Full PreFrontal

Ep. 183: Stephen Chew - Learning Beyond the Big Choke Point

April 28, 2022 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 183
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 183: Stephen Chew - Learning Beyond the Big Choke Point
Show Notes Transcript

Researcher Diane Halpern says, “When people think critically, they are evaluating the outcomes of their thought processes – how good a decision is or how well a problem is solved.” Metacognition on the other hand is thinking about one’s own thinking and discovering how best to control our thinking to facilitate learning. Both require strong attentional and emotional recourses channeled as mental effort into new learning. Students who reflect on their own thinking are positioned to learn more than their peers who are not metacognitive.

On this episode, award-winning professor of psychology at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama and chair of the National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology, Stephen L. Chew, discusses barriers in cognition and learning that create a disconnect between self-knowledge and the approaches to new learning. Metacognition is a critical component of building students’ executive function and education must include this science in designing learning strategies for all students.

About Stephen Chew
Stephen L. Chew is a professor of psychology at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He also serves as chair of the National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology. Trained as a cognitive psychologist, one of his primary research areas is the cognitive basis of effective teaching and learning. His research interests include the use of examples in teaching, the impact of cognitive load on learning, and the tenacious misconceptions that students bring with them into the classroom. He is the creator of a groundbreaking series of YouTube videos for students on how to study effectively in college (http://www.samford.edu/how-to-study/) which have been viewed over three million times and are in wide use from high schools to professional schools. His most recent work is on the cognitive challenges of effective teaching. He is the recipient of multiple national awards for his teaching and research, including named the 2011 Outstanding Master’s Universities and Colleges U.S. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.



  • https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCz2tkFnv6GNdNyeoq0W4XWg

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

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Sucheta Kamath: Welcome to Full PreFrontal exposing the mysteries of executive function. I'm your host Sucheta Kamath, as we keep bringing the stories about complex and wide, wide applicability of executive function. I'm really excited to bring you the wisdom and knowledge of neuroscientists, psychologists, educational experts, particularly with the intention to transform our children's lives, our own lives and those we care deeply about. You know, as I think about executive function, particularly in the context of learning and teaching, not just from K to 12 education, but beyond, I often think about my own personal journey, journey. And you have heard me talk about this I grew up in India, I went to Indian schools, where education is very, very important, which is basically become great at memorizing, and being able to write pages and pages worth narratives. I grew up during the time when there was no multiple questions, there was no fill in the blanks. There was just writing narrative questions. So not only if you have good memory, and you have good resuscitation and ability to vomit, as you call it, you did well. Secondly, you also kind of there was no exploration in learning style, or there was no transparency about teachers learning of students learning. So I'll give you one quick example. One of my favorite teachers was my literature or language arts teacher throughout, in particularly my high school. I remember him pacing in the, in the classroom, going back and forth with eyes closed, he used to teach with eyes closed, he never wrote anything on the board. He never stopped pacing. But he was such a fantastic orator He not only he almost made compelled you to close your eyes, because he was taking you on a journey. And I kind of always wonder about his power of motivating us to read beyond whatever he was talking about. Because he was so well read. And his questions were never about the story, particularly if it's like language arts. And it was all about how, what do you think? And no other class I remember ever asked me about my opinion. So there was no opinion question on any other part of my it was opinion about maybe the content or how will you remember, the reason I'm sharing this with you is do you wonder, like working with children is a big challenge. Motivating children is a bigger challenge. And then we have tasked teachers and educators to be in charge of those who may be less motivated than the adults might be? And do you ever wonder how to really inspire people to become the best learners whose passion or orientation towards learning as a lifelong learner gets formed and what is the role of teaching and learning in that? So with that in mind, I am so delighted and honored to bring Dr. Steven Chew. He's a professor of psychology at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He also serves as as chair of the National Institute on teaching of psychology, trained as a cognitive psychologist. One of his primary research areas is the cognitive bias a basis of effective teaching and learning. His research interests include the use of examples of in teaching, the impact of cognitive load on learning, the tenacious myths or tenacious misconceptions that students bring their bring with them into the classroom which helps bust we are going to link some of his fabulous videos for young learners to learn a little bit about themselves. And the last thing I'll say about him What is he he specializes is the you know, research speak into teacher speak. Welcome to the podcast Dr. Chew, how are you today?

