Thursday, May 15, 2014

Big Thirsty: Wombat wants to know the curriculum for student success

As far as any of us recall, have any of the AWC/CM/RYS discussions ever covered one of these "success" oriented seminars? I was curious and asked about teaching one, thinking I'd get a run-around, but instead I got a teaching assignment. I'm excited, but... what the hell did I get myself into? I have no idea what I'm going to teach.

I was just e-mailed a request for a textbook order and the reality hit me. Thank god they gave me two choices, or I'd be ordering Brown, LeMay and Bursten and hoping no one noticed. Should I research the options, i.e. model the behaviors the class is supposed to encourage, or just flip a coin and teach it with the same level of commitment with which they're going to learn it?

All kidding aside (should I do a unit on "People who make lots of jokes are trying to cover up that they feel inadequate for a particular situation"?), I'm more excited than scared, and I was just wondering ...

What kinds of ideas other readers might have used in this type of class? 

Or better yet, what pearls of wisdom should I share with my class that none of your colleagues with similar teaching assignments seem to cover?

--Wombat of the Copier


  1. I have no idea what you're talking about. Seriously. Is "success" an academic subject? What discipline does it fall under?

    1. I think Wombat is talking about a course for freshmen to help them adjust to college. I've heard that the class can vary from something formal (with a textbook like Wombat describes) to something akin to a life-skills seminar.

      My school requires a one-credit class that teaches students all sorts of advanced subjects, like how to schedule classes, study for exams and do their laundry. Given the amount of basic-level advising I do, the number of students I fail and the stench of some students, they succeed at this class just like they do in all their others.

    2. I had to look for an organized approach to this a few years ago: at that time, Hopper's book on study skills was alright for the students the class was aimed at: ISBN:978-0618643783

      Cal Newport writes well on the topic:

  2. I'm tempted to recommend Plato, or Aristotle, or Thoreau (okay; maybe not Thoreau), but I doubt that would go over well.

    On a more serious note, I haven't taught a class like this, but how about covering some of the research on grit ( has some info., plus links; it looks like Angela Lee Duckworth of U Penn -- -- is a major proponent, and her website has lots of resources). It's a trendy topic, so there are also half a dozen books on Amazon (and, I'm sure, plenty of articles, and probably some videos as well; I see Duckworth links to a TED talk). Of course I'm a bit suspicious of anything trendy, but I do think that traits like persistence are pretty important to success in life, and that the present much-trophied and -rewarded generation is often lacking in same. Just telling them that it's okay, even necessary, to fail now and then isn't going to undo 18 years of clapping and cheering at everything they do, but it might plant a seed, at least for those who have always been a little bit suspicious of all the empty praise (and there are more than few out there, I'm pretty sure; kids are pretty perceptive, and parents and teachers can be pretty transparent in their attempts to boost self-esteem artificially).

  3. I wish every incoming student could be compelled to watch Stephen Chew's series on how to get the most out of studying. It starts with "beliefs that make you fail...or succeed" and summarizes myths and actual research about learning.

    For example, the myth that students are good at multi-tasking: "The research evidence is overwhelming that we are bad at multi-tasking, especially if one of the tasks takes a lot of effort and concentration, like studying. If you want to be successful, reduce or eliminate distractions while studying."

    Or the myth that students are equipped to judge their own level of learning: "Weaker students are grossly overconfident in how well they understand the material. As a result, they don’t study as much as they really need to, they take the exam and they
    believe they have done really well, and then they are stunned when they find out they’ve done poorly."

    And learning styles: "You hear a lot about learning styles. There is simply no good research evidence that supports the validity of learning styles, so forget about them. Besides, if you plan to be successful, you should become good at learning in multiple ways."

    Study guide:

  4. I have a colleague who used to spend most of his time in this type of class teaching nutrition (he was famous for sending students out of class to go eat some protein). I am dubious about how well they work because of all the research that says students are really bad at transferring skills from one course to another. If it were me, I'd try to do as much overt connecting with their other classes as possible in the hope that some of it would stick. Well, either that or troll it by spending a heap of time on personality tests, tarot and meditation.

  5. I've been known to remind students, in the letter I send out before the semester starts to those in online or hybrid sections, that, to optimize learning, they need to allow time for both sleep and exercise in their schedules. I should probably find a way to send myself that part of the letter periodically throughout the semester, since I don't always practice what I preach, but it's still true.

    Basic time management, starting with the old 2-3 hours hours out of class for every hour in class prep/homework rule, is also a must. A class period spent creating a blueprint for a typical week, with not only classes but commuting, studying, eating, and working (a huge time expenditure for many students), as well as the aforesaid exercise and laundry, and some fun, would be profitable, I'm pretty sure.

  6. Funny you should ask this. I am a student/lurker and some of my time has been spent in student services. The grown-ups in that department tended to teach college success classes often and I have emailed many college misery skits and memes to them that they want to use in class. Y'know, RTFS, the plagiarism/attendance/grade play, advising woes and others like that. This site and the ones that came before are goldmines for this topic.

    Maybe some goal setting combined with finances and borrowing information, complete with an article or two about minimum wage barristas who are 80k in debt after graduating with a degree in Peace Studies. Include some reflection time.

  7. Bad news. The class was invented by and for the textbook company. I was told the goal is to "keep them coming to class". One person suggested donuts. I am not kidding.

    Good News: You will be more helpful than the admin expects you to be. Teach them that you care.

  8. My institution just upped the class size for this course, which has a standard syllabus and program to follow. Like Contingent Cassandra, I find myself wondering what they teach because I just had one student say they had no idea there was a writing center on campus for help. He was enrolled and passed just such a class.

    These courses aren't taught by professors, but staff. As far as I can tell, the course is a lot of worksheets, and things like find the library, write down your advisor's office number.

    I do my best to teach these skills in my regular class, and am contemplating adding a required format for note taking in my fall classes. It is difficult to make up for years of bad habits, or no habits. If I could teach such a course, I would make note taking and study skills the center. they don't know how to read. I actually have a couple of such books out from the library to try to integrate these lessons in my class.

    Most helpful of all is reading books by current public school teachers. We inherit what they are taught there. And teaching to the test is the real problem.

  9. Wombat, have you seen the article "Who Gets to Graduate" in this weekend's NYT magazine? It has an interesting idea for courses like this one. Apparently a fairly innocuous-looking brief "intervention" can make a big difference for "at risk" (first generation and/or lower-income) students. Something about reminding them that an early setback should not be taken to mean necessarily that they're not qualified for college, and that they should make connections with students about to graduate who were once in the same situation. I'd go ahead and read that. (And yes, the "red shoes" picture caption is Jon Stewart material.)

  10. Thanks guys. I'm looking into all of this :)
    If all else fails, I'll just show this and play 2048 with the rest of the time.