Explore potential strategies.
Students overestimate their understanding and ability.
Knowing involves diverse cognitive processes ranging from remembering and comprehending to applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating/synthesizing. Unfortunately, students often believe they "know" something simply because they have "heard" or "seen" it . Moreover, they don’t recognize that being able to define a concept or theory is different from knowing when and how to use it. For example, students may read through a worked-out problem without actively solving it themselves and believe they understand. However, they may not have the level of understanding necessary to actually solve the problem, which can lead to disappointing performance. This overconfidence has been documented in a variety of different fields.
These ungraded assessments are often easy to create and provide information to both instructors and students about students’ perception of their own level of understanding (.doc). For example, diagnostic questions for a knowledge probe can allow students to indicate whether they (a) recognize a concept, (b) can define it, or (c) can actually use it in the appropriate context. Having to choose among these options can help students to realistically estimate their level of understanding and ability, while educating them about the diverse cognitive processes involved in learning.
Frequent quizzes, assignments, small writing assignments, etc. provide opportunities for both the student and the instructor to determine the students’ level of understanding, which can be a reality check for students who overestimate their understanding and ability.
Students often don’t take the time to analyze why they did poorly on an assignment or exam. Some faculty members have created "exam wrapper" assignments that they given students when graded exams are returned. These assignments ask students to describe their study practices (e.g., when they started, the nature of the study activity, how long they spent studying), analyze the nature of the errors on the exam, and then articulate what they will do differently in the future. Discussion with students about their responses on the exam wrappers can provide an opportunity for you to refer them accordingly, to the ICC, Academic Development, to EOS, the office that addresses learning disabilities, or other support entities on campus.
There are natural ways to have this conversation, e.g., both learning objectives and rubrics can indicate the level of performance we expect from our students so that they can monitor and assess their progress.
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