Jodie Brown, M.A.
January 19, 2016
Several semesters ago, I became increasingly concerned about my students’ unrealistic expectations about how to succeed as a college student. In fact, many of my students lacked any understanding of the expectations college instructors have for them. I began to compile a list of behaviors that I knew helped students become more successful and develop realistic expectations for how to become a college student.
It is one thing to take a class; it is another to be successful in that class. While I realize that “success” in a class has many definitions and I understand the need some people have to be happy with a C, I also know that with just a few purposeful maneuvers, all students can achieve their vision of success.
The following is a list of strategies and behaviors any student can adopt to become ready to succeed in not only an English class, but all classes:
- Ø Sit toward the front of the class - There is a lot to be said for your choice of where to sit. Choosing where to sit in the classroom actually communicates a lot to the instructor and to your peers. Those who sit at the back of the room are often reluctant to engage in class discussions and activities, while those who sit closer to the front of the room are generally more enthusiastic. Often your classrooms will be full and you may not be able to choose where to sit. When this is the case, making a conscious effort to appear and become engaged in what is going on will make a world of difference.
- Ø Take notes – It seems a lost art, especially with the way that technology has intervened in the classroom, but taking notes (handwritten!) is still a practice that is powerful in your learning. Neuron and synapse connections in the brain develop with the act of writing. When you snap a photo of the notes on the board, it may be a good resource for you to consult, but if you want to learn something, handwriting notes is the strategy you should adopt. Even if you never look at your notes again, the simple act of writing and organizing notes supports learning. Taking notes daily in each class also provides “proof” if you need it that you were actually in class.
- Ø Engage your body – Body language is important in any classroom. Adopt a posture that appears to lean toward whoever is speaking (instructor, guest speaker, peer, etc.). This posture is a small thing to become conscious of, but leaning in is a posture of engagement, while leaning away is a posture of disengagement. It may seem silly, but just like leaning in toward the speaker, nodding your head shows engagement. Additionally, frowning can show confusion, and shaking your head shows disagreement or bewilderment. These body language cues communicate a lot to instructors. Additionally, crossing your arms indicates you are “closed off” to hearing what the speaker has to say. But, nodding your head shows you are considering and may even be agreeing with the speaker. Do not underestimate your ability to communicate with your body how much or how little you are engaged.
- Ø Stay organized – Organizing and handling the numerous pieces of paper and ideas a student collects is tough. Being disorganized often helps one give in to procrastination—it’s simply easier to push off a task if you have to hunt to find the materials you need to get started! So, using binders, tabs, Post-It © notes, highlighters, three-hole punches, and staples can be a lifesaver. Don’t put all papers into the same place and think you will be able to quickly find “that one paper” when you need it. Begin and stay organized.
- Ø Ask questions – Instructors know you have them! Don’t pretend you don’t. J While the idiom there is “never a stupid question” may not always hold true, when you are genuinely confused, lost, or need clarification, asking questions is a way to show you are engaged and interested. And it is true that if you have a question, it is probable that others have a similar question. Be brave: engage!
- Ø Talk to the teacher – Believe it or not, most instructors like to talk to their students. Conversing with the instructor helps you understand we are human, just like you, and were once in your situation. While I would caution you about becoming too “familiar,” asking questions and sharing ideas is a positive behavior. Use our office hours. All full-time instructors hold office hours, and many part-timers try to hold office hours that are designated for conferencing or chatting with students.
- Ø Read actively – I hear from students all the time that one of the most powerful strategies they learn in my classes is how to annotate text while they are reading. We typically spend 13 years in school being told that writing in books is bad, when the truth is that writing in books is a potent strategy for not only remembering what you read, but making sense of what you read. Even if you are renting or planning to sell your books back, there are ways to annotate texts that will help you read more efficiently and effectively.
- Ø Use study groups or tutors – Creating and meeting in study groups or utilizing tutoring services (usually free on campus!) is a great way to not only make friends, but to remember and prepare for your classes. Networking is one of the benefits of attending college. This is also an opportunity to meet people of other ethnic, cultural, religious, socioeconomic backgrounds and people with differing interests than yourself. College is all about meeting new people and learning new things. Broaden your horizons!
- Ø Set short-term and long-term goals – Goal setting is important. As my son’s taekwondo instructor used to say, “Goals you set are goals you get!” Think about what you want to accomplish on a daily, weekly, monthly, or semester basis. Write those goals down and check them off as you accomplish them.
- Ø Manage time effectively – Procrastination is the kiss of death in college. Yes, there are lots of other things that most college students would like to do than study or write papers or solve math problems. But, unless you have all the time and money in the world, you will want to make good use of the time and funds you have available. Remember to schedule time each day or week to exercise, sleep, study, work, and socialize. Being well-rounded is important. Also remember that if you are prone to procrastination, setting up a reward system for completing school study tasks is a great way to beat the “instant gratification” cycle we can fall into.
Even though these strategies do not guarantee success for anyone, you should see results with implementing two or three of them and then adding to them over time. Start simply, perhaps with paying attention to where you choose to sit and your body posture and mechanics. Add in things like note taking and asking questions. Certainly, don’t try them all at once. As with any new strategy, practicing it frequently improves it and making adjustments is key.