Building Good Study Habits Takes Longer than 21 Days

Author: Candice Lapin

Many parents come to this company wondering how long tutoring and coaching should take before their child becomes an A student.  I also get this persistent problem from parents defecting from another tutoring company: Particularly at the beginning of my business, I would receive phone calls with the following: “We have had 1 appointment already.  Why isn’t it working?”

My answer is always the same: Becoming an A student doesn’t happen overnight.  Although, in some cases, we can and dosee results quickly.  The truth is that being a great student is about building a mindset and good habits. Being an A student or a successful thriving student is a mindset that has to be built over time through good habits that are repeated if not daily then weekly. 

Dispelling the 21 Day Myth

It takes time and repetition to hone skills. If you have read any Self Help book, the common myth is that improvement should happen in 21 days or even 40 days.  But those timelines are common misperceptions.  

According to Phillippa Lally, a scientist out of the UK, habit formation actually takes something between 66 and 254 days to create.  Her study surveyed graduate students who chose from three different positive behaviors: (1) a positive eating behavior, (2) a positive drinking behavior, and (3) another behavior like yoga or meditation.[i]  Her study revealed that the longer the person engaged in the behavior, the more habitually and frequently they continued to do the behavior.  The longer they did it, the more it sank in so to speak.  

Why? Time of course. You can try to escape it, but the truth is that with time and focus any person can build a good habit.  An A student is just a person that has accumulated a lot of good habits.  It’s about review and repetition. 

It can take much longer than many people think to form a habit and it is important to persevere. If someone wants to form a habit they should specify clearly what they will do and in what situation and try to do this consistently. Over time it will start to happen more easily and require less effort.
— Phillippa Lally

One of the cornerstones of my company is that I always recommend at least two separate sessions per week per class to make a dent in building those good habits.  

Repetition

Many parents have come to me with a common misunderstanding about tutoring and about learning in general. A piece of information might sink it on the first or even third exposure. But, skills, behavior, and understanding take repeated reinforcement to master. 

I hate to give this answer but it’s the truth--it takes at least a full year for our students to really master the skills we teach them. It takes a full 18 months to two years to really internalize the entire Ladder Method. 

My follow up comment is always usually something to this effect: “If your child has played a sport, an instrument, or participated in any endeavor outside of school, the teacher, coach, or guide probably has told them they need practice. The same is true for any skill. Particularly learning.”  Imagine you have a child sit with the piano instructor for 1 time per week and they practice scales. You would certainly expect that your child might without prompting practice scales perhaps 30 min per day either every day or every other day until the piano instructor returns correct?  Right. You might also expect that the student would improve slightly over the course of the 7 days, but more so over 30 days, and definitively after 3 months. You would not expect the same results if your child only sat with the piano teacher 1 time per week and learned his or her scales that 1 hour. You would probably be laughed at if you called a piano teacher after the first one hour session and asked why your child cannot play Beethoven. 

Do it Again

The same is true for reading, math, spelling, and science. Children need repetition to gain understanding. Anyone that has ever worked for me knows that I believe you have to do something over and over again to really have it sink into your bones. You have to do it. Over and over. You have to review it in order for a piece of information to move from what is called short- term memory into the longer-term memory. 

Student I, 1st Grade

This is one of my earliest young students. She was extremely bright, but very young. Her parents had recently relocated to the United States from the UK. She was at a strong humanities primary school where they were reading fun early stage books. Anyone who has a first or second grader might be familiar--the Biscuit books. She was just learning her sight words.  

We would read and read, but I noticed that she did not have command of her sight words. So we split the session, the first fifteen minutes would be on sight words. The next 30 minutes would be on reading the book. I told her we would try to finish the book by the end of the week. She looked at me in complete shock. "What?" she remarked. "I can't do that." I just nodded gently and ignored her. Why not, I thought. If she read with me for 30 minutes each day Monday through Friday, we could certainly finish this book and another one. 

The first week was extremely slow. She would get more and more frustrated. Yet, she began to show greater speed at reading. We read daily. With daily practice of her sight words, the words were sticking! This child began to blossom. She wasn't inching her way through these books, she was now breezing through them. The Biscuit book that had taken her one week to complete was now taking her one session to read through. She wasn't just reading for sight words. She was reading for comprehension. I was blown away at her progress. I knew it was the daily practice. 

We made our way through several Biscuit books. Then we moved onto the 100 Dresses book. Then she suggested we try Harry Potter and she was only in first grade. 

I noticed several things that would inform my "investigation" into learning. The first was that she got better each day little by little. The second was that she began to anticipate the organization of the lesson. She knew she was going to do vocabulary at the beginning. So, she would spend a little extra time before I got there reviewing so she could show me everything she had learned. 

The pieces were coming together for her because there was so much repetition. We didn’t lose ground because we had so much time working together. I could see how each building block was really coming together for her. She was mastering reading! 

What’s the Solution?  

1.   Pick a Goal

Its critical to pick a small attainable goal to begin.  Human beings do not solve all of their problems by tackling them at once.  Children and Teenagers are just little humans.  They need to pick one (1) item at a time to resolve and address before moving forward.  

Finish Homework on Time!

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2.   Create a Routine

Kids and humans thrive under a routine.  Studies have shown that when you tackle a goal at the same time each day or each week, you are more likely to stick with it!  Remember what Phillippa Lally proved in her experiment: the more you do it, the more likely you are to stick with it. 

3.   Stick to it For Max Results

You have to stick to the goal for longer than 21 days.  You have to commit.  Just as scientist Phillippa Lally stated—habits take a while to stick. So if you and your child’s goal is to get homework turned in on time, you have to stick to that goal.  If your goal is to improve your child’s reading—you need to pick 3 -5 times per week at set times to address that goal!

 

[i]Lally, Phillippa, et al. “How Are Habits Formed: Modelling Habit Formation in the Real World.” How Habits Are Formed, Wiley/Blackwell (10.1111), 16 July 2009, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ejsp.674.