Friday, May 16, 2014

Confidence when Entering College

A fascinating article from the New York Times is entitled Who gets to graduate?

The key bit seems to be that a certain kind of new college student receives huge benefit (at some colleges halving their chance of dropping out of college) from five resources:
  • discussions about their doubts, fears, and worries about belonging
  • advisors who monitor progress and keep in contact,
  • tips on how and when to ask for help
  • peer mentors, especially for encouragement
  • access to extra instruction

Specifically, this kind of new student tends to react to a obstacles with a success or failure mindset.

When they fail a placement test or a required to take a remedial class it prompts thoughts such as "Perhaps I am not smart enough to be here", or "I do not belong here" or "College is too different from high school".

The first three especially--those discussions, advisors, and tips about getting help--can retrain them to instead be like the other students who react to obstacles with a growth opportunity mindset.

When those fail a placement test or a required to take a remedial class they have much different thoughts, such as "This sounds boring, I hope the instructor is funny" or "What a waste of time, I hope I actually learn something".

Those responses might be pessimistic, but they are about opportunity and personal growth rather than dictates or predictions of success or failure.

I already wrote about the difference between a growth opportunity mindset and a success or failure mindset in my essay about social confidence.

What surprised the researchers is that only parental income mattered to statistically predict who was which kind of new student--and thus the chance of dropping out or earning a degree.

In my math class I already talk a lot about those discussion and tips.
"Anything new is hard.  But the math topics in Math 20 are not themselves hard.  All of them become okay, if not easy, with enough practice."

"Math 20 is about turning free time into grade points.  If you put in the time, you can pass the class.  Some students with jobs and kids are too busy to put in the time during a single term.  There is no shame in needing two terms if you have many real-life responsibilities.  It happens all the time."

"I have taught Math 20 or 25 for twenty-five terms.  Among all those hundreds of students I have only had one who could not pass the class after putting in the required time.  (She had her own circumstances.)  If you have a weak math background it might take you a bit more time than if you have a strong background.  But it is still just an amount of time.  Study, practice, do homework, do practice tests.  You can pass."

"We start each class with homework questions.  No questions are silly.  You will not ever be the only student with that question.  If you already knew all the answers, you would not be in Math 20."

"During this group work every group scored 85% or more.  Now, maybe you were faking it and just nodding your head while confused.  But I did not see that, except for a very few student with the one hardest problem.  Mostly I saw everyone leaving the room having understood 85% of those problems.  Think about what that means.  Your brain can understand 85%!  It did then.  It can again.  If it does not now, that just means you need more time to practice.  You all can earn a B or better.  Your brains can handle that.  The math will fit, if you have time to make it stick."

"In Math 20 we are learning two very different things.  We are learning a bunch of math topics.  And we are learning study skills for how to be a good math student.  The bad news is that you have a double curriculum this term.  The good news is that once you learn those study skills you're done with that.  In all the rest of your math classes you will only need to learn the math topics.  You classmates there will look at you and say, 'You're good at math!'  What they mean is, 'I am still doing a double curriculum but you're not.  You are passing the class while doing half the work.'"

"Never be ashamed of how many mistakes you make. I assure you that by the time I earned my masters degree in mathematics I had made more math mistakes than you will make during your entire life. In fact, unless you have a family member who also pursues a graduate degree in mathematics, by the age of 21 I had made more math mistakes than your entire family will ever make in their entire lives. You will never catch up! Bwahahahahaha."

"If your score on this midterm was not as high as you would like, I would appreciate you talking to me after class or coming to office hours.  I cannot require it.  You're not in high school.  But if you are not as successful as you would like to be, I can probably help you brainstorm ways to become more efficient with your studying and successful on your final exam."
All my students have advisors, and my quizzes and midterms keep them up-to-date on which topics still need more studying.

The Math Resource Center offers free tutoring, so extra instruction is available.

I am currently exploring ways to create some student-to-student mentoring at LCC.

The technologically easy idea would be a discussion forum that I could invite my old students to join if they earned an A or B.  The students could talk amongst themselves about tips for higher-level math classes.  Which instructors are best for students with certain learning styles?  Which classes require more homework time than the number of credits would suggest?  Etc.  And my current students would also be forum members, to get encouragement and math advice from students who have proven themselves capable.

Unfortunately, at LCC only Moodle has online discussion forums and these will not work.  They must be re-created each term.  There is no easy way to invite past students to join.

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