“I’m about to hand back your first skills test. One of the reasons why I give you two tests, one about the concepts, the ideas of physics, and the other about the problem-solving skills you are learning, is that how you recover from not doing well on each is going to be different. You remember that for the concepts test you can write a resubmittal, essentially writing about what you didn’t understand, and showing that you have now learned it.
“But for skills tests, I still find that the only way for you to show that you know how to do it is by actually solving problems on a test. So if you didn’t do well on this test, for instance, here’s what you will do.
“First, you’ll get together with your study group and go over every problem you got wrong. You want to write the correct solution in your journals under the title “Test Corrections”. Then, I’ll give you another problem set with the same kind of problems you had on this test, and you will practice them at home, making sure you can do them independently. You can get help from me or anyone in this room. Finally, you’ll meet with me and we’ll go over a few problems together so that I know you’ve been practicing. Then I will know that you’re ready to take the retest. That will be a test with similar problems to the one I am handing back today. If you’ve done the process well, you should be ready, and should be able to do well on the retest.
As always, I wander from table to table, overhearing the conversations, guiding the discussions judiciously, answering questions that the whole table has. As I listen, I hear the beginnings of what I know will become one of the most effective learning techniques that I know. When a student asks “how did you get number 3?”, the student who got it right can explain it in a more personal, sociable manner than if we were all sitting in the front of the room, and I was throwing it on the overhead. With time, I will help them learn how to dive more deeply, with more subtlety in figuring out the specific crux of why they got it wrong. I call it “isolating the difficulty”, and whether they are going over homework or reviewing a test, it is an essential skill in learning effectively.