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Strategies for Learning How You Learn

Strategies for Learning How You Learn
Ruth Wilson

Metacognition, or learning about learning, is a valuable skill that can easily be taught in the one-to-one instructional environment and tailored to the needs of each student. Metacognition helps students understand their individual learning styles so that they can stay calm and persist through difficulties when mastery does not come easily. It also can be empowering to recognize that even though they are struggling in a class, the same content presented in a different way may be more digestible. Research by Duckworth (2016) has shown that students' ability to stick with difficult assignments is often a far greater measure of success than intelligence tests, and persisting with a task is an ability that is reinforced by metacognition.

Self-talk is one of the simplest metacognitive strategies. When students tell themselves that they will not be able to accomplish a task or pass a test, their thinking slows down, their confidence level sinks, and their attention is focused in the wrong place. If they can shift the self-talk to a positive message that reminds them how much they have studied and why they are prepared, their ability to stay calm and demonstrate what they know greatly increases. As Van Gogh said, "If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced."

Mnemonic devices also use metacognition. For example, many students learn to read music by associating the E, G, B, D, F on the staff with the sentence Every Good Boy Does Fine or memorize the order of operations in math by using Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally to keep track of Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication/Division and Addition/Subtraction. The brain finds it easier to group content in context, so memorizing these letters as individual units is hard but linking them to a sentence is easy. Some students can make the connection easily, but others struggle and need explicit instruction, such as a framework to make the content more memorable.

If students understand how the brain processes information and how their own brain remembers words, they can be in control of framing up information so that it fits their needs instead of feeling powerless when teachers present information that doesn't seem to make sense. For example, is it easier to organize an essay using a visual organizer like a mind map or a traditional word-based outline?

The more students understand about learning and the strategies that are most effective for them as individuals, the more power they have over their learning. And the more teachers tailor instruction to individual needs, the more success students experience. School and assignments change from something that students fear to something they can master.

Duckworth, Angela. (2016). Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance. New York: Scribner.

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