Early Interventions to Improve Student Success

This week, those of us who teach 100-level and below courses, as well as courses that data shows students can struggle in, will receive an email with a link to fill out student progress reports through our new SSC software. In many respects, they’re similar to the early alert system we used before this year, but these new progress reports are intended to target the student populations we know tend to run into early academic struggles, and enable us to more efficiently intervene and course-correct with them. As we begin the third week of the semester, identifying and working to address academic problems in our classes can pay significant dividends for the rest of the semester. It seems obvious: the earlier the intervention, the more likely our students are to turn things around.

When we think about interventions, though, we should realize that it’s not just students who are getting low grades who might need our attention. Research in community colleges suggests, for example, that 40 percent of students who withdraw mid-semester have A or B grade point averages. The beginning of the semester can be difficult for a range of students, and even though the reasons aren’t always academic, the consequences are. There are many reasons a student might miss excessive classes early in the term-illness to family problems to financial issues-but whatever the reason, we know that the absences have a significant negative effect on their likelihood of success.

Thus, knowing when and how to best intervene with a student can be one of the most important factors in their success and their persistence through not just this semester, but their academic career. A large percentage of students who persist and who graduate within six years report that one of the most important factors for them doing so was a relationship with faculty and academic staff. Our taking a personal interest in students and their success has short and longer-term effects.

What are the best ways to intervene, when necessary, for a student? At Grand View, our new SSC software provides the quickest way to alert the appropriate people regarding a potential student issue. From either the Advisor Home screen or a particular student’s record, look on the right side of the page for the “Issue an Alert” link. From there, you’ll be taken to a screen where you can provide the necessary information using drop-down menus, and add your own notes for context, and submit the alert. Once that happens, a “case” is opened for the students, and appropriate resources are mobilized. This could include the student’s advisor, completion coach, the ALT Center staff, student life or RA–or a combination of people. When the case is designated as “resolved” by whomever worked with the student, you’ll receive notification of that as well.

We shouldn’t wait, though, until something rises to the level requiring this type of formal intervention to reinforce our connection with students. Rapport, whether it’s in our classes or between us and our advisees, has a set of tangible benefits for students. As Maryellen Weimer points out, good rapport may not result in learning, but it does create the conditions in which good learning can-and does-occur. Demonstrating a personal interest in our students’ success and well-being isn’t some sort of unearned “coddling”; it’s good pedagogy. Students’ motivation is such an important part of their learning, and motivation is enhanced when they perceive someone values them and their efforts. The quick email to encourage a student to continue the good work they’ve already shown, the offer to meet during office hours to provide additional help with a difficult concept, the quick greeting and asking how they’re doing when we see them in the dining hall-these are all ways in which we can build rapport with our students, and we ought to take advantage of the opportunities to do so.

Finally, it’s worth noting that early interventions are not only important for our students who need them, but they can also make a difference on the success of our course. As we get closer to the 25% mark of the semester, consider doing an informal assessment of how the course is going. Many of us have used midterm course evaluations to gauge the effectiveness of our approach, but there is some research out there that suggests early-term assessments have even more benefits for our practice. As we discern the issues with our students that might call for some course correction, it’s an opportune moment for us to also consider ways in which we might undertake the same process, if necessary. There are several different styles and methods for this type of early-term course evaluation; if you want to know more, come see us in CETL and we can provide additional resources for you.

Looking for an answer? A particular resource? Want to talk teaching and learning? Come by the CETL or make an appointment for a consultation!

Be sure to check out the CETL Calendar for a complete listing of events and professional development opportunities.

Finally, there may be things more soothing than Bob Ross feeding a baby squirrel, but there aren’t many of them, that’s for sure.


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