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About this book

This essential companion for lecturers and study skills advisors alike sets study skills teaching in context and outlines positive environments to enhance student skills. It addresses areas such as supportive infrastructures, induction, and supporting 'at risk' students. It provides practical guidance on developing interactive group skills, revision and exam strategies, writing, memory and critical analysis skills.

Table of Contents

Learning in Context

Frontmatter

1. Skills into the curriculum

Abstract
Since the early 1990s, there has been a dramatic change in the approach to skills development within higher education. Indeed, skills development is now high on the agenda for universities, colleges, schools, government and employers. Within the wider skills agenda, specific attention is beginning to focus on personal development planning and the main key skill associated with it, namely ‘improving own learning and performance’. While personal planning and improving learning are not reducible to study skills, a reflective and developmental approach to study skills, such as is advocated by this book, is of central importance both to improving learning and, through that key skill, to creating a basis for other skills required of graduates.
Stella Cottrell

2. Understanding the learner

Abstract
In attempting to enhance the student learning experience and improve performance, guidance can be drawn from theories of learning, from adult students’ own accounts of their learning and from the experiences of lecturers. This chapter opens with an exploration of learning theories that throw light upon adult learning, such as constructivism, embedded learning and equilibration theory. Particular emphasis is given to ways that learning and performance may be either ‘inhibited’ (thus preventing students from achieving their potential) or ‘motivated’ (so as to take students to the ‘take-off’ stage of engaged, independent learning). Students’ attitudes and approaches to higher education study can be key factors in successful learning and may act as either inhibitors or motivators. This chapter offers a theoretical and contextual background to the strategies suggested later in the book, with an emphasis on the implications for successful teaching and learning in an era of widening participation.
Stella Cottrell

3. Supportive learning environments

Abstract
Former approaches to learning support, primarily sending the student outside of the department for help, are not sufficient to meet the demands of the current intakes of students in many universities. The traditional notion is that support is remedial and exclusive to a few; the movement in HE is towards inclusive approaches, learning development and a more skills-sensitive curriculum as desirable for all students. The traditional model placed the deficit within the student; in today’s teaching climate, it is important to identify not only ‘at risk’ students but also ‘at risk’ environments.
Stella Cottrell

4. Induction, orientation and the identification of learning needs

Abstract
When students get into difficulty with their study, it is often assumed to be a problem with academic skills. Whilst this may be part of the truth, there are generally other issues involved, especially those concerned with expectations of, and orientation to, HE. This is especially true as more first-generation students enter higher education. The first 4–6 weeks of the academic year can be very stressful and unsettling for students in any institution: homesickness, loneliness, acclimatisation to what can seem strange sets of customs, performance anxiety and self-doubt mean this can be a difficult time, and it is, indeed, a key period of student loss. A positive and appropriate induction experience can help to orientate students, build up their sense of belonging, and prevent some difficulties from developing later in the year. As such, induction can serve as a main plank in an institution’s retention policy.
Stella Cottrell

5. Integrating study skills into teaching

Abstract
Lecturers play an essential role in the development of students’ study skills and general learning development — and this role is likely to increase in the future. This growing importance can be attributed to changes in the composition of the student body, the spread of computerised information and the increased emphasis on skills development, often linked to ‘employability’. Additional skills development often enters universities purely as discrete provision, offered by a specialist centre or skills unit. It may become supplemented by modules which emphasise or specialise in study skills in a particular way. However, it is increasingly evident that, in addition to these two necessary forms of provision, learning development and skills enhancement do not thrive if they are divorced from the students’ overall teaching and learning experience. This necessitates the involvement of all lecturers.
Stella Cottrell

6. Writing: the burning issue

Abstract
Academic writing is a key area of concern for both students and lecturers. For lecturers, this tends to be a question of academic standards. Students’ concerns focus on how to deliver what is expected, especially within the time allowed, as well as on their confusion about what exactly is required. Students’ stories reveal a lack of prior practice and adequate guidance in the writing styles required for HE; it is not unusual to find students who have never undertaken any substantial piece of writing. Lack of acquaintance with academic traditions and conventions, lack of confidence and lack of motivation all play their part.
Stella Cottrell

