To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned) (Ambrose et al., 2010)
To succeed in the academic setting, students must be taught how to think about and plan their own learning, to think about learning or metacognition. In a scholarly context, instructors’ expectations and students’ experiences often do not match. As Ambrose et al., (2010) note, students do not have an understanding of, for example, “what constitutes a substantive argument based on thorough research” (p. 125), how to construct such arguments, and present them.
Learning how to learn means starting with an understanding of what one already knows about a topic, concept, or project. Mastering the process of learning to be able to demonstrate that learning through performance requires several steps:
- identifying what one still needs to learn
- planning an approach to learn that material independently
- redefining, if need be, the scope of the project, understanding what can realistically be accomplished, and
- monitoring and adjusting one’s approach along the way (Ambrose et al., 2010, p. 191).
Resistance to changing mental models about learning may be based on students’ “mindset” (Dweck, 2006). If learners believe that intelligence is “fixed,” that is, intelligence is static, they will more likely avoid challenges, give up easily when obstacles are encountered, be unwilling to take on tasks that require effort, ignore criticism, and may feel threatened by others’ success. However, with the belief that intelligence is expandable, learners may more likely embrace challenges, persist despite running into obstacles, welcome tasks that require effort because they lead to mastery, learn from criticism, and are inspired by others’ success (McGuire, 2012).
Encouraging students to become expert learners is aided by
- asking “why” and “what if” questions constantly, and having them ask these prompts themselves
- testing their understanding by verbalizing or writing about concepts
- developing questioning at higher-order levels of thinking by comparing and contrasting, thinking of analogies, creating models
- internalizing the steps of the Study Cycle, McGuire, 2012).
Tip: Master basic metacognitive processes*
Strategy: Support students’ efforts to evaluate their own knowledge and skills, identifying strengths and weaknesses. Instructors can help students recognize what they do well and where they need improvement in their performance. Learning to assess how to complete a performance task (e.g., project, examination) demands guidance from the instructor and practice by the student.
Process: For every demonstration of performance (ungraded and graded), instructors guide students to:
- Lay out a plan to approach the task, writing all the steps to be taken, prior to starting on the task itself. Include how much time each step in the plan will take. Inform students that “experts spend proportionately much more time than novices planning their approach” (p. 197).
- Review and incorporate feedback that the instructor provides a review of the plan, which details any necessary steps that have been omitted before the work on the task itself is started.
- Consider and apply different strategies at each step of the plan.
- Inform students to monitor their own progress, and explain to themselves what they are learning. Students might:
- Talk aloud while studying
- Stop and ask whether they understand the concepts just presented [Appendix A]
- Respond to a series of comprehension-monitoring questions during reading (self-monitoring)
- Reflect on the degree to which their current approach is working so that they can adjust and restart the cycle as needed.
Notes: Good problem solvers will try new strategies if their current strategy is not working, whereas poor problem solvers will continue to use a strategy even after it has failed (p. 199).
Caution students that new approaches take time and effort to become new habits of learning.
*Adapted from Ambrose et al., 2010
Promoting reflection on learning can be encouraged by instructors with strategies such as reviewing exams and planning improvements for the next time. The objectives for “Exam Wrappers” include focusing students’ reflection to analyze their own performance, as well as providing language to label specific misconceptions or difficulties that have been revealed. Students can confront the choices, implicit or explicit they made about their studying, analyze their performance in greater depth, using the feedback a graded exam offers.
Tip: Review with Exam Wrappers*
Strategy: Exam Wrappers direct students to review their performance (and the instructor’s feedback) on an exam to adapt future learning.
Time: Allot time for individual review and general discussion in the session after an exam
Materials: Returned exams
Questionnaire (“exam wrapper”) with three questions
- Students complete the questionnaire in the class session after the exam:
- How did you prepare for this exam?
- What kind of errors did you make?
- How will you study for the next exam?
- The “exam wrappers” are collected before the class session ends. The instructor may want to review students’ responses to gain insight into students’ learning and see if there are patterns.
- When students should begin studying for the next exam, the instructor returns the completed exam wrappers.
- The cycle is repeated with each exam, with guidance on preparation, based on the results of the “exam wrappers”:
- a. When did you study? Did you start at least five days before the test?
- b. What study strategies were used? How did you:
- i. Review notes and their explanations?
- ii. Solve practice problems?
- iii. Re-read the textbook?
- c. The type of errors made (Identify components):
- i. Did you read the question carefully?
- ii. Did you set up the problem correctly?
- iii. What concepts involved did you understand? Not understand?
- iv. Where did you make mistakes?
- v. What patterns do you observe?
* Adapted from Lovett, 2013