Last week I wrote about some of the new strategies my success coach colleagues and I are working to implement in preparation for the coming school year. While much of it has to do with ways in which we can prevent students from falling behind in the first place, my job deals most directly and most often with those who already have. When I look back through the years and ask myself what strategies for those students have worked best and most often, the answer is: it really depends on the student. However, one thing I have done in the past and plan to do much more of this year is to connect my students with one another in order to create small study groups led by one of our tutors, grad students, or professors.
While students can always walk over to the tutoring center and ask to be paired with a tutor, many who could benefit from these services do not seek them out. Some simply do not have the level of initiative required to take the first step. Others avoid them due to the often self-imposed stigma that comes with admitting to needing help. When I organize a small study group of my students, it addresses and redresses both of these possible roadblocks. First of all, the students themselves do not need to initiate the process, since that’s my job. Also, working in a group often removes any perceived notion that needing help in a particular class or subject makes one inadequate in any way. Students instead think: hey! I may be struggling, but at least I’m not the only one!
Last year, I realized after a few weeks that three of my students were all in the same math class, and they were all failing. The three couldn’t have been more different. One was a commuter student who, in addition to struggling with the material, was suffering from a lack of connectedness to campus life. He was on campus solely during class time, and thus he hadn’t really made many friends. The second student was a star soccer player whose problems included too much social activity. Even when not practicing or working out with the team, he spent nearly all his waking hours hanging out (and not over a textbook) with his soccer buddies. The third student was an international student who, much like the commuter, had spent most of his time on the periphery of campus life. He was from a conservative country, and because his very conservative family didn’t want him to become too “westernized,” he had been reluctant to make American friends of participate fully in American life on campus.
All three were struggling in math for academic reasons, but these environmental factors had made it difficult for them, up to this point, to help themselves improve. None of these young men would likely have gotten together on their own, but once I noticed that they were all in the exact same class, I organized a weekly study session for them. I brought in one of our very best math tutors, a woman who is as funny and friendly as she is intelligent, and they immediately started to improve. By the end of the semester, these boys had benefitted not only academically from the group sessions but socially as well. The commuter made more friends, the soccer player got to know people other than his fellow teammates and, after the international student revealed that he played soccer as well, the soccer player invited him to play in pick-up games with his friends. Soon they had organized an ongoing Friday afternoon game with American and international students alike.
Organizing this study group was not a magic bullet, obviously, but like most of the strategies that success coaches employ, it was just one more way in which I can act as a liaison between students and the resources they need. This coming year, I plan to find more opportunities to connect my student with one another, and I hope that these groups give students one more tool to help them succeed.
Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007. The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.