As most of you know by now, we developed the Student Readiness Survey a few years ago to give us more nuanced information about key traits and dispositions that impact the nature of our student’s transition to college. Instead of basing our conclusions about readiness for college on indicators of a student’s academic preparation or intellectual strength, we wanted to zero in on the dispositions and traits that make a student successful in every aspect of the residential college experience. The results of this instrument have become a key piece of first-year advising and have turned out to be statistically predictive of numerous important developmental and learning outcomes.
The 36 statements on the survey describe a trait or a disposition. For each item, the respondent chooses from a response set that ranges from “never like me” to “always like me.” As an example, one item states, “I like to cooperate with others.” The response that a student selects gives us a glimpse into the way that he or she perceives him or herself regarding an important interpersonal skill that will undoubtedly shape the transition to residential college life.
As you might suspect, most of our student’s responses tend toward the kind of traits and dispositions that we’d like to see (i.e., if we look at the item about cooperation I listed above, scoring “never like me” =1 and “always like me” = 5 produces an average across all incoming students of 4.26). However, There are some dips in scores on a few items that might be telling.
There are six groups of items that are organized into categories, or as a stats geek would call them, scales. The scales attempt to capture:
- Academic Confidence
- Academic Habits
- Comfort with Social Interaction
- Interpersonal Skills
- Persistence and Grit
- Stress Management
Interestingly, a gap seems to appear in the average scale scores that put these six scales into two groups. The scores for Academic Confidence, Persistence and Grit, and Interpersonal Skills each average between a 4.11 and 4.25. By contrast, Academic Habits, Stress Management, and Comfort with Social Interaction each average between 3.76 and 3.85. Even at its narrowest (i.e., 3.85 to 4.11), this gap is statistically significant, suggesting that this gap might be more than random chance. I’m not sure I have any answers – or even hypotheses – as to why this might be, but it seems to me that there might be something more fundamental going on here.
In addition, the three individual items with the lowest overall average scores all sit in the Academic Habits category.
- When I am confused by an assignment, I seek help right away. (3.48)
- I highlight key points when I read assigned materials. (3.39)
- I start homework assignments early enough to avoid having to rush to complete them. (3.38)
Each of these items try to capture an element of academic habits that would indicate self-efficacy and the wherewithal to take assertive action in response to a challenge. These items seem to me to fit into a larger conversation about the degree to which we need to move many students from thinking that education “happens to them” to thinking that “they make their learning happen.”
In your conversation with students this week, just as they are starting to feel the first wave of readings and homework fully wash over them, it might make sense to consider the degree to which your students still need to shift from thinking that education happens to them to actively making their learning happen. Sometimes it turns out that we have to tell our students how to do what we want them to do just as much as we have to tell them what we want them to turn in. I am realizing how much I have forgotten about that difference as I am teaching an FYI 100 section for the first time.
So hang in there with your students, even when they give you that glazed look of overwhelminghood (I know it’s not a word, but you get the idea).
Make it a good day,