7. Study skills programmes

Abstract
Those leading study skills sessions will wish to establish their own sets of objectives for their programme. Clear objectives are important as they indicate to students a particular approach to skills development, even a conceptualisation of what a skill is and how it might be ‘achieved’ or ‘developed’. The objectives for the programme suggested in this book are:
  • to train students in essential academic and other related learning skills within the context of their course of study, vocational pathway, or other meaningful structure;
  • to locate study skills within a developmental model;
  • to facilitate students’ understanding of learning development as an evolving process rather than something which is accomplished within a single session or even a series of sessions;
  • to train students to evaluate their own needs and achievements more capably;
  • to enable students to become more self-managing and self-reliant, capable of taking responsibility for their own learning and addressing their own learning needs;
  • to encourage students to appreciate proactive learning — rather than to see themselves as semi-passive recipients of information a feedback.
Stella Cottrell

8. Supporting individual students

Abstract
Even when support is structured into teaching, there are always some students who require more focused individual attention. This is particularly true of students from ‘widening participation’ backgrounds. The overwhelming majority of students referred for additional support through the Learning Development Unit at the University of East London (UEL), for example, are mature students. Even within categories such as ‘dyslexic’, mature students and those from unusual study backgrounds require much more intensive input than students from ‘A’ level backgrounds.
Stella Cottrell

9. Teaching to support learning: the reflective practitioner

Abstract
In higher education, students are being asked, increasingly, to extrapolate from their experiences, to evaluate and profile their skills, to reflect on performance and attitudes, and to work with peers. It is often helpful for those in authority to undergo the kinds of activities that are set for those over whom they have influence. This chapter is designed to offer teaching staff an opportunity to experience for themselves some of the approaches which are used with their students, focusing on learning development and study skills teaching. It also offers practitioners a chance to develop a greater appreciation of what they achieve as lecturers and tutors, and to pinpoint their own staff development needs.
Stella Cottrell

Menu: Outlines for Study Skills Sessions

Frontmatter

10. Induction: orientation to learning

Abstract
This chapter suggests activities to accompany the induction programme outlined in Chapter 4 above. Activities in the following chapters could also be included as part of induction depending on the length of induction and the priorities and approach of your course.
Stella Cottrell

11. Managing learning: attitudes and approaches to learning

Abstract
From a tutor’s perspective, the greatest difficulty in this area is the variety of unhelpful approaches students bring with them in their attitudes to learning, their attitudes to themselves as learners, and their attachment to unhelpful habits and beliefs.
Stella Cottrell

12. Managing learning: identifying skills and learning priorities

Abstract
Students may argue that they ‘can’t see the point’ of self-evaluation or study skills. In some cases, this may be because students are used to content-based courses, where rote learning and regurgitation led to success. Although these students may have good grades, they do not necessarily have a good grasp of how to learn more generally. Such students can be very threatened by methods which seem to disrupt a routine that has worked for them. Entrenched habits are hard to break. Others may be worried that they do not have enough skills. Tutors should emphasise that reflection on skills and drawing up profiles are strategies for moving forwards, rather than an exercise in past recrimination.
Stella Cottrell

13. Working with others

Abstract
Group work is extremely rewarding when it works well, and can make the lecturer’s life much easier. However, it can also be experienced as threatening and exposing and may leave students feeling very vulnerable if it is not managed well. In a student consultation exercise undertaken to examine the reasons for poor retention on a particular course at the University of East London, students attributed the high drop-out to ‘whole groups’ just leaving because they were so unhappy with the way the group work had been arranged. It is important to ensure that students are given adequate training and support so that they can experience the benefits of group work.
Stella Cottrell

14. Organising and managing study

Abstract
Organisation covers a wide spectrum. For some students the main difficulty will be time management; for others it will be organising information or study space.
Stella Cottrell

