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October 1, 2015

By John von Knorring

There’s an increasing amount of evidence that students don’t know how to learn. I don’t mean that they lack note-taking skills, though they are certainly important. Rather, it is becoming apparent that they don’t understand the process of learning and are not clear about the goals for which they are striving, apart from being much focused on their grades.

Particularly in today’s student-centered, active-learning environments, students have to take far more responsibility for their learning. They must not only diligently apply themselves to completing traditional assignments but understand the process of learning as they complete these assignments, asking questions such as how to expend their time and energies productively, what the overarching goals or outcomes of a course are, and how to develop as lifelong learners.

Stylus Publishing has published several books that address this issue. Linda Nilson’s Creating Self-Regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students’ Self-Awareness and Learning Skills demonstrates that deep, lasting, independent learning requires learners to bring into play a range of cognitive skills, affective attitudes, and even physical activities, about which most students are wholly unaware. The book also discusses the concept of  self-regulation, which has little to do with measured intelligence, but can be developed by just about anyone and is a fundamental prerequisite of academic success. Todd Zakrajsek’s and Terry Doyle’s The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony With Your Brain,  which is addressed to students themselves, explains that while all learning requires effort, better learning does not require more effort; rather, students must effectively align how the brain naturally learns with the demands of their studies. This book describes what is involved in learning new material, how the human brain processes new information, and what it takes for that information to stick with students even after the test.

These books require that instructors develop a strategy that doesn’t necessarily require much expenditure in time, that is integrated across a whole course, and that encourages students to make lifestyle changes to maximize their learning potential.

A new book by Saundra McGuire, Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation, takes a different tack. The fruit of more than 15 years working with faculty and academically at-risk students (often, moreover, in demanding science, technology, math, and engineering [STEM] courses), she has developed a series of 10 metacognitive strategies and four “super-strategies” for completing reading assignments and homework problems that transform student learning. Faculty can selectively introduce these strategies to their classes, according to need, with a minimum expenditure of time. These strategies have immediate impact and can be used as stepping stones to developing a more strategic, in-depth approach to teaching students how to learn.

While McGuire’s approach offers teachers a great deal of flexibility in determining how to introduce students to vital learning skills, she has also developed a structured 50-minute presentation for students that has demonstrably impacted student learning and outcomes. Readers can adapt the presentation to meet their particular needs.

This book is an excellent introduction in starting to teach students how to learn. Once readers are comfortable using McGuire’s strategies and have observed their undeniable impact, we hope they will be ready and enthusiastic about examining and adopting the more integrated and extended approaches advocated by Linda Nilson, Terry Doyle, and Todd Zakrajsek, among others.

About the Author:

Saundra Yancy McGuire has been teaching chemistry and working in the area of learning and teaching support for over forty years. In 2007, she was recognized for excellence in mentoring with a Presidential Award presented in a White House Oval Office Ceremony. She is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, and the Council of Learning Assistance and Developmental Education Associations.

Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation, Saundra Yancy McGuire with Stephanie McGuire, October 2015, 288 pp., 6″ x 9″, Paper, 978 1 62036 361 4, $32.00 

View sample chapter, click here


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