Professors – Using Student-Driven Learning Methods – Strategic Use of Focused Study Time

Strategic learners are deliberate and conscious. They are mindful of their strengths and weaknesses as learners, and of what they must do to be effective and efficient during the learning process. As a professor, you must facilitate your students’ learning by ensuring that they know how to learn and are intentional in their learning. Becoming strategic learners will serve your students well, both while they are students and throughout the remainder of their lives.

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Often, professors say – in one way or another – “Harrumph. You know, nobody ever taught me how to study, and I did okay. By the time students get to college, they should know how to study.”  Consider these responses to these sentiments:

  • As professors, we are not necessarily typical of the students who are populating our classes. Although some of us were first generation college students, others of us had college-educated parents who schooled us, directly or indirectly, on how to be a college student.
  • Maybe no one did teach us to study, but what if someone had? How much more could we have learned, and how quickly could we have learned it?
  • Students may have learned how to study before they got to college, but college is different from high school. Also, general study techniques may not be sufficient for the type of learning students need to do in a given specialty. Shouldn’t we do everything we possibly can to ensure the learning of the students we have, even if this means including letting them in on the secrets we possess about learning our subject area?

That being said, the following list presents a few student-directed teaching/learning methods that will facilitate the focused studying that students do outside of the classroom. Although the instructor does the prep work, the students are responsible for seeing each method through.

  1. Ask students to keep a study log in which they write down what they are involved in while studying and how long they spend on each task.  [Note:  You can do this via physical (paper) or electronic means.]  Tell them that there is no grade attached to this, but that you are interested to see what they are doing. Also suggests that if they eventually have some trouble in the course, the diary might help you advise them on different ways to study. The first semester you do this, you can suggest which tasks they should be doing and estimate the time they will take, but after several semesters of collecting actual student logs, particularly of those students who were successful in the course, you can give actual examples.
  2. An alternative to the study log is the exam log, in which students record what they studiedhow they studiedthe time they studied, and what they predict will be on the exam. Just after the exam, they record how well they believe they did–and why. After the exams are returned, they can reflect on why they scored as they did and why their estimate was on target – or not so close. This is especially effective with younger, lower division students who may have little practice in studying for difficult exams and in assessing their readiness for an exam.
  3. Complete study sheets as they do the assigned reading. Your work may consist of nothing more than listing chapter objectives and leaving an adequate amount of space for students to list what they find in the reading to amplify each objective. You can collect the study sheets weekly or on exam day. Once the exams are graded, you can compare – and encourage the students to compare – the study sheets of those who did well on the exam and those who did not do well. The differences may be plain to see.
  4. Have students complete a “wonder, interpret, tie-in” (WIT) sheet while they are reading. Students write down concepts, words, or facts that make them wonder; they write down their interpretation of at least one idea presented by the author; and then make statements about how what they are reading ties in with other concepts from the class. In class, students can form small groups to talk about what is on their WIT sheets.
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