Renowned Teacher, Consultant, and Scholar Received PhD from UT, Knoxville
Saundra McGuire, Emerita Professor in Chemistry and Director Emerita of the Center for Academic Success at Louisiana State University (LSU), has been recognized as the 2022 Accomplished Alumni by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. McGuire earned her PhD in chemical education from UT and was awarded the Chancellor’s Citation for Extraordinary Professional Promise.
McGuire is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, but she may be best known for her books, Teach Students How to Learn, published in 2015, and Teach Yourself How to Learn, published in 2018. It’s clear that when meeting McGuire, her passion lies in helping all students embrace what they are taught in the classroom.
“We teach them how to perform on tests but we’re not teaching them how to learn,” said McGuire. “It’s important that students realize that they’re not struggling because they’re not capable. They’re struggling because they don’t have the strategies students who are being successful are using. They need to take steps to find out what those strategies are,” said McGuire.
Grasping Concepts and Enhancing Learning
It was during graduate school as a teaching assistant at Cornell University where McGuire’s passion for helping students grasp concepts and enhance their learning experience took hold. “I would sit through the lectures as all teaching assistants had to do and I remembered listening to the lecture and thinking that if I really didn’t already understand this information, there’s no way I would know what he’s talking about. He was a brilliant lecturer, that wasn’t the problem, but there was so much information,” said McGuire.
McGuire knew that if her students didn’t grasp the basic concepts, they were just hearing what was being said during a lecture, but not learning. She started having weekly review sessions for her students to help them understand the concepts, or “read between the lines,” as she puts it.
“We met once a week and it was so successful that many of those students turned out to be either faculty members, health care professionals, or engineers. I saw students who thought there was no way they would understand chemistry, to totally understanding it,” said McGuire.
McGuire came to Knoxville in 1978 when her husband accepted a position at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She accepted a position in the chemistry department at UT and later decided to pursue her PhD. It was in her first educational psychology class, taught by Professor Luther Kindall, where she learned about rote learning versus meaningful learning and the psychological and cognitive science concepts that underpin her work today.
“Before that class I was explaining chemistry to them as opposed to teaching them how to learn it. If they (students) only come to me so that I can explain chemistry concepts, they’re always dependent upon me. If they can grow to understand their part in the learning process, they become independent learners. It was here at UT that I learned the basic principles behind what I do today,” said McGuire
When McGuire arrived at LSU, she delved more deeply into learning concepts and came up with the construct of metacognition as a way of helping students understand exactly what their role is in the learning process. Metacognition, according to McGuire, is the ability to:
- Think about your own thinking
- Be consciously aware of yourself as a problem solver
- Monitor, plan and control your metal processing
- Accurately judge your level of learning
- Know what you know and what you don’t know
“When students come to institutions, they’re hopeful that they’re going to be successful. When they hit that barrier, get those first round of tests back and find out they’re not performing well, some almost go into a depression,” said McGuire. “When they get information that helps them see exactly why they didn’t do well and exactly what they need to do to improve, we see dramatic improvements in their course performance,” she said.
In fact, McGuire says that 75 to 80 percent of students see immediate improvement once they find out what has been keeping them from performing at a higher academic level. “It’s been really, really gratifying to me because the student’s whole outlook improves,” said McGuire.
A University of Tennessee Accomplished Alumni
McGuire’s recognition as an Accomplished Alumni came at the 2022 UT Transforming the World virtual conference in March, where she was the keynote speaker. The conference focused on deepening and enhancing student learning by challenging innovative teaching and learning techniques as well as sparking new ideas in the profession.
McGuire’s successes as a UT alum are numerous. Recently, she was listed in the 2020 Marquis Who’s Who in America. In addition, McGuire is an elected Fellow of the American Chemical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Council of Learning Assistance and Developmental Education Associations. She’s also received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering in a White House Oval Office ceremony.
Her books, Teach Students How to Learn and Teach Yourself How to Learn have been on multiple best-sellers lists nationwide. The strategies put forward have been credited with a large number of student, and teacher, success stories over the years.
“I really want to thank UT for honoring me with this award,” said McGuire. “I will do everything in my power to continue to represent the university and do the things I do that will help all students learn.”
Through its eight departments and 12 centers, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences enhances the quality of life for all through research, outreach, and practice. Find out more at cehhs.utk.edu.