Tell Students Folks Need to Adjust to College

The CHE article Reassurance About College Transition Could Raise Black Students’ GPA’s says:

When black students reflected on the idea that everybody, regardless of race or ethnicity, initially struggles to adjust to college, their academic performance and longer-term well-being benefited, according to a paper published on Thursday in the journal Science.

The intervention reduced the GPA gap between black and white students by 52 percent, the researchers found.

The researchers suggested that their discussion of belonging may have shifted students’ perceptions such that their early successes reinforced their confidence. “Brief interventions that shore up belonging can thus promote performance and well-being,” they wrote, “even long after their delivery.”

Computers and Writing: Blog posts already noted

This is how I am looking at/writing about/thinking of my topic for my Computers and Writing presentation. I am blogging a process here.

Since the topic is one which has been of interest to me for a while, I have multiple articles already noted or written on this blog (identified with a TCE: at the beginning). These are articles which are pertinent to where I am going/want to go with the paper.

technical_writingArticles which are relevant to my Computers and Writing topic:

College for the Underclass
This is a blog post written by a member of the underclass about how she went to college, what she expected from it, and how she veered significantly off the expected path and became a college professor. It is well worth reading, especially if you have no personal experience with being an early person in your family to go to college.

TCE: Rethinking the Value of a College Degree is a post worth looking at, especially in light of the above article, which emphasizes that low SES and underclass students are coming to college to get better jobs.

TCE: An informal discussion of how computer use can be made accessible, particularly for students who are from a low socioeconomic background.

TCE: Class-Based Value Differences

TCE: Notes on student retention
Student retention is an important concept for all college students, but it is especially important when talking about low socioeconomic status students.

TCE: 7 Specific Strategies for Student Retention in the English Classroom

TCE: Why is Student Retention Important to Teachers?

TCE: Bad News for Community Colleges and the students that attend them.

This is especially important to look at since many low SES students go to community colleges, because they are near home and are less expensive than other colleges.

Study into relationship between physical environment and pupils’ attainment and behavioroffers something to think about.

The report’s chief author, Katy Owen, says she found that urban decay could “easily impact upon pupils and their teachers”. She says: “They may demonstrate poor behaviour in the classroom, have low self-esteem, little appetite for educational attainment and have little cultural or social capital to draw on. Their teachers may become disillusioned and frustrated with their limited ability to teach in a community where crime and incivility is rife.”

TCE: The Ugly Stepsister- Rhetoric

TCE: Good links on low SES status students

TCE: Community Colleges

Are Community Colleges Losing Touch with their Communities?

7 Specific Strategies for Student Retention in the English Classroom

Student Retention in Higher Education says there are four reasons students drop out of college.

1. Homesickness/wrong major
2. Financial issues
3. Bored with classes
4. Failing assessments

How can we help our students get over these hurdles?

1. Keep an eye out for homesickness.

When our students are writing for us, in their journals or narrative writing, we can keep an eye out for homesickness. If we see it, we can recommend the student for counseling or simply counsel the student to get more involved at school. I have seen that work wonders.

Wrong major
2. Help them be aware of what they are getting into.

One of the assignments I require early in the semester for freshman composition is an interview with someone in the students’ majors. I figure if they talk to a real person doing the real job and see what the positives and negatives are, they are less likely to stay in a major which is a bad fit for them. I don’t know if it works, but I think it is worth the effort. And if it keeps one student off a perilous course, then I have made a difference.

3. Provide reasonable help.

One way we can help with this is to put a copy of the textbook on reserve in the library. If a student doesn’t have to have the book in class and has somewhere it can be seen for specific assignments, the hefty chunk of the bill will be lowered.

Also, if we know this is an issue, sending the students to the right person at financial aid can make a difference.

Bored in classes
4. Think of our students when we are creating our classes.

We can only make a difference in our courses. Since English is a required course for most of the students in our classrooms, we can help lighten the boredom by making our classes more interesting or user-friendly.

We can have podcasts of lectures available for the students to download. We can have worksheets or review sheets online. We can make sure we step outside the box and give our students an interesting experience in class.

Failing assessments
There are several aspects of this section that can be addressed. Students may fail for various reasons. They might not connect to our teaching. They might not be coming to class. They might not be able to do the work.

