Article 4: Enhance Your First-Year Seminar by Providing Customized Instructional Delivery to Address Individual and Class-Specific Study Skill Needs, Post Student Enrollment: A Six Step Method
by Michael Heard, Ph.D., J.D.
Like many professors who teach a first-year seminar, helping students develop good study skills is a major objective of my seminar. When one looks at the Summary of Results from the National Survey on First-Year Seminars, conducted by the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, University of South Carolina, the importance of helping students develop good study skills is apparent. When respondents were asked to identify the most important course objective of their first-year seminar, the most frequently reported objective was the development/fostering of academic skills (54%, 2009; 64%, 2006; 56%, 2002).
The importance of developing good study skills was further supported by a survey conducted several years ago by several members of our faculty in which we asked our students to rank in descending order (most beneficial to least beneficial) the chapters of our textbook. "Learning Strategies for Academic Success" and "Time Management," respectively, were ranked as the two most beneficial chapters.
Considering the importance placed on developing good study skills, I decided to enhance my focus on them. Although I'm required to cover study skills/academic strategies, I begin each semester with limited knowledge of the individual or class-specific study skills needs of my students. Likewise, most of the students enrolled in my seminars have minimal to limited knowledge of their individual study skills needs (strengths and weaknesses). Students have different combinations and varying levels of study skills needs. Determining what their specific study skills needs are and the varying levels associated with those needs is important if I want to provide instruction tailored to address those needs. Additionally, I wanted to be proactive in my approach and engage students through active learning strategies.
In addition to determining their specific study skill needs, I need that information at the very beginning of the semester. Having this knowledge at the beginning of the semester affords me the opportunity to develop a syllabus and instructional materials focused on these needs. Because there are so many study skill possibilities, I limited my focus to the ten scales of the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI): Attitude (ATT), Motivation (MOT), Time Management (TMT), Anxiety (ANX), Concentration (CON), Information Processing (INP), Selecting Main Ideas (SMI), Study Aids (STA), Self-Testing (SFT), and Test Strategies (TST).
Because each student reacts differently within the same academic environment, providing each student the same set of study skills concepts and principles is not the most effective method of providing study skills instruction. Each student is uniquely different, requiring a unique combination/set of study skills to maximize their learning potential.
To address the unique individual and class-specific study skills needs of students within my seminar, I developed a six-step method. The six-step method required me to: (1) select a statistically valid and reliable tool for the diagnosis of study skills that is compatible with my study skill scales, (2) identify the individual and specific needs of each student and the class as a whole (both strengths and weaknesses), (3) adjust my syllabus based on those identified needs, (4) tailor my instructional approach to address those identified needs, post student enrollment, (5) assist students in developing an Individual Study and Learning Plan based on their diagnostic results (LASSI) and, (6) assess the progress of the class at the end of the semester.
It's important to note that all students, regardless of skill-level, can benefit from improved Study Skills (Sylvan Learning Center, 2012)
My Six-Step Method:
1. I selected a statistically valid and reliable tool that was both diagnostic and prescriptive
2. I required students take LASSI on the second day of class at the very beginning of the semester.
Before students took LASSI, I assured them that:
- LASSI is not an IQ test
- There are no right or wrong answers
- LASSI is designed to assist students at all levels of the Grade Point Average spectrum
- Students will not be differentiated, categorized, or grouped in class based on their LASSI scores
- LASSI scores have no effect on their final course grade
I explained to my students that I put LASSI in place to:
- Diagnose their individual study and learning skill strengths and weaknesses
- Assist them in designing a plan for enhancing their study skills strengths and improving their study skills weaknesses.
- Assist them in prioritizing their study skills needs
- Assist them in developing a plan for improving their overall probability for academic success
- Increase their self-awareness regarding their study skills profile
- Provide them with empirical data that will let them know if their perceptions of their study skills strengths and weaknesses were accurate or inaccurate
- Provide them strategic assistance in the development of their Individual Study and Learning Plans (ISLP)
- Assist me in developing targeted instruction to accommodate their individual and class-specific needs
3. I calculated class-specific strengths and weaknesses to develop a class profile. The class profile was based on averages of the collective individual scores of the class (see table 1).
4. I structured syllabus and class lectures to address class-specific strengths and weaknesses based on the class profile. I focused on the four lowest scores. Final scores were determined using Table 26 of the National Norms for the LASSI, 2nd Edition.
5. I required each student to develop an Individual Study and Learning Plan (I provided the template) based on their individual LASSI results.
6. I required each student to take the second LASSI (post-LASSI) at the end of the semester to measure their progress. Tables 2 & 3 reflect class-specific profiles.
Based on these LASSI results, (the class average was below fifty in eight areas) the class needed to improve in the areas of: Attitude, Concentration, Information Processing, Motivation, Self-Testing, Study Aids, Time Management, and Test Strategies. Class average the class should consider improving in three areas (Anxiety, Selecting Main Ideas). Due to time constraints, I selected the four lowest areas (Attitude, Time Management, Test Strategies, and Concentration) for targeted and tailored classroom instruction. Targeting these four areas did not mean the other areas (both strengths and weaknesses) were not covered, but these four areas received the primary focus of classroom instruction. Additionally, putting this information in graph form allows students to prioritize the order and degree to which each strength and weakness should be addressed.
Scores within three of the four targeted class-specific areas improved to the extent that scores moved from the category of "Need to Improve" to "Should Consider Improving".
Students whose individual LASSI scores did not improve (on the second LASSI) to the extent that they did not move out of the "Need to Improve" area (score fell below 50) within any given scale were asked to consider revamping their ISLP and changing their behaviors. The student's grade on this exercise was not based on their LASSI results but based on the in-depth and substantive analysis put into developing and implementing their ISLP.
This six-step method provides an example of a customized and purpose-guided approach that engages students in developing strategies for improving their individual study skills. This method requires students address their individual and unique study skill challenges and to focus attention on developing and utilizing practices that engage them in personal ways. This process fosters a responsibility for self-learning and self-awareness. Considering the transitional and often complex needs of first-year students, it is imperative that schools do what they can to assist students in establishing good study and learning skills.
Customizing instruction for individual and class-specific needs increases the probability for academic success and first-year retention. Schools often experience their highest attrition and lowest retention rates among first-year students. Assisting students in developing good study skills increases the probability of increased retention and decreased attrition.
Based on the overwhelming number of positive student evaluations and empirical data supported by the LASSI, the six-step method was successful. Students were very engaged and appreciated the focus on their individual and class-specific needs (strengths and weaknesses). Additionally, LASSI results suggest that study skills development did improve.
The degree to which students received higher grades based on this method requires a much more detailed and comprehensive study. What I can say is, students made positive steps towards maximizing their academic potential because they have knowledge of their study skill strengths and weaknesses and they've put something in writing based on self-assessment, self-reflection, application, and research.