by Ana Casado
This year the Office of Academic Affairs (OAA) sponsored a colloquium series on the topic of re-designing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) courses to enhance student learning. In February, OAA, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and the University Center for the Advancement of Teaching (UCAT) hosted Dr. Saundra McGuire, Professor Emerita of Chemical Education at Louisiana State University, for a series of talks about student performance, learning, and metacognition. Coming on the heels of her latest book, Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation, Dr. McGuire gave several talks during her OSU visit; I had the opportunity to attend her lecture on February 16 called, “Get Students to Focus on Learning Instead of Grades: Metacognition is the Key!”
During her talk, Dr. McGuire discussed several of her student successes – people who had begun college or her class with low grades and diminished hope, but were excelling within just a few months. She showed us, through brief yet memorable interactive exercises*, that we could indeed change the way we approached a problem, even within a matter of minutes. Dr. McGuire provided evidence that showed that through her coaching and their hard work, students were capable of significant growth and change. Drawing on psychology research, she explained how, as educators, we should approach intelligence and learning with a growth mindset so that we don’t limit students who aren’t at peak performance. This growth mindset tells us that intelligence is not an innate quality but can be developed over time through hard work and a change in perspective. As long as we encourage students to embrace challenges, learn from criticism, and persist in the face of failure, students actually can achieve what they want.
Dr. McGuire’s talk inspired me to discuss these concepts with my students this semester at Columbus State Community College. In my introductory anthropology course, most students, when polled, admit the extent of their studying amounts to looking over the notes a few times the night before an exam. They were not versed in evidence-based, helpful study skills, or, if they were, they weren’t putting it into practice. Students confidently took my multiple-choice, true/false exam, but although the grade distribution mirrored a bell curve, many students were not pleased with their grade. After listening to Dr. McGuire, I thought about taking some time to talk to my students about bigger picture learning and not just course content. If I consider myself to be an educator, why not work with them to hopefully improve their performance in all courses? And better yet, why not discuss with them the importance of thinking about learning through the growth mindset perspective?
The exam was on a Tuesday in February; I handed back the graded exams the following Thursday and let them have the weekend to digest their grades and my feedback. The next week, before I introduced any course content, I told my students that I wanted to talk to them about metacognition. I assured them this had nothing to do with their grades or the class average; this was simply part of their development as thinkers and learners. In my brief discussion with my students I wanted them to:
- Understand the growth mindset to learning
- Begin to make connections between the concepts discussed in our class
- Engage with least one of the cognition activities from her talk
- Become familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy and link it to different exam questions
- Learn study skills & tips* that Dr. McGuire’s students have found helpful over the years
With these goals in mind, I spent about 20 minutes in conversation with my class that day. Unfortunately, I didn’t immediately see the “a-ha” moments I was hoping for. I knew I needed to continue this discussion with them, so throughout the following weeks I made it a point to draw connections between concepts (even asking them to create concept maps for several topics), help them see the different cognitive levels one could employ on a single topic, and emphasize the helpful Study Cycle* Dr. McGuire has found to work so well for her students. By the time their second exam rolled around, a significant amount of class time had been spent on Dr. McGuire’s approach, and I was anxious to see if the class average changed. Once I submitted the grades online, I calculated the average and found that it had risen 3 points from the first exam! I think that, as instructors of higher learning, we have a duty to our students to not only teach them content specific to our disciplines, but to share knowledge with them that may help them succeeds in all areas of life. Metacognition is a great place to start!
*For more information on Dr. Saundra McGuire’s talk or to request access to her presentations, email firstname.lastname@example.org