College Readiness – The One Thing You May be Overlooking
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How do you know if your child is really college ready?
We know homeschooled kids tend to be better prepared for college level work with the support and individualized learning they get. But how do you know if your child is really college ready? The science of learning provides us with useful insight into a key skill you may be missing.
What Enables Success?
We are well informed of eligibility requirements for a particular college. The selection standards are known. We also know the importance of other characteristics like strong values and good self-discipline for the college bound. But there is one really important skill we find rarely mentioned.
A more complete definition of college readiness will consider these questions:
When we follow this inquiry, we can find our missing component.
To begin, we divide the definition of readiness into two different points of view:
- That which is necessary to qualify the student for admission, the things they need to complete and demonstrate knowledge of in order to get in
- The skills that enable the student to be successful and work at a high academic level once there.
Of course, both are important. The first point is usually defined by standards and thus well known. But the second can get a little fuzzy when one thinks about all the skills and behaviors that contribute to success. We look here for the one thing.
Expanding Learning Capacity
What’s the biggest shock when the new student encounters the college learning environment? It’s navigating an entirely new world of independent study and self-guided work. The college provides no hand holding for the culture shocked student. At this level, we know most learning occurs from independent study and projects. Here, what happens in the classroom and lecture hall only sets the stage for learning; the rest of the work is then up to the student. The often-missed one thing has to do with the skills of independent learning.
There is good news for homeschooling parents because you already emphasize independent studies and learning by doing, so your kids are better prepared and have a head start on independent work. But the challenge of this difficult transition remains.
College work is also complicated by the increased workload. The amount of things your child is expected to learn in each course is a magnitude or so higher than before. This presents a potential learning capacity problem for students who only have high school level skills.
An engineer or management guru might also call this a “bandwidth problem.” This can best be described as the student having to cram too much stuff through a too narrow a tube. The solution is to “expand the tube” and increase the capacity to learn – but how?
This is done by the use of better learning skills which enable the student to learn faster and remember more.
The One Thing
his or her own learning.
The “narrow tube” or “bandwidth” problem is solved by learning how to use better evidence-based learning strategies, an doing so before college.
When I taught at the University level for fourteen years, I observed the best students were not always the smartest nor had the best prior academics. The biggest challenge came from increasingly large workloads with deeper subjects that required mastering much more material.
The better students adopted better strategies for dealing with the increased work.
Cal Newport, college professor and author of Deep Work, also shares a similar observation on what makes for success in college. In his well-known study, he observed that “A” students were not smarter than “B” students, the difference was they used better learning strategies. It’s not how smart you are, its what you know how to do.
This key to success is knowing better learning strategies.
My experiences teaching is one of the reasons that I got involved in the science behind learning how to learn. I saw how important these skills were to success in the real world. To state a simple engineering design principle – when the degree difficulty for the user goes up, the way to improve performance is by providing better tools, methods, and habits.
As a parent you want to make sure you are providing your child with those better tools and encouraging the use of them.
The 5 Pillars
Let’s break better managing your own learning into five supporting skills you can work on with your child to create better readiness. The highly successful college student should know how to:
- Understand their own metacognition and have awareness of their own learning processes
- Develop highly effective methods and strategies to input information
- Know strategies to increase their capacity to retain important information
- Practice methods that enable the retrieve and recall of information
- Develop sound strategies to better manage their own energy and time
Work with your kids to develop capabilities in these five pillars. Here’s a little more explanation:
To become a better student, you need higher levels of metacognition. This is defined as thinking about your own thinking. Efficient learning requires the student to understand how they learn best and to have awareness of their study efforts. It also includes the ability to identify knowledge gaps and know what you don’t know. This skill can be taught and learned.
Strategies to Input Information
Different strategies are needed for the 3 steps to learning – inputting, remembering, and recalling information. The student needs to have strategies to organize information so it can be input into the brain so it can be remembered. This begins with taking and organizing your notes for this purpose. It includes knowing how to link new information with existing networks of information.
Strategies to Remember Information
There are a number of useful strategies that enhance memory through visualization and mnemonics. The student should be familiar with strategies like linking and memory palaces. Spaced practice is very helpful in getting information to stick.
Strategies to Retrieve Information
There are also strategies to learn about retrieving information. Retrieval practice is one of the more powerful learning strategies and is something that can be frequently practiced in both the classroom and with individual study.
Strategies to Manage Time and Energy
While time management principles are better known, energy management is a newer concept and even more important. The student needs to know how to use strategies in our distraction economy of social media and the like. The brain easily fatigues when studying, and the student can learn better when learning strategies support energy management.
The Illusion of Future Capacity
Why does this tend to be overlooked? It’s easy for parents to not see the need for these skills when current (before college) study methods seem to be working well in your homeschooling.
The tools that work for the present student often won’t work well for the future student. Because the conditions change so greatly there’s the potential to be fooled by the illusion of future capacity.
|Simply put, harder problems demand better tools.|
Because it can be hard to determine if your child’s study skills are college ready, we provide a free online assessment you can take to help determine this.
To access this, go to https://centerforhomeschooling.com/getting-started/
Emphasize Efficient Learning
It’s important to distinguish between effective learning and efficient learning. The two are often confused. You can learn something and know how to use it – and you feel successful. It worked! But what if it took you three times as much effort and time to learn it? Your learning is therefore effective, but not efficient. And you don’t know it.
Here’s the challenge – it’s hard to identify efficient learning when one isn’t trained in better evidence-based learning strategies. You don’t know what they can do to up your capacity. Thus, your starting point to more efficient learning is getting familiar with those better strategies and methods, then helping your child practice them until they become comfortable habits.
You have a better definition of college readiness when you consider the learning skills your child will need to be successful at the college level.
Of course, there are many components you need to examine to determine college readiness. Don’t overlook an important and often overlooked skill – the skills your child uses to manage his or her own learning.
The best time to start improving better learning strategies is now, well before your child will need them for college. Because they take time to learn and get better at them. This is why we want you to know about them and help your child begin to use them.
Improve your child’s learning capacity. We want to help you discover the power of better learning strategies.