One of the best gifts teachers can give students are the experiences that open their eyes to themselves as learners. Most students don’t think much about how they learn. Mine used to struggle to write a paragraph describing the study approaches they planned to use in my communication courses. However, to be fair, I’m not sure I had a lot of insights about my learning when I was a student. Did you?
Before the semester starts to wind down, now is an apt time for reflection. Here are some pithy (I hope) prompts that might motivate students to consider their beliefs about learning. The prompts ask about learning in a larger, more integrated sense, and also challenge students to analyze the effectiveness of their approach to learning. Some of these are course specific, others about collections of courses, and still others encourage a more holistic look at learning.
A friend asks if he/she should take this course. Would you recommend it? What would you say students need to do if they want to do well in the course?
If you were to take this course again, would you do anything differently? What and why?
Think about your first semester in college (first course in the major, required general education courses, course work in this major, extracurricular activities—lots of possibilities here). Identify the three most important lessons you learned, say how you learned them, and what those lessons will contribute to your success in subsequent courses and in your chosen profession.
Which course has been the hardest for you so far? What study strategies did you use that didn’t work? If you were to repeat that course or take another one like it, what other study strategies would you try?
How quickly do you give up on something? Say it’s a problem. How long do you work on it before you decide you can’t do it? What strategies do you use when you’re stuck? Take a problem on a recent test (or the homework last night) that you couldn’t do and list all the things you tried. If you could ask three questions about the problem (other than how do you solve it), what would you ask?
Say, for example, you don’t think you’re any good at math, or that you can’t write or draw, what happens when you have to do these things? Does what you believe about yourself as a learner have any effect on how you perform?
Have you ever learned something you didn’t think you could learn? What? How did you feel once you had learned it?
What’s the relationship between natural ability and hard work? Can you still learn things for which you don’t think you have much natural ability? Can hard work overcome natural ability deficits?
If someone asked, “What kind of student are you?” How would you answer? “What kind of student would you like to be?” Could you list three specific things you are doing to become the student you want to be? What would you list?
You are applying for your dream job. The interviewer says, “I see you’ve taken a course in ____ . What were the most important things you learned in that course?” How would you respond?
The interview continues. “Students learn lots of content in college. They also have the chance to develop some important skills. What skills have you developed in college? What courses and experiences contributed to that development?” What would you tell the interviewer?
How could you use these prompts with your students? You could select a couple or let students pick one or two and write a short paper, which they get credit for doing, not for what they end up writing. You could then take selected quotes or themes that emerged from these papers and discuss (even briefly) in class. Or maybe one or two of the prompts simply show up on a PowerPoint at the beginning of class and a bit of silence follows for reflection. You also could post select prompts on the course website and encourage an online discussion around them. Or perhaps incorporate some reflections on learning into course evaluation activities.
If you’ve used prompts or have activities that encourage student reflection on learning, please take a moment to share. Y