Guest Contributor: Dr. Brian Day, Butler University
Well the title of this article sure did its job – it grabbed my attention while I was browsing through past volumes of the journal Teaching of Psychology. As an instructor tasked with teaching Introductory Psychology for the foreseeable future I was intrigued by the prospects of improving student success through valuable instructor-student relationships. In the article titled “Student Success in Introductory Psychology: The Value of Teachers Knowing More About Their Students”, Wu and Kraemer (2017) discuss a project with the goal of identifying indicators of student success in introductory psychology courses. Their hope was that if these indicators could be identified early, then teaching, classroom methods, and classroom engagement opportunities could be tailored to help particular students succeed. The results of the investigation showed that a student’s ability to engage academically, prepare appropriately, their self-views concerning growth, and some in-class behaviors all correlated with performance outcomes (namely scores on exams). The authors discuss all of these findings in regards to strategies that college instructors can use to promote student achievement in introductory psychology, and this is where I wish to reflect.
The authors suggest “helping students focus on specific study skills and cognitive processes most pertinent…to their course.” Wu and Kraemer (2017) go on to encourage instructors to become involved in the student-learning process so as to promote a classroom environment that engenders academic engagement and success. From my experience teaching four sections of introductory psychology this past year these are both fantastic suggestions. In fact, their first suggestion pertaining to helping students study skills and cognitive processes sounds like academic speak for the most common question I get from students – “How do I study for the test?” I always feel stuck at this point because I know what methods worked for me, but I also know that different strategies and methods work differently for different students. Identifying study skills and ways of thinking to help bolster success in introductory psychology is something I wish to find more sources on. I know if I can increase my knowledge base in this regard I can help more students become better college students overall for the rest of their academic careers, which relates to my next point of reflection.
Teaching intro to psychology puts me in a unique situation, in that the overwhelming majority of the students in class will be first-year students (and if it is the fall semester, first semester college students) who are new to the rigors of studying and succeeding at a university. Research has shown that within the first six weeks of college, first-years begin to cement their academic and study patterns, which, of course, can either induce or inhibit academic engagement (Tinto, 1988). I make it a point to have ten minute meetings with each of my students at the start of a new semester. These meetings must take place within the first week of school and are designed to help me get to know my class. At these meetings, and throughout the remainder of the semester, I make it known that I am more than happy to be a resource for the students in any ways possible; that I am available to help construct their essays, review material, answer questions, etc. However, what I struggle with is reaching the students who do not seem to be engaged academically. In my experience the majority of my students who take me up on my offer to be a resource are the students who would likely have done well in the class regardless of my involvement. Can anyone recommend meaningful sources on approaching and engaging with students who do not outwardly demonstrate an investment in their academic careers, especially first-year students?
I certainly learned a thing or two while reading this article, but the piece actually ended up serving a more important role. While reading the article I constantly was thinking about my own efforts to facilitate academic investment and success in my own classes. Through this self-reflection, I realized that I need to invest further in my role as an instructor. First, I need to seek out a multitude of proven strategies to offer students who seek out advice. Secondly, I need to do a better job of engaging with students in my class who do not take me up on my offer to be a resource throughout the semester. Perhaps this can be done by legislating more face-to-face meetings with each student, but I am sure there are other (likely more effective) techniques to foster student engagement on their own terms. So, if anyone can point me to resources related to these two topics I would greatly appreciate it!
Wu, J., & Kraemer, P. (2017). Student Success in Introductory Psychology: The Value of Teachers Knowing More About Their Students. Teaching of Psychology, 44(4), 342-348.
For a short bio on Brian, please visit his first guest post.