Moving Forward: Teaching in Uncertain Times

Community Blog on online, hybrid, and F2F teaching during the pandemic

Help Students Improve their Learning Strategies

by Katy Crowther, PhD (CETLOE Faculty Associate and English, Perimeter College) 

For many students, the weeks before Thanksgiving mark the beginning of a lot of intense work preparing for major exams and final projects.  Some students may struggle with how to get started with these large assignments, or start and then find they are disorganized and stressed out by the complexity of the task.  When preparing for exams, students often think they are studying effectively, but are actually wasting a lot of time on strategies that don’t produce effective and long-term learning.  This is the perfect time to help them develop some self-regulated learning strategies and effective study skills. 

What is Self-Regulated Learning?

A model shows the cycle of self-regulated learning. A green box at the top says "Plan, set goals, and lay out strategies", then a grey arrow points down to a turquoise box that says "Use strategies and monitor performance" and then a grey arrow points down to a purple box that says "Reflect on performance". Finally a long grey arrow points from the bottom purple box to the top green box (to complete the cycle) and says in an orange box" Use results from previous performance to guide the next one"Self-regulated learning is a way to monitor your learning process and adjust it based on successes and failures. The process involves planning for a particular task (an assignment, a test etc.), then using the planned strategies, and finally reflecting on your performance. Students who regularly use these strategies as part of their learning process are more likely to adjust their study habits and seek out help when they are struggling.  Below are some techniques you can share with students at any point in the semester.  These can be introduced in a short iCollege module (there are lots of helpful short videos on YouTube) or during a quick 5-10 minute overview at the beginning of a class period.

1. Plan, Set Goals, and Lay Out Strategies

  • Encourage students to look at the task at hand and make sure they understand what is expected of them.  Is this something they have done before? Do they have reliable strategies for approaching this task? 
  • Advise students to set goals:  What do I want to accomplish? What smaller goals/targets can I set along the way to meet those larger goals?  (ex. When will I have my outline completed? When will I self-test myself on the material?). Have them think backwards from their desired goals and think about what they must have done along the way to achieve it.
  • Show students how to make a study plan (some might use a paper planner, some might prefer an “study log” worksheet where they can tally their time spent on different tasks) and give them options for resources to consult if they need extra help.
  • Offer them research on effective study strategies; these videos on “How to Study” by Dr. Stephen Chew at Samford University are great for showing students what works and what doesn’t work when studying for a test.  

2.Use Strategies and Monitor Performance

  • As students study for a test or prepare for an assignment, prompt them to check-in with their strategies for learning:  Are they sticking to their plan? Are they on schedule to meet their goals? Is the approach working?  If not, what can they do to get help?
  • Help students develop the habit of noting “what works/doesn’t work” when it comes to effective studying (also known as “self-observation”).
  • Give examples to students of how you work through large and complex tasks and how you monitor your performance and use successful learning strategies.
  • Have students submit study logs or goal worksheets along with regular check-ins for you to give them feedback on  (this can be for a participation grade)

3. Reflect on Performance

  • Make reflection a part of all assignments, asking students to compare their pre-test preparedness or study logs and their expected result with the actual outcome.
  • Use strategies such as “exam wrappers” to help students see the relationship between their preparation and their test or assignment grade.  Picture of an Exam wrapper worksheet with the text: Post-Test Reflection (Exam Wrapper) Test 1 Reflections and Feedback  Tests are a great way to get a snapshot of where you are in the course at that moment. It's also a great opportunity to reflect and implement a growth mindset!   Review your Test Preparation Log for this exam. What activities and methods did you use to prepare for the test? How many days in advance did you start studying? What was your total study time for the test? What was your study environment? Did you tend to study alone or in a group? How would you evaluate the effectiveness of your test preparation? Review your graded exam. What kinds of mistakes did you make? Were they careless mistakes, concepts you struggled with, you ran out of time, or something else? If the errors were conceptual, list the related topics. Using a growth mindset and looking forward, how will you prepare for the next test? Will you continue using the strategies that you implemented for this exam? What different activities will you use?
  • Help students to use a “growth-mindset” in their reflection: encourage them to connect a low-grade  to their effort or study strategies rather than inherent ability.
  • To complete the cycle, students should reflect on what they will do differently in preparation for their next assignment or test and be ready to put these strategies to use.

For more great self-regulated learning strategies, check out Creating Self-regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students’ Self-awareness and Learning Skills by Linda B. Nilson (available as an E-book from the Georgia State library).

kcrowther • November 9, 2021

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