Stephen Chew: I'm doing well. Thank you for the invitation. It's a pleasure to be here.

Sucheta Kamath: Yes, pleasure is all mine. So let's start a frequently asked this question of my guests. Since you are in a very interested in the insights that people children or students gain into their learning. Let me start by having you describe a little bit about yourself as a learner and a thinker and with the prospective executive function which is self knowledge awareness of one's strengths and weaknesses and capacity to strategize with goal directed effort. What was your sense of your own self as a learner? And when did you awaken to that?

Stephen Chew: Well, as you were describing your own background, I was resonating very closely to it because I was raised in a traditional Chinese household, which, of course, also emphasizes education, and it was my father's dream to have all three of his sons earn straight A's at the same semester. And I was always the disappointment to him, I was the youngest, and through most of my, you know, secondary elementary and secondary education, I was, I was not very motivated, I didn't really understand that you had to, actually, you know, study and work hard. In finally, it was, it was my junior year in high school, when I finally realized that, you know, if I put effort into this, if I focused and, and actually, like, follow directions, and things like that, I would actually do well. And that, I think, was, it was obviously, it made a big difference. But the advantage of that was that it wasn't other people who were forcing me to do these things, it prepared me to go to college, because I was the one who had decided, this is what I needed to do the, you know, the, the responsibility was mine to, you know, create the effective plan, carry it out and things like that. So I did not have I was not a stellar high school student, although I finished well, in then when I got to college, that's where I, you know, I had the the executive functions to, to really plan out and execute well, and that was very important lesson to me. And it's something that I try to pass on to my students as well. 

Sucheta Kamath: So yeah, thank you for sharing your interesting background, you know, as we think about children, and our own personal learning experiences, I always tell my children, I'm grateful that I came from another country, because it helped me kind of one, appreciate the background, my own background, and then also kind of, it kind of gave me a lens, that there's some cultural translation that I need to learn off the land. And what I find from my executive function work that a lot of times students who are in the classrooms, and as they transition from single teacher run classroom to multiple teachers, is literally code switching and understanding each teachers, you know, ways of running the classroom and expectations, some implicit, some explicit, and also how to regulate themselves in that context. So does this analogy fit well with you, as we think about where the struggle comes from, children are not able to go in and out of different providers of knowledge.

Stephen Chew: Absolutely. And this is something when I talk to teachers, I emphasize, because the students, you know, have to concentrate in each class, but every class is different, the presentation style, the expectations, the subject matter. And teachers have to remember that students are trying to juggle four or five, completely different approaches to education. And it adds greatly to their their cognitive load, they're, you know, they're the mental effort they have to expend. This is true in college. But it's also true in K-12. Education as well. This is something we talked a little bit about my kind of awakening to executive functioning. But my son who graduated from high school a few years ago, when he was there, he struggled, because all the teachers use different methods, some use the learning management system, some used websites, some use email, and it's asking a lot for young adolescent to try and keep track of all of those different potential sources of information. Just to you know, that's not even getting at the, the work itself, it the work, you're having to spend a lot of energies, just locating all of the assignments you're expected to do, because they were in different locations. Where as when I was going through, it was always just written on the board, you know, it's just one location. And that made things a lot simpler. So we know that one of the main constraints in the cognitive system is mental effort or concentration. And if they're having to expend a lot of mental effort, just locating the assignment that's going to leave less effort available to actually focus on the learning.

Sucheta Kamath: So the multiple things that come to mind if I can get you to start a little bit for those listeners who may not be fully they can infer and extrapolate. But I would love to hear your definition of cognitive load. And from, you know, executive function, the key component of executive function is working memory, that capacity to bear information while applying the rules of operation. So how does and maybe also, this is a terrible habit of mine, I asked too many questions back to back. But there's one more question I have about cognitive load, which is, do you like to distinguish between cognitive versus affective load. And maybe you can comment on that.

