Targeted Skill Development: Building Blocks to Better Learning

Teachers have much to teach these days. There’s the standard content knowledge students need to take from their courses, all the while the amount of new information in all our fields continues to grow exponentially. Next, there are all those essential intellectual skills like critical thinking, problem solving, analysis of evidence, argument construction to start the list. Then there are the basic skills many students are missing — like the ability to do college level reading, write coherently and calculate correctly — and all those study skills, like time management, review strategies, attentive listening and good note taking. Lastly, there are the metacognitive skills and the fact that most students aren’t aware of themselves as learners and don’t monitor how they are or are not learning. How in the world can a teacher address all these learning needs in a 15-week course?

The task is impossible, but that doesn’t prevent some teachers from trying and then feeling badly that they didn’t do as much as they should have for students. That is part of what makes teachers excellent, but it’s also part of what wears us out.

I think the solution is targeted skill development. In a thoughtful, systematic way, teachers select and focus on certain skills. In all honesty, I can’t ever remember doing that when I was teaching, but I often think about it now when working with faculty and I have two hours to share the contents of a book that has taken me several years to write. I ask myself, What do faculty most need to know about this material? What knowledge and skills can springboard them to the next level of understanding? What knowledge and skills best motivate and prepare them to learn more on their own?

These are the questions I’m recommending faculty ask themselves about their students. They should begin by thoughtfully considering what knowledge and skills their students don’t have. Yes, in many cases the list will be long. Just as thoughtfully, the next step is to identify the knowledge and skills that are most essential for success with this content and in light of what students will be learning in their next courses. That should make it possible to narrow the list and identify the two or three most important skills which can then be targeted for development in the course.

by Maryellen Weimer, PhD.

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