Faculty Resources for First Year Students

As many experienced faculty and teaching assistants know, teaching first-year students can often be equal parts exciting and frustrating. For the first-year student who is entering college directly from high school, the transition to college academics and life away from home can be difficult. During this time, first-year students are developing an identify, expanding intellectually, deciding about career and lifestyle, and learning how to develop their own philosophy of life. The foundations for lifestyle and intellectual curiosity laid during a students first year at university can reverberate throughout their lifetime. Key in guiding the personal and intellectual growth of first-year students are the faculty teaching first-year seminars and first courses in the major. In an effort to assist faculty and teaching assistants who work directly with first-year students, we have developed the following resources.


Clarify Expectations for Learning – Since students have naïve ideas about knowledge and learning, instructors should clarify their expectations for student learning and performance. Help students understand what is expected of them via description, examples, and feedback on student work.

  • Be very clear what your expectations are for their learning, acknowledge that the students’ expectations might be different from your own, and describe the ways your expectations might differ from expectations for learning in other courses taken by the students.  This is an appropriate conversation for the first day of class, but it’s one that might need to be repeated throughout the semester.
  • During your class sessions, model for your students the kinds of thinking you expect them to demonstrate on exams and other assignments.  Make visible (or audible, at least) to the students your thought processes as you tackle problems of the kind they’ll see on their exams.  This can be challenging for experts in a discipline, since some problem-solving steps become intuitive as one’s expertise increases.  However, students need to “see” the kinds of thinking you expect of them if they are to know what your goals are for their learning.

Taken from Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching 

With students coming from a variety of academic backgrounds, you can expect a broad range of knowledge and skills that may require adaptation on your part. Since the students are new to college workloads, they often need more explicit instruction than you are accustomed to giving in other courses. Stress the importance of patience and understanding of the unique difficulties these students may encounter.

The methods here provide some ways of adapting to make your expectations explicit and guiding students' learning strategies in order to help them develop the habits of mature learners more quickly.

  • Check your assumptions about these students know or can do. An ungraded assignment or quiz can show you if a majority of students are weak in the same area so that you can adapt, for example, by holding a review session.
  • Remember that most of these students are 18-year-olds. They are excited about and overwhelmed by their new environment. They are bright and ambitious, but may lack the self-discipline of more experienced students. Some are naive and some are immature, but almost all are very enthusiastic about learning.
  • If you are teaching a small class with a lot of contact hours, students may come to lean on you very heavily. Be prepared to set clear boundaries with students who may want you to give of yourself as generously as a parent.

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence. 2002. Best Practices for Teaching First-Year Undergraduates. Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved from http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/PublicationsArchives/InternalReports/BestPractices-1stYears.pdf

Reports have shown that students in introductory courses often have little prior knowledge about the topic or field, and what they do know is poorly organized, incomplete or simply inaccurate. Even when facing their first low grades, some students remain confident and are slow to adjust their study strategies.

Some faculty use the approaches below to help students understand the expectations early enough to adapt quickly and develop the new study skills and time management habits they will need to succeed at college.

  • Be explicit about your expectations in order to counteract naive or inappropriate presumptions students may have. For example, explain to first-year students how many hours of work they should plan for three credit hour course. Be very clear about course policies both in your syllabus and in class.
  • Be explicit about the type of learning expected in your course because some students' high school teachers may have defined learning as memorizing, not analysis, synthesis or evaluation. You might explain to students that problems won't always map directly from the ones they've seen before because one of the goals of learning is to be able to use concepts and principles in new situations. When you design assignments that include complex problems or questions, you can tell students how it prepares them for similar challenges on exams and later in life. Similarly, if you ask students to work in groups, tell students why you value teamwork and how teamwork skills are valued in the professional world.
  • Give an ungraded quiz or exam based on what students should know from prior courses. Feedback on their performance can help them quickly identify areas where they need to review old course material or seek tutoring.
  • Teach students how to prepare for college assignments and exams. Besides teaching content, we need to provide suggestions on how to master material and help our students to develop the general learning skills they need now and in the rest of their careers. For example, faculty members might make available prior exams so students can see what to expect and test themselves as they study. Or, faculty might explicitly discuss and model the various stages in the writing process. Many faculty put sample exams and papers online.
  • Encourage students to ask questions or seek assistance as a normal part of the learning process. Let them know that many students spend a great deal of time "spinning their wheels" needlessly and that challenging assignments may require both advance planning and willingness to ask questions. Reminders about office hours and other resources can make it easier for reluctant students to seek help early.
  • Help students to acquire better self-monitoring skills to change study and time management behaviors that aren't working. For example, periodically ask students to track how much time they are spending on their assignments and advise students whose strategies may need some improvement. If taking notes is important in your lecture, you might want to demonstrate effective note-taking by providing copies of notes from the first two or three lectures taken by an "expert note taker" (Review Note Taking Tips in the student-facing content of FalconForward FYS). Students can then compare their notes to the "expert notes" and adjust their approach.

