Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Must Read: Learning Scientists Take on Students, Studying, and Test-Taking

I'm pretty passionate about teaching my students optimal learning strategies, teaching students how to study, and best practices in "making things stick." In fact, it is my SLO Goal this year (Shout out to my AP, Lori!). When I recently came across a pair of cognitive psychologists, Dr. Yana Weinstein, Ph.D. and Dr. Megan Smith, Ph.D., who were using Twitter to get out the message about how students learn best, I knew we'd be fast friends… and, that I wanted them to have a platform on the THSP page to talk about their craft, their blog/Twitter presence, and how high school students can best use their research and expertise. You can find these ladies on Twitter at @AceThatTest and on their blog

The Learning Scientists

How did the two of you decide to start the "Learning Scientists" blog? What were your motivations?

Yana: Honestly, I had recently started to listen to NPR on my daily commute, and I started feeling guilty that I wasn’t doing more to help the community. They had this one story in particular about “College Bound Dorchester”, which is a program that gets kids with troubled pasts (e.g., former drug dealers) college-ready. Suddenly I thought, hey, how come someone figured out how to help the community like that, while I have some skills to share, but am stuck in my ivory tower? This prompted me to start thinking more about what I could do to help promote good learning and teaching strategies.

Megan: I teach a number of the experimental courses at Rhode Island College (cognition, perception, and learning). I have been trying to come up with creative ways to help my students link the concepts from class to the real world. Improving learning is one connection. But, there are many others, such as how we might frame an advertisement to help it sell, or how we can improve procedures in the criminal justice system to avoid false convictions.

I decided to create an assignment requiring my students to interact with one another and make connections with popular articles on Twitter. In building up my Twitter profile I saw that Yana was tweeting learning strategies to students.  I decided to join in, and we created @AceThatTest to work together.

What is the single most annoying myth about learning, studying, or cognition?

Yana: Learning styles.

Megan: Yes, definitely learning styles. So much time and effort seems to go into worrying about this, and the whole concept of matching instruction to “style” doesn’t help learning! Students and teachers may have a preference, but that’s really a different issue and can be addressed in a different way than this concept of “matching.” We’re all for being interested and engaged with the material, but “matching” isn’t the way.

What would current you (PhD you) tell High School (or undergrad you) about studying that could dramatically change your life?

Yana: I would let undergrad me know about my ADHD diagnosis (which I only just got, at the age of 32, and am trying to be frank about). I would tell myself it’s quite unusual to be so painfully bored in a bad lecture that you can’t physically bring yourself to stay (I could never figure out how everyone else was capable of staying!), that it’s not my fault, and that there are things I can do about it.

Megan: Try to make connections between what you are learning and the things you need to know in later life, even if the connection is “learning this will help me learn how to learn.” I was very much worried about grades in high school. While grades are very important, I wish I had spent more time applying what I was learning in high school. It would have made the transition to college a lot easier! I had to completely re-learn how to learn, and how to be successful, and remind myself why all of this was important once I got to college.

Why don't students listen to us when we try and teach them how to study? (And...why does highlighting and reading over your notes continue to be their #1 study technique?)

Yana: Because highlighting and re-reading FEEL good. Every time you read something yet another time, it feels more fluent as you run your eyes over the letters. And who doesn’t love highlighting? The colors are so pretty, and the way the highlighter glides across the page…

Megan: Perfect answer, Yana! It is unfortunate, but just because something feels like it’s helping you learn, does not mean that it is.

As a high school teacher, I hear "I'm just a bad test taker. I KNOW the information...I just freeze on tests..." a lot. Is test anxiety real, or do they just not know the material?

Yana: It could be that students really are so anxious about tests, that it causes them to underperform. Rather than saying this doesn’t happen, it might help to validate students’ feelings, but then try to reframe them. Promising results are coming out of research into arousal reattribution interventions, where students are told that the heightened state they are experiencing is actually helpful – not hurtful – to their test performance.

Megan: I agree. As a person who can be very anxious (about everything, not tests in particular) I can say that anxiety can be very debilitating. I actually realized in graduate school that my general anxiety was making my life more difficult than it needed to be, and started seeking treatment for it.

When it comes to test anxiety, I think we need to combat anxiety not by saying “I can’t do tests,” but by acknowledging that they’re scary and trying to move past that fear. Make test anxiety something you’re working on, not an excuse for a grade. If the anxiety is really causing a problem, it might be a good idea to talk to a professional about it. There’s no harm in that, and as Yana mentioned earlier, it isn’t your fault, but it is something you can work on!

If you could only have one study technique to use for now until eternity - which would you choose?

Yana: Retrieval practice

Megan: Yes, we both LOVE retrieval practice. Sit down and write, draw, or doodle everything you know!

Who are your Cognitive Psychologist heros?

Yana: Oliver Sacks (RIP).

Megan: My hero is someone most people will have never heard of. Her name is Dr. Janet Proctor, and she works at Purdue where I went as an undergraduate. Dr. Proctor has her PhD in psychology, and could have made a wonderful professor and researcher. However, she took a job as a full-time academic advisor instead, and uses her skills to help college students succeed. She helps undergraduates to find their passions and identify career goals, do well in college classes, and gain experiences they need to become competitive when they go off to graduate school or try to get a job. She’s working “in the trenches” but is making a huge difference for her advisees.  I owe her for my career.

What are 5 quick tips that HS teachers can teach and students can use to start studying better and more effectively?

Here’s our list!

  1. Study a little every day.
  2. Practice remembering things.
  3. Don’t study the same thing for a long time – switch it up.
  4. Take breaks often.
  5. Read feedback carefully.

--- Posted by Amy Ramponi

1 comment:

Steve Jones said...

Brilliant! Thanks so much for the insight and tips that are perfect for our classrooms!