We can’t help any of those things across the board, but we can still make a difference.

5. We can assign graded work early and give it back quickly. That lets the students know if they are on the right track.

6. We can give them their averages every four to six weeks. This lets them know if they are within the ballpark they were expecting for grades or if they need to increase their effort.

7. We can encourage looking at the work we have marked by giving credit for rewrites. If a major grade can be rewritten for bonus points, students will do that work. I usually just average the two grades together. My sons’ have had a teacher who adds half of the points for the rewritten work onto the original grade. (I think those work out to the same amount.) Or you could give partial credit for the rewrites. But this does two things. 1. It improves a grade they recognize as low. 2. It encourages them to look at their own work and fix their errors, the errors specific to them.

So there are things we can do to help keep our students in school and they aren’t things that are that unusual or hard to do.

Student Retention

Why is student retention important to teachers?

Looking at the student retention percentage is important for college students looking at colleges, says College Admissions Counseling.

In this time of economic uncertainty, it can also tell you which schools are more likely to be stable. (Just a thought.)

According to

A total of 66 percent of first-year college students returned to the same institution for their second year of college in the 2007–2008 academic year, the lowest percentage since 1989. This figure is down from 68 percent in 2006–2007 and 69 percent in 2005–2006.

But that is NOT true for two-year colleges.

The exception to the current downward trend is two year public colleges, with retention rates actually rising at these schools: Fifty-four percent of students at two-year public colleges returned for their second year in 2007–2008, up from 51 percent the previous year. In fact, the current retention rate for two-year public institutions is at an all-time high.

I find the 54% retention rate problematic, of course. I teach at community colleges and that means one in two students don’t come back the next year. Certainly some of those are transferring, but my guess is most of them are dropping out.

According to How To Do, community colleges can increase retention by:

  • increasing faculty-student interaction
  • establishing learning communities
  • learning support programs
  • assessment programs

My college has assessment programs and learning support programs. We are attempting to do more about establishing learning communities and I am participating in this by creating a freshman English course for health science professionals. Doing that will give the entire class a learning cohort that they know. In addition, it will give them students who are also interested in doing well in the class, since nursing students need an A.

I personally am trying to increase faculty-student interaction by replying to my students’ blogs and being available for one-on-one tutoring if they need it. Obviously as an adjunct I don’t have office hours, so that is a little problematic, but it can be done.

Even though the article is about community colleges, I think it probably applies to all colleges.

Schools where more students stick around for the second year ought to be more stable in an economic downturn. It might be worth looking at that if you are looking for work and aren’t geographically restricted, as I am.

What are the most common reasons for dropping out of school?

According to “Student Retention in Higher Education”, homesickness or wrong major, financial issues, bored with the course, and failing assessments are the reasons students drop out.

How can we help our students stay in college?

Obviously as English composition teachers, we may see the homesickness in the papers the students are writing. I ask my students to interview people in their field to let the students see what the job actually looks like and hopefully help them determine early on if they are in the right major.

Financial issues are not within our purview but those may increase with the economic downturn.

Being bored with classes is an issue the students need to address themselves, but as teachers we can help by making our courses more interesting.

Finally, failing assessments can also be worked with by the teachers. If we give writing assignments early and often, and return them just as quickly, the students will see their grades all along the way and know whether or not they need to make a stronger push or whether what they are doing is acceptable. That is something that English teachers tend to be fairly good at.

So, as we look at institutions’ retention numbers, it might also be helpful to look at how we can help increase our particular college’s retention.

Bad News for CCs

90% of students who start at a community college don’t finish college.

Is this because of community colleges? Or is it because the students starting at a community college aren’t actually able to finish?

 Most students who do well in high school don’t go on to a community college. The students who typically go to a community college are either

  1. those who struggled in high school, who goofed off, who skipped school, who didn’t do their work. If they have not had a major attitude change, they’re going to do the same thing in a CC and they aren’t going to graduate.
  2. those who struggled in high school because they did not have sufficient skills. Their skill levels are not going to automatically improve just because they are going to college. They need remediation and they need tutoring. These are available, but they will have to avail themselves of it.

A study in a Boston Globe article, as reported on The College Puzzle, said

2-students-big1Students attending two-year community colleges-the least-expensive option-fared the worst in the survey by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, with an abysmal 12 percent graduation rate.