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence. 2002. Best Practices for Teaching First-Year Undergraduates. Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved from http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/PublicationsArchives/InternalReports/BestPractices-1stYears.pdf

Student Engagement Strategies

As first-year students learn to handle the new-found freedom of college life, many experiment with skipping classes. Some may inaccurately view the lecture as a repetition of the text and perceive attendance as optional. Others may sleep through class or work on other assignments during that time because poor study and time management habits cause them to fall behind.

Faculty members who report concerns about drops in attendance offer the following strategies to keep students in class regularly:

  • Be explicit about the importance of attending class. If you introduce information in lecture that is not in the book, be sure to tell students. If you provide alternative examples to the ones in the text or other ways of approaching the material, tell them. If your exam draws on both the book and lectures, tell them. By presenting novel information that is not in the book and highlighting when you do, students can more directly see the role of attending class in their learning.
  • Structure your course in a way that makes students accountable for attendance. Some faculty give regular assignments to turn in and/or short quizzes to ensure attendance.
  • Start class on time so that students understand the importance of promptness. End class on time as well to show that you understand and respect their time constraints. It is easy to forget how much time students need to get to in another part of campus.

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence. 2002. Best Practices for Teaching First-Year Undergraduates. Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved from http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/PublicationsArchives/InternalReports/BestPractices-1stYears.pdf

Even after announcing your office hours at the beginning of the course, you may likely find that only the most assertive or problematic students take you up on them.

Faculty have found the following techniques to take advantage of the time you offer to help them outside of class:

  • Tell students why office hours are important. Explain in the syllabus, in class, and in e-mail that you really want to meet with the students individually and what the benefits will be for them.
  • Consider required appointments as an "icebreaker". This helps students understand that seeing their professors isn't like going the dentist.
  • Come to class early and stay late to chat with students informally. Being approachable and showing students you are interested in them as individuals is likely to increase office hours attendance.
  • Return students' work with a "Please see me during office hours" note. This invitation on an assignment, paper or exam will motivate poorly performing students to show up. Research shows that such notes can yield a 75% response rate when attached to a specific problem.
  • Choose your office hours strategically. We know that students won't attend office hours on the day after an assignment is assigned. Students prioritize their assignments and will only work on yours after their more pressing deadlines are met. On the other hand, some faculty do not want to encourage the habit of starting an assignment the day before it's due, and will therefore not schedule office hours on that day. Instead, holding office hours two or three days before the assignment is due appears to be the preferred choice.
  • Consider holding individual conferences by appointment or having an open-door policy in addition to regularly scheduled office hours. Such a policy can become a burden on your time - especially if some students take advantage of it - but some students' classes or extracurricular activities may prevent even the well intentioned from attending regularly scheduled office hours.
  • Adjust to the rhythm of the semester. Students are more likely to come in before a midterm (to review concepts), after a midterm (to debate grades), before a major assignment or project is due and before the final. You may want to schedule extra office hours to accommodate all the students at those times.
  • Always strive to conduct exemplary office hours. Word of mouth is very powerful among college students. If they find you unprepared, unapproachable or disrespectful at office hours, they won't come again and they will tell their friends.

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence. 2002. Best Practices for Teaching First-Year Undergraduates. Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved from http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/PublicationsArchives/InternalReports/BestPractices-1stYears.pdf

For students who are still learning how to learn in college, frequent opportunities to test their understanding can help them recognize and correct misconceptions and other potential problems more quickly. 

