The disappointing reports from NAEP and more recently, the ACT, point to a frightening learning loss that occurred during the pandemic. The NAEP reading scores are the lowest in thirty years, and the math scores showed a first-ever decrease. The ACT scores have also plummeted to their lowest in thirty years.  Remote learning has been suggested as the culprit. Now that schools have reopened for in-person learning, we need to find ways to correct this severe deficit. What is the solution to this crisis?

The first step is helping students learn HOW to learn. One of the major complaints that students have is that they’ve never been taught how to study.  The best known study skills method developed in 1961, involves 5 steps, one of which is asking questions to activate the brain before reading. For example, the student prepares for the assignment by asking the following:  Why am I doing this? What do I need to learn from this? What do I already know about this? How does this relate to a previous assignment? 

Asking questions is part of active reading.  Detail questions ( who, what, when, where) demonstrate that students may know the facts. They can refer to a text, story, or process to find the answers. Yet these types of factual questions do not necessarily involve understanding.  On the other hand, “how” and “why” questions are particularly helpful, as they stimulate thinking. According to one study, the types of questions that an instructor uses can influence students’  approach to the course work. “For example, one study showed students expecting a multiple-choice exam focused their note-taking efforts on facts and details, whereas those expecting essay tests concentrated on main ideas.”  The book, Now That’s a Good Question provides  examples of the types of questions that promote “cognitive rigor.”  Analogy questions require more cognitive thinking because students analyze something and then transfer that analysis to another thing, which requires understanding. 

Let’s hope that  teacher preparation programs are providing courses on developing the kinds of questions that promote cognitive skills.

Laura Maniglia