Stephen Chew: So we can think there's, there's multiple ways of thinking about this, this, this problem in in cognition, it's, everyone agrees that it's this major, choke point or constraint. And it really influences ability to learn. So there's a couple of different ways you can think about it. Number one is, is think about it as as a problem and attention. Attention allows you to select what you're going to pay attention to, you know, what you're going to be aware of it, then it also allows you to concentrate, which is the mental effort part. And you can look at the constraint as a a limited amount of mental effort that you can, you can sort of allocate to different tasks. So different tasks have different cognitive load the amount of mental effort required to do them. So you know, just memorizing vocabulary is relatively straightforward. But doing a calculus problem or something like that would have a greater mental require would have a greater cognitive load, because it requires more concentration to do. And if you try to do too many things, and the cognitive load of the things you're doing exceeds how much concentration mental effort you have, then your performance is going to fall apart. And that's, that's something that teachers need to be really aware of. A lot of good teaching is attention management, always knowing where your students attention is directed, and always knowing how much mental effort they're expending. And a lot of executive function for the students, as always, is the same thing, not trying to do too many things at once. And knowing when you're overwhelmed and kind of avoiding those situations. So you can think of it as a as a limitation and attention as a resource. Another way of looking at it as a capacity, limitation, working memory. So we can only remember four or five items at a time. And so if we try to remember too many different things at once, then we're going to start forgetting. So those are you can think of those just in a everyday sense, you can think of those tools as limitations. And in cognitive psychology, it's this, it's this big controversy now about whether it's a process limitation, or capacity limitation. And we're still trying to work it out. I think everyone kind of knows they're related in some way. But from a just completely pragmatic point of view, you know, for students, and for teachers, you know, it's just this big choke point. And you can think of it as a problem and attention, which is a process or a problem in working memory, which has a capacity. And that's a really long, convoluted answer to your question. But anything that affects that that concentration is going to hurt, is going to influence your learning and emotions are one of those things so that if you are in a sort of an aroused state to a certain degree, it's going to help you, you get to panic, then it's going to hurt you, you know, so your your available mental effort actually varies according to your level of arousal. And emotion, of course, is one of those things is really driving, driving that.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, first of all, you exhibited excellent executive function to track all my questions. Sorry, you already know you have fabulous executive function, but also to hold on to all those questions in your working memory and tackle them one one by one. So yeah, so there's a genuine structural limitations to the way brain is designed. And then there may be some some artifacts that can make it really worse. But then there's additional procedural difficulties, that if we don't kind of have a solution, can you before we proceed into more details about students attitudes, then, can you comment on rule of self awareness because whether it's a process limitation, or capacity limitation, there comes a point where the learning is supposed to happen and the realization that oh my god, I'm not learning anything and smaller the gap better the awareness, but larger the gap, no strategic thinking or strategic steps are taken, and then the burden lies on the teacher to not only teach, but pause to check if the learning is occurring. Such a complicated process?

Stephen Chew: Absolutely, you're you're absolutely correct. If there is this huge gap between what the the learner needs to do and their current like level of knowledge, they're, they're not going to be able to know even how to bridge that gap. And in part of teach you, the teacher's job is to give them the structure and the scaffolding to to get to the endpoint, because the students often it can't see exactly how to do that. Not only that, the research is quite clear. And this is something I've really tried to emphasize that students often have misconceptions about how they learned that really undermine their ability to, to learn. So there, they think that learning is much faster than it is. They think that they are supposed to be naturally good. You know, this is Carol Dweck work on fixed versus growth mindset. So they often think that, you know, if I'm, if I'm smart, this should come naturally. And if I'm not, then, you know, that's, you know, that I shouldn't have to struggle struggling is a sign of weakness, if you have a fixed mindset, if you have to work at something, then that's a sign of that, you know, of weakness. But if you have a growth mindset, then struggle is just part of the whole process. So students often have these, these misconceptions about, about the way they learned that, you know, that really undermine their ability to learn, they pick the worst learning strategy, but the research is really clear, they prefer the the easiest strategy, which is often the worst strategy for learning, so it slows them them down. So it's up to the teacher to create that, that learning environment that will motivate the student to learn and, and give the student the tools to learn. You know, that's really part of the teachers role. What I've tried to do in the work I've done is, is educate both the teacher and the student about those constraints and more effective learning strategies to help them both out in terms of helping the student to learn.