In Lectures

  • Ask students a lot of questions during class. In addition to increasing active engagement in learning, the answers provide you with vital information about the range of student knowledge and ongoing comprehension. 
  • If students have difficulty with note-taking, do an example where you ask students NOT to take notes while you work through the example step-by-step on the board. Instead, give them give minutes to take down notes after the example has been discussed. Students are often so busy taking notes that they don't process the information and don't realize what they don't understand until they sit down to do a homework assignment -when it's too late to ask you questions. 

In Discussions And Recitations

  • Require students to write brief discussion questions or gists as preparation for classes where reading and participation are important. Draw on their written work to show the value of their preparation in determining the direction of the class, or select examples that are based on common areas of confussion. 
  • Encourage students to collaborate on assignments, then give regular individual quizzes to assure individual accountabiliy. 
  • Consider making some exercises into contests or games to engage students' competitive spirit. 
  • Assign more gourp work in class early on so the students ge to know each other better 

In Any Course

  • Encourage students to make material meaningful by relating it to prior knowledge and experiences 
  • Ask more questions that require studets to probe deeply into the significance or implications of the course material 
  • Carefully select a mixture of realistic and familiar examples to demonstrate the relevance of course material
  • Combine and vary the types of representations you use, and ask students to do the same (graphs, diagrams, mathematics and text) 
  • Have students solve problems or analyze exaples in groups during class so that they can discuss the material and ask questions 
  • Explicitly tell students when you are modeling a valuable learning strategy like those mentioned above, so they can learn to use these strategies on their own. 
  • Have students work problems on whiteboards in class 

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence. 2002. Best Practices for Teaching First-Year Undergraduates. Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved from http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/PublicationsArchives/InternalReports/BestPractices-1stYears.pdf

Particularly in the fall semester, first-year undergraduates are adjusting to many changes in their environments - making new friends, handling increased responsibility and exploring new personal freedom. Many are less certain of themselves that they were in high school. The formality of large classes may exacerbate the sense of isolation and anonymity that troubles a number of students. You can demonstrate your interest in student through small but important symbolic gestures.

  • Since first-year students often perceive faculty as "too important to bother," it can help to come to class early and talk to students. By targeting three or four students in each class session to "meet" and talk with informally before class begins, you can establish good working relationships with many individual students as well as demonstrate your accessibility.
  • Take time to mingle with students any time you assign group work in class. This informal interaction provides an environment in which students can immediately ask questions, and fosters a connection for future exchange after class or in your office.
  • Ask students about themselves. For example, many faculty ask students for information about related courses they have taken or their interests in the course. At the same time, you might also ask students where they are from, their majors, hobbies or other personal information to help you relate examples to their experiences and interests and to facilitate small talk both in and out of class.
  • Be expressive and enthusiastic. Convey to students your own intellectual excitement for the discipline. When appropriate, talk about your involvement in the subject, the work you have pursued and how it bears on the topic under consideration. Try to make it clear that one of your goals is to pique student interest and excitement in the course.
  • Interact with students in and out of the instructional setting. Students are sometimes hesitant about going to office hours for fear they might be disturbing faculty. By emphasizing your availability and encouraging them to visit your office, you can help break down this barrier. In addition, spend some time talking to students about the course before and after class. Ask them how the class is going, what they find exciting or difficult.
  • Express concern about student progress throughout the semester. Try to provide regular feedback to students so that they know there they stand. For example, give short assignments throughout the semester rather than one major assignment at the end of the course. Whenever possible, use these assignments to help students identify strengths and weaknesses. This can be done on individual papers, or you can discuss common problems and misunderstandings with the class as a whole.
  • Be open to helping students with problems. Be flexible when students have legitimate difficulties that interfere with their academic work. Familiarize yourself with the support offices on campus, such as Accessibility Services and the Counseling Center, so that you can let students know what resources are available to them.
  • Learn students' names and use them. Spend time on the first days of class doing activities to help you with this. Some faculty ask students to take the same seats each time at the beginning of the semester. Others ask students to bring in small pictures of themselves so they can start associating names and faces.

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence. 2002. Best Practices for Teaching First-Year Undergraduates. Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved from http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/PublicationsArchives/InternalReports/BestPractices-1stYears.pdf

Concept map or mind map?

