GUEST POST: Transforming Students to Learners

GUEST POST: Transforming Students to Learners

By Dr. Bob DuBois

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Dr. Bob DuBois is a full-time learning facilitator at Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. He teaches several psychology courses, including Introduction to Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Psychology of Human Relations, Introduction to Ethics, Think Critically and Creatively, Social Psychology, Death and Dying, Research Methods and Statistics, and College Success Strategies: The Science of Successful Learning. Bob holds a PhD in Counseling/Educational Psychology from Marquette University and master’s degrees in Counseling Psychology and Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Texas at Tyler and Western Kentucky University, respectively. Prior to teaching, Bob worked as a human resources manager and human factors engineer. Bob is a first-generation college student. Bob hosts his own Facebook page, Get Psyched with Dr. Bob.

I think a lot about how to transform students to lifelong learners. It is not only a matter of being an effective educator; it is the right thing to do morally. The drive to help students become learners goes beyond the students enrolled in my classes. In 10 years, the drive to incorporate the science of learning into my teaching has prompted many changes across campus, including a lifelong learning book club, a series of four student workshops, two full-day professional development in-services, and numerous keynote presentations, workshops, and seminars.

Initiating a Lifelong Learning Book Club helped initiate discussions across my campus about the science of teaching and learning. It even convinced some to abandon popular myths about learning (e.g., learning styles). Each semester, we read, reflect on, and discuss at least one current book. We began with Daniel Willingham’s book, Why Don’t Students Like School? and as of this spring, we have read 21 books, including, for example:

Building a community of like-minded learners on my campus through the book club motivated efforts to synthesize what I was learning and share it with students via a series of free lifelong learning workshops, including (in the order in which they were developed):

  • Crush Bad Study Habits
  • Don’t Eat the Marshmallow
  • Take Note, and
  • Getting Things Done.

Each 30-minute workshop synthesizes the relevant science into three key principles. Each workshop is essentially three 10-minute TED Talks with opportunities for students to think deeply about, interact with, and reflect on what they are learning. Handouts are designed for notetaking, self-assessment, and reflection, and include recommendations for further learning. To keep the energy high, each workshop is presented by a three-person team; each person on the workshop team presents a principle.

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Crush Bad Study Habits synthesizes the science of effective learning into three key principles: THINK, SPACE, and TEST. In THINK, we distinguish shallow from deep processing and share a strategy, Concept Cards, for making more effective flash cards that help students elaborate with their own words, examples, and images, on the key ideas one aims to learn. We aim to move students away from popular, but ineffective study strategies like rereading and highlighting text and looking over notes. In SPACE, we point out the pitfalls of cramming and show students how to distribute their study time into brief, focused, and at times interleaved study sessions separated by breaks using the Pomodoro technique. In TEST, we demonstrate several ways that students can incorporate retrieval practice into their study, including while reading their textbook. 

Don’t Eat the Marshmallow introduces the science of motivation with three principles: GRIT, GROWTH MINDSET, and SELF-CONTROL. In GRIT, we describe how students can nurture passion and perseverance for their long-term educational goals. We discuss how they can cultivate and bring interest to they are learning, discover the long-term purpose of what they are learning, and engage in deliberate practice.  We hold our workshops in our Student Enrichment Center, so we can point out the academic support resources where they can focus on their developmental needs (e.g., writing, reading, science, math, and more) with the help of expert instructors, immediate feedback, and helpful learning resources. In GROWTH MINDSET, we distinguish a fixed and growth mindset. We help students see the value of focusing on what they can control, including the effort put into course work, the strategies they select for learning, and their willingness to seek and accept help from others. In SELF-CONTROL, we explore the many temptations that might steer students away from their long-term educational goals and help them employ strategies to stay on course. We focus especially on the WOOP (wish, outcome, obstacle, and plan) technique and borrow key ideas from the popular TED Talk, Inside the Mind of the Master Procrastinator, Walter Mischel’s Marshmallow Test, and more.  

Take Note encourages students to see the value of taking notes while reading and watching media, while in class sessions, and while studying. We help students see their notes as the evidence (“mindprints”) that they are deep (as opposed to shallow) processing. The three big ideas we share include textbook annotation, two-column notetaking, and dual-coding. We describe, offer key principles and advice, and share examples of effective annotation, notetaking, and dual-coding. For dual-coding, we discuss the value of purposeful doodling, concept mapping, and creating graphic organizers to support learning.

Getting Things Done focuses on how students can manage their course and other work using three key principles: CAPTURE, CLARIFY, and PLAN. In CAPTURE, we help students value having a system for recording the things they need or desire to do using an inbox (as opposed to relying on their memory). In CLARIFY, we show students how to regularly process their inbox to specify their next actions and projects in concrete terms.  In PLAN, we demonstrate how to engage in weekly and daily planning to schedule and do next actions. We share several principles that help students consider when and where they ought to complete next actions.

Each semester we offer several sessions of these workshops, beginning about 2-3 weeks into the semester and extending to the month after mid-term. Last fall, for example, we held 25 workshops and had more than 1,000 participants.  We never held a session with fewer than 25 participants and many were standing room only. Many colleagues across the campus encourage their students to attend and some even offer extra credit. Some programs have included the workshop in their new cohort orientation and some instructors being their class to one or more of the workshops. The most common reaction of colleagues is something akin to “I wish I had known these principles when I was in college.

Excitement about the workshops ultimately led the college’s Vice President of Learning to make the workshops the focus of two full-day professional development in-services held in 2016 and 2017. In 2016, the workshops were the basis for a keynote presentation and several breakout sessions on Transforming Students to Learners. In 2017, the focus moved to Transforming to Learning Facilitators.  Since then, I have conducted several keynote presentations, workshops, and breakout sessions on these topics across the Midwest.

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Once you catch the lifelong learning bug and immerse yourself in the science of teaching and learning, you cannot stop. Currently, we are working on two new workshops tentatively titled:

  • Ace That Test, which will focus on effective strategies to prepare for exams, take exams, and reflect on exam results, and
  • Fit to Learn, which will help students see themselves as mental athletes and share strategies for diet, exercise, and sleep.

We also recently finished a one-year pilot (seven sections) of a new one-credit course, College Success Strategies: The Science of Successful Learning. The course incorporates all of the workshop principles into a hands-on, skills-based course. Online, blended, and face-to-face versions of this course will begin this fall 2018.

Want to learn more? Please do not hesitate to contact me. In a future guest post, I will share how the use of jigsaw classroom activities help me teach the six learning strategies to my students (and colleagues).


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