The first week is a difficult one for many reasons. It is especially difficult on my campus because students can add/drop until the end of the week…great for students, but difficult for professors. Every semester I end up with three or four new students at the beginning of the second week who are starting the semester behind. Each semester, I struggle with what to do. Mostly I question whether I should start covering content that first week and hope that the students who come in late are able to make it up without getting further behind. Last academic year, I pushed back the content coverage into the second week and now spend the first couple of days orienting students to my teaching style, expectations, and the course. Yes, I said DAYS, sometimes the entire first week. I could write a lot discussing the things I do and why but I want to focus on a conversation I have with students about student success.
I highlight that success means different things to different people. Success depends on life circumstances as well as academic circumstances. I tell them that earning an A is not the only way to mark success. For a single parent juggling a part-time job and a full credit load, for whom this class is fulfilling a gen-ed course, an A is probably not a necessity. I try to help students acknowledge that they are under significant pressure from multiple sources and that can create a lot of anxiety. I encourage them to prioritize their mental health. Regardless of the messages they hear from others, I tell them that they do not have to be perfect! I let them know that it’s OK to miss a low-stakes quiz in my class if they need to study for an exam in another class. I remind them that sleep is one of the most overlooked keys to success; that an extra hour of studying won’t help them if they don’t get enough sleep.
I also make sure that students know about my late policy and encourage them to take advantage of it. For a long time, I was a firm “No Late Work---Ever” kind of person. And, generally I still believe that it’s important to hold students accountable to getting stuff done on time. But I also know that life happens. We all have health issues come up, car trouble, or just get overwhelmed and forget. So all students start the semester with a Late Pass. It’s a no questions asked 48 hour extension on (nearly) any assignment, quiz, etc. I just ask that students email me within 12 hours of the due date/time (before or after) and let me know that they are going to use it. They do not have to explain their circumstances, they just get the extension. I also caution students to be thoughtful about what assignments they choose to use it on (e.g., not a low stakes quiz) and when to use it (during a week that they have a lot of things due) to make the most of this opportunity.
One of the best things about our student success discussion is how much the students seemed to be both surprised how I frame success in our class and appreciative of my attempt to understand their lives .
What ways do you discuss student success in your classes?
Written by Ciara Kidder