Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

My students don’t seek help when they need it.

Students are seeking help that is not working.

Recent data indicate that many Carnegie Mellon students turn to their peers for academic assistance rather than approaching the faculty member, TA or Academic Development. Sometimes this approach is successful in addressing the gaps in understanding and performance. Other times it is not, but given that many students (particularly early in their academic careers) are not good at monitoring and adapting their strategies, they continue in this vein.


Explicitly discuss with students different levels of understanding.

Knowing involves diverse cognitive processes ranging from remembering and comprehending to applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating/synthesizing. Hence, ask students to think about the nature of the help they are receiving – does their peer simply explain a concept and ask the student to reiterate it (i.e., remember) or does the peer ask the student to apply the concept (i.e., application) or decide when its use is appropriate (i.e., evaluation)?

Teach metacognitive skills.

Help the students learn to evaluate the effectiveness of the help they have received, e.g., did my peer give me the answer, explain the process or make me practice. By monitoring their understanding (i.e., performance) they monitor the effectiveness of the help, thereby enabling them to adjust their help-seeking behavior (e.g., go to the TA, tutoring, supplemental instruction, the faculty member).

Provide opportunities for reflection on effort or study practices.

Students often don't take the time to analyze why they continue to do poorly, thereby fostering a vicious cycle where they simply do more of the same thing (i.e., seek help from peers). Some faculty members have created "exam wrapper" assignments that they give students when graded exams, projects, papers, etc, are returned. These wrappers, for example, can ask students to describe their study practices (e.g., who helped them and how, when they started, the nature of the study activity, how long they spent studying), analyze the nature of the practice, and then articulate what they will do differently in the future. These wrapper examples could be adapted to also facilitate identification of the type of errors the student made (e.g., mathematical, conceptual). 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.

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