Teaching for Retention
Chancellor's Commonwealth Professorship
2010-2012: Bridging from Reading to Content Courses (and
JSRCC's Critical Reading and Study Skills Seminars--CRSS)
In 2010, the Virginia Community
College System awarded me (Prof. Eric Hibbison, webmaster
for this site), a two-year research grant. Part of the
focus for this grant was to research the interplay among
reading college textbooks, making class notes, and long-term
studying for tests. Answers should pay off in our
reading and study skills course, as well as in content area
courses, especially high-risk science and social science
classes. Following up, my college, J. Sargeant
Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Virginia, offered
seminars to pair content faculty with resource faculty in
the Spring Semesters of 2013 and 2014, under the auspices of
Prof. Judy Richardson, retired content area prof from
Virginia Commonwealth University. She is developing a
graduate course for Reynolds faculty for Spring 2015.
We wanted to illustrate the following--
- What do successful students do to
- What do successful students do to
process the content of each class?
- What long-term strategies do
successful students use to prepare for large-scale
The students I encountered in my ENG
107, Critical Reading, course showed the following
short-sighted behaviors. (They did some good work,
too, but these patterns concerned me, since about half were
also enrolled in science or social science courses.)
- No annotations. They didn't write in their books.
- Missing organization.
When asked to take notes on a
clearly organized and previewed video, nearly all of my
students failed to use the headings previewed in the
video as a way to
organize their notes. As a result, every idea was
listed at the left margin with no indenting.
Subsequently, using a new set of videos, students
captured ONLY the headings posted on screen and
generally ignored or captured only a few of the spoken
details, examples, and reasons for the heading.
- Foolish flash cards. Their default study strategy was
flash cards, which caused them to see every course as
merely a vocabulary course and, worse, to separate words
gathered together into disparate and unconnected piles of
"known" and "unknown," as well as to record too little
information about each term, usually only the term and a
synonym or copied definition, probably without quotation
marks, and not the page of origin, not a sample usage or
two, no drawing of a structure or process, and surely no
notes on how the term should be used, neither proper
context nor proper usage.
- Word-matching. Students
often used the simplest "word-match" strategy. If
I paraphrased or characterized the nature of a
Blackboard resource, students would report not being
able to find it in our "Course Documents" scroll unless
I supplied the exact title and the exact location (5th
on the list, for instance).
- Word-matching on tests.
In its worst form, the word-match strategy emerged on
tests so that once in a while a student in my ENG 107
class would report that she (perhaps joined by large
numbers of classmates in the content area course) had
begged the professor to use the exact wording from the
book in question stems and target answers because
paraphrasing caused students to miss many questions.
YouTube videos from Dr. Stephen Chew regarding study skills:
(NOTE: I use these in my classes for note-taking
training because they are relatively easy to outline and because the
most important content is spoken, having only headings displayed on
screen, so students can learn to capture details--and listen when
the prof talks.)
That Make You Stupid
Students Should Know About How People Learn
Cognitive Principles for Optimizing Learning
the Principles for Optimizing Learning into Practice
- I Blew
the Exam; Now What?
What if the book doesn't help the students to study very much?
- What do students do to study effectively?
Here is a planning
grid (Adobe .pdf) that asks what students do before,
during, and after reading a textbook chapter, taking class
notes, and taking a test. Included with the
one-page grid is a student sample that addresses
each cell in the grid, including her class notes and sample
flash cards. [Copyrighted textbook materials have been removed from this
student's displays of examples, however.]
- Can you represent to students the level
of good work for the course (and maybe contrast it with work
that is not so good)?
Good Discussion Board Answers:
Here are two attempts by me to explain to my ENG 112
students how substantial their answers should be at one of
our discussion boards in order to receive full credit.
The site also includes several research essays for the major
assignment of the semester; a few of these contain my
commentary or study questions for in-class use.
Effective Exam Essays:
Here is a list of traits
(.doc) of effective exam essays that I developed with my ENG 107 students to analyze
contrasting pairs of sample exam essays--and one set of
answers from my own final exam in ENG 107 (not history
students). Feel free to add ideas of your own,
especially specific to your teaching field or to modify
these criteria as needed.
Here is a list of study strategies advocated by the ENG
107 textbook, College Success Strategies, with notes
on how to apply each strategy to two different high-risk
courses. Notice that the strategies are separated into
exposure-level and review practices in the top half of the
chart vs. longer-term practice (or rehearsal) strategies in
the bottom portion of the chart for
coordinating large amounts of information for exams.
- Study Strategies by
Subject: Here is a consideration of
study skills and
demands by subject. Research-based examples of the
variant demands of history, chemistry, and other subjects
lead to study strategies by subject.
- Tool Kits: Here are
the professor and student tool kits from the Critical
Reading and Study Skills Strategic Initiative of Spring,
2013, which paired 6 resource (reading) faculty with 6
content-area faculty from across the college.
- On May 7, 2014, participants in the
Spring 2014 Critical Reading and Study Skills (CRSS) seminar
offered their results to approximately 50 full-time faculty from
J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College at its professional
development day. Presenters showed various forms of
"anticipation" guides, or warm-ups designed to get students to
increase their concentration and to have a purpose for reading
textbook segments and journal articles. In addition,
suggestions on a "Background Knowledge Probe" are included for
deepening students' methods of processing terminology for a
- Dr. Judy Richardson offers
introduction for the presentation
- Prof. Stephen Sowulewski
adaptation of an "anticipation guide" to enhance
students learning in a nutrition course.
- Prof. Robin Shepherd
one case from anticipation guide through pop quiz.
- Prof. Shepherd also
use of a "background knowledge probe" and in-depth study of
vocabulary to illuminate terms for a passage from the