33 Simple Strategies Workshop

An award-winning book!

33 Simple Strategies won the 2020 Scholarly Contributions to Teaching and Learning Award from the American Sociological Association’s Section on Teaching and Learning

In this workshop faculty learn straightforward ways to address the most common issues that first-year students struggle to overcome as they transition to college academics and college life. The workshop highlights first-generation students’ experiences–those for whom neither parents holds a four-year degree–helping faculty better understand what the transition to college feels like in their shoes. Every suggestion and strategy in the workshop emerged from research interviews with first-year students at two universities. By the end of the workshop faculty will have revamped syllabi to better support first-year and first-generation students as well as  gained an arsenal of easy-to-implement strategies for classroom interactions and office hours.

If you are willing to spend 5 to 15 minutes a week on student well being, this workshop will tell you exactly what to do each week of the semester. Some of it is as simple as making slight shifts in what we say as we teach introductory material, or in the timing of exams, remembering that our students arrive at our college gates from a wide range of K-12 experiences.

Strategy 1: Give a Mini-Midterm in Week 2 of the Semester.
First-year students genuinely do not know whether their high school study habits are adequate for college until they get their first midterms back. Often the semester is already half over by that point. It is stressful and anxiety producing for many of them and the sense of failure they feel when they do poorly on their first college exams can be devastating. A short midterm in week 2 helps familiarize them with your exam style and assess how well their note taking and homework habits are serving them before they tackle your higher-stakes exams and assignments.

Strategy 6: Practice Habits of Encouraging Speech.
First-generation students told me in interviews that they are grateful to professors who acknowledge that college academics are challenging. When we say things in class such as “This stuff is hard” and “Hang in there, you’ll get this” they feel validated. On the other hand, they feel overwhelmed and alone when we say things such as, “I know this is review for most of you.” That makes them doubt whether they belong in college in the first place and whether they have what it takes to succeed.  

Other strategies focus on friendly reminders and tools for healthy habits such as getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night and stress-management ideas that help us all avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol abuse and avoidance which sabotage our performance and well being. Still others are aimed at allowing our students to get to know us a bit and to feel seen by us in return. This is something that students crave, and costs us very little in time and energy if we do it routinely and set healthy boundaries.

Strategy 17: When a Student Asks, “How are you?” Never Answer with “Fine.”
Share a small (or large) detail from your life instead. Try to draw from your personal life rather than your professional life. Maybe something like: “I’m great. I’m reading a really interesting book right now called _________.” Avoid saying things that express how busy and overwhelmed you might feel as it makes first-generation and first-year students think our time is too valuable to spend talking to them.

Strategy 29: Share a Story of Woe.
Bad roommate, bad grade, bad decision–share a brief story in class of some college mishap or misstep that you experienced as an undergraduate. Tell them how you handled it and what you learned from it. Right now first-year students are going through some of the toughest things they will ever face in college. It’s an enormous relief to them to know that someone they respect faced similar kinds of failures and frustrations along the road.

The 33 Simple Strategies Workshop helps faculty better understand the particular needs and challenges of first-generation and first-year students. In this hands-on workshop, faculty can make small additions to syllabi, lecture slides and assignments that will make big differences for students. In the workshop we also develop and practice activities and interactions that have a meaningful impact to improve students’ academic performance as well as their sense of trust in us and in their own ability to be successful college students.