Concept mapping and mind mapping are graphic organizers, strategies for visualizing knowledge or graphically representing ideas. The terms may seem to be interchangeable, but here are some typical differences in the way they are used:

  • A mind map is a creative way to represent an idea or task, while a concept map is a formal attempt to organize or represent knowledge.
  • Mind maps focus on a central idea; concept maps connect multiple ideas.
  • Mind maps are colorful, use wavy lines, and often include pictures. Concept maps are made with geometric shapes and straight lines.
  • A mind map builds outward from the center, while concept map expands downward from the top.

Uses of concept maps

This teaching-learning strategy is grounded in constructivist theory, which states that we create meaning from the interaction between our experiences and our ideas. Here are several strategies gleaned from the literature:

  • Assess prior knowledge – students create a visual representation of what they know about a concept
  • Show how experts organize knowledge – build a map that tells students how you think – this could also help in your own course design work
  • Summarize reading – represent ideas in an article, the main points of a chapter, or the theme of a novel
  • Plan a task – student groups visualize a project or lab assignment in order to get a handle on what is involved
  • Conduct an assessment – at the end of a unit or course, students create a map to show what they have learned

Practices to Consider

  • Construct maps with reference to a “focus question” that clearly specifies the problem or issue
  • Start with a partially constructed map
  • Provide a short list of key terms – or have students start by creating such a list
  • Create several maps over time, allowing students to see how their understanding changes
  • Students can work in groups – or start with individual maps and then form into groups
  • Develop maps on a large whiteboard to allow for easy revisions
  • Use software that allows multiple users to work on a map at the same time


The two most popular tools are:

  • CmapTools – a free tool provided by Florida IHMC
  • Inspiration –  commercial software that has been popular for over twenty years

Three special tools you might consider are:

  • VUE – an open source tool provided by Tufts – I’m surprised more people aren’t using this
  • Prezi – a tool that provides a “canvas” for developing presentations
  • iMindMap – a commercial product by Tony Buzan, who owns the Mind Map trademark

For a more complete list, see Ten popular concept mapping tools. You may also want to read about a new tool – Try Coggle for concept maps.



Chris Clark. May 10, 2011. Best tools and practices for concept mapping. University of Notre Dame. Retrieved from https://ltlatnd.wordpress.com/2011/05/10/best-tools-and-practices-for-concept-mapping/

1. Preview the assigned reading

  • Summarize it in the previous class
  • Ask interesting questions that will be answered in the reading assignment
  • Take a poll on some of the issues addressed in the reading assignment
  • Emphasize the interest, usefulness, and fit in the course sequence of the reading

2. Do not repeat the reading in a lecture

  • Do not make listening to your lecture become the student's reading strategy.
  • It is tempting when students do not or can not read the textbook chapters to make sure the course content is "covered" by telling the students what they should have learned by reading the textbook.  Among the reasons for not lecturing on assigned reading are
  •     Your students will not learn to read for comprehension--a valuable skill in your discipline.
  •     Your students will not learn to read critically--also a valuable skill in your discipline.

  •     Your passive learners will not learn how to apply the course information if the time they spend on task is spent on the    tasks of listening and taking notes.

  •     Enough class time will not be spent on higher order thinking tasks, such as applying, conceptualizing, analyzing, synthesizing, classifying, comparing, evaluating.

3. Have students write something in response to the text

  • Demonstrate how to do it; provide a model.
  • Write your daily instructions in the daily course syllabus. Some examples are:
  •     Outline or concept map
  •     Summary
  •     Ask/answer questions
  •     Read it twice, annotating then text as a believer and then as a doubter
  •     Write double-entry notes:
  • one page (or column) for summaries of the text, and an adjacent page (or column) for comments
  •     Personal response

4. Design a focused, informal writing-to-learn task based on the reading

For example:

  • Connect the reading to a past lecture or to prior knowledge
  • Compare/contrast with another reading
  • Critique/evaluate
  • Apply the reading content to a scenario or case

For some suggestions for designing informal writing tasks that promote thinking, see the workshop on designing writing assignments that promote thinking, especially sections 7 and 8.

5. Monitor compliance

Develop ways to ensure that students do their homework without burdening yourself with daily feedback or record keeping.

