In order to complete college level work successfully, students must be capable of critical thought, be able to select main ideas in reading and lectures, have realistic expectations of how long academic tasks take, and have an internal mechanism that alerts them when they don't understand course material or assures them when they do. Good students are rarely surprised at the questions that turn up on exam, and many have a sixth sense that tells them when they have thoroughly learned the material. However, some college students arrive here without these skills. Some develop them on their own after a rude awakening, while others need special help in determining what is expected of them.
What Can You Do?
Here are some ways to identify these students.
- When they take notes, they write only what the professor puts on the board. Reading notes consist of nothing but terms and their definitions, most of which are copied word for word out of the book. They tend to zero in on terms, dates and people, but they don't see them as related to each other or course concepts. If you ask them why a particular term is important in the context of a course they may be able to recite the definition, but are unable to answer more completely.
- Students who say, "There is so much reading!" "I don't see the point of this reading assignment," or "I know I read it but I don't remember a thing!" are often students who struggle with reading. Faculty may assume that these students are simply venting, but they may actually be revealing that they don't have the reading skills necessary to get through college level courses.
- Immature students often can't see relationships between course components. For example, if the professor does not lecture straight out of the book, immature students will swear the lecture is absolutely irrelevant to the course. They may even stop attending class because there is no "point."
- While good students know weeks ahead of time when their tests will be, struggling students are often surprised to learn that they have a test coming up. After the test, they will often say, "I guess I studied the wrong things," or "The questions were worded funny." Often, these students are so confused about the course goals that they can't pick out important concepts and have no idea what the tests will look like.
- Immature students will often take statements literally. If a professor says, "You may want to consider reading Chapter 5 by Wednesday," an immature student will perceive reading as optional. If a professor says, "We'll be discussing chapter 5 on Wednesday," an immature student hears, "I can start reading chapter 5 after Wednesday's lecture."
- Good students and immature ones have very different definitions of what it means "to know." Good students feel they know something when they can describe how it relates to their lives, to other information or to new situations. Immature students feel they know something when they have it memorized. Because they lack an internal mechanism that tells them when they understand new material, they are unlikely to realize they aren't "getting" the material. When professors announce in class that students must "know" something for an exam, the immature student doesn't have an accurate sense of what the professor means.
If you have immature students in your courses, try to be as specific as possible about your expectations. Saying, "I expect you to read pages 40-50 for Friday" is clear to all students.
If you have an opportunity to speak one-on-one with an immature student about studying, give them specific directions about how to study for exams. Help them to develop ways to "prove" they have actually learned the material they are studying, such as being able to explain how term X relates to term Y, or being able to work a problem from beginning to end with no help from the book. Such exercises will develop their "internal mechanism."
Immature students usually think their problems will go away in time, and they do not want to seek services. Encourage them to do so by pointing out to them what the course expectations are and where they are not meeting them. While it is appropriate to express concern and compassion for the student, make sure you are direct with them about their shortcomings. For example if it is the week before an exam and a student is unable to come up with any possible test questions, you can point out to him or her that students ought to have a good idea what will be on the test by now.