As a college instructor for over fifteen years, I’ve learned the importance of starting off the semester with a framework for student success. Although you may find it hard to schedule it in, taking time for this type of discussion in the early weeks is so valuable and will lead to better student outcomes, more engagement, and higher student retention.
These are the “Top 4” strategies for student success we’ve been discussing in the classroom:
1. Growth Mindset: Intelligence is not “fixed.” You are not programmed at a certain level of “smart” and that’s that. Your brain is like a muscle, and with more use, and practice, you can grow your dendrites. (See also neuroplasticity.) You can improve in a subject area. For example, it isn’t that you “just aren’t good at writing, never have been,” but that you have not yet learned the right combination of skills and techniques for that assignment. Once you have these skills, (in writing or another subject) you will see steady improvement.
2. Personal Survey: Find out how you feel about learning. (See #1 above regarding how self-limited beliefs can shape outcome.) What were your previous experiences like with this subject matter in school, higher education, or in the K-12 school system? Think about your prior knowledge and experience (schema) on the subject. Find a connection, with your courses, & the college. If you’re not already excited for the semester, find some way (student clubs, sports, etc.) to get excited. The brain on positive is 31% more productive than on negative, stressed, or even neutral!
3. Goal Setting: establish “SMART” goals. Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. For best results, write or type out your goals and address each of the SMART areas. When you think about and set goals early in the semester, it leads to you taking the small steps to achieve those goals. For example, it’s fantastic to say, “Well my goal is an A in this class.” You have a positive attitude and are setting high expectations for yourself. But, what specific action steps will you take that will lead you to obtaining that grade? How many hours a week will you study? On what days? Where?
4. “The Basics.” Read the syllabus. Go to (every) class. Visit your instructor early and often when you have questions. We welcome, expect, and want you to come to office hours! We don’t bite! I promise! And we’re even kinda funny, in an endearingly nerdy sorta way! Again, I promise! 🙂
If you are a student, let us know in the comments which of these strategies you find most helpful, or most difficult, to put into action. If you’re an instructor, let us know if you spend time during the early weeks of the semester working on these metacognitive strategies, and/or which others you might add to the list.
For more on all of these topics, (including the research that backs it up), check out our blog archives, or leave a comment with any questions. We like–no–LOVE questions here at College Ready Coach! Now go out there and light some fires!
Questions are the sign of a healthy classroom. Encourage students to ask all sorts of questions, especially open-ended questions that require process, experimentation, and research. Let them see that the instructor doesn’t “own” all the knowledge or have all the answers. You will be creating a classroom culture of inquiry & critical thinking.
As promised, encore presentations of some of our most popular posts. This post “How to be a Scholar. 6 Steps to Encourage Critical Thinking.” is a reader’s favorite over on our Pinterest page, where it has been “repinned” many times. I like the visual appeal of the infographic and will once again use it this Fall in my Freshman Composition classes. The #1 most important skill for any college student in any discipline or major, is critical thinking.
Always Question! xo~Lisa, aka “The Happy Teacher” 🙂
As we get to the end of the semester and school year, we are expecting our students to demonstrate higher order thinking skills, or Critical Thinking. I like this infographic from Learning Commons at the University of British Columbia.
Thanks to its simple flow chart style, students can use it to clearly reflect on their own thinking. Students need to constantly question their own process, and those of others. They need to ask questions about the text they read, test possibilities, and allow for new discoveries.
Higher order thinking skills (HOTS) push our students beyond simple responses and elevate them to scholars and critics in their own right. Part of what’s vital in education is for students to learn to trust their own voice, while still questioning their thinking. What strategies do you use in your classroom to encourage critical thinking?
This article from the Greater Good Science Center discusses the impact of academic mentoring, engagement and community building on first-generation college students. Research now shows that it’s the social emotional aspects of college life that can be challenging for these students, who don’t have a model of academic success to draw on once they are away at school.
As a college instructor, beginnings and endings are an integral part of my life. Each semester, I meet a new group of students, in each of my classes, and we get to know each other. We connect and we learn each others’ stories, if you will. 18 weeks later, we part ways, having shared the classroom experience. Although I occasionally have a student for another semester, for the most part I won’t see many of them again. Our time together is brief but significant.
I believe that the way you begin a semester is absolutely critical. From day 1, you’re teaching and you’re leading and you’re setting the tone. But on the flip side of that, I believe that endings are equally crucial. One part of their journey may be over, a class checked off a list of requirements, but the next steps are still to be taken, and the finish line of graduation, still a long way off. By ending on the right tone, you set your students up for taking that next step. You set them up to keep moving forward.
For a sense of closure and to mark the end of the semester, I always have a class party, in the form of a potluck and a mega-trivia challenge, based on the course content. These are celebrations of all the hard work, critical thinking, sharing of ideas and ok, blood, sweat and tears, that students have put into their writing and learning for those 18 weeks. These parties are so much fun. Students bring in all sorts of amazing delicacies, and this semester, one of my students even brought in homemade tamales-cooked by none other than his abuela–for the entire class. Another student made 2 different types of cake pops, while another did a homemade pie…we are never lacking sweet treats at these shindigs! Far more important than the food though, these gestures show the students that they have meant something to each other, and the connections made have been important.
