What Helps a Student Succeed?

By Michael Edmonds 27/01/2013

Semester 1 of the academic year is almost upon us and over the next few weeks I will be talking to students at various orientations. In some of our programmes, the students in front of me will have been selected via interviews, in others they fill open entry programmes. When I look out at them, I will be aware that many will pass through our institution successfully, however, there will be some who stumble along the way, and some who do not succeed.

I often think about the factors that help students succeed, mainly because this gives me ideas of how we can assist students.

The first factor I think is innate ability. For most of us there are skills and knowledge which we take to easily, and there are also those which we struggle with. For example, I found sciences and mathematics to be quite easy at school, languages a bit more challenging but anything sport related/co-ordination related very challenging.

The second factor is motivation. I have seen quite a few students who have demonstrated talent for the sciences, but they have not had the motivation to succeed. Some were pushed into studying science by their parents, others found student social life far more absorbing than their studies.

The third factor is resources. A good teacher, a well written textbook, well written assessments, a well resourced library, all support the student in reaching their goals.

The final factor is the students circumstances. Does their home life support what they are doing? Can students with children and other responsibilities get enough time to study. Has their previous experience of the subject made them think they “can’t” succeed. Sometimes completely unanticipated events can cause even the most talented and motivated student to stumble – deaths, pregancies, redundancies, marital disruptions.

When it comes to whether a student succeeds or not these factors overlap with each other – I have seen students who struggle with the subject material succeed because they were motivated to succeed so sort out help finding resources that worked for them, some despite the most challenging circumstances at home.

As educators we have influence over these factors. We can help students identify resources that suit the way they learn. And when they see they can understand this helps us bolster their motivation. Motivation can also be served by not just telling students what to learn but why they need to learn it. The occasional mention of future careers also helps motivate students.

In terms of resources, we can search the internet for resources to share with students, identify books for our libraries to buy, be careful in our choice of course texts and write engaging and valid assessments.

Dealing with student circumstances is probably the most challenging. The number of circumstances that can derail a student’s study can be mindboggling, and one also has to be wary of the occasional exaggeration or manipulation. This is where a good understanding of your institution’s policies of resits, compassionate withdrawal, support services, (as well as a box of tissues on your desk) is vital.