What “Good” Students Need to Succeed: Five Key Insights from the Field
In the article Why “Good” Students Do Bad in College, I shared insights about why capable, hardworking students struggle in college. (Click here to view Why “Good” Students Do Bad in College.) In this post, I identify five things good students need in order to succeed.
I must be upfront: My view of success reaches far beyond merely passing exams. When good students are successful learners, they are able to do the following:
- Accurately interpret the general course learning outcomes and specific content learning outcomes that are required for their classes
- Translate the course and content outcomes into metacognitive learning goals that form the foundation for their studying
- Manage their interaction with the various forms of information, while they are in the act of studying, to produce measurable learning outcomes before their tests
This view of success involves students’ awareness of the process of learning and their ability to deliberately produce sufficient products as a result of their process. When students can accomplish this, they are more likely to find studying and learning rewarding and consequently make many more “A’s” on their exams.
I can already hear the bewilderment: “Yeah, but how many students can actually do this?” Based on more than a decade of helping college students excel in their courses, I would argue that 80%-90% of incoming college freshmen enroll with the abilities embedded within them. In fact, I frequently say in faculty workshops that students are very adept at reaching learning outcomes. Unfortunately, they are not so skilled at meeting those that are required for their courses. This means that the process of reaching learning outcomes is ingrained; however, it is unrecognized and uncultivated. If colleges and universities can help students access this process and calibrate it to meet the learning demands of the collegiate environment, students can enjoy quicker and lasting success.
Good students have the will and means to learn, but need some assistance in finding the way. Listed below are five need-to-know factors that will produce lasting success:
- They must know the 80/20; 20/80 Rule. This is perhaps the most important lesson that students have got to learn in college. They must not only learn it; they must also understand its implications in their approach to learning. The Rule symbolizes the difference in responsibility between students’ pre-college and college learning environments. Prior to college, students were responsible only for a small percentage of learning (20%), while their teachers prepared them for success (80%). In college, professors will only account only for a small percentage of students’ preparation for exams (20%), while students will be responsible for about 80% of their preparation. (You can read more about the 80/20; 20/80 Rule in Why “Good” Students Do Bad in College.)
- They need transparent learning outcomes. Students seek cues that inform them about the types of learning that are required. A simple, well-crafted syllabus provides students with the signals needed to interpret the various learning outcomes necessary for success.
- They need to know that there are degrees of learning. Good students are aware that they have learned something when they reach the conclusion of their studying. However, they don’t know how to determine the degree(s) of learning they have attained. One of the most powerful exercises I do with students is to help them reach different learning outcomes with the same content. When students realize that there are different learning outcome possibilities and that they can actually control the types of outcomes they produce, learning becomes a more rewarding experience.
- They need to become aware of their learning goals. All students have learning goals. Research shows that setting metacognitive learning goals is perhaps the most important step in the studying sequence (1). There is also evidence that students often skip this step. Students must learn how to recognize the learning goals that formulate the basis of inquiry that guide and gauge their learning.
- They need to come to the realization that time apportionment is a function of the perceived learning outcome(s). I have developed a rather unconventional way of talking with students about time management. Rather than telling students how long they need to study, I help them understand the difference among the various learning outcomes. Once students understand the essence of different learning outcomes, they automatically change how they apportion time. During my sessions, students often come to the realization that studying earlier or continuously will perhaps benefit them more than simply studying more. These personal “ah-ah” moments are key to producing transformative, lasting change.
When these five needs are met, good students will excel in college. The ThinkWell-LearnWell ™ Diagram makes these abstract insights concrete. When students learn how to use the TWLW diagram to put these ideas into everyday practice, they become much stronger learners. The result is a better teaching experience for professors and a superior learning experience for students. (Click here to request a free PDF version of the TWLW Diagram.)
1 Hacker, D. (1998). Metacognition in educational theory and practice. Mahwah: Erlbaum.
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