For this Academic Year, consider teaching students HOW to learn

At our college, a 2-yr community college outside of Washington D.C., our students often come to college classes unprepared. And not just in the “I didn’t do the reading” sense.  Generally, students are underprepared with the skills they need to be successful — skills like HOW to read to the textbook (especially a science textbook), HOW to study for a multiple chapter exam, and even how to take notes. Many students have trouble sequencing events, and understanding the level of detail required to truly understand a concept. Perhaps you have noticed these lapses in students you teach? Now, I am a firm believer that ALL students CAN succeed, regardless of their background and position in society. I also firmly believe that education is THE way to assure upward economic and social mobility, at least in this westernized, fast-paced country. If you cannot make smart decisions, assess your strengths and weaknesses, communicate with people, and know enough about yourself to know what it is you do and don’t understand, then Life is going to be hard.  It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is!

My answer: (And mind you, this is still a work in progress) is to teach students how to learn through introducing them to concepts of metacognition.  For this, I highly recommend the book “Teach Students how to Learn” by Dr. Saundra McGuire, a Chemistry faculty emeritus from Louisiana State University (LSU) Dr. McGuire presents compelling research and user-friendly ways to reach students to teach them about what they know and don’t know.  It’s an easy read.  It isn’t overly preachy and it isn’t too intellectually stiff and academic.  I decided to engage some of her ideas with my students, after the first exam. The first exam is usually terrible. Students are faced with perhaps the lowest grade of their lives and aren’t sure what happened or how to fix it. I seize this opportunity (while they are feeling vulnerable and yet still idealistic about their ability to succeed) to give a 10-minute talk to define METACOGNITION, the ability to identify what it is you know and don’t know. Of everything I presented to students last semester, that 10-minute presentation was the most memorable.

So, I challenge you to do the same. Check out this book. Read it. Then incorporate the ideas into a short presentation to your students. It doesn’t matter what topic you are teaching, or whether you are teaching Science, Math, art, English, History, Music, Psychology or Sociology.  One of the keys of being successful is being AWARE of your own cognition, and that crosses all disciplines.

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