William Peirce. 2006. Strategies for Teaching Critical Reading. Prince George Community College. Retrieved from http://academic.pg.cc.md.us/~wpeirce/MCCCTR/critread.html

Additional Resources

Reading Value Rubric

Information Literacy Value Rubric

Teaching Students How to Be College Students 

The poor quality of student notes may reflect not only a lack of skills necessary to take accurate and complete notes but also the complexity of the task. Note-taking involves lis­tening to new and often unfamiliar information, transcribing that information quickly enough to keep pace with the lecture, and deciding how to organize the material to reflect the relationships stated by the speaker. Several studies indi­cate that students have difficulty organizing lecture materi­al and identifying main points. Furthermore, students say they experience the most difficulty with lecturers who speak too quickly or inaudibly, fail to present a clear outline at the beginning of the lecture, or fail to signal important infor­mation. Consequently, how faculty lecture (organization, pace, affect, inflection) and what fac­ulty do during lecture (give handouts, write on the board, emphasize and/or repeat important material, summarize complex information), strongly affect students' ability to take notes. Faculty can improve their students' note-taking ability by focusing on three areas: lecture strategies, the use of handouts, and strategies for engaging students.

Lecture Strategies to Support Note-taking

While the topic of effective lecturing is multifaceted, there are two factors that have a particularly strong impact on students' ability to take notes: 1) pacing, which includes both speed of delivery and the amount and difficulty of information delivered; and 2) "cueing," which involves ver­bal and visual signals of emphasis, structure, and relation­ships.

  • Pacing. The pace with which an instructor delivers a lec­ture has obvious implications for students' ability to keep up with the presentation and maintain attention. But how fast is too fast? Research indicates that a moderate speed of delivery, around 135 words per minute, best supports stu­dent note-taking. Faculty can evaluate their pace by asking a colleague to sit in on a lecture or by dis­tributing a short survey to students, including items such as "The pace of today's lecture was a) Too slow, b) About right, c) Too fast." CRLT consultants can also observe or videotape instructors' classes to assist them in assessing the pace of their lectures. Appropriate pacing is also affected by the complexity and familiarity of the material. When lectures contain com­plex or unfamiliar material (or a lot of technical information and terminology), instructors should move more slowly to allow students to record the relevant information. Instructors may also want to balance the amount of new vs. familiar and simple vs. complex material when possible. Conversely, when lecture material is easy to understand or reviews familiar ground, instructors can pick up the pace and expect that students will easily keep up.
  • Pausing. The simplest way to engage students and improve their notes is to build in short pauses (two to three minutes) a few times during the lecture when students can review and rework their notes. At the end of the lecture, instructors can ask students to take three minutes to do a "free recall," that is, write down everything they remember from lecture. Pausing uses relatively little class time and requires minimal effort from instructors. Pausing also sig­nificantly improves student comprehension and retention of material.
  • Verbal and Visual Cues. Students' ability to discern the structure of a lecture will also play a role in the quality of their notes. Although the problem-centered, chronological, or cause-and-effect organization of a lecture may be self­ evident to faculty, students may not be able to identify this structure. To help students, faculty can signal lecture struc­ture and hierarchical relationships (e.g., key points versus detail, context versus cause) by verbal and visual cueing. Verbal cues provide clarity and emphasis as well as signal relationships (cause-and-effect, hierarchical, sequential, comparative, etc.). Verbal cues include phras­es such as "The four main arguments are...," "A major development was ...," "Applying that concept...," "This story was an example of..."  Instructors can use visual cues to emphasize specific concepts and/or relationships among concepts. Visual cues include writing information or simple diagrams on the board, presenting graphs or complex charts on transparen­cies, or presenting a running outline of the lecture on slides. The most commonly used visual cue is a topic outline on the board, slide, or overhead at the beginning of class to sig­nal what will be addressed in class that day. Instructors can refer back to the topic outline throughout the class to signal transitions from one topic to the next, to reinforce the rela­tions among topics and to summarize what has been dis­ cussed at the close of class. Written cues are particularly important in light of students' tendency to record material from the blackboard. However, students often record com­plex information (such as long definitions, formulas, or labeled figures and diagrams) incorrectly. When it is important to record exact wording or an accurate diagram, student learning is better supported with a handout containing the complete information. While visu­al cues and handouts are particularly helpful to non-native speakers and students with several types of disabilities, they benefit most students and are well worth the time and effort to use them.
  • Handouts: Faculty can support student note-taking by distributing handouts for students to use while taking notes or while reviewing their lecture notes. Students take better notes and review material more effectively if faculty provide a "scaf­fold," such as an outline, an overview, or other advance organizer for students to use while taking notes. The research on note-taking focuses on three kinds of handouts: outlines, graphic organizers, and copies (full or partial) of the instructor's lecture notes. Students benefit from outlines during lecture because outlines provide a framework for note-taking. Students benefit from graphic organizers during review because graphic organizers facilitate understanding of lecture material. Copies of the instructor's notes help students as supplements to their own notes during review.
  • Outlines. Outlines provide students with headings and subheadings (identifying major and minor topics of lecture material) and include space to fill in the relevant informa­tion in the order it will be delivered during the lecture. The advantage of providing outlines is that they pre-organize lecture material and (through headings and subheadings) make clear the distinction between main and supporting ideas. Studies comparing test performance of students tak­ing notes on outlines provided by the instructor prior to lec­ture with students taking notes in their usual manner find that students given outlines take more complete notes and perform better on exams. This research suggests that outlines work best when used during lecture to record the material in the order it is pre­sented. Additionally, an outline can enable students to iden­tify gaps in their notes that can be corrected later through consultation with the instructor or peers.
  • Graphic Organizers. Graphic organizers show relations across categories, concepts, or ideas by organizing informa­tion in a two-dimensional format. A common graphic organ­izer is the matrix, which shows relations by using rows and columns to represent a concept, its subordinate concepts, and corresponding information. The advantage of graphic organizers is that they offer students a meaningful way to think through the infor­mation in their notes. As students enter information into the cells of the matrix, they construct a visual representation of the relationships between ideas or concepts presented in a given lecture. Research suggests that providing students with a matrix to complete during review facilitates learning, par­ticularly the ability to transfer the material to new applica­tions and/or synthesize the material.
  • Distributing Instructor Notes. Instructors might also con­sider handing out partial to full copies of their own lecture notes. Instructor notes can effec­tively supplement students' notes by ensuring their accura­cy and comprehensiveness. One study found that students who reviewed instructor notes (and did not take their own) performed better on recall tests than students who took and reviewed their own notes. However, most researchers suggest that instructor notes should be used only as a supplement to students' own notes, since the act of note-taking itself helps students learn lecture material and because students claim that their own notes are personally meaningful and represent their personal selection of impor­tant points.

