The Mindshift website recently posted an article, “Smart Strategies That Help Students Learn How to Learn,” that summarized an American Educator article by Kent State University psychology professor, John Dunlosky.  Dunlosky asserts that whenever a student learns something, he or she must use two kinds of prior knowledge:  subject knowledge and how to learn it.  All stakeholders—students, teachers, and parents—may have a firm grasp of what information needs to be learned, but students often do not know how learning works.  Educators, according to the Mindshift blogger Annie Murphy Paul, should teach students strategies for learning the material as they teach the content.  Dunlosky noted that low-achieving students have significant weaknesses in their knowledge of learning strategies and how learning works.

In a study of more than 1,300 Australian students, researcher Helen Askell-Williams of  Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia and her research team found that those students who used fewer of the following strategies had more trouble with their homework:

  • I draw pictures or diagrams to help me understand this subject.
  • I make up questions that I try to answer about this subject.
  • When I am learning something new in this subject, I think back to what I already know about it.
  • I discuss what I am doing in this subject with others.
  • I practice things over and over until I know them well in this subject.
  • I think about my thinking, to check if I understand the ideas in this subject.
  • When I don’t understand something in this subject I go back over it again.
  • I make a note of things that I don’t understand very well in this subject, so that I can follow them up.
  • When I have finished an activity in this subject I look back to see how well I did.
  • I organize my time to manage my learning in this subject.
  • I make plans for how to do the activities in this subject.

Additionally, Askell-Williams proposes that teachers (and parents) use the following questions to check for understanding:

  • What is the topic for today’s lesson?
  • What will be important ideas in today’s lesson?
  • What do you already know about this topic?
  • What can you relate this to?
  • What will you do to remember the key ideas?
  • Is there anything about this topic you don’t understand, or are not clear about?
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