What Makes Good Learners

By Stephen Campbell posted 03-24-2015 06:47:43 PM

This entry is a sort of melange of different teaching-related ideas that have been circulating in my head for the past few months, but I haven't had a chance to write them down until now. I regularly hold onto news articles and now this blog gives me an opportunity to expand upon some of them. In particular, this somewhat nebulous and inchoate post is directed toward my students. I hope they will read the attached links and take a different and perhaps more idealistic approach to their education.
    The first link here is about the habits of good learners. Students who are in my class are already exposed to a number of handouts and "tips for success" in my class, so I won't write too much about this. But I like what this link says about good learners being curious and that learning is not always meant to be fun or entertaining.
    The second link is an article published in the Journal of Psychology from 2008. With lots of data, the article documents how students' egos have been inflating over time. Put another way, it kind of suggests that students today think they're a lot smarter, talented, and more accomplished than students forty years ago. They're more self-absorbed and narcissistic. Yes, this has been a common refrain among teachers of every generation who often see their students as entitled, but here's finally some hard data to back it up. What goes along with this inflated ego, of course, is the expectation of higher grades. No wonder grade inflation has been so pronounced.
    In addition, I've linked to an article about multitasking. Students who are struggling in their classes may wish to really think about this and examine their own study habits. Are you working on your essay while five different applications on your computer are open? Are you texting friends while studying for a test? This may be hurting you. A lot of science backs this up - our minds are only used to doing one or two things at once. The problem is that when we take on four or five things - multitasking - we actually trick our minds into thinking that we're doing all of those activities well when it is precisely the opposite. In fact, our performance on all of the activities deteriorates markedly. In this digital age in which we live, when we are inundated with the latest pings and updates on social media, I'm afraid, there are way too many distractions. Our attention spans suffer and most forms of learning suffer as a result. Yes, teachers are learning to integrate digital technology into the classroom in new and interesting ways, and I'm a lot less resistant to new technology than I was a few years ago. But in the end, there is something to be said for focusing on one activity at a time; free of distractions. I'd hate it to say it, but it might very well mean turning your phones off, as impossible as that sounds. Don't worry, you will survive!
    And finally, my own two cents: students, dear students...if you can help it, PLEASE don't work more than 20 hour per week in your job. There simply aren't enough hours in the week to fit your job, social life, family, hobbies, and three to four classes into one. You can't expect to do well in all of those things. Yes, some people can pull it off, but they are rare, and it's been my experience that they're usually slighting one of those factors. I'll never forget the one quarter I took seventeen units of four, reading-intensive classes at UC Davis as an undergrad. My grades suffered. I know the economics of the modern "public" university often prevent students from working less than 20 hour per week. So I totally feel ya there. But if your parents can help out and you have the choice, please take advantage of it. Doing well in your classes is arguably the most important thing you're doing in your college years. It takes time to absorb the material and it takes hard work! True mastery of a subject requires patience and determination.