INTRODUCTION: I have taught College Success at Madison Area Technical College for the past seven years. College Success is a course that asks students to change behaviors that might be hindering their success in college and in life. Yet, it is difficult for students to identify their ineffective behaviors and recognize the types of changes they need to make.

Because of this lack of self-awareness on the part of many of my students, many leave College Success feeling as if they have not made the progress they had expected to make. These feelings can lead to frustration and self-doubt. In the past, I did not directly address these issues. Instead, I provided information on new strategies my students could use for a plethora of typical student problems: reading, note taking, memory, test taking, time management, research, writing, and team building. I had them practice these skills within the context of their academic courses and asked them to note any benefits that came from the practice. This is not necessarily the wrong approach to take with College Success, but I wasn’t in any direct way guiding students to make noticeable changes in their lives. I designed this project to help my students become aware of areas in which they might want to improve and begin to make beneficial changes.

PURPOSE:

  • to provide students with a process for effecting positive changes in their lives
  • to develop four of the On Course Principles of success: personal responsibility, self-motivation, self-awareness, and self-esteem

SUPPLIES:

  • Handout 1: Areas of Progress
  • Handout 2: Self-Assessment (to be handed out twice each month for students to collect their data)
  • Handout 3: Criteria for Self-Growth Paper
  • Handout 4: Comment Sheet for Self-Growth Paper
  • Handout 5: Grading Sheet for Self-Growth Paper
  • On Course text by Skip Downing

DIRECTIONS:

1. During the first week of the semester, pass out the handout “Areas of Progress.” This handout will be asking your students to do the following:

A. It first asks the students to identify three to five areas in which they would like to make progress. Tell your students to base their areas on the units you will cover in the class, which you most likely mention on the syllabus. In my class, these areas were from Skip Downing’s On Course textbook: personal responsibility, self-motivation, self-management, self-awareness, reading, note taking, test taking, research skills, and writing skills. (Some of my students did choose areas outside of these units, and some of them were quite good. You might want to be flexible.)

B. The second step of the “Areas of Progress” handout asks the students to narrow the “Areas of Progress” they have chosen into manageable actions for improvement. For example, if they chose personal responsibility for one of their areas, they could narrow this area by stating that they would become more responsible by going to class every day and by completing all assignments on time. Or if they chose reading as one of their areas, they might narrow this area into an action by stating that they would take notes on all of their reading throughout the semester. The handout at the end of this project includes additional examples.

C. The third step of this handout asks the students to suggest actions they might take to make progress in their “Areas of Progress.” For example, if they want to get to class every day, and they have a difficult time getting up in the morning, they might write that they will set two alarms to make sure they get up. Or they might suggest that they will get to bed at least an hour earlier at night. If they want to turn in all assignments on time, they might write that they will set aside two hours each night to complete any assignments that might be due during that week. The handout has examples like these for the students to use as a model.

D. At the end of this handout is a place for a signature. The students should sign their name if they commit to working on these areas during the semester. I have attached the “Areas of Progress” handout at the end of this project.

2. Every two weeks, hand out the assignment called “Assessment of Areas of Progress.” On this form, your students will first identify each area they are working on. Then they will report on their progress or lack of progress in each area in as much detail as they can. At the end of the assessment, they will tell you what they plan to do to make further progress. I have attached an example of two assessments at the end of this project. (After the first assessment, I used the same assessment form throughout the semester, so that the data they collected would be consistent. I have included the first assessment and the assessment I used for the rest of the semester. The first assessment will help them to write the first part of the Self-Growth Paper; the others will help them to write the second section of the Self-Growth Paper.)

3. After your students have completed six or seven assessments, assign the Self-Growth Paper. Pass out the handout called “Criteria for the Self-Growth Paper.” This sheet will provide the directions for the students and will provide you with criteria upon which to base your grade. While your students work on this paper, discuss with them basic academic writing techniques, such as thesis statement, topic sentences, transitions between paragraphs, introductions and conclusions. This discussion will provide your students with an overview of the frame needed in all of the writing that they will be doing in college. This would be a good time to read or review the Effective Writing tips in On Course.

