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Effective Thinking

Do you have your students talking to themselves?  I don’t mean that your students so are exasperated that they are hearing voices, but are they asking themselves questions that make them more effective learners.  Trisha White, a Math Instructor, believes that students who struggle in math haven’t learned to ask themselves the right questions.  Trisha says, “the question why may be my best tool for inspiring the kind of thinking that makes individuals better students and more competent professionals. Why forces the student to think about what is happening in the problem, and the question why will not allow the problem to be reduced to a series of memorized and meaningless steps and procedures.”  She uses activities designed to get her students to ask themselves effective questions.  One way is to give her students a fairly long equation to solve.   After completing this problem, they find another class member who solved the equation in a different way.  Sometimes they don’t have the same answer so they need to decide who is correct.  If they got the correct answer, they can discuss what they did differently and why an equation can be solved in various ways.  If they are incorrect they can analyze where their thinking went wrong and why a different strategy is better.  She teaches her students to ask themselves, “Does my answer even make sense?”  Trisha also asks concept questions on every homework assignment and test.  Some concept questions are “Why do you add exponents when multiplying terms?” or “Why does multiplying by the LCD clear all the fractions in an equation?” The student’s answers are probably a better measure of understanding than a simple correct calculation.

Getting our students to reflect on how they learn can help them become better learners.  Michael Borich, an English Instructor, has his students write a brief, self-assessment essay half-way through the course in which they analyze their time management, study habits, and comprehension of the course material.  He has his students ask themselves questions such as, “Have I developed annotative reading habits that help me stay focused?” and “Do I have a regular study time at home?”  He asks them if their grade is what they expected and what specific steps they are taking to improve. He finds that having students articulate their thoughts helps them be more aware of both their ineffective and effective learning strategies.

Marsha Lovett suggests using a similar technique called Exam Wrappers.  When she returns an exam she has students write a self-reflection including the study strategies they used for the exam, what errors they made, and how they can improve their study strategies for their next exam.  She then returns these self-reflections prior to the next exam to remind students of their new study plans.   Lovett provides more ideas at on helping students learn effective metacognitive skills.

McMurray and Sanft provide ideas on teaching our students more effective thinking skills in a paper at this link:

Bad joke to start the week

An astronaut in space was asked by a reporter, “How do you feel?”

“How would you feel,” the astronaut replied, “if you were stuck here, on top of 20,000 parts each one supplied by the lowest bidder?”

Last thought

“Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.” (Josef Albers)

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