Attendance and Dependence

Handing out the instructors' notes raises concerns about stu­dent attendance and students' potential dependence on external aids that may hinder mastery of listening and note­ taking skills. Instructors concerned about attendance have several options:

  • Make handouts skeletal enough that stu­dents need to be present in class for the notes to be useful
  • Use class time for activities and interactions that will enhance learning and cannot be reflected in simple written summary or outline form
  • Document the impact of atten­dance on exam performance and convey that information to students;
  • Require when students receive instructor notes, in the short-run, students may perform bet­ter on tests of mastery of factual material, but in the long­ run, students may not learn to organize ideas because of a dependence on external aids

Additional Strategies to Support Student Note-taking

Faculty might also consider supporting students' active engagement with their notes through short focused activi­ties during lecture or in office hours. These instructional strategies engage students actively and can help them remember and understand more of the lecture material.

Instruction on Notetaking and Tips Sheets. Instructors, particularly those who teach first-and second-year students, can take time in class to talk about how to take notes for their courses. Instructors can also distribute or post online tips sheets, adding their own suggestions that reflect the discipline they teach and their priorities for the types of materials they expect students to retain and master.

Providing models. Another option is to show students a sample of complete and correct notes, either provided by the instructor or borrowed from students in the class. By examining exemplary notes, students can see what they can do to improve their own notes. Instructors can point out that good notes:

  • are correct (or have been corrected)
  • identify all main points and selectively include sub­sidiary points or support
  • connect supporting materials to the appropriate main point
  • connect examples or stories to the concepts they demonstrate
  • summarize the main points of class discussions
  • describe interactive experiences in the classroom
  • include student comments
  • use abbreviations

Peer learning. Faculty can go a step further and allow time for students to compare their notes with those of a peer in the class, offering each other corrections or missing information. After three to four minutes of comparison, stu­dents can ask the instructor for clarification and elaboration. The process of peer discussion can also help students iden­tify and articulate questions about the material.

