I was inspired by Maryellen Weimer’s article on “Teaching Metacognition to Improve Student Learning” and the accompanying article by Kimberly Tanner on “Promoting Student Metacognition.”
Tanner reflected on a comment I have heard many times: “…it’s my job to teach [your discipline or learning outcome goes here], not study strategies.” How often have we heard that our students don’t know how to learn? Regardless of whose fault it is, Weimer’s article shows how relatively easy it is to incorporate practical “meta-learning” strategies into our lesson plans. It’s a no-brainer if a teacher conducts a structured pre-test review class, and a post-test follow-up activity, where many of the issues on clarity, confusion, and preparedness will be brought into the light.
Most college students struggle with the vocabulary of our disciplines. In their various electronic exchanges, they do not use a lot of multisyllabic, difficult-to-pronounce words. And virtually all college courses are vocabulary rich—unfamiliar words abound. Most students know that the new vocabulary in a course is important. They use flash cards and other methods to help them memorize the words and their meanings for their exams. Two days later, the words and their meanings are gone.
Teachers have much to teach these days. There’s the standard content knowledge students need to take from their courses, all the while the amount of new information in all our fields continues to grow exponentially. Next, there are all those essential intellectual skills like critical thinking, problem solving, analysis of evidence, argument construction to start the list. Then there are the basic skills many students are missing — like the ability to do college level reading, write coherently and calculate correctly — and all those study skills, like time management, review strategies, attentive listening and good note taking. Lastly, there are the metacognitive skills and the fact that most students aren’t aware of themselves as learners and don’t monitor how they are or are not learning. How in the world can a teacher address all these learning needs in a 15-week course?
“Few teachers effectively prepare students to learn on their own. Students are seldom given choices regarding academic tasks to pursue, methods for carrying out complex assignments or study partners. Few teachers encourage students to establish specific goals for their academic work or teach explicit study strategies. Also, students are rarely asked to self-evaluate their work or estimate their competence on new tasks.” (p. 69)
I had breakfast with my colleague and friend Larry yesterday. We pretty much cover the higher education waterfront during these morning sessions. Among the many topics covered yesterday was the matter of how much time students spend studying, or as most faculty are more likely to note, how much time they don’t spending trying to master course content. In support of the lack of attention to studying that many of us see in our classes is all sorts of survey data (from the well-known NSSE surveys to findings reported in the new and much talked about book, Academically Adrift). Depending on the survey, something close to 80% of students are reporting that they spend less than 20 hours a week studying.
What skills do you wish your students had prior to taking your course? Reading comprehension, time management, listening, note-taking, critical thinking, test-taking? Let’s face it, most students could benefit from taking a course in learning how to learn. But who wants to take a study skills class?
In the space of one generation, college students have gone from studying with highlighters and wire notebooks to laptops, netbooks and, now, iPads.
But despite the prevalence of technology on campuses, a new study indicates that computers alone can’t keep students from falling into their same weak study habits from their ink-and-paper days.
“Self-regulation is not a mental ability or an academic performance skill; rather it is the self-directive process by which learners transform their mental abilities into academic skills.” (p. 65) That definition is offered by Barry Zimmerman, one of the foremost researchers on self-regulated learning. It appears in a succinct five-page article that offers a very readable overview of research in this area.
During my first year in college I remember two stats that were thrown down with such authority that I didn’t doubt them for a second. The first one was delivered during the welcoming address to the incoming freshmen class in which the speaker did the old “look to your left, look to your right, one of you won’t be here by the end of the year.”
It will probably not shock any instructor to learn that students cram for exams. What may be a bit surprising is the percentage of students who do: somewhere between 25 percent and 50 percent, depending on the study. In the research reported in the article referenced below, approximately 45 percent of students admitted to cramming.