Saturday, June 23, 2007

Study Skills Classes

I came late to the party when Dean Dad blogged about study skills courses, although my late comment did show up as the only one on his IHE clone of that blog.

I added one other followup to the main blog, but there were several points I figured I should use my own blog to comment on. (pardon the dangling participle)

Ivory commented that there would not be a "Work 101" class to prep them for their careers, which overlooks the significance of college (and college success classes) in the development of those skills. Even if our "workforce" and "transfer" classes don't get them all the way there, the more we manage to teach them about the need to take personal responsibility for their own learning, the better off they will be.

Ivory also mentioned the FITF (first in the family) issue as one that drove the adoption of a study skills class at hir [*] college, but added "But this assumes a lack of initiative in that group that I'm not comfortable with that." I don't think it assumes that at all. It assumes a lack of experience and family lore about how college differs from high school. My blog about what kids need to hear at orientation, particularly items 3 and 4, touches on some of those things. These kids have lots of initiative. They don't understand the culture, and no one has told them it is different from high school.

[*] hir is not a typo, it is a clever him/her blending borrowed from ProfGrrrrl.

BTW, I'm not picking on Ivory. Several of the Anonymous comments made similar points; Ivory was just the first. I shared some of those questions about a skills class until I read Zucker's article in the "Notices of the American Mathematical Society" about the lack of study skills in new students at John's Hopkins, including ones who are taking Calc III as freshmen. If kids with 1500+ SAT scores have a problem, why should we expect ones with 600 or 700 (total) to know how college works?

Random observation: My father, a college grad, told me that college was going to be different from high school. That it would be harder, and I would have to do homework. (He was wrong. I did not have to do any homework to speak of until I took a grad-level math class my Sophomore year. I'm not counting writing computer programs, because that was fun.) College had gotten easier, and my HS, english classes in particular, had prepared me really well. So had the CC where I took my first year of calculus while in high school.

Back to the comments.

I once shared the views of some of the posters about a study skills class. Until I learned about ours through a program I participated in. Our class includes how the college works, including advising ... not to mention the mere existence of the catalog and what is in it. (They get one at orientation, but do they know they should read it? And is it written at the grade level of a typical high school grad, which might be 9th grade or so based on our exit exam?) It covers careers, and how to use our resources to learn the difference between construction and engineering, and between accounting and bookkeeping. I think there is even a unit specifically on the different ways you study for math and history.

One comment mentioned the competence of the teachers, who were often counselors. Ours were originally taught by a few of our best counselors and faculty who teach "prep" classes. Those early classes were extremely effective. (Classes with really good teachers often have that characteristic.) With expanded enrollment, they are taught by many counselors, faculty from the "prep" courses and regular college classes, and even by adjuncts. There is a master syllabus, but one can't help wondering if it would still work as well as it did at the start. To me, the most promising thing in the reports about the study (and the study, CCRC Brief number 36, itself) is the statistical evidence that these course work. The signal persists when important confounding variables are tested.

Another comment mentioned that it probably does not hurt to have an easy class that they like going to every day. I won't discount that. Get them on campus for that class, and maybe they will go to math or english that day also.

Dr. Crazy mentioned teaching a linked course, which is something our college is trying. It helps the students in two ways. It locks in a convenient schedule, and it forms a community of learners that can start to study together. Not only does it help them to know that the faculty care about their success, it helps when other students care about how each other are doing.

I really like the idea of a skills class for Seniors, mentioned by Intelligent Evolver. Engineering schools have a "senior design" class whose purpose is to begin the transition to being an engineer. That class is doubly valuable if they did not have an internship. Who tells a physics undergrad that grad school will be really different? It is probably worse in other fields, because at least some physics majors participate in an REU program.

I'll close with a few remarks that were already posted in DD's blog.

Walker commented "Is it that the students gained more because someone “cared” as I am beginning to see." Very likely. These students discover someone cares, so they assume the rest of us do ... and become students who contact us in advance if they have to leave early or miss a class.

The second anonymous said: "many students just want to try and fake their way through the class." They do this because it worked for them in high school. See the link above to what needs to be in orientation: You had to attend every day in HS, and your teachers had to pass you. The opposite is true in college.

The complaints from The Myth about non-students not reading the book, etc, fall in this same category.

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