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Learning Lessons for My Son

Amy Gross, PhD

One of the complaints that I seem to hear in one form or another on most college and university campuses is that many students are not ready to handle college level work when they first enter our classrooms. I struggle with these conversations as a professional working in higher education, as a citizen of the United States, and as a parent. Of course I don’t want my son to be “one of them” when he gets to college.

This year, he entered 8th grade and continues to become an independent learner. After attending a number of Lilly Conference for College and University Teaching, I realized that I was listening to many of the sessions as a parent rather than as a higher education professional. During one meeting, I phoned my son and told him excitedly that I was learning a lot about learning and that I could share with him a few things that might help him do better in school. He was (surprisingly) actually quite receptive to the idea, saying, “I’d be O.K. with that…” (And I know he was thinking, “…especially if it would result in less nagging!”)

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Here was my message to him. It just so happens that the list has 10 points. I don’t think these are “the” top 10, but they seemed like a good place to start further developing his metacognitive learning strategies. Perhaps these are some thoughts we can share with our students to help them become better learners.

  1. Ultimately you are responsible for your own learning. Your teachers are there to support you, but they can’t learn for you. Even if you have a teacher who is not the best fit for you, you CAN learn. You have to be an advocate for your own learning.

  2. Learning is less about the “grade” or getting an “A,” but more about working hard – and you can do it! You have to make your brain work, which means you need to actually spend time on the task. (And that might actually lead to an “A.”)

  3. Learn how you best learn and create your own learning experiences – in class, at home, online, wherever you have the opportunity. Explore and search out information about the content in different ways. You have to find ways to get excited about the material and discover how it applies to your life and your world – then try to share it with others.

  4. Talk to the teacher, talk to your classmates – let them get to know you. Social and emotional connections are important to learning.

  5. Your brain is ready to learn when it is happy and having fun. So sleep well. Eat well. Decide to enjoy each day and each class. When something is hard, make it into a challenge or a game.

  6. Use your voice. Learn to assert yourself – speak up when you don’t understand or need to have a different learning experience – but do it respectfully.

  7. Let your brain work the problem and not the book. Don’t just review the example problems, but work them out on your own and then check your answers against the example. When you have a test, you won’t have the example to look at first. Power through the problem until you get the answer. Do 2 or 3 problems without looking, then look back to check your work and your strategy. Even if not assigned, work a few of the odd numbered problems and check your answer.

  8. Mistakes are good – we learn from them. When you get an assignment or test back, don’t just look at the grade, but take the time to be sure you understand what you did wrong – and what you did right! When a teacher lets you correct your work – do it! Not necessarily for a better grade, but to be sure you are learning!

  9. Schedule “intense study sessions”: Set a goal, study with focus for 20-45 minutes, reward yourself with a short break (5-10 minutes), and then review what you just accomplished. Repeat sessions as needed!

  10. Think about and use the study cycle

  • Preview before class

  • Attend class

  • Review after class

  • Study

  • Assess your learning

  • Start again

Wish us luck! College is just around the corner.

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