I also write a “Final Thought” blog post, to reflect on the semester and wish my students well as they continue on their path towards their academic goals. I specifically tell them “Don’t ever give up.” Students do need to hear that message, early and often, during their college careers. So much of student success comes from resilience, grit, and a belief that it is possible. As instructors, we are teachers. But, we are also role models, mentors and messengers, and when we believe in them, students start to have a stronger belief in themselves. Here’s this year’s post, called On Endings, Broad Margins, and Moving Forward.
How about you? What do you do to mark the end of a semester or school year? Do you have certain traditions or rituals that help you to wind down, say goodbye, and move ahead in a positive way? I’d love to hear from you.
Ok, it’s a virtual party but consider yourself invited. This milestone is a big one: over 1000 of you have stopped by College Ready, making it the “Little Blog that Could.”
THANK YOU! I am so thrilled with the support that you have given me over the past 2.5 months. I wish I had something profound and meaningful to say to mark this occasion. Instead, I’ll just say THANK YOU. For reading, for visiting, for “liking,” for following, for sharing, for commenting and again, for reading what I had to say. I hope that something in what I call my “Ed Soup” has been useful in your professional or personal life, or just to warm your soul.
I also want to thank all of you for inspiring me. The blogging community is sassy, smart, and full of ideas that launch conversations. And so many of you do it so well! While making it look easy. Anyone who writes knows that push and pull of fear, and risk, the anticipation of audience reaction. And the writer’s block, and the deadlines that you missed hours before the clock read 2 am. Far from easy, but you all write on.
WRITING ADVICE:At my last milestone (500 visitors on 9/30), I posted some writing advice from Hemingway. I’ll continue that tradition with one of his better-known quotes on the writing process:
Here’s what Philip Roth said of the writing process: “You build a book out of sentences. And the sentences are built up out of details. So you’re working brick by brick. And the bricks are heavy.”
As I continue this journey, I look forward to working & writing alongside so many inspirational colleagues, who happen to be damn fine writers, creative thinkers and bleeding edge thought leaders. I am so lucky to know you all, whether F2F, or just here… In the Soup.
GOING FORWARD: College Ready Coach is a resource for parents and students who are navigating the college admissions process. We work together to evaluate what the student needs to be prepared. Academic coaches serve as mentors, and have been found to be the key ingredient in a successful college “launch.”
MY PART: In addition to working with a small number of clients each semester, College Ready Coach–hey, that’s me :)–commits to mentoring one student from a traditionally under-served population each semester, free of charge. We simply have to provide educational equality to students, and this is one small way for me to give back and “walk the walk.” Please do contact with me if you wish to nominate a highly-motivated high school student for this mentoring opportunity.
AND THEN, THERE’S YOU: You can be part of the journey by following the blog here, or liking the College Ready facebook page, and learning more about helping your students or your own children be “college ready.”
Together, let’s turn the crazy maze of college admissions into a road map to success.
7-point checklist for retaining college transfer students, by Jo Hilman
Understanding transfer students’ attitudes, receptivity, motivations, and level of satisfaction with services is important in supporting their needs. The key is to tailor student success programs to these needs. Below are ideas to consider.
Does your institution offer:
1. Orientation programs tailored specifically for transfer students, including segments that address concerns such as transfer of credit, finances, major-related internships, and meaningful work experiences?
2. Programs beyond the usual classroom and advising services that connect transfer students to faculty, staff, and native students within academic or co-curricular interest areas?
3. Peer mentors for transfer students?
4. Assignment of students to an advisor within the student’s major/area of interest with an early focus on confirming or further refining a written academic plan?
5. An advising center devoted to transfer students?
6. Career fairs for students who are undecided about a major?
7. Academic support services based on areas of student need and receptivity?
All of these areas are solid ways to support transfer students and increase transfer student retention.
“More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails.” D. Coutu, Harvard Business Review, 2002.
This is very true. It’s all about resilience. Resilience is the key to success in academics, in the professional world, and in life in general. You have to have the grit to get back up, every time someone, or something, knocks you down.
Because, it’s also true that you are going to fail. At some point in life, you are going to be the one that doesn’t make the team, or forgot to print an assignment that was due, or missed out on the promotion. It will happen and at that moment, you have that choice. To stay down. Where things are easy…or to get back up where it’s messy and hard. Get up, each and every time. Get up, and find a way.
That takes some courage. And I’m not saying that it’s always easy. But you just do it. You get back up. And each time, it gets a little easier. That’s what resilience is all about.
Simple ways to be resilient: Talk to your career counselors, tutorial center, mentors, friends, even parents, and find out strategies you can use this year when things get tough and sleeping in sounds so much better than going to class. Remember too, Michael Jordan’s words, “If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
Video: “5 Ways Ed Pays.” A college degree means a richer life-not just in terms of money earned, but in quality of life! Get inspired. Be inspirational. Every student deserves a teacher who inspires! Just be open to good things, and be yourself…that will do!
Do you agree that a college degree means a richer life? Post a comment and join the discussion! We’d love to hear from you!