Education: Making Kids Feel Good?

28 Apr

Metacognition for All!

A new study has revealed that the easier kids think content is to learn, the more difficult time they have learning it. The study also shows that more effective, yet more difficult study tactics are more readily pushed away by students in favor of study tactics that make kids feel more confident.

So we enter the rabbit hole.

We want our students to feel successful – to achieve the popular pedagogical term of “autonomy” – the development of self-directed study and interest in a subject or content. To do this, we need to challenge our students at an appropriate level; we need to give them tasks that are difficult, yet achievable. However, deciding what is “difficult” may be more complex than the average educator thinks.

If we give an assignment that is too easy, the students may underestimate what is being learned. A new study at Williams College shows that people tend to rely on their ability to process information, disregarding the strategies it takes to actually remember the information. The easier content is to process in the present moment, the less likely students are to focus on this material and remember it.

On the other side of the spectrum, the more difficult an assignment, the more likely a student is to study the material. However, the student will more likely than not choose the study strategy that makes them feel they are better mastering the content, rather than use the study strategy that has been proven to improve learning and retention.

For example: if you are trying to study a vocabulary list of 30 words, the easier strategy is to break up the words into small groups – say of five or six words at a time. When students study in this manner, they feel more confident that they know they material. However, the sad truth is they actually learn and retain far less than if they study the list of 30 words without breaking it up.

In both scenarios, the teacher will receive the student in the morning who is cocksure he or she will “ace the test.”  The student fails and as a consequence, does not achieve any sort of autonomy. In fact, the reverse normally occurs and the student takes a strong dislike to the subject. So what is the teacher to do? Too simple and the student doesn’t learn. Too difficult and the student doesn’t learn. Where’s the happy medium? Nate Kornell from Williams College says:

“The findings suggest that it may not be enough to teach students study strategies. Educators also must help students think about why and how they learn while studying, researchers say.”

Okay. Simple enough; we’re professionals – we can do this. We can teach students content, literacy, study strategies, and metacognitive theories in addition to managing a classroom of twenty to thirty in 45 minutes on a daily basis. Right?

The difficulty comes in helping students understand why learning study strategies is important when many students have trouble grasping the content area topics in the 45 allotted minutes; often, it takes that long or longer to help students fully understand a concept or idea. Where do we make time for teaching metacognitive strategies as well? In addition, you might have to incorporate action or sex in the learning of metacognitive study strategies to make it interesting to high school students.

And prior to learning how to study metacognitively, we must first get students to study – even when they loathe the subject.

So the conclusion is borne that we must be fabulously interesting, highly-organized educators with an inordinate amount of patience; we cannot be frustrated at the short hour we are given to teach our students a multitude of theories, ideas, and strategies; we cannot be angry with overpopulated classrooms or more students with special needs than we can attend to at one time;  we must remember that with patience comes good things. We must look at our classrooms past a week, past two weeks; we must constantly be teaching study strategies and metacognitive theories.

Much like the study tactic of cramming the night before the test is proven to be ineffective, teaching our students once or twice the value of studying and thinking about thinking about studying will be ineffective. We must remind students of their importance every day, every week, every month. It is not a lesson or even a unit. It’s a teaching lifestyle.


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