Wednesday, April 10, 2013

First Semester, Second Semester

I teach a lot of first year students, pretty much every year, and in fall, I take a bit of time to talk to them about being students, to make my expectations extra clear, and so on.

I guess I'm not that extra clear in the spring semester.

I've had a number of students this spring who've revealed to me--in those meetings you have after they realize that they've missed impressive chunks of class and haven't turned in work and are failing--that this is their first semester of college and they were unprepared, not well counseled, and really didn't know what to expect.

I think I've got a lot more new mid-year starting students this year than I remember from before, perhaps?

But it's definitely a problem for these students.  There's been some real gap.

One part of the gap is that students who start mid-year may already be a step behind just starting.  If they aren't transfers, then something happened (or didn't happen) that meant they didn't start at the usual time.  My guess is that something is related to their unpreparedness or lack of cultural knowledge about college stuff.  Maybe they didn't really understand how admissions work in many colleges and so didn't get their stuff in on time.  Or maybe they didn't have the finances together to pay the fall deposit.  Or whatever.

My guess is that a lot of the stuff that may cause these students to be a step behind are first generation student issues?

My second guess is that our admissions folks were slightly under their enrollment goals for fall, and so admitted more new students in spring than they usually do.  Or they admitted the same number, but a lot ended up in my class somehow?

Another part of the gap seems to be with new student advising at mid-year.  In fall, there are loads of meetings and activities aimed at getting new students adjusted to being new students and informed about resources on campus.  But we don't seem to have many of those same meetings and activities in spring, and what we have might not seem important to students who are a step behind just starting off.

The third part of the gap seems to be that I didn't do (and probably haven't generally) as much to help students understand my expectations.  I think typically I've expected that students have learned from their first semester in college and they don't need so much to hear my underlying expectations.  I don't think I've changed or dropped a lot of this from one spring to another.  It's more that I haven't seen so many new spring students, I think.  I'm not sure.  (And by my expectations, I don't mean what I'm expecting for a given assignment, but that I expect students to do 2-3 hours or work outside of class for every hour in class, and that I expect students to be in class, on time, even though I don't "count" attendance as part of the grade, and that I expect students to do their work and keep track of it when I hand it back, and so on.)

I don't think there's an easy way for me to look up when students are starting at the university, and I haven't made a habit of looking for that information.  I also haven't asked students.  I suppose I might start asking in spring, though that seems a little odd, doesn't it?  (I might couch it as something like "How was your fall semester?")

I think a way larger percentage of my first year writing students will fail this class than usual, and I feel partly responsible because I didn't do as much as I usually do in fall to help them with expectations.

Have you folks ever noticed this sort of phenomenon?  What to do?

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