15. Developing thinking skills

Abstract
As these skills are basic to problem-solving skills, if they are under-developed or under-utilised, students can find it difficult to find a starting place for approaching a wide range of academic tasks. In particular, they do not know how to identify common underlying structures to problems that confront them, nor how to evaluate the significance of similarities and differences when transferring approaches from one task to another (see pp. 153–9 above).
Stella Cottrell

16. Using lectures effectively

Abstract
Students report two main types of problems with lectures. The first is a difficulty with sustaining attention. Course design or institutional planning can mean students are expected to sit, listen and take notes for several hours at a time, without a break. It is difficult for students to stay focused unless the time is broken into shorter slots with good use of activities and discussion. Unless this is addressed, improving skills may not help much.
Stella Cottrell

17. Reading for research

Abstract
Students probably have far more difficulties with reading than most teaching staff are aware. There are many reasons why students struggle with reading. A few are listed below.
Stella Cottrell

18. Writing skills I

Abstract
Students under-estimate the relative importance, in an higher education context, of macro-skills such as analysis, compared to technical English skills such as spelling. They often attribute low marks to technical English, rather than focusing on developing thinking skills and higher-order writing skills such as organising ideas and developing an argument.
Stella Cottrell

19. Writing skills II

Abstract
Students may have little idea what an assignment is supposed to be like. Even if they have produced assignments before, these may have been to different sets of requirements than those set for the latest assignment (see above, pp. 128–9). Even with concrete examples they may be uncertain what it is that is good or bad about what they are reading, especially if their own work is weak.
Stella Cottrell

20. Writing skills III

Abstract
This session builds on the work undertaken in previous sessions, and should enable students to bring a piece of writing nearly to completion, in line with the conventions of the subject area. Keep to the same writing groups as for previous weeks. It may be useful to leave this session until after the session on ‘Critical and Analytical Thinking Skills’ (Chapter 21).
Stella Cottrell

21. Critical and analytical thinking skills

Abstract
Tutor feedback on assignments often suggests that students could improve their marks by writing more analytically or critically. Students referred for support frequently admit that they do not know what this means. From feedback from such students, it is evident that some of the following reasons underlie their difficulties with critical and analytical thinking.
Stella Cottrell

22. Seminars and oral presentations

Abstract
Students often panic because they hold unreal expectations of the task, which they feel they cannot live up to. Some feel they must emulate the lecturer, forgetting that lecturers’ skills are built up through experience and (in some cases) training. Typical problems associated with this areas are of students spending too much time on research and too little on preparing the talk; building up too much information to use, and reluctance to edit material down to what can be delivered in the time available. As a result, students arrive with too much information and they are confronted with the difficult task of editing on the spot.
Stella Cottrell

23. Memory

Abstract
A desire to improve their memory is one of the most common requests from students referred for support. Students may begin to adopt an identity of a person with ‘no memory’, which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Students may have little idea of what memory is, of how good our memories already have to be in order for us to carry out various everyday tasks and the sorts of things which can lead to improved memory performance.
Stella Cottrell

24. Revision and exams

Abstract
Students can project mystical ideas onto exams as if lecturers were expecting something unimaginable which they are incapable of delivering, or as if lecturers deliberately applied magical arts and mind-reading to see and mark only what the student doesn’t know. This can arise from past experience of low marks, based on an assumption that exams are for demonstrating ‘facts’ when examiners simply wanted to see a broader understanding of the subject demonstrated through argument, application or appropriate selection.
Stella Cottrell

25. Drawing it together

Abstract
Study skills sessions of necessity divide skills into different sections in order to develop an agenda for teaching and learning. However, there is a great deal of overlap between the different skills. Weaknesses in one area may arise from underdeveloped skills in a related area. Poor organisational skills, for example, impact upon many areas of study but may appear, on the surface, to be a weakness in reading or writing. Poor organisational skills can be related to underdeveloped skills in categorisation or time-management skills or to weak motivation.
Stella Cottrell
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