How much do you know about how your students study? I’ve been asking the question a lot lately and I’d have to say most of the answers I’ve heard aren’t all that impressive. They’re more about how the faculty member thinks students study, how they should study, or how they aren’t studying.
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There hasn’t been a lot written recently about test anxiety, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer an issue for a significant number of students. Those of us who don’t suffer from test anxiety—and I’m betting that’s most faculty—can find it hard to be sympathetic. Life is full of tests, and students need to get over it. Besides, if students have studied and prepared, there’s no reason for them to feel excessively anxious about a test.
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.
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.