Sucheta Kamath: You know, and I think the the part that really makes me wonder that if you think about learning and the invisible nature of learning, you know, only way to know if learning has occurred when you test. But the test taking has its own barriers, but test taking happens so much later than the learning happening in the moment. So unless the teacher and parents keep some, something embedded in the process of learning about a checking, you know, I love a lot of things that I saw after the Coursera and Moodle systems came out, they would pause every 15 minutes and ask questions about learning, or, you know, self efficacy questions. Are you learning? What do you think you're learning? What is it, and then people realize, like, oh, I don't want these questions, because I just want to sit through it while I'm distracting, but with my text, and then I just want to feel that I have some knowledge, I don't want all the knowledge and to be accurate. So this kind of creates a little bit of a pain, painful process, because and I'll bring in my work, you know, when I work with having done this work for 25 years, self aware, building self awareness, and self knowledge is a double edged sword, the more you work on gaining self knowledge more painful, and depressive it is to realize how many things are inaccurate about myself knowledge. But without that self knowledge, your strategic steps are not going to be tailored to your own self knowledge. So what are your thoughts about this process, which is two steps forward and four steps backwards, but very, very critical, because ultimately, you can shape your destiny with self knowledge.

Stephen Chew: Self knowledge is absolutely critical. And as you say, you know, we we tend to harbor kind of romanticized ideals about how much we know and, and you have to be able to set those aside and be very honest about about your, your, your level of understanding. So you know, I am I'm a huge proponent of these formative assessments, these these very brief low stakes assessments to let the students know where they are, but And so teachers rarely use them, but But you have to go beyond that and help the students to interpret and use the feedback, too, because, you know, we have students or I have students who will, like I'll give like a practice exam or a little quiz to help them to learn and they won't do well, but that won't, that won't affect their estimate of how well they'll do. You know, and you have to say, you know, if you didn't do well on this well, the questions are very too much, you know, the same line. So you really need to use this diagnostically to think about where you need to study where I teach statistics. So I'll often have students though, they'll work for like 40 minutes, you know, in, they'll solve one problem, they'll think they understand, and then they get to the exam, and they have to do like five problems in an hour. You know, and so, it's really important to to help students see the value of, of testing themselves of self assessing, I mean, self assessment is, is a huge advantage. And in the long run, you're going to be more successful. And in the long run, you're going to waste less less time. So it's really critical to teach students those skills, and to model that in the classroom about like, see, you know, we have this feedback, how do you use this feedback, you know, and ultimately, you're going to get better. So you're going to learn more, and you're going to do better. And so that's really to your advantage do to use these kinds of do these kinds of things on your own.

Sucheta Kamath: So you mentioned something that's been wonderful, we have had a wonderful guest, you know, Camille Farrington, and she talks about mindset, you know, academic mindset for productive persistence, and therefore, mindset she talks about, which is I belong in this academic community, my ability and competence grow with my effort, you know, I can succeed at this. And then last one is that this work has value for me. And you talk a lot about kind of one, not only ensuring these mindsets, or somebody assesses them, and checks in the learning community. But then you also have some ideas about how to instill some processes, so that these mindsets take root. Do you mind walking us through some of the strategies that you have in mind, which is so powerful, which you were talking about this work has value for me, is one of the things that is missed to me in my eyes that kids have no clue why they're learning. And then they feel it's like, oh, I got a zero for things that I didn't care to begin with.

