Interview with Dr. Nancy Mott, Director of Learning Support Services
Fresh@News: Final grades for first year students will be posted right around
Christmas. What are some of the questions that come up about final grades?
Dr. Nancy Mott: In most cases students (and their parents) probably had a
pretty good idea what to expect, and many of our first year students did very
well. In a few homes, it might have been a reality check. At any event, this is
an important time for all students to review their progress over the first
F@N: How about in those cases where the grades really are not what either
the parents or the students were expecting?
NM: It can go something like this. The student might feel that he or she has
followed the same patterns that led to success in high school, but now the
grades show that the student isn’t getting the same results. The
parents can be pretty upset, and the household might be hearing some concerns
that the social life is interfering with studying, or concerns about the
discrepancy between the sacrifices the family is making to provide a high
quality education and the actual grades received. The student may be feeling a
lot of personal doubt and frustration. All in all, it can be an unhappy
situation for everyone.
F@N: So what can you tell our readers that can help with the situation?
NM: The first thing is to avoid panic. Some freshmen do have a rocky first
semester, but there are things the student can do to recover and go on to an
outstanding career at Villanova. The first thing I would ask
parents to do is to keep things in perspective. Part of the problem is what NPR
listeners call the Garrison Keillor problem. In high school, almost all of our
students were above average. But as much as we might
wish it otherwise, only half of our students at Villanova can be in the top
half of their class. Of course, all of our students should aspire to do well,
but parents should know that college is a lot harder than high school and they
should not expect the same grades, especially in the first semester.
FN: What are some of the things that can go wrong?
NM: Parents should remember that the students have just completed one of the
major transitions in their lives, and have had to learn to manage their time,
schedules, and personal lives without the support of the
parents, counselors, coach, etc. who were there for them in high school. And as
your previous interviews have mentioned, they are doing this in the face of an
amazing number of distractions. So all students, even
those who have done well, should look back on the first semester and try to see
what the problems were and how they could have done better.
F@N: How about some strategies for success that can be useful for all students?
NM: The students need to review the past semester to see what worked and what
didn’t work. Many students tell us that they had much less assigned reading
in high school. In college, when the professor tells the
students to read a chapter, the professor expects that chapter to be read
before the class. Here again, the student needs to look ahead, and schedule
time to read a longer chapter. Note taking is another skill
that students need to work on. I always advise students to look back at their
notes, especially in a class where they had problems. How adequate were those
notes, how should they have been improved? Many of the
experts suggest that a student should review the day’s notes within twenty-four
hours of the class. This gives a student a great opportunity to amplify the
notes before the material is forgotten, and also to discover areas for
questions for the next day’s class. For some students, it is a good idea
to try to translate some of the things that worked in high school into the
college experience. For example, if a student had a teacher or a parent who
helped critique drafts of the student’s papers, the student should now
get that same support by going
to the writing center. In high school, a student might have been used to paper
assignments where the teacher asked for an outline on one day, a draft on
another, and the final copy on a third day. So the student can
replicate that by making two appointments at the writing center, one for the
outline and one for the draft.
F@N: How about test taking, is that a problem?
NM: It certainly is. Many of our students are used to weekly quizzes, which
they could study for the night before the test. But in college they might only
have two or three tests for the whole semester, and
there is a lot more material to cover, so they need to start studying much
earlier. It is just like playing a sport. If you have a big game coming up you
can’t start practicing and learning the plays the night before the game.
It is something that requires practice and integration.
F@N: So where can our students go for help?
NM: You’ve already done some interviews on the Math Center and the Writing
Center, but students should also know about Villanova’s Study Skills
Counseling. This program offers regular classes on topics such as
note taking, time management, and test preparation. For more information, go to
the Study Skills website:
F@N: So what can parents do to help?
NM: I can suggest a few words of wisdom that might be useful for students.
First, lots of our students don’t have a planner. It might be nice to get
a student an attractive planner, or, perhaps an electronic
P.D.A (such as a Palm Pilot). Another resource that many of us have found
helpful is a book called “You Are Smarter Than You Think! -- Learning
Made Easier in Three Simple Steps,” by Renee Mollan-Masters.
This book is based on very sound research and is geared for college students.
It has some work sheets that help students identify the ways that they process
information, and then explains how students can study most effectively.
F@N: I know you often give students this advice: “Make sure you go to every
class, sit in the front, and take great notes, and you’ll do fine.”
Are there some other simple tips you have for students?
NM: I’ve included my own top ten success strategies to this e-mail,
and parents can certainly pass it along to their son or daughter. I know your
parents have heard this from almost all of your interviewees, but I’ll
repeat it myself. Parents need to be supportive and patient, especially in the
first semester or two. Villanova is invested in our students, and we want them
to succeed as much as you do. Most of them really do just fine, although the
first months can be a bit rocky. If parents are really worried, however, and
the student doesn’t seem to be making progress or even asking for help,
parents may always call the Office of the Dean of the student's college (Arts
and Sciences, Business, Engineering, or Nursing).
Director of New
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