Seven out of 10 public school graduates may get into college, but many lack the preparation to succeed. At Bunker Hill, for example, more than 80 percent of the Boston students from the class of 2000 required a remedial math course.

In this study, a student merely needed to earn a diploma or certificate from any institution of higher education, not just the original college. And by providing at least a six-year window, the study made allowances for students who often juggle college with work or family obligations. Rationalizations are now off the table.

A couple of thoughts: First, is it the college’s fault if the students need remediation when they arrive? Or maybe, to what extent is the college responsible for remediation?

If 80% of the students need remediation, then they are trying to go to college without adequate skills. Perhaps we should quit encouraging everyone to go to college.

My brother-in-law did not go to college. He has a good job in management because he learned how to manage people and he is a conscientious worker. (And he got a job with a company that rewards those things.)

If he had gone to college, he would have been one of those students needing remediation and not passing. My husband, from the same family, actually did better in college than he did in high school.

The more I read studies like these, the more I wonder why we as Americans feel it is important to send our kids to school. In the old days people apprenticed. That was like school, only different. As an apprentice you would learn your job and do it. (Or at least it was to be hoped you would.) Were there a lot of failures in those days that we just don’t hear about because they died young? got run over by a horse? or something equally removing-them-from-the-gene-pool?

The [most successful community] college also offers so-called “nested semesters” that allow students to take accelerated courses over 10- or even 5-week periods in addition to the traditional 15-week schedule. The faster pace creates a sense of urgency missing on many campuses. Minority students, who make up 42 percent of the student body, appear to fare especially well at Quincy College. Black and Hispanic graduation rates for a recent class, says Harris, outstripped that of Asian students.

This is an interesting idea and I am going to pass it on to my dean and president.

I wonder why the Asian students were outstripped. What about the shorter, more intense courses, courted Hispanic and black culture, while putting aside Asian culture? That’s an interesting question. I wonder if it would hold up through a second study or a similar program somewhere else.

No one believes that ill-prepared urban students will suddenly cruise through college. But any college that can’t help at least half to the finish line needs to reexamine what value it is adding to the educational experience.

Again, I may be negative, but why is it the college’s job to get the students through?

I guess I have a different view of the responsibility of students and colleges.

What is the role of the college?

I think the college should provide remediation. It should provide qualified teachers. It should provide technology so that the students can learn that aspect of American culture. It should encourage students. It should make sure students are not trying to swim out of their depth, by taking too many classes or classes for which they are not yet prepared.

It has NO responsibility for students graduating.

Now, if the short terms are good for students, they will also be good for colleges. The colleges will retain more students if the students are doing well. Student retention, though not the job of the college, is a goal of the college. They want to retain as many students as they can reasonably do.

But I know that many schools have watered down their programs. The classes are light. And they are doing this in an attempt to get the students to pass. What’s the use of passing if there was nothing rigorous?

bw-hand-writingDoes it do a student any good to get out of freshman composition and be unable to write an essay exam? No, it does not. They will have essay exams and they will need to do well on them to continue on in their education.

But we water our courses down at the CC in order to “help” more of our students through.

Students rise to a challenge and sink to the lowest common denominator thinking.

Teaching is Undervalued: Full-time

Full-time college teaching has become an undervalued resource in the United States.

Cost to Students
A new study shows that first year students are more likely to drop out if they are taught by adjuncts.

That is not just a cost to the students; it is also a cost to the colleges in terms of retention, which is a rate that they are judged on. Apparently, though, it is not sufficiently an issue to begin to hire more full-timers.

Those at community colleges who don’t drop out are less likely to transfer to a four-year school.

Since this is not something that community colleges typically track, it doesn’t matter to their bottom line. If they did track it, or someone did, it would matter more.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Ed, students were much more likely to drop out if the high stakes courses (like freshman English, in which an A is required for nursing) were taught by adjuncts.

If we want an educated populace, then it seems that we ought to hire full-time teachers who are teachers first to educate and care for the students in the gatekeeper courses.

The Journal of Higher Education looked specifically at community colleges and found that those with high percentages of adjuncts had lower percentages of students completing school.