Stephen Chew: Yeah, absolutely. First of all, I'm I really love Dr. Harrington's work on, on persistence mindset. I think that's, that's so important. And so such interesting work. But it is this idea of, of the work having value. If the students already think they know as much about a topic as they want to, then they're not motivated to learn more. And we see this in psychology all the time, they already think they, they know, psychology, all they think they're, they're good at psychology. So what I tried to do from the first day is to, is to convince them that that they aren't as good as they, they think. And if they pay attention in class, they'll actually get better at, you know, at this, and it will have advantages to them. So from day one, you have to make them teachable to say, you know, you don't know as much as you as you should, knowing more will be both interesting and useful to you. That's an important part of mindset, that I think often gets over overlooked like this, this information is interesting and valuable. And, you know, if I work in this class, I will gain this, this knowledge, and it will be useful to me, beyond getting a good grade in this in this class. So, that is something I think I have slowly over the years realized, you know, because you come into it, we've dedicated our lives to a subject, you know, so we don't have to convince ourselves that it's very interesting. But a lot of times, we just assume the students, you know, must be interested in our topic. And I tell, you know, faculty, when I give workshops, remember, you know, they may not have picked your class, because, you know, they were into the topic, they picked it because a buddy of theirs is in there, or they have, you know, a free spot at nine o'clock. And this checked off a general ed requirement or something along those lines. You know, not only did you present information, you have to create that mindset where like, you know, I don't know this, but this is valuable. And if I work in this class, I'm going to gain that point to gain that knowledge.

Sucheta Kamath: You know, funny, can I indulge you in a joke? You talked about psychology students recently. I just texted my family yesterday, this joke, it's like, it was it says my psych professor asked if we had heard of Pavlov. So I said it rings a bell and no one laughed. So I'm too witty for this class.

Stephen Chew: I self assessment. Yeah, that is self assess. We and I'm just I'm teaching that in my general Psych class. Now. We just talked about that yesterday.

Sucheta Kamath: I thought that was so onpoint to what you're saying? As sometimes we certify ourselves, particularly this whole new, new wave of like self help books, people somehow feel and everybody's quoting psychology research as if they understand everything about design to conclusions, and it just boggles my mind. But when you look at people try to live in those findings, there's so far apart. So can you talk about this other aspects, which also, I think there's a lot of research out there a lot of conversations. But this idea, this growth versus fixed mindset that children bring to the table, my ability and competence goes with my effort. But they actually understand it, you know, as an abstract entity, but they don't believe in it. And so they actually do, don't act as if they believe in it. So there's a gap between their arbitrary or abstract notion that Yeah, I know, this is really everybody can learn to play piano. And then just says, or my favorite is, I'm not creative. Well, if you certify yourself to be not creative, then then every single life's approach needs creative approach, right? It's not that creating a creative flower, or like a paper mache that is a sign of creativity. So what are your thoughts about reshaping those student attitudes? With strategy,

Stephen Chew: it's absolutely essential. I mean, the students come in, often thinking that they are, you know, a good at something or bad at something, and you need to convince them that if they work at it in your class, that they'll actually get better. I mean, it's about instilling that, that growth mindset. And it's also, you know, growth mindset, really, is this idea that, that it's changeable. They, you need to also add that that self efficacy where they have the tools to change it, because if they, even if they have a growth mindset, but they use like poor learning strategies, or they study under distraction, they're there, they're not going to do that well, and then they're going to, it's just going to reinforce that, you know, that, that belief, it's going to become a self fulfilling prophecy. So you, you have to give them success experiences, and you have to kind of show them that they're capable, of, of improving and changing. So, growth mindset, that goes hand in hand with employee increasing that, that, that sense that, you know, I can, I can do this, I have this pathway, that, you know, if I follow this, I can actually, I can actually improve, there's actually I read a really good study on this. The other day, out of University of Georgia, it was a, it was either biology or chemistry, and I can't remember the name of the author, but she did a very in depth qualitative study, looking at students mindset from exam one, exam two, and she found that the overwhelming majority of them wanted to change and improve, but many of them didn't know how, you know, they, so they, they knew they could improve, they just didn't know how to improve. And then, like, 50%, like created a plan, but then that plan, they didn't actually follow up on that plan, because it was sort of an idealized plan, or they had other kinds of commitments and things like that. So, you know, convincing them that they can improve is is a big part of the battle, but giving them the steps that are that's, that's effective based on cognitive research, and also executable from within the constraints that students are, are facing that, you know, that's that's incredibly important, as well, I think.