Writing summaries and questions. Asking students to summarize their notes or write discussion questions engages students in the active use of lecture material. Both activities are easily integrated into lecture and significantly improve student comprehension and retention of material. Instructors can collect summaries and select some common problems and particularly good exam­ples to discuss with the class. Faculty can help students formulate questions by offering "question stems" that lead students to ask the kinds of questions that generate improved comprehension (e.g., How is ... related to ...? What is the difference between...and...? In your opinion, what is the best way to...?). Additionally, student summaries and discussion questions provide evidence of how well students understand the lecture material. To further motivate students, instructors can include several ques­tions designed by students on their quizzes and exams.

Office hours. During office hours faculty can suggest to students ways to improve their notes and help students iden­tify gaps in note-taking that did (or will) impact test per­formance and learning. The importance of review can also be demonstrated to students when the correct information needed for a specific exam question is found in their own notes.

Supporting Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities often experience difficulty tak­ing notes in lectures. Students overcome these unique chal­lenges by using various support technologies, such as tape recorders, or relying on sign language interpreters.

Notetaking Services for Students with Disabilities. Note-taking services are often used by students with disabil­ities, particularly when a sign interpreter is used, a student cannot see the lecturer or visual aids (the board, trans­parencies or PowerPoint slides), or a student cannot keep up with the pace of the lecture. Faculty can help students who have trouble with note-taking by:

  • providing complete notes as a supplement
  • providing study guides for exams
  • giving assignments in written and oral form
  • encouraging students and their note-takers to sit together, close to the instructor

Interpreters. Interpreters make it possible for hearing­ impaired students to learn from lectures. However, class­room interactions and discussions can be fast-paced. Faculty can help hearing-impaired students by repeating questions raised by students before replying to the question, identifying speakers so that the student knows who is speaking, and by regulating cross-talk among students (e.g., students can be asked to raise their hands so that the hear­ing-impaired student can identify the speaker).

Classroom Management to Support Students with Disabilities. Communicating with disabled students requires sensitivity and flexibility, particularly with seating arrangements. For example, lip reading depends upon a clear view of the speaker. Hard-of-hearing or learning dis­abled students who use a tape recorder may need to sit close to the instructor. Sight-impaired students may need larger type and an uncluttered format to be able to read handouts. Faculty can prepare and share handouts of the material they will present on the board.

Deborah DeZure, Matthew Kaplan and Martha A. Deerman. 2001. Research on Student Notetaking: Implications for Faculty and Graduate Student Instructors. University of Michigan. Retrieved from http://www.crlt.umich.edu/sites/default/files/resource_files/CRLT_no16.pdf

Students beginning college are facing increased workloads, but dwindling amounts of time to do it in. This stress, combined with the pressure to do well in school, can make plagiarizing or cheating irresistible. On the other hand, some students may not realize what they're doing is wrong. No matter the cause, the end result is the same: a compromise of the student's academic honesty.

Faculty agree that an early and proactive approach to academic honesty issues is best. Here are a few general tips to follow:

  • Clearly explain on the first day of class and/or on the syllabus collaboration boundaries, citation rules and how you define cheating. Defining any "gray areas" early on can deter problems before they become habits.
  • Beware of the internet. The internet provides students useful information, but it can also provide a shortcut to producing what should be original work. Make students aware that you know that such temptations exist.
  • Remind students that if they're unsure if what they're doing constitutes plagiarism, they can come to you as a resource.
  • Review the BGSU Academic Honesty Policy 

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence. 2002. Best Practices for Teaching First-Year Undergraduates. Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved from http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/PublicationsArchives/InternalReports/BestPractices-1stYears.pdf

Among the noticeable differences between high school and college is that students need to take much more responsibility for managing their time and monitoring their own learning. With a challenging workload and numerous diversions in their new environment, first-year undergraduates often need a lot of structure and ongoing feedback to help them stay focused, practice new skills appropriately and assess their progress continually.

