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Book review: Teach students how to learn

by Geoff Hart

Previously published as: Hart, G. 2017. Book review: Teach students how to learn: strategies you can incorporate into any course to improve student metacognition, study skills, and motivation. Technical Communication 64(3):259.

Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation
Saundra Yancy McGuire with Stephanie McGuire. 2015. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-62036-316-4. 240 pages, including index. US$32.00 (softcover).]

During your university odyssey, you might have failed to notice that the ability to learn isn’t innate; it’s a skill that must be taught to students, but rarely is. As a result, most students enter university unaware they must become active problem-solvers rather than passive receivers of information. Academics know this implicitly, but like most subject-matter experts, forget that students don’t share their knowledge. Challenging teachers to reject their assumption that students arrive at university prepared to learn—and convincing them to teach their students new ways of learning—is the goal of Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation.

In this book, the McGuires emphasize the need to help students rethink their approach to learning by teaching them metacognition skills. They present a structured plan for transforming the learning experience by teaching students Bloom’s hierarchy, effective study and learning strategies, and how to become motivated to learn. These skills are supported by detailed strategies for transferring this knowledge to students. But the authors also remind us that teachers must learn what works from their students; teaching is a partnership, and different partners have different requirements. The book comprehensively summarizes best practices for creating skilled learners who recognize the amount of work required to learn complex subjects and are motivated to do the work. The individual points may seem obvious, but I’ll bet you’re not using them all to guide your teaching. (Mea culpa.) Teach Students How to Learn’s an essential resource because so much information is gathered concisely in one place, with a structured teaching plan that includes downloadable slide sets you can customize for your own students.

The authors cite much anecdata to support their approach, but also a few more rigorous studies that offer convincing evidence. Overall, this may not satisfy the academic mind, but the McGuires persuaded me their approach has enormous potential. Unfortunately, the writing style is an obstacle. The book begins like a late-night infomercial (complete with testimonials), then evolves into a wandering and informal approach that takes several chapters to settle into a more conventional presentation of the authors’ thesis. Once this happens, the book becomes an effective learning tool for teachers, but the organization needs improvement; information that should be integrated with specific chapters often ends up scattered or separated into appendices.

Despite these drawbacks, Teach Students How to Learn provides method and motivation to become more effectively involved in helping your students succeed.

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