One of my jobs is as an Academic at my University. In this role I have been fortunate enough to do subject coordination, lecturing and tutoring for a variety of subjects. As a result I have been able to observe and explore the aproaches of many students from a diverse set of backgrounds including different countries, cultures, ages, levels of experience, desires, strengths and weaknesses and so on. It has fascinated me to watch them learning and understand how they actually go about doing it.Students are always very concerned about their marks. Most of them are concerned with understanding the material. Very few however take the opportunity to step back and look at how they, and others around them are actually learning and this is a big loss.
Everyone is different, and everyone is going to be different in what works and doesn’t work well for them. Some people naturally fall into workflows that suit them, some, not so much and others take a direct role in organising their workflows to maximise their strenghts and minimise their weaknesses. I believe that the first 2 could benefit from doing a bit of what the third group is doing.
For example. I once had a student who came and saw me after an exam and complained that it was unfair. It was way too hard and covered a lot of things that hadn’t been taught. I didn’t believe this to be the case so we sat down and I brought up the exam. (It happened to be a practical exam that was done on the computer and involved using a set of tools to solve a series of problems) I picked a question that they had gotten wrong and asked them to tell me their thoughts. They replied that they hadn’t been taught how to solve this and demanded I show them where in the notes they could find the answer.
I instead asked them to think about a tool that could solve the problem and what were the stages it would go through to do so. They didn’t quite get this so I said break the problem into two stages. This they could do. Then I said break each of those into 2 stages. Then I asked them to look at each of those stages and tell me if they could solve them. They replied, yes. I asked them to do it and they did. I then asked them to join the stages and they did. A look of excitement then spread over their face.
We then picked another problem and I ran them through the process again. Again they solved it with no trouble at all. So we picked another problem and I let them loose on their own. Again they solved it. I then asked them to go over the remaining questions and with the exception of one they solved all of them.
They asked me if I could give them extra marks in light of this but I declined. I said that would be unfair to the other students but I have given you a gift and if you keep using it you will benefit greatly and that is worth much more than a few marks on an assessment. They came to me at the end of the semester and said they were so pleased as their marks in all their subjects had picked up as a result.
Now, I hadn’t taught them anything directly. I hadn’t told them what the answers were, I didn’t even hint at the answer. All I did was to understand their current process and then get them to try a different one.
I believe that a lot of people have amazing potential. All they lack is the ability to organise their workflow, or they haven’t seen the prospect of reorganising their workflow, to take full advantage of their skills, knowledge and ability. I always enjoy helping people to realise the benefits of this.