Sucheta Kamath: Such a good point that I think, even as students devise strategies, those strategies are more abstract than concrete. And it requires another executive function skill, which is self monitoring, which is passage of time, or my supervising my execution or commitment to the plan that I made, or am I flexible enough to keep modifications to the plan? Because it's not working? And am I monitoring my behaviors over time? So I feel another thing that is really missing in education is the temporal follow up, you know how much continuity of self through passage of time and continuity of goal oriented nearness through passage of time, we don't teach those skills that many adults don't think about it concretely as well. So, I hope that more we know from neuroscience, we can actually embed that into everyday teaching. You know, another interesting concept that that you and your colleagues, you know, William Qurban talked about in Is the cognitive barriers to learning? Is is this students fear and mistrust? Can you talk a little bit about that? What is that all about? So students are you say they don't come automatically sold on learning?

Stephen Chew: Well, there, I mean, anytime you have a transition, especially like in the first year of college, the students are wondering if they are, you know, good enough to be there. And so they have this, this deep seated fear, they're, they've, they're devoting a lot of time and money to be there, you know, the, the cost of being there is great. And so they are wondering if they can, can, like succeed at college, this is especially true with first generation students, for example, and often many underrepresented students as well. And they are afraid that that just going through this process is going to be an extensive lesson in confirming their worst fears. And oftentimes, the class is, is maybe taught in a way, it's like, either you're part of the club, or you're not, you know, either you, you get it or you don't, students come in with a with a vast range of prior knowledge. And the students who'd have that less, you know, less knowledge are going to really struggle a lot more. And that they may take that as, as an indication, they really don't belong. And, in this, this is been noted in some STEM classes where it's taught to be either you, you, you're good enough to be here, or you're You don't belong here, as opposed to, like, everyone can succeed, you know, I will, I will give you the resources, you just need to kind of, you know, give me the work, and I will help you to succeed. So it is there is fear there. And the anxiety, especially if students don't do as well, on the first exam, as they were, they were thinking, they wonder, is this an indication that I don't belong here? So I, you know, and I tell teachers in in workshops, you know, when a student comes to says, Do you think I can succeed in this class, what they really mean is, do you think I belong in college in so you have to be very reassuring about that. And, and really, the answer to that fear and distrust and mistrust is, is, is student trust the teacher, I'm doing a lot of work in this. Now, it's a, it's a remarkably under researched area, if the student believes that the teacher is working towards their benefit, if the teacher is committed to the students succeeding, then they will work much harder they will be they will persevere in the face of setbacks. Because they, they believe that the student the teacher is, is really creating activities and assignments that are meant to help them learn, and not hoops to jump through or activities. They're meant to, to kind of read, to sort out the deserving from the undeserving. So developing that trust, having the students trust you is really critically important, especially in introductory courses.

Sucheta Kamath: In a couple of thoughts about the trust and you know, again, if I take go back then, I mean, go through the memory lane and think about my own learning experience. I took so much onus on myself, if I didn't understand something, I almost translated that I was a bad student. And I was incompetent. I never, and and now that I've become a teacher of teachers and teaching children learn how to learn, I feel one of the things that I do is self advocacy is being able to speak on behalf of your enlightened self, which is saying, Yes, this is hard for me. But that's not because I'm not trying, or that's not because it's my responsibility alone, but we share this responsibility or to make my learning happen. And can you play a bigger role than then I think that maybe appearing sufficient right now. Right. And the second third, I was I was thinking about was this is traumatic part of my education, but I don't know if your parents ever talked since they had some exposure to learning in China, but as Indian learning environment, our teachers used to post grades, publicly display grades, and there would be a red line under which all those people who failed by name wouldn't be listed. So definitely I saw that to be such a traumatic, have fear based approach to whole. You don't want to be there. But you also, I mean, there was such a clear hierarchy in smarts, because grades always were interpreted as smarts and then if you're not top of the heap, then you are not top. And so I'm wondering now from there, I feel in western education in particular American education, kids have no clue what really competent people are doing or is are capable of. So I feel we have lost somewhere that they have no clue what great work ethic looks like what smart study strategies it looked like, what competent people are doing. And so I feel Do you see that gap? You know, there's, both systems have overcorrected or under corrected.

