Learning How to Learn

My passion for teaching started at the age of 15, when I worked as a math tutor for primary and secondary school students. In those early years, I believed that good teaching was knowing more than your students. With the passage of time and experience teaching my own classes at the college level, I’ve come to a more wholistic view of what makes a good teacher.

Mastery of the subject is important; but, I’ve come to understand that students at all levels need help learning how to learn. Even top performers in high school can struggle to incorporate the volume of knowledge presented to them in college. In order to address this issue, I incorporate low stakes activities in all my classes. These activities teach “meta-cognitive techniques,” which help students identify what they don’t know and give them more efficient tools for studying. Examples include pre-class quizzes (which incentivize and guide students’ pre-class preparation) and post-class quizzes (which enable students to see what is important and articulate and organize their thoughts about the material). I also assign in-class group work, which allows students to practice difficult homework and exam questions with each other with me present to assist. These group assignments are highly effective at helping students understand what they do or don’t know. Another meta-cognitive technique that is also highly effective is called “muddiest point”. Here students are asked at the end of class to tell me one thing from the lecture that they did not understand. This activity helps students to think about the material and it helps me to recognize what I need to go over the next class.

The meta-cognitive techniques and strategies I employ in my classes gently push students to think about and learn the material. Pushing gently is important. I want students to feel comfortable giving wrong answers. I also want to create an inclusive learning environment where students feel comfortable engaging with the material. It starts with the first day of class, where I build off the diversity statement in my syllabus which lays out my vision for an inclusive environment in class, but that is the easiest part. To truly have an inclusive environment, I feel it’s a daily task of thinking about how to phrase questions or examples, how I address students, or how I facilitate discussion. For example, when it comes to answering questions, I try to not shut students down in discussions when giving a wrong answer, and instead reply with “well that’s not quite right” or “that’s nearly right, but can I tweak it a little bit?” Further, in the context of my discussion I am careful how I motivate a discussion, whether that is in generating diverse fictional individuals or in encouraging students to engage with the lecture without fear of judgement.

An overarching goal in my classes is to help students see the power of Economics. Yes, Economics is a highly abstract science. But, I teach that its ideas are essential for students (and us all) in making good decisions, not only in their our own lives, but as future professionals. In a moment that has inspired me to work towards this goal, a student handed me a piece of paper before class with a request to skip that day’s lecture. On his paper he laid out the different marginal costs versus marginal benefits of missing my class to see a movie premiere on campus. Although maybe not the best decision for his attendance grade, I loved seeing him operationalize everything he learned in our classroom community. I still have the piece of paper taped above my desk, as a daily affirmation of the transformative power and responsibilities we have as educators.