Teaching for Retention
Chancellor's Commonwealth Professorship
2010-2012: Bridging from Reading to Content Courses
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
I 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.
- 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
carded 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.
Recommended Quicktime videos from Dartmouth
College regarding study skills:
Strategic Learning (9 minutes on 3 levels of
learning--exposure, review, and practice) and
my notes on this video
taking notes in college classes with the Cornell or split-page system
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)?
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.
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.
- 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.
- Here are
the professor and student tool kits from the Critical
Reading and Study Skills Strategic Initiative of Spring,
2013, which paired 6 resources (reading) faculty with 6
content-area faculty from across the college.