4. Assess and grade the paper according to the criteria. Comment upon the strengths and/or areas for improvement for each criterion, using the comment and grading sheets at the end of the project. Separate out assessment from the grading. Hand back the paper and the comment sheet first. Let students read the comments and have time to digest them. Hand back the grading sheet during the next class hour. By doing this, your students will be more likely to read your comments and not feel judged by them. The comments will become more instructive this way. When you are making comments on the paper, make sure to respond to what they have said as well as to how it is written. I have created a space for you to do this on the comment sheet for criterion 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

OUTCOMES AND EXPERIENCES:

My students proved to me that this assignment does help them become more aware of changes they need to make and how they might make those changes.

First, with the help of my syllabus and Skip Downing’s eight On Course choices, my students were able to identify areas for improvement. As I could have predicted, many students chose self-management, reading, and test taking as some of their “Areas of Progress.” But they did move beyond the expected areas as well: one student chose self-awareness as one of his areas; one chose community involvement; and one chose financial management, even though they were not on our syllabus; and one student chose to work on his “laziness.” As you can see, some of them were thinking when they completed these forms. Although I asked that students choose only three areas, some students chose four areas. They seemed to want to change a lot within themselves.

I was also impressed with the awareness my students used when narrowing the areas down, which is the second question on the “Areas of Progress” handout. Some of them narrowed them right away in the first question, so they did not even have to answer the second question. But most of them were able to use my examples as a model and narrow theirs sufficiently. For example, the young man who wanted to manage his finances more effectively narrowed his down to finding a more lucrative job; some narrowed procrastination down to turning in assignments on time and reading their textbooks and studying for tests in advance; my young man who couldn’t seem to get more productive wanted to stop watching so much TV and playing so many video games. Many, however, did not know where to start in making progress, which the last question asks them to do. I had to help more than a few of them by suggesting specific ways in which they could begin to improve. I intend to give them more direction on this question next semester by having them help each other in their teams to find ways to begin to make change. As a result of this simple handout, my students launched themselves into a journey of self-awareness, self-assessment, and self-improvement.

The twice-monthly self-assessments helped them to continue their journey. These assessments helped students to become aware of whether they were making changes or not. It also helped them to figure out the next steps in this undertaking. I enjoyed reading my students’ assessments. Most of my students put their hearts and souls into making some progress. They described in detail how they implemented changes in their daily lives. I was especially impressed with the volunteer work that one of my students took on because she wanted to improve in her service to the community. The student who wanted to increase his self-awareness discussed how shy he was in front of other people and how he wanted to overcome it. He didn’t think he made much progress, but although he might not have overcome his shyness, he certainly became more aware of how he acts in front of people. So he made progress after all. My student who was working on his idleness was still unproductive and still procrastinated, but at least he is honest about it. He, too, made some progress in self-awareness. I had one really brave student, as well, whose area for improvement was to learn to walk again. He lost the use of his legs in a snowmobile accident last winter. When he started the class, he was using a wheelchair to get around. Now he is on crutches! He made the most significant progress of all. But maybe not as much as the student who had been working on her relationship with her father and brother. She lost her mother last year to a bizarre virus, and the family is struggling without her. They aren’t quite sure who should be taking over the mother’s responsibilities. My student had been getting the brunt of the work and was trying to get her father and brother to do their fair share. She had some talks with her father and brother that helped all three of them move forward. I have to admit that I was more than a little surprised at how well these assessments worked to help my students not only make changes but also become aware of how those changes would impact their lives.

The Self-Growth paper completed the journeys of change my students had undertaken. In this assignment, my students were able to reflect upon the whole process, and they wrote about some powerful insights. Eric made this discovery about his memory skills: “When I learned that I was only using my short term memory for test taking, I was shocked. Now I know the underlying cause of my poor test performance.” One student who became a new father during the semester had this to say about his Victim Voice: “I just stopped using negative language when talking about myself in front of others, including my wife. I now feel that people like me for me instead of just for myself-deprecating humor.” Another student felt she gained some personal responsibility: “I am very proud of the fact that I can say no to my friends and not go out with them even if I really want to.” My loving student who chose community involvement as one of her areas of progress wrote, “I loved every bit of this goal. I really enjoyed helping others in the community who need the love, attention and support.” A few students wrote about their lack of progress, but even for these students, reflection and awareness were at the heart of what they wrote. Alex had this to say about himself: “Now at the close of the first semester, I have realized that I have a problem. It is the same problem that has rendered my academic abilities to crap for my whole life. I am lazy. I need to struggle harder.” Adam, who wanted to work on his shyness, wrote this: “Enhancing my social interaction was most difficult. The only way to enhance it is to actually do it, go out and make the effort to meet other people. But until I find that comfort level where I’m fine being who I am, I’m always going to be worried others aren’t going to be fine with me.” Adam’s journey has been a painful one, but I believe he will be fine because he is so self-aware and reflective.

One thing about these assessments and self-growth papers: You will certainly learn a great deal about your students. But you will also see their courage, strength, struggle, and pain. And through their disclosure you will become more close to them. One day at the end of the semester, as I walked into the building after the first real snow of the season, my thoughts were about Brian on his crutches. I wondered how he negotiated the snow since he has no movement in his ankles or feet. I thought about these kids all the time and worried about them too. And this brings me to my personal lessons.

PERSONAL LESSONS:

From this assignment and one other assignment in College Success, I have learned that my students have a lot to face outside of college. One cause for MATC students coming to us so under-prepared for college is that they do not have easy lives. Many of them come from dysfunctional families, have been in trouble with the law, come from other cultures that expect them to take on adult responsibilities at early ages, have severe learning disabilities or mental disorders, have left their families before they were ready, have alcohol or drug problems, suffer from low self-esteem, and should not be in college for a few years at least. Once again, this assignment brings me face to face with the severity of our students’ issues. Sometimes this awareness makes it hard for me to go to work in the morning. But with an assignment like this, I can build up some hope. I can see that my students want to make progress and are working on it. They may still have issues that will keep them from truly succeeding in school, but they are on their way to dealing with those issues. And not only that, they also recognize that they do have issues that are keeping them from succeeding. And recognition is the first step to progress, right?

I have also learned that many of my students are stronger than I have given them credit for. Here are just a few: Brian, who is learning to walk again; Lee, who at 18 showed up in class today totally exhausted just five days after giving birth to a nine pound baby boy; Adam, who wants to build his self-awareness so that he can be a somebody someday; Lloyd, who is trying to turn his life around after spending the semester in jail; and, of course, Asheley, who has cerebral palsy and is trying to put her life back together again after watching her mother die in her arms. That they are all sitting in my class even bothering to work on progressing is a miracle to me. Perhaps if I were they, I might be sitting on my couch in a heap watching Lifetime movies all day. They all deserve my support; they all deserve my respect. I am missing them now that the semester is over. But I have met my new students this week. I wonder what this semester will bring.

SUPPORT MATERIALS

Handout 1: MY AREAS OF PROGRESS

What are the three to five areas that you will work on throughout this semester?

 

Do you need to narrow the focus of the areas at all? For example, if I chose personal responsibility as one of my areas, I might need to narrow that focus. Therefore, I might make my area something like this: I will work on becoming more responsible by attending all my classes and turning assignments in on time. Or if I chose time management as one of my areas, I might focus it to: I will work on following a schedule each week that will include set times to study and set times to play. So take some time and narrow and specify your areas.

 

Are there any actions you need to take to make sure that you are working on these areas? For example, if I decided to work on reading as one of my areas, I might narrow that to: I will read the assigned chapters in all of my classes and take notes every time I read. The steps that I would need to take to accomplish this goal would be to 1) buy all of the assigned textbooks, 2) make sure I know what chapters are assigned by writing them down in an assignment book or calendar, 3) buy loose leaf paper on which to take notes, 4) work reading time into my weekly schedule. Write an action plan, if necessary, for each area you chose.

 

Now inwardly make a commitment to work on these areas. If you are able to commit to working on these areas, sign your name here:

Name: ______________________________________________________________

 

Handout 2: ASSESSMENT ON AREAS OF PROGRESS

Answer these questions and turn in this self-assessment. You can write these answers as you would a journal entry, but please make your answers reflective and thoughtful. You can write on this sheet or use your own paper if you want or need more room. Don’t forget to write your name somewhere on the assessment.

A. Review the handout called “Areas of Progress” that you filled out during the first week of the semester. List the areas of progress that you named on that sheet in as specific terms as you can. You should have at least three to five areas of progress.

 

 

B. For each area of progress, describe in as much detail as possible the progress you have made up until this point. If you have made no progress in any area, discuss this fact and perhaps provide reasons why you believe you have made no progress as of yet. Give an honest and self-aware assessment of your behaviors, attitudes, and feelings for each of the areas.

1.

 

2.

 

3.

 

C. As of right now, do you see any ways in which you can progress in any of these areas? What will you do to begin to make progress in these areas? Or what have you already done, if you have already made progress?

1.

 

2.

 

3.

 

Handout 3: CRITERIA FOR THE SELF-GROWTH PAPER

You will be writing the self-growth paper to analyze your progress on your three areas as you also work to incorporate a few effective academic writing techniques. These are the criteria for this paper upon which I will base my grade:

1. A topic that focuses on your progress in the areas you chose at the beginning of the semester

2. A paragraph that discusses the reason for the specific skills you chose and your perspective going into the process of making progress.

3. One paragraph for each of your areas of progress that discusses your initial level of performance, how you performed in your areas before you began your progress.

4. One paragraph for each of your areas of progress that discusses your progress, what you did specifically that enhanced your performance in each area.

5. One paragraph for each of your areas of progress that discusses your final level of performance, how you are performing now that you made this progress.

6. A final summary that suggests how you feel about your growth in these skills and your ability to improve areas in the future.

7. A thesis statement that indicates in some way that you made progress in the three areas that you have chosen. This sentence should be the last sentence of your introduction.

8. Topic sentences that name the idea you will develop in the body paragraphs, forecasting what the paragraphs will contain. Try to name the ideas of the paragraphs in language that is as specific as possible.

9. Coherence by developing transitions between paragraphs. Develop your transitions by repeating the key terms of the preceding paragraph before you introduce the key idea of the following paragraph.

10. Introduction and conclusion. The introduction should begin with a motivator, provide some background information on your topic, and end with the thesis statement. The conclusion should restate the thesis statement and then end with a memorable impression.

 

Handout 4: COMMENT SHEET FOR SELF-GROWTH PAPER

1. A topic that focuses on your progress in the areas you chose at the beginning of the semester.

Strength:

Area for Improvement:

2. A paragraph that discusses the reason for the specific skills you chose and your perspective going into the process of making progress.

Strength:

Area for Improvement:

3. One paragraph for each of your areas of progress that discusses your initial level of performance, how you preformed in your areas before you began your progress.

Strength:

Area for Improvement:

4. One paragraph for each of your areas of progress that discusses your progress, what you did specifically that enhanced your performance in each area.

Strength:

Area for Improvement:

5. One paragraph for each of your areas of progress that discusses your final level of performance, how you are performing now that you made this progress.

Strength:

Area for Improvement:

6. A final summary that suggests how you feel about your growth in these skills and your ability to improve areas in the future.

Strength:

Area for Improvement:

7. A thesis statement that indicates in some way that you made progress in the three areas that you have chosen. This sentence should be the last sentence of your introduction.

Strength:

Area for Improvement:

8. Topic sentences that name the idea you will develop in the body paragraphs, forecasting what the paragraphs will contain. Try to name the ideas of the paragraphs in language that is as specific as possible.

Strength:

Area for Improvement

9. Coherence by developing transitions between paragraphs. Develop your transitions by repeating the key terms of the preceding paragraph before you introduce the key idea of the following paragraph.

Strength:

Area for Improvement:

10. Introduction and conclusion. The introduction should begin with a motivator, provide some background information on your topic, and end with the thesis statement. The conclusion should restate the thesis statement and then end with a memorable impression.

Strength:

Area for Improvement:

 

Handout 5: GRADING SHEET FOR SELF-GROWTH PAPER

Total Points:

1. Focused Topic 2 points

2. Reason for Skills Paragraph 5 points

3. Initial Level Paragraphs 8 points

4. What You Did Paragraphs 8 points

5. Final Level Paragraphs 8 points

6. Final Summary 5 points

7. Thesis Statement 2 points

8. Topic Sentences 3 points

9. Coherence 4 points

10. Introduction/Conclusion 5 points

Total Points:

–Janis Mettauer, Faculty, English, Madison Area Technical College, WI

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