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February 7, 2014
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

SRU faculty members offer study, learning tips, ideas

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Tamra Schiappa, Slippery Rock University associate professor of geography, geology and the environment, shared her views on metacognition, a fancy way of talking about an individual's knowledge about their own thinking, with faculty in an effort to strategize on ways to encourage students to be even more involved in their education.

"Engaging students, both in and outside the classroom, is an important part of learning and a gateway to success," Schiappa said.

Part of that engagement, she said, is "metacognition, getting a student to think about their own thinking, being constantly aware of themselves as a problem solver and controlling their mental processes - and that means truly understanding the course material, not just memorizing it."

Schiappa spearheaded a "faculty conversation" this week formally titled "Improving Student Metacognition," in Bailey Library as part of the University's ongoing Center for Excellence in Teaching and Educational Technology programs.

She recently attended the Transforming STEM Education: Inquiry, Innovation, Inclusion, and Evidence Conference hosted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities in San Diego. At the conference, Saundra Yancy McGuire, assistant vice chancellor for learning and teaching professor in the department of chemistry and former director of the Center for Academic Success at Louisiana State University, presented a plenary address titled "Metacognition and Motivation: Advancing STEM Learning for All Students." Schiappa used information from that conference as her basis for presentation.

The SRU professor said data suggests that many undergraduate students have found that improving their metacognitive skills in college has led to success when it may not have been necessary in high school. Many high school students, later enrolled in college, believe their academic ability is above average or in the highest 10 percent among people their age.

She said many also bring their high school study habits, which may or may not be successful, to college where the work is often more demanding. "Sometimes they just don't know how to study," she said.

She said that it is well known that active learning - asking or answering questions in class, group discussions - is more lasting than passive learning - lectures, films or slide shows - and joked "passive learning is an oxymoron."

"But, thinking about thinking is very important," she said. "The level at which learning occurs is important."

Schiappa said many students have not developed an efficient system for learning. "They say they are studying, but their test results show a different result. We are finding students are excellent at taking multiple-choice tests; they have mastered that system, but they are often not so good at synthesis and providing written answers to essay questions or working through problems that require actual use of the information they have learned."

"Students need to be engaged in class, that means asking questions, being curious, creative and informed. They need to actually do the textbook reading, come to class prepared and then help others in their class to better understand the concepts being discussed," she said.

She and other faculty attending the conversation said the study tradition of what has long been called the "SQRRR" (or "SQ3R") method for reading comprehension and overall learning is still viable and should be used by nearly all students as an effective way to learn.

The system, introduced in the 1946 book "Effective Study," calls for the learner to first "Survey" the chapter, look at the headings, sub-headings and other features, including charts, graphs and pictures all the while trying to formulate "Questions" about what the chapter may be intending to pass along. The second step is to form "Questions" about the content of the reading.

"The student should be asking 'What is this chapter about?' 'What is going to be important? 'What is the writer trying to convey," Schiappa said.

The first "R" is for "Read," meaning actually reading the chapter; the second "R" for "Recite," or "wRite," or "Recall," meaning to mentally identify major points and answer the questions from the second step in the learning process.

The final "R," signifies "Review," for reviewing notes and the material presented.

"This has proven to be a very successful method of learning, not memorizing" Schiappa said.

"Mindset is also very important," she said. Some students arrive with a "fixed intelligence mindset," thinking that intelligence is static and you have a certain amount of it. Others bring with them a 'Growth Intelligence Mindset," believing intelligence can be developed and you can grow it with action" she said.

She outlined the differences, saying, "Those with a fixed intelligence mindset often avoid challenges, give up easily when confronted with challenges, think it is fruitless to try any task requiring effort, ignore criticism given by faculty and find the success of others threatening. Those who have a growth intelligence mindset embrace challenges, persist when obstacles are presented, find a path to master mater tasks requiring effort, learn from faculty criticism and find the success of others inspirational and challenging."

"The trick is to find strategies that will encourage students to engage their brains," she said.

Some of the ways encouragement can be implemented is helping student improve their reading comprehension, in part by making use of the "SQRRR" learning system, learning to concentrate in class "and that includes asking questions, sketching out concepts and rewriting and reviewing notes taken during class," she said. Others suggested marking in textbooks, including underling characters first introduced in a novel, or highlighting important words and phrases to review, possibly right after class, during study periods and before tests. "That does not mean highlighting entire paragraphs, pages or chapters," she said.

Schiappa suggested students should preview or review for every class - before class; do a little of the homework at a time, not hours studying one subject or class; use the textbook and complete chapter questions; make flashcards of the information asking questions, having already written the answers on the back of the card; and practice explaining the information to others so as to solidify it in their own mind.

"I also encourage students to use their digital devices to improve their learning, not just for social media," she said. "A iPad or smart phone can be a learning tool too."

Schiappa joined the University in 2002 and teaches both introductory and upper-level courses in her department.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.