Stephen Chew: Yeah, there's, well, first of all, I've been teaching long enough that I remember when we used to post grades, you know, on the door, and it was, you know, so first it was like, the name and the grade, then we did social security numbers. Yes, yeah. And the grade, which, in, which didn't fool anybody, I don't think his lifetime is or alphabetical, or something like that. But so yeah, that was a pretty brutal thing to, to have to go through to, especially if it was like, sorted from high score to low score, you know, how far low down on the on the list you have to go to find your name. But, yeah, I think you're absolutely correct. A lot of students make mistaken assumptions about how much other people are studying, and the way they study. And when they start studying. And it's, it's really important to educate them about like the, when they should start studying, and also to let them know what the successful students are doing. So in my general psych classes, I'll ask the students who are doing really well, like, you know, when did you start studying in, you know, how have you been doing this, and then, you know, I'll circulate that anonymously, in, students will realize, oh, I want to do well, then I've actually got to, you know, start studying week before, not just like, you know, two days before I'll start reading things, it's very common for students to think, you know, prepare for an exam, I should have read everything and reviewed everything once, you know, just once completely, and, and so in my general Psych class a week before, I'll say, you know, if you plan to do well, in this class, then you should have completed all the reading by today, you know, and you should be, you know, spent at least three full days, reviewing things that you've already learned, because that's when most of learning is going to going to take place. So, you know, they may not believe me the first time, but at least they remember I said it. And so, you know, some of them will, will do better the second time, because they're there, instead of taking my advice more seriously. But, you know, that being said, we also have to remind them that it's changing behavior and habits takes time. And it's not just going to be a light bulb that's going to go off and all of a sudden, they're gonna go from, you know, doing poorly to doing well, it's the process of getting better. You know, a little bit at a time, I think.

Sucheta Kamath: You know, I mean, they're so lucky to have you who not only is teaching them the content, but also has dedicated his life, to learning how to learn, and they're deeply going to benefit. And probably contrasting that to the other professors who are not teaching it this way. I have a very dear friend who teaches astronomy at at the local university, and he and I talk a lot about it, his physics rather, and astronomy. But he says that he offers a lot of opportunities for students off, you know, office hours, I'm available, he says, I actually comment on the mistakes so that they understand. And he says, I get nothing, I get nothing from kids. You know, he says, I wonder if they even read my comments, you know, so I think you're right, I think that making trans the effort transparent, but also roping people back into the process of caring about the process. Tell me what do you think about one of the strategies I recommend to educators is to give partial grades or if you have a paper or project or test 100 points, always make the test for 90 points and give 10 points for process related skill set. So you know, how many lists three strategies that went into studying for this test, and now you give grades for that. So now you are really empowering them to think that it's not arriving at the destination, but my journey along that can also be valuable.