Since frequent assignments can be time-consuming for faculty to prepare and for students to complete, faculty offer strategies that be both efficient and effective for everyone involved:

  • Establish a routine for due dates, distribution of solution sets and reminders to help students better plan their time. A weekly or biweekly routine makes it easier for inexperienced students to set aside regular blocks of time for completing assignments, papers or projects. When such a routine isn't practical for a course, in-class reminders help students handle their workloads while they begin to develop better planning and time-management skills.
  • Make assignments that require students to identify patterns or strategies within or across problems, papers or projects and discuss these common patterns in class. All too often students are so concerned with just getting assignments completed that they don't look back on their work to consolidate what they learned from it.
  • Allow students to "redo" incorrect work with documentation that indicates "what I did wrong last time" and "what I learned from reworking the issue,".
  • Advise students to rework incorrect work in preparation for exams because many think that simply re-reading their solutions is sufficient. If you conduct review sessions, incorporating practice on sample problems during the session can alert students who have overestimated what they know.
  • Meet individually with any student who is performing poorly in the course and give the student an exam from a previous semester to complete as an assignment. Remind the student that the process will alert them to where the student is weak and that they should schedule extra sessions to work on those areas. This strategy can help the student follow through on a recommendation to seek help.
  • When you review and grade students' work, analyze error patterns and discuss common errors and their possible origins. Discussion of common misconceptions and errors can help students to detect them on their own more quickly and avoid similar problems in future work.
  • Help students develop a greater awareness of their thinking strategies and ways to enhance them. These strategies are rarely explicitly taught but are an important step toward developing more complex learning skills. For example, faculty can model how to verbalize steps in thinking through a problem or issue and then ask students to do the same in small groups or by writing explanations of their solutions. You can also encourage reflection about readings via short writing assignments, or teach diagramming and clustering to help students organize their thinking visually.

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence. 2002. Best Practices for Teaching First-Year Undergraduates. Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved from http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/PublicationsArchives/InternalReports/BestPractices-1stYears.pdf

Academic success is often a major part of students' developing identities, early encounters with "failure" (sometimes defined as a B or C grade) can throw them into emotional turmoil. Early in a course, inexperienced students may honestly believe that they can handle any difficulties on their own, but may find that the difficulties grow progressively worse, especially when the material later in the course depends heavily on the earlier concepts. Some students may be too embarrassed or too proud to seek help. Intervening early in the course to offer support and assistance can be a key strategy for promoting students' success.

  • Remind students that struggling does not indicate lack of talent or intelligence, but often reflects a need to acclimate to the university environment. Otherwise, too often students internalize thoughts and feelings such as "I'm just not smart enough or creative enough."
  • Contact every student who does poorly on the first exam or major assignment for a five-ten minute appointment to determine what kind of help the student may need.
  • Remember that it is impossible to deal with first-year students on an intellectual basis only; they are also social-emotional beings. Often they simply need reassurance or someone to just listen. Some will need a push in the right direction because they are not used to asking for help. Help may involve study groups, tutoring or other referrals.
  • Be proactive in reaching out to students because they often won't seek help on their own. Some faculty members invite students (alone or in groups of 2-3) to their offices for just a 5-10 minute "introduction" conversation that can pave the way for talking about difficulties if they arise later. Others use e-mail or notes on returned assignments/exams to set up a time to talk with students who seem to have difficulties.
  • Run some extra, optional class sessions for a targeted group of students who are having trouble. Use this time to offer interactive help and "get inside their heads."
  • After an exam or key assignment, ask students who did well for a description of their study strategies and post it to the course online so that other students can learn from them. Or, do a simple written questionnaire about study strategies and report back to the class what the most successful students did.

The signs of student difficulty are not always easy to detect. As a group, first-year undergraduates have a wide variety of problems adjusting to the responsibilities and opportunities college presents. Underlying difficulties, such as poor organizational skills, depression, substance abuse, stress-related illness, conflicts with roommates or family, or personal loss are not uncommon. While faculty do not need to be able to "diagnose" the underlying difficulties, it is useful to recognize some of the indicators that may suggest that a student could benefit from additional outreach and support.

Some signs of potential difficulty to watch for are:

  • Sleeping in class
  • Disruptive behaviors
  • Withdrawal or avoidance
  • Inappropriate humor
  • Cheating
  • Frustration with workload and/or grades
  • Absence (especially for an extended period of time)
  • Marked drop in performance
  • Isolation from peers
  • Poor testing
  • Wearing sunglasses in class

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence. 2002. Best Practices for Teaching First-Year Undergraduates. Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved from http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/PublicationsArchives/InternalReports/BestPractices-1stYears.pdf

**If you see these or other potentially troubling behaviors in a student, you may raise an alert via Student Success Collaborative (SSC), accessed via MyBGSU, or by calling Cyndie Roberts at 419-372-7219 (crobert@bgsu.edu). Or you may complete Report an Incident Form.