Making the move from school to university is a big transition for lots of teenagers. First year students will be studying new university subjects, where they’ll be expected to attend lectures, contribute to seminars, manage essay deadlines and do their own independent reading and research. As if that weren’t overwhelming enough, many of them will be living away from home, taking responsibility for their own finances and learning how to look after themselves for the first time.
It’s no wonder that drop out rates are high in universities across the world. In the US, a staggering 40% of students end up dropping out of college. In Australia, the figure stands at 20% of first year students. In the UK, only 78% of students make it to graduation.
So, how can you make sure your students last the course? Teaching your students the skills they’ll need to succeed in higher education can make all the difference.
1. A growth mindset
A growth mindset refers to the belief that we all have the ability to learn and improve. The way your students react to trying new tasks, building new skills and coping with failure can have an enormous impact on their academic achievements and future careers. So, instilling a growth mindset in your students will make a big difference to the way they approach the challenges of university.
You can do this by making some small changes in your classroom, for example changing your praise from result-based (your essay was really good) to effort-based (you worked really hard and it paid off!). Give your students the chance to improve on a grade or performance. Encourage them to set goals for themselves that are challenging and will push their knowledge and skills, and model a growth mindset yourself.
2. Research skills
Do your students know how to undertake their own independent research? Do they know how a library works? Have they got a good grasp of where to find reliable information online?
Project work is a good way of building your students’ research skills. Allow them to follow their own interests, but guide their choices of research sources – away from Wikipedia, and towards academic, peer-assessed journals, for example. If you can equip your students with good research skills, they will reap the benefits at university.
3. Time management and organisation
At university, nobody will be checking up on your students to remind them to complete assignments or hand essays in by a deadline – they’ll need to be able to manage their own time. So, how can you help them prepare for this?
When students are undertaking larger projects, get them to write up an action plan before they begin, where they break down the steps they’ll need to undertake. Have them work backwards from the deadline, making sure that they’re giving themselves a reasonable amount of time to achieve each individual stage of the project. If you can get them used to planning their workload, they’ll find it much easier to organise their time once they get to university.
4. Communication skills
At university, students will be required to attend seminars, as well as lectures. On some courses, they’ll even be marked on their participation. So, they’ll need to be confident communicators in order to contribute to seminar discussions.
You can help your students hone their oral communication skills by giving them lots of practice and feedback in class. For example, instead of handing in a written report at the end of a topic, they could do a class presentation. Try to make sure that each student has at least one chance to present their knowledge every month, and give them feedback on their presentations to help them improve their communication skills and build their confidence.
5. Study techniques
In a world that’s buzzing with distractions, how developed are your students’ attention spans? Are they able to focus and enter a flow state when completing a task?
If not, you can teach them these skills with the Pomodoro technique. You can practise this technique in class to improve your students’ concentration when they’re working on longer tasks. It’s a way of cutting out distractions, focusing your attention on a single task, and boosting your productivity. This approach will stand your students in good stead when it comes to staying on track with independent study.
The university experience is about more than academic performance. Your students will be joining new clubs and making new friends. They’ll find themselves out of their comfort zone constantly – so how can you help them prepare for this?
Resilience is a really important quality when it comes to navigating new and unfamiliar experiences. By promoting positive emotions, encouraging your students to set goals, teaching problem solving skills and emphasising the importance of health and wellbeing, you’ll be equipping your students with the mental and emotional resilience they’ll need for the new challenges of university life.
Read about how to build resilience in your students.
7. An understanding of consent
Your students will be much better equipped to navigate their love lives at university if they understand the importance of consent and communication. They’ll be learning about relationships from their peers and online – but as their teacher, you have a position as a trusted adult to teach them the basics for forming healthy relationships.
Consent should be taught in the context of relationships and communication (both online and in real life). You can teach your students to check for consent with other people, empower them to refuse consent on their own behalf, and support other people who are asserting their own bodily autonomy.
These might seem like difficult conversations to have, but by giving students strategies and scripts, you’ll empower them to stand up for themselves and other people, and navigate dangerous or uncomfortable situations.
What skills do you think are essential for students heading off to university? Looking back on your own university days, is there anything you wish you’d known, or skills that would have come in handy?
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