Possible future cost to colleges:

Again, since they don’t track this, it is not an issue for community colleges. If USA Today or US News & World Report published this information, disseminating it to the public, then it would become an issue.

Regression analysis indicates that graduation rates for public community colleges in the United States are adversely affected when institutions rely heavily upon part-time faculty instruction. Negative effects may be partially offset if the use of part-time faculty increases the net faculty resource available per student. However, the evidence suggests that this offset is insufficient to reverse negative effects upon graduation rates.

I wonder if the community colleges have someone who keeps up with this kind of information. It seems like if this became more known, people would stop going to community colleges until they hired more full-time faculty. Of course, for those to whom price is the biggest issue, this is not true.

Over the past three decades, one of the most significant changes in the delivery of postsecondary education involves the dramatic increase in the use of contingent or part-time faculty. The pattern is particularly pronounced at community colleges, where part-time faculty provide virtually half of all instruction.

I hate to break it to him, but part-time faculty at my college provide three-quarters of the… Okay, maybe not. Three-quarters of the faculty are adjuncts, but until two years ago, adjuncts were only allowed to teach five courses a year- which is half of what a full-timer can teach. However, two years ago, this was increased to three courses a semester. Now part-timers can teach nine a year while full-timers teach ten a year. Most part-timers teach seven a year. So with 3/4s of the faculty being part-timers and the ration of 7:10… Adjuncts teach 52% of the classes at CC1.

And the number of adjuncts has increased while the percentage of full-time faculty has dropped. In 1970 78% of faculty was full-time. In 2005, the percentage dropped to 52. That’s a 26% drop in 35 years. By the time I retire, if the trend keeps going, only 35% of the faculty will be full-time.

Why is this happening?

Why is full-time teaching decreasing while part-time is increasing?

The bottom line, of course, is cost. If my CC hired me full-time, I would be making $57K a year and they would be having to pay basically $114K for the privilege (with taxes and health care). Part-time, they pay me and another like me $22K. And they don’t have to pay health care for me. So their cost for a “full-time equivalent” is $33K. They can hire six adjuncts who teach more than three times as many classes, for the price of hiring me full-time.

But the cost wouldn’t matter if the public were not going to schools with high levels of adjuncts or if accrediting institutions considered the percentage of adjuncts.

Transparency coming?

New America reports that the government is considering requiring transparency in number of adjuncts at a college. The colleges, of course, are resisting this. It’s not that they don’t know how many they hire. They do. They just don’t want the general public to know.

As of now, accrediting institutions rarely require any sort of definition of part-time faculty, leaving that to the institution, and do not require that schools follow any rules about hiring, evaluating, or maintaining part-time faculty. It’s not an issue to the accrediting agencies, so it isn’t to the schools.

Tip 15: Should you give extra credit? Maybe.

Who does extra credit?

Early in the semester the people who do extra credit are the A students. Towards the end of the semester, if you are giving grades out regularly, more students who actually need it will get involved.

But most of the time, the students who need it the most won’t do it. So be prepared for that. As a teacher invested in the class, it can be a bit disheartening.

Why give extra credit?

There are many different reasons, but a big one is to get students to do something that is outside the normal parameters of your classroom.

One of my schools only allows extra credit to encourage the students to attend campus events. Obviously in an English class, they then have to write about it.

What if you want to give a new assignment, but you are unsure about its usability?

Give extra credit. The better students will do the project, whatever it is. If they do it well, you will know it can work. If they do it poorly, you will know it needs to be restructured.

What if you had a great assignment, but you can’t integrate it into the class?

Give extra credit. Over the years I have developed some learning units (as Blackboard calls them) that are very good, fun, and cool. [And, yes, I am reading The Rhetoric of Cool.] But as I get new texts, which don’t have the sections those assignments were created for, I drop them out of my class. But I still like them. They are still good and useful. There was a point to them and, if I liked them all that much, I received well-written papers. So I give them as extra credit.

How can I argue for extra credit?

As a writing instructor, the more students write, the more they learn. That’s one argument for it.

Another argument for it is that extra credit assignments can be given which involve the students in campus life and getting students involved on campus increases student retention. (That’s always a big deal with colleges.) You can send them to see the school play and they can write a critique. They can go to the campus art show and discuss their favorite and least favorite works. If you have multiple school eateries, they could try them out and write a compare/contrast paper. There are lots of assignments you could create to get the students involved on campus and writing.

