Students often need modeling of effective study strategies
When students come to the Learning Commons for content tutoring, they often could use more work on how to study in general and in the content area. How one approaches studying in one discipline varies from other disciplines, and how one approaches studying impacts the grade. We see this particularly when comparing studying in the sciences to studying in the humanities. For example, reading a biology text book chapter requires a different approach than reading a qualitative research report or an essay.
To support students in introductory biology and physics courses, the Learning Commons is piloting The Study, a small-scale study strategies tutoring program that will help students better plan for learning in these subjects and support them in reading, note-taking, and test preparation in the sciences.
Our goals are to increase in the use of metacognitive approaches to learning, confidence, and motivations as revealed in survey data and improve student academic performance as shown by mid-term to final grade data, ultimately reducing D and F grades, as well as course withdrawals. Ultimately, we want to support student retention and graduation.
The motivation for our creation of this pilot also stems from our experiences with tutors sharing and modeling study strategies with tutees. For example, one of our biology tutors Caitlyn worked with a nursing student in a biology course who came in this past semester after receiving a D on a test and was concerned about not making at least a B for the semester. Caitlyn is one of our best tutors for supporting study strategies and will always ask students how they are studying. It became clear to her that the nursing student was not distributing her biology learning over time, not using the textbook as a support, taking far too many notes verbatim (in invariably falling behind while not really taking in the lecture), not transforming notes into new formats (both visual and verbal) and study guides, and not doing self-testing. Over the second half of the semester, the student’s test grades climbed, and she received an A on the final.
The Study is based on findings in the neuroscience of learning and sound learning strategies that have been researched in educational psychology. The pilot program will launch during the second and third weeks of the semester. We will start with a tutor in biology (Caitlyn) to support nursing students in biology courses and another tutor in physics to support engineering students in PHYS 204 and PHYS 205. Students will be able to make appointments with tutors in The Study by emailing requests to TheStudy@up.edu. Tutoring sessions will focus on the following study strategies topics:
- Planning time for durable learning and the Study Cycle
- Goal setting
- Notetaking and organizing concepts
- Transforming and synthesizing notes into new formats
- Active reading strategies
- Test preparation
- Post-test performance evaluation
Based on our experiences with students in the Learning Commons. “Planning time for durable learning and the Study Cycle” will likely be foundational for most students using The Study. This pilot program differs from content tutoring that we provide in the Learning Commons. While our content tutors are trained in supporting student study strategies, The Study focuses on disciplinary study strategy work in the context of a content area. In the above case of Caitlyn and her student, they did little in terms of pure content tutoring.
What is the Study Cycle?
The Study Cycle was developed several years ago by Dr. Frank Christ who was a pioneer in learning assistance in higher education. The cycle consists of five steps and the integration of intensive study sessions into students’ schedules. In our work in the Learning Commons we refer to the study sessions as “intentional study sessions.” The five steps are:
- Preview before attending class to activate your memory and develop questions
- Attend class, take notes, and ask your questions.
- Review sometime after class to consolidate or annotate notes and develop more questions.
- Study during short and interleaved and focused intentional study sessions.
- Self-test how well you can explain or apply the material from the day.
Intentional study sessions (ISS) last anywhere from 30 to 70 minutes and involve goals setting for the session, active studying toward the goals, a short break, and a short review to consolidate material and develop questions for the next study session or class. Students then interleave study sessions. For example, a student studies in a period of a few hours biology, then philosophy, followed by a session for another class.
Our objectives for The Study
During our planning process, we developed four program objectives for The Study:
- Participants will be able to apply the Study Cycle and principles of distributed learning, varied practice, and interleaving to their weekly study plans.
- Participants will be able to apply effective study strategies in one or more of the following areas: notetaking and processing notes, reading strategies, preparing for tests and test-taking, evaluating test performance.
- Affectively, participants report feeling more confidence and motivation when engaging in course work and, cognitively, they report increased use metacognitive approaches in terms of planning and strategy selection and application.
- Participation in The Study leads to improvements in the participants’ academic performance.
These will be measured and documented through tutor reports, participant surveys, and grade data. Depending on the results of the pilot, we will either expand in the fall or continue refining the program on a small scale.
For more information on The Study or to discuss ways of incorporating study strategies into your courses and office hours, contact Jeffrey White, Learning Commons administrator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further reading
Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A., (2014). Make it stick. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K.A., Marsh, E. J., Mitchell, N.J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective techniques: promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58, doi:10.1177/1529100612453266.
Hattie, J. A. & Donoghue, G. M. (2016). Learning strategies: a synthesis and conceptual model. npj Science of Learning (1), 1-13. doi:10.1038/npjscilearn.2016.13.
LSU Center for Academic Success (n.d.). How to Study for Note-Based Courses. Retrieved from https://www.lsu.edu/cas/earnbettergrades/note-based.php.
McGuire, S. Y. & McGuire, S. (2015). Teach students how to learn. Sterling, VA: Stylus.