styles.

Geiser is now an assistant professor at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y.

Typically, teachers and parents advise youngsters to study in a quiet, well-lit, isolated environment.

But some students showed distinct preferences for more or less light, background music, for working at a desk or on the floor, or for snacking while working, Geiser said.

In his study, the students were split into two groups, each consisting of an equal number of average and below-average students.

One group was instructed to study in the traditional setting, while the other students were given a questionnaire to determine homework styles that best fit their preferences.

After several math lessons in school, Geiser gave both groups the same math test.

The mean score for average students using the traditional method was 68 out of 100, while average students using experimental methods had an 86 mean score.

The mean score for below-average students using the traditional method was 69, while their counterparts using the experimental method scored 79.

A second test, administered three weeks later, showed similar results.

Geiser's research also found that students who modify their environments tend to be consistently motivated throughout the year.

"This is about empowerment," Geiser said. "This study encourages kids to decide what study method is best for them" instead of sticking to the ideas imposed by their parents or teachers.

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