Teaching Students How to Learn

Teach Students How to LearnStudents who come to college from high school may not be adequately prepared to succeed in college.  It is not just a matter of a lack of content knowledge, but students may be unprepared for the skills, mindset, and habits needed to succeed in college courses.  The skills and habits that worked for them in high school may not be enough to succeed at the college level.

Students are often given an abrupt reality check after they get their grades back after their first exam or assignment.  They may interpret their stumbles or failures as indicative of some fixed quality about themselves, instead of interpreting it as a challenge for them to overcome (see growth mindset).  They may not have adequate coping or help-seeking skills to recover from early stumbles, and fall further and further behind until it is too late to recover.  They may have poor metacognitive skills – recognizing for example when some learning strategy is ineffective. There are many Reasons Why We Have to Teach Our Students How to Learn.

The good news is that these skills, habits, and mindsets for college success can be taught to students.  Students can learn how to learn in college.  But we have to be proactive in reaching these students early before they withdraw.

Usually these skills are taught as part of a rigorous college success course, but they have to be reinforced throughout the curriculum.  You as an instructor can incorporate lessons and techniques in your teaching and your advising that can help more of your students succeed and teach them how to learn.

Here are some strategies you can try with your students.  Usually the best time to reach them is around the time of that first quiz or exam, when they are ready to listen to your advice for succeeding in your course:

Before the Exam

During the Exam

  • Add Exam Wrapper questions to your exam or homework assignments to prompt students to reflect on their learning and study strategies.  You might ask, for example, how much time did you spend studying for this exam?  Or, what learning strategies did you use to prepare for this exam?
  • Turn your exam into a learning experience with the Two Stage Exam.  Students take the exam individually first, and then they can get into groups and take it again for a small amount of credit.  This helps prevent students who do poorly on the first exam from falling further and further behind.  They can learn from one another and catch up with the rest of the class.  And you won’t need to spend a whole class reviewing the exam later.

After the Exam

  • Meet with students who do poorly on your first exam and discuss their learning and study strategies, especially if they indicated they spent a lot of time studying.  Talk with them about why they may have struggled on the first exam.
  • Saundra McGuire gives a lesson to her whole class after an exam on how learning works (for example the difference between shallow and deep learning), and what it takes to get an A in the course.  See the video or the slides from this lesson that you can adapt to your own class.

Other Strategies Outside the Classroom

Here are some other strategies suggested by Embry-Riddle faculty at a workshop on this topic:

Strategies for Helping Students Learn


More resources:

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