Addressing the unique needs of first-year students aids in facilitating their smooth and effective transition to satisfying the expectations and rigor of a higher education curriculum. Our undergraduate students join Montclair State from varied and diverse educational backgrounds and experiences in K-12, making their level of preparedness, prerequisite knowledge, and expectations varied as well.
Consider the strategies below, which prioritize structure, clarity, and communication to address the varied and unique needs of first-year students:
Highlight and review class structure and format.
For most first-year students, acclimating to a class meeting schedule that does not entail daily face-to-face class sessions will be an adjustment, one that requires more self-discipline and time management skills to successfully meet deadlines and expectations. By sharing a detailed and organized syllabus at the start of the semester, you can set expectations and familiarize students with the necessary steps for success in your course.
Be patient and build in explanations for institution-specific or even higher-ed specific vocabulary and norms. For example, instead of writing “CART,” write “College of the Arts,” or instead of simply writing “Office Hours: Mondays at 12:00pm,” write “I am available to answer any questions or concerns you may have about the course during my regularly scheduled office hours, Mondays at 12:00pm.”
Clarify grading criteria and redefine assessment expectations.
Many first-year college students enter higher education having primarily experienced being predominantly assessed on rote learning skills, that is, memorizing information for an exam (Northern Illinois University, 2012). Redefine their assessment expectations early, and introduce authentic assessments which challenge them to apply ideas rather than simply regurgitate them for an exam. Provide clear instructions and guidelines on your grading criteria for these assessments. Consider the use of rubrics and sharing your rubrics well in advance of the assignment’s due dates so students can identify exactly how they will be assessed and scored. Use a variety of assessment techniques, including summative and formative options.
Communicate clearly and frequently.
Consider establishing norms and regularly scheduled communications students can expect. For example, introducing each new unit and that particular week’s assignments and expectations via a Canvas announcement every Monday morning establishes a routine and expectation that students can expect weekly for clarity. First-year students, in particular, may rely on these communications and other housekeeping announcements you may share in-class to keep themselves on target to meet deadlines and expectations.
Book an appointment with an ITDS instructional designer for a one-on-one consultation on how to apply the above strategies to your courses.
- Vanderbilt University, Teaching First-Year Students
- Northern Illinois University, Teaching First-Year Students
- Western Washington University, First-Year Student Support
- University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2012). Teaching first-year students. Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants. Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide