Helping First-Year College Students Succeed

By Cindy Rasmussen

The acceptance letters have gone out, and dorm room deposits have been sent.  Fall semester classes have been scheduled, and brand new books have been placed in the backpacks.  Once students arrive on campus, our biggest challenge arrives with them: retention.  Read how the Let Me Learn Process can assist both students and staff members with successful, streamlined task completion-and ultimately successful course completion that translates into long-term student achievement and retention.

The following article by Cindy Rasmussen, Assistant Director, Academic Advising Office, Arizona State University (ASU), provides practical insights into what you could expect if you bring this process to your campus.

One of the major challenges facing students coming to ASU is handling the transition from high school to university.  Our first-time freshmen tend to struggle with time management, higher level of academic expectations, study habits, taking responsibility, working too many hours and taking full time academic load, and connecting with the campus (We still have a high population of commuter freshmen.)

Most of the students who struggle come from high schools in which it was “easy” for them to succeed.  Adjusting to the higher level of academic expectations can be difficult.  They expect the same results when they get to the university.  They think they don’t have to attend class (especially if the professor does not take attendance), don’t have to study, and can take exams multiple times if they blow it on the first attempt.  Also, these types of students tend to hesitate to ask enough questions of the professors.

Like many higher education institutions we have sought to use “best practices” to meet these challenges. However, this year, we have begun using a value-added intervention known as the Let Me Learn Process, an Advanced Learning System. Our University College Advisors first participated in a full-day workshop on the Let Me Learn Process® after which a group of us volunteered to pilot it with our student advisees whether we were working one-on-one or conducting college orientation or first-year student semester-long courses. In order to feel prepared to use the process, we enrolled in a six-session on-line course entitled, “Teach the Counselor-Teach the Student,” which involves technology that allows us to use microphones so we can live-chat during the session. We are able to receive immediate voice-to-voice feedback and interaction. This is personalized distance learning. Hearing my colleagues and their questions, along with the instructor’s responses, really helps.

The professional development I received through the Let Me Learn Process was excellent. In fact, I was able to receive a considerable amount of course content by taking the next level of training-using the online course for higher education personnel.  As we progressed through the course, I took what I learned and applied it right away to the students with whom I was working.  For example, I took the explanation of the patterns and what you say and do when you avoid a learning pattern or use it first and combined it with the strategies suggested in Let Me Learn materials and made it fit to what my students needed. So I can now give the students I work with strategies. But, I wasn’t ready to give the students those strategies before completing the six ninety minute on-line sessions. Now that I have configured the LML Process for my specific use, I understand the application and can use it in so many different advising situations.

Shortly after the first LML session, I was able to implement Let Me Learn strategies with my staff, see their learning patterns, and make sure that any time I interacted with them, I was mindful of them. I am also recognizing that LML gives me the tools to help my students:

  • be aware of their learning processes
  • understand the relationship of their learning processes and success in completing tasks
  • develop strategies to compensate for those learning processes they avoid but the course requires; and
  • build confidence from success

I have integrated the online LML course content in the classroom with my students from the very beginning as an overview.  Then, we revisit them over time in increments-specific points of contact over the semester- a “just in time teaching.” I avoid overwhelming students with information and present key points that are relevant to them.   It has to be purposeful and meaningful.  After all, the pain of connecting to college academics won’t be the same for every student.  I deliver this approach in a sequential manner throughout the semester a little bit at a time.  This allows students to personalize it, see it, identify with it, and have it when they need it immediately.

One example of its effectiveness is how I’ve used the LML Process to help my probation students understand why they are not successful.  For example, Luis has bounced in and out of probation status. After examining his learning process profile (We use the Learning Connections Inventory for this, see LCRinfo.com) Luis could identify with the following descriptions of himself as a learner:

  • He avoids directions
  • He can’t get the pieces in order
  • He ignores the syllabi
  • He leaves the task incomplete

We looked at his use first with Precision, Technical & Confluence to see how he could compensate for his lack of organization.  From that we concluded that he needs to make a short list (no more than 3 items) of ‘to do’s” and mark the task off when completed.  More specifically,

  • His precision requires written documentation of success
  • Being a technical learner, he likes to work alone
  • Given his confluence, he needs to stick to the task and not go off chasing one idea after another

We looked at his lack of direction (can’t make a decision about a major…changes every semester) to see how we could compensate for his ‘can’t get the pieces in order’ challenge. He needs to do some research on careers so his course selection is ‘on track’ with life after college.

I am very pleased to report at the end of our last advising session he made a list of tasks he need to complete before he got home….and only three tasks at a time. So, as the reader might have concluded by now, I am quite excited about this approach, its immediate effects, and its long term potential with my students. I love this approach. It’s right on.

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