Friday, March 17, 2017

Learning about Learning

By Natasa Kesler, Tenured Faculty & Director of Teaching and Learning Academy at Cascadia College

Do you teach metacognitive skills ?

As college instructors, we are probably all aware that students who are better problem solvers, know how to plan and set their own goals and, generally, have awareness of their thinking process, are almost always better academic performers. In addition, it is often the case that student performance is not determined by how much time they have to study the material, but how effectively they use it. For example, some of my students with the highest GPA were single mothers with small children and complicated work/life schedules while students who lived at home, did not have to support themselves and had sufficient time to study, did not automatically perform well.

Even though we know metacognitive skills are crucially important for success of our students, many of us chose to spend almost all of our class time teaching the course content, relying on “some other” courses, or students' own initiative to improve the skills directly related to academic success. We might feel bad when we recognize a particular student does not have ability to do well in our class, but more often than not, we think that it is not our job to teach the “basic” study skills.

At Cascadia College, we have a specific course - College 101 - designed to prepare students for college work. The beauty of having such a well designed, organized course, offered in several modalities, is an opportunity to prepare our students for the rigors of college coursework and to introduce them to the teaching methods used at our institution. It also lays down the base onto which students can build and improve their metacognitive skills.

The potential problem of having such a course is that it can make faculty falsely believe that after taking College 101, students are completely caught up on college study skills. While this particular course lays down an excellent groundwork for our students, we must help them build up their metacognitive skills in every subsequent course they take.

So how much time in our class should we devote to development of student metacognitive skills? What is the best ratio between teaching study skills and the actual content of the course? To make this decision, it would help to assess students by giving a quick diagnostic quiz early in the quarter, discuss with them how the course material is related to specific professional skills and, certainly, proceed forward keeping in mind that building metacognitive skills is not easy, quick and cannot be a job of a single instructor. You will teach some metacognitive skills in your class, but you alone cannot carry the entire responsibility for student success. Since none of us can allocate a great deal of time to teach metacognitive skills, it would seem extremely important for all faculty to make a commitment to teaching some of these skills consistently in every course. Only if students are continuously exposed to “learning about learning” can they make a huge leap necessary to become really effective college students.

When you analyze your teaching, can you identify when and how you teach metacognitive skills? Do you think your teaching of learning strategies helps improve success of students in your class? In other courses, possibly? Would it be helpful for you to work with other instructors to discuss teaching strategies that could be applied across several courses, disciplines and/or programs?

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