How should extra credit be given?

I usually assign the easier projects as extra credit early in the semester. Then as the semester progresses, the extra credit assignments become more involved. That means that the students who need to do more work to improve their grade will be doing the equivalent of an extra day or two in class.*

The only exceptions to this are for
1) new projects I want to try out and
2) projects which get my students involved with the campus (as an aspect of student retention).

How should extra credit be graded?

Don’t spend hours grading extra credit. Think about what you are looking for ahead of time. Determine to what part of the grade it will be added, assuming your assignments have different weights. And decide, for yourself, how many points it is worth. I don’t always say how much it is worth. I do say something like, “This will go towards your homework average.”

And I give more than 100% averages if the student earned them. If I have a student who does all the homework and the homework extra credit, that student might end up with a 115 on that part of the average. So they have 115 on 20%. I find that it is an encouragement to the students to let them know that you will go over 100, if they make that.

Then when you receive the assignment, read through it. Is it exactly what you were looking for? Give the full number of points. Is it adequate? Give 3/4s. Is it done but not very good? Give half. Is it awful? Give 5-10%. (I don’t ever give 0 on an extra credit assignment unless it is plagiarized.) Is it exceptional, far beyond what you were looking for? Give 110-125%.

How should extra credit be weighted?

If I want the students to do something I meant to get to in class but didn’t have time for, I offer “on the spot” extra credit. It usually goes towards their homework average and I don’t say how much credit it will get because it will depend on how much the student produces.

If the assignment is fairly straightforward (go here, read this, write a narrative paragraph of your experience), then it should be weighted lightly. If the assignment has a few pages of reading or requires a few pages of writing (but still fairly straightforward), then I give 100 points in the homework section.

I have thirty to forty-five assignments that go into that, so that helps their grade a little, but not a lot.

If the assignment is involved, then I will give credit towards a major grade. For instance, we have six journal assignments that are 10% of the grade this semester. If the students find someone in their discipline or field and interview them about the discipline/field, using questions we came up with as a class, and write up a two to three page paper discussing what they learned and how it effects their attitude or future, then I give more substantial credit. It is usually enough to replace half of a journal assignment that got left undone.

What are some sample extra credit projects?

This example of a project is something you couldn’t do in a class unless you are in a computer lab. So it is perfect for extra credit.

Read Murphy’s Laws of Teaching.
Write down three that you have experience with. Write a one paragraph description of your experience with each.
This extra credit will add to your homework average.

I have thousands of total points in homework. Again, if someone did an outstanding job, I would give them outstanding credit. Usually though it’s 50 to 100 points.

Schedule an interview with a teacher or someone who works in your major area. Call to get an appointment. The interview must be completed within two weeks. Keep the appointment, ask the questions, listen, take notes or tape the interview, and write up the interview.

This is the assignment that I wrote about earlier. It follows our discussion of interviews in class where we come up with interview questions as a group.

Read Killian Advertising.
Comment on which of the reasons for terrible cover letters you think is most likely and why.
Pick two of the bloopers that don’t have editorial comment [The parts in green italics in square brackets.] and tell what is wrong with them. Please copy the two bloopers, too, so I will know what they are.

This one is fun and makes them think about the audience reading their papers more.

The following is an extra credit assignment during the research paper section:

Pick a good argument on the side you agree with. State the argument in on or two sentences. Then refute the argument; that is, tell why the argument is problematic. In other words, why might the argument not convince someone? (1.5-2 pages)

They have read articles on both sides of their issue by this time and should have a good grasp of their situation.

Do I have to give extra credit?

Absolutely not. But I find that structuring it ahead of time (except for on-campus events) lets me know that students can do better if they want to. This eases my conscience when they aren’t doing as well as they (or I) know they can.

*I believe that writers become better by understanding what they are trying to do and then doing it. A lot.

Tip 13: How to Use Group Work (and be happy with the result)

First, let me make clear my position. I’ve been in groups since high school where I did all the work and everyone else got the same grade. It happened even when the teacher knew that someone in the group did nothing. So I’m not a big fan of group work for grades.

