As faculty members prepare to start their classes and courses for the 2019 school year, it’s important to remember that not all students attending college may have a clear understanding of how to learn. Although some students may exude confidence and enthusiasm, or lack thereof, it’s important to guide them through the murky waters of learning.
In light of this, we sat down with Maryellen Weimer, PhD, to discuss her book, Helping Students Learn: Resources, Tools, and Activities for College Educators. This book, which acts more like a guide for faculty, provides readers with curriculum activities, handouts, quizzes, and sound advice for anyone teaching.
Here’s a bit more insight on why Maryellen felt inclined to put this resource together and how it can impact faculty members.
Tell me something about your new book Helping Student Learn.
Maryellen: Well, it looks like a book, but it’s more accurately a collection of resources. I’ve been writing for college teachers a long time now, and I know that they’re busy and don’t have a lot of time to read materials on teaching and learning. They need resources they can move through quickly. The resources should be organized so they can easily find things they need or that might be of interest. I’d say this collection pushes the idea of “book” in a different direction.
What about the content? What do you mean by the title, Helping Students Learn?
Maryellen: For the past number of years now I’ve been interested in learning and the kind of teaching that develops the skills students need to master course content. Many of our students don’t have strong learning skills, and we see firsthand how that compromises their attempts to learn the material.
But there’s good news! We know a lot about learning and about the study strategies that promote deep understanding of the content. We also know that some of students’ favorite study strategies aren’t the ones research findings recommend.
So, my goal with Helping Students Learn is to put in teachers hands a collection of resources that they can use to help develop the skills students need to become more effective learners.
Putting the collection together convinced that there are really lots of things teachers can do to help students become better learners. And this isn’t skill instruction that sacrifices content coverage. It’s more about marrying content and learning processes. You can do an exam review session that’s about deeper learning of the content, but you can also have students working with the content using processes and activities that showcase good learning strategies.
And so what’s in this collection?
Maryellen: There’s a variety of things—that’s probably what I like best about the collection. There’s things teachers can use, actual tools like a survey that can be given to students, questionnaires, and there’s some handouts, like one for students on taking notes. It shares that teacher’s policy and then provides a set of research based suggestions for note taking. There’s short summaries of research, studies that have practical implications–findings that teachers can do something about. There’s lots of good ideas; innovative, creative approaches for using quizzes, giving how-to-study advice, running study groups, doing exam debriefs, and that’s just a sample. There’s also prompts to encourage teacher reflection and the kind of thoughtful analysis that uncovers, not just what the teacher is doing, but why.
If there’s one reason why someone should buy this collection, what’s the reason?
Maryellen: I’d guess I’d say its practical content. There’s lots of material in this collection that teachers can actually use. Some of these resources are ready to post or distribute. The instructional ideas I’ve included are ones that work with lots of different kinds of content and most of them aren’t logistically complicated. They’re do-able. The research highlights are from studies that ask pragmatic questions: Is it better for students to take notes longhand or with their laptops? What is it that quizzes do and don’t accomplish? What are students doing when they study together?
It’s the beginning of a new semester and a new academic year—it’s a great time to infuse the course planning process with new ideas and information, and I think teachers will find plenty of both in this resource collection.