Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Learning in College

Yesterday, in my first year writing course, we were talking about what they've learned and such in college so far.

It's disturbing to be told by most of them that they only do the reading for classes when they're expecting a quiz or something similar. That information sort of ruins the whole "quizzes are infantalizing" argument, at least for first year students. I have a sense that my junior and senior students are more likely to do more of the reading. Or maybe that's just my personal fantasy.

One of my students said that s/he'd discovered that s/he couldn't just do one draft of papers for our class, but noted that the other profs didn't seem to grade as hard, so for those classes s/he could just do a single draft.

I wonder how many of my students make those sorts of judgments, and how much I benefit in receiving better quality work because I have a reputation as a semi-hard grader?

Pretty much all the students noted that they'd learned a lot about time management and such in their first semester. It would be a great thing if there were a way to teach more students better time management skills before they got to college! But most people really have to start in on living more independently and managing their time independently before they really develop those skills, I suppose.

At each stage of my educational life, I've had to learn to work harder. I didn't learn in high school, but about my junior year of college, I figured it out. Then Peace Corps taught me a whole new level of independence and work. Going back to school while working made me focus even more. Grad school seemed like a lot of work until I became an assistant prof. And post tenure, I've had to add more committee work and personnel work. But before each stage, I really couldn't have seen or predicted the difficulties of the next stage fully. I had to experience each to understand what each means. I expect the same thing would happen were I to try to go into administration or something.

Yep, still learning on the job!


  1. I keep hearing that grad school is the hardest you'll ever work - until you become a professor.

    This scares me. A lot.

  2. this is a wonderful post! i think it's great that your students were pretty open about their experiences with college so far -- even if some of the answers weren't what you'd like to hear.

    the comment about needing multiple drafts for your class, but only one for others, makes perfect sense. your writing class is focused on skills that take practice, but will be enduringly useful: the mechanics of clear writing and critical thinking skills, for example. first-term students are likely taking intro courses in various disciplines, soaking up overviews of those areas of study, and i suspect that their other professors may be more focused on whether they are getting some understanding of the material than whether they can write coherently and move beyond the content of lectures/text. the expectations are no doubt higher as students move into more advanced classes.

    my daughter's a sophomore, and still working on that time management thing, as well as how much work is required for certain courses. it's not like she hasn't heard about these things from her parents, but doing poorly when she expects to do well turns out to be a great motivational tool. she may even have passed chemistry, cramming her little heart out during the last few weeks of a 10-week term.

  3. I asked my grad students this semester, and all but one told me they only do the reading when they have reading questions due. This is after my paring down the required readings a good bit.

  4. Yup, I find classes prepared to talk only when I ask for reading responses (1-2 pages). I ask for 10 over the 16 week semester so at least most classes have some folks who have done the reading.

    We met with legislators this week and a student spoke up (bragged?) that he had 3 classes that he'd had to buy expensive textbooks, but he hadn't needed to read anything from any of them. Not sure whether the teachers really didn't demand some evidence of reading or the student is clueless.