I know that the “real world” (because of course academia, which can take up most of your life for sixteen years, isn’t real) requires group work. I figure that my students should have to deal with the frustration only when it’s necessary. It’s not necessary in my classroom and I try not to create a situation where it would be.

That said, however, there is still a place for group work.
Students like to work in groups. Humans are social creatures, even most introverts enjoy spending time with people special to them.

Students like to talk. We all like to talk. And we like people to listen. Always lecturing in class indulges us as teachers, but it doesn’t give the students a voice. But having group work, where the students are not only encouraged but expected to talk, allows them to take the stage in their education. It’s a useful place for them to be.

Students need involvement with the academic community in order to succeed within the academy (according to Tinto, writing on student retention). Putting students in groups in class makes that connection between students more likely to happen. Being in a group won’t guarantee that any student will finish their degree, but it does, at the least, give them a place to talk about your class.

Group work that really works.
I like to assign in class group work. Let the students be doing stuff together in a place where I can see who is and isn’t doing something.

Assign jobs. Have one person be the secretary and another be the speaker, when the group work is done to say what their group did.

Make the groups small. Big groups encourage the extrovert and hide the shy student. That’s not what we’re looking for. I like groups of three, but will accept four if there is a need to get everyone in a group.

Have the groups write down who did what. You’ll get a consensus if everyone worked and if someone didn’t, you’ll probably hear about that too.

Suggested group assignments.
After an in-class reading, put the students in a group to answer the questions. At the end, either take up answers or give each group a different question to answer aloud or both.

Assign a short reading to the group and have them tell the rest of the class what they learned from it. You can have questions, or not, to get them started.

Tip 6: How to Get Students to Talk to Each Other

Why this is important

According to Tinto, student retention is significantly improved by academic and social integration.

Academic integration includes identifying with one’s role as a student (such as in Tip 5’s suggestion to have students sign a paper stating they agree to abide by class rules.)

Social integration includes personal contact with academics, making friends at school, and being comfortable around campus.

The issue of social integration is the focus of this post, specifically the section on making friends at school. Many students, especially at non-residential colleges, don’t really have any means of getting to know other students outside of class. I realize that the classroom’s main purpose is not to allow students to make friends; having said that, however, I believe that we can encourage our students to stay in school by giving them an opportunity to meet other students.

Introduce each other.

This is why, as in Tip 5, on the first day of class I have them get in small groups to meet each other and then have them introduce one another out loud in class. It breaks the ice for the students and it lets them know if and where similar students in the class are.

Have them respond to questions.

Again, as in Tip 5, ask the students questions and have them answer them on the first day.

Favorite restaurants as a question lets me know where the students hang out, lets them know if there are others with similar tastes, and is (generally) a fairly innocuous question. Even with students from severely limited socioeconomic status, there are usually still favorite restaurants.

Another question I ask is what is the farthest distance the student has traveled. This could be a bit odd if one student has never been anywhere, but I could easily discuss the fact that such a thing is more common in England and that, in fact, folks from New York City don’t usually move around or visit. If I felt they were very embarrassed, I would use this to segue into a discussion of how hard 9/11 was for people who never left town and didn’t know anyone outside the city. In addition, this question allows me to recognize and thank our veterans.

Have students move around the room in a mixer.

I have done this a couple of ways.

One is a fill out the questionnaire game. In this I come to class with a list of questions that I think someone in the class will match. Then the students have to go to people, introduce themselves, and ask the person a single question (if you have lots of time) or if they fit any of the criteria (if you don’t). This gets them talking to each other.

Sample lines from the questionnaire would be:
I have at least three siblings.
I was born here in Houston and have never lived outside of Houston.
I am married.
I am a business major.

Another way is to have the students stand up. Then give each corner of the room a number. You call out a question- How many kids are in your family?- and have people move to the corner that matches. (Obviously the fourth corner could be four or more.) Then people have to meet everyone in their corner. Then you go to the next question.

This idea is a bit messy. Some classes don’t like it. And it can get loud.

But it does get the students introduced to each other, which is the point.

Use collaborative work.

I do not like collaborative work much. It’s too easy for one person to do all the work.

But I still have group work in class so that students will have a reason to talk with each other. It is usually to answer questions from a reading we did in class, since that way I know they have all done it.

I’m all for keeping our students in college. And if it helps keep them in my class, it’s a blessing to the class as well.