Stephen Chew: Yeah, I think methods like that are very powerful. In in sort of the, the canonical way that we often give tests, it's like you, you do all this learning, then you do the test, and then you move on to the next topic without ever having any opportunity to actually use that feedback. So, you know, formative assessments mean, I mean, I tell, I tell teachers that the the exam should never be the first time you assess students learning, and you should be assessing it all the way along, and helping the students to use it, that feedback, and then there's a number of ways, you mentioned a really good one, to give them the exam, but then reward actually following through, you know, the students, they take the exam, if they don't do well, they just don't want to ever revisit that exam, you know, they just think that's over. I'll never ever think about that again. And, and but you know, that's, that's thinking about in terms of grades, and not in terms of learning, if you think about in terms of learning, you want them to go back into the exam and examine why did they miss this. And it's not only important for learning on, on that, that material, but it's, it's important for helping them to do better on the next exam, where they won't repeat the same kinds of mistakes that hurt them on the first exam. So, you know, reserving some points for revision, like on papers or exams, collaborative exams, where they, you know, take it once on their own, and then they take it as a group and you, you can average, you know, the two scores, that that would work. And then another thing that I've used is what are called exam wrappers, which basically are exam debriefing activities. So you, you give students extra credit for going in and reflecting on how they prepared and then looking at what they missed, and trying to figure out why they missed it was the material not in their notes? Was it at a deeper level than they understood? Where are they suffering and or misconception and thinking about how they're going to correct that for the next exam. So that's a good way of getting students to recognize what the weaknesses in their preparation is, and coming up with a plan, so that they'll do better on the next exam. So it'll help their learning on this exam. But it, it's really geared more towards helping them to be more effective students in you know, starting in the next exam. So there's a number of ways of doing that. But it all has to do with, with making the most using an exam, not just as an assessment of learning, but also as a as a way of recognizing what you're doing correctly and what you're doing incorrectly in need to change.

Sucheta Kamath: This, this reminds me of a joke, you know, what do you call a guy who finishes last in his medical school, a doctor. So I think the fact that whether you learned or not, you're going to ultimately have so much responsibility of administering that knowledge or actually applying that knowledge. And I feel such a burden for those students, all of our students to really kind of, that's the reason to they take ownership of their learning. So as we wrap our discussion, I wish we had more time and we could talk longer, but what are a couple of books that you recommend to our listeners that have influenced your thinking, or you have enjoyed understanding its content?

Stephen Chew: Well, the book I read recently, which I really enjoyed, because it involves a lot of biases, in terms of our reasoning, and decision making is The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova. So she talks about how people are conned, but she she does it in a way that you understand a lot of biases of of reasoning, and, and, you know, there's just how it can mislead you. Maybe not in getting conned, but just making mistakes in everyday, everyday life. So she is a very good translator, synthesizer and translator of research into way into forms I think that everyone can understand. So I appreciate her book on that. Yeah, for my second book. I had to think about books that I kind of revisit periodically and, and I've got to say one of the books one of the series of books I've always read is The Horatio Hornblower series, which most people are not familiar with. It's a It's British seafaring fiction, but the hero Horatio Hornblower is a very thoughtful, reflective person who oftentimes his his planning and his reasoning overcomes kind of physical prowess, and I think that's something that appeals to me. But It very much is, I think, in the spirit of, of, you know, executive function because he's very disciplined and in terms of thinking things through before executing and learning from his mistakes and things like that. So actually, I I do think it's relevant for the kinds of work that you're advocating.

Sucheta Kamath: Brilliant, well, you gave me a book to read, which is fantastic. And thank you for your thoughtful suggestions and brilliant work. And before I let you go, is there anything that you think every student teacher and an adult should know about the brain, the way our cognition works?

Stephen Chew: I would say that the brain is much more adaptable and flexible than most people think. And really, what you're doing when you're teaching is, you're not transmitting information, you're creating an environment that supports all the students in their various levels of motivation and learning that will support them in their in their learning. And students come in with a wide variety of prior knowledge and motivation and, and what you want to do is create an environment that will be inclusive and supportive of everyone.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, that's a brilliant thought. So that's all the time we have today. Thank you again, Dr. Steven Chew, for being my guest. And thank you listeners for tuning in. These are very, very important conversations. And this knowledge is going to not only deepen our understanding of how the brain works, but how we work in the in the world. But more importantly with this knowledge, the change that we are seeking, and and so dearly care about is made possible by this reflective and self reflective brain. And lastly, I will say, here are a few things you can do as listeners to help us promote these these amazing conversations. If you love what you're listening, share the episode with your friends, your family, your colleagues. Take a moment if you have a moment, write us a review. And lastly, subscribe to our Full PreFrontal podcast as well as the newsletter. You can always reach me at Sucheta at ExQ Infinite Know How and thank you again, Dr. Chew, for being here with us and sharing your fantastic knowledge. 

Stephen Chew: My pleasure, thank you.