Book Review: Teach Students How to Learn

I acquired Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation by Saundra Yancy McGuire in a burst of purchasing designed to improve my own pedagogical approach.  It was recommended to me by someone I feel is a good educator, and then it sat on my shelf for a while until I had more time for professional reading.  My overall impression is: this was a fantastic book. I think it should be given free to every entering undergraduate student.

To be honest, the first three chapters read like some get-rich-quick scheme.  Numerous anecdotes along the lines of, “see this student’s scores go from 30% to 90%!” did not impress me.  I wish they had skipped all of that, assumed the reader was actually interested in the subject, and moved on.  I suspect these were included to engage those who were skeptical or who had randomly picked up the book without knowing what they were getting in to.  If you buy the book, just skip these chapters.

Chapter 4 finally starts to get into some useful tips and strategies.  This chapter suggests introducing students to Bloom’s Taxonomy.  I’ve been doing this for years and can wholeheartedly agree with this recommendation.  If you want students to be analytical, you need to explain to them the difference between knowledge and analysis, and Bloom’s Taxonomy is an easy way to do this.  I’m always surprised that people don’t know about Bloom’s.  Take the time to learn about it or, if you’re an educator, share it with your students.

Chapter 5 carries a heavy burden: covering 10 metacognitive strategies students can use to improve their knowledge of a subject.  They are generally straightforward, although I know vet students will balk at some of them, notably the reading strategies.  Nonetheless, I think they may be useful for some students.

Chapter 6 addresses a topic I have discussed before: having a growth mindset.  The short version is: if you have a growth mindset, you will grow, if you have a fixed mindset, you will not.

Chapter 7 looks at the relationship between mind, body, motivations, and learning.  It’s important to realize that the teacher has a significant impact on student motivation.  If the teacher BELIEVES the student can succeed, the student is more likely to succeed.  It requires an emotional belief on the part of both teacher and student.

Chapter 8 is probably my favorite since it provides 21 specific strategies for teachers to improve engagement, motivation, and learning.  I have used many of these but discovered a few I had not heard about, such as discussing the growth mindset with students and giving students easier assessments earlier to build their confidence.

Chapter 9 is aimed at students and what they can do to affect their success.  It recontextualizes the previous chapters from the perspective of the student.  

Chapter 10 covers using your campus learning center.  This is interesting but not as useful for veterinary students- most of them are already reasonably competent students and getting onto the main campus during regular business hours can be difficult.  

Chapter 11 expands teaching strategies to groups, mostly by using a canned 50-minute Powerpoint presentation and discussion the author provides for readers.  Some data is presented here from a couple of studies, but it is obvious that much more research is needed to validate these strategies.  

Chapter 12 deals with unprepared problem students, who, again, are not usually a problem in veterinary medicine.

The Appendices are terrific, summarizing the strategies described throughout for a quick-reference guide, as well as providing all of the slides for the 50-minute presentation for the students.

Overall, this was a fantastic book.  I think it should be given free to every entering undergraduate student.  Most vet students have probably figured out some of these strategies, but I think almost any vet student would benefit from learning more of them from this book.  I also think any new faculty should be given a copy of this book so they can enhance their teaching skills and understand their students better.  If you are a student or a teacher, you should absolutely buy this.  A terrific resource that WILL make you a better student or teacher if you apply the lessons from it.

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