We are almost half way through the freshman year. It seemed like just yesterday when students arrived with high hopes and dreams, and a little apprehension. As the weeks progressed, many kids fell into their old study habits. The old habits work for some; and a few need to change their habits. In a few more weeks it will be exam time, and exams are something new to many of the kids. Science teachers will give review packets full of the terms and information they studied all semester. Math teachers will give hundreds times hundreds of math problems. History teachers will hand out packets full of questions about who killed whom or what happened in ancient times (when the teacher was a kid). I will hand out a half sheet of paper that informs kids to use handouts I have already given them or resources they can find on the World Wide Web, which I invented. (Just reviewing fiction there.)
Besides preparing for exams I have also recognized 5 ways for freshman to succeed:
1. Don’t let fear rule. It is difficult being a freshman. You are the new kid, going through changes that can be confusing. Facing the fear and gaining confidence is the #1 success driver. Every one of the hundreds of classes I have taught has had a student who started out shy and unsure. Then, he or she begins to participate in the small groups, gains confidence when others ask for help, and then adds to the whole class discussion. Too often we think we have to be ready to present an idea to a large group. Instead, talk to one or two people. Speak up in a small group assignment. Others do want to listen. I remember Janie. She would was quiet during our first class discussion, but once she was in a group of 4-5 people, she was a born leader. She was in her comfort zone. After gaining confidence, she joined Mock Trial and performed the role of attorney in front of many people.
2. Network. Make friends with successful students. Schools don’t like to label kids so they give reading groups nondescript names like blue group, red group, etc. However, the kids know who the better readers are. Being nice to someone who is better in math or science or English can help a person learn new ways to study. I remember Jared and Nick, who did not know each other. They were paired together for a Study Buddy activity. They became close friends, met others, and their grades began to improve because they enlarged their network and added to their support system.
3. Smile and say hi to people. Smiling is contagious. Too many kids walk through the halls or sit in classrooms and feel lonely. I know from personal experience. When I was a student, I waited for others to say hi to me first. At a class reunion a classmate told me she thought I was stuck-up. I did not think about how others saw me. I expected others to make me smile. I realized the happiness comes from making someone else smile. Now, I say “Hi” to as many students as I can. Sadly, some kids may go through the whole day without someone talking with them, even for a moment. The most successful students I see are the ones who smile and say hello to others.
4. Leave your options open. Explore topics in classes. Take time to learn more on your own. I remember Jenny who enjoyed acting out scenes from Romeo and Juliet in class. The next year she went out for the school play and got a major part. Another student, who loved art class, noticed all of the art work depicting scenes from mythology. He started researching more and more about how different artists in different time periods depicted the gods. Now, his goal is to work in an art museum.
5. Know what is expected. Pay attention to what the class wants. Of course, I am referring to behavior and assignment expectations the teacher has. However, the others in the room have expectations. To truly be successful with others, you have to be cognizant of their expectations. Being the class clown may get you laughs, but it won’t get you classmates who want to work with you, unless, of course, the grade is based on laughs. The other morning, I had the class answer a question about our reading and present it to the class. One group had the class clown, a student who did not do the reading in it, and a student who wanted to get a good grade. The concientious student asked to move groups and I allowed it. I felt the clown and slacker earned the right to flounder together, with the clown having to do all of the work. The funny thing is the next day the clown made sure he had his work completed and asked to be in different group. Will he continue to improve and take his work more seriously? I hope he does and continues to be a clown because he is funny. We may be watching on the Tonight Show or watching his TV show one day.