By George J. Hill
My Allied Health Learning Community, which combines Freshman English, my Freshman Seminar course, and the first Anatomy and Physiology (A&P) course, faced an interesting challenge. We found that while most of our students were passionate about helping people, a necessary quality in any healthcare worker, many of the students did not fully appreciate the amount of work that they needed to put in to be successful in their majors.
Many of the students were coming right from high school, where they said they were used to doing a maximum of 2 hours of homework per week for all of their classes combined. Suddenly, they were confronted not only with the usual shock of the increased workload that most students encounter when transitioning from high school to college, but also the challenge of the A&P course, which requires two to three hours per night of regular review and study in order to memorize all the new medical terminology.
To be blunt, many of the students were not studying for the A&P course enough. They either did not take the professor seriously about how much they needed to be studying, or they simply did not know how to organize their study time effectively. In one of our link meetings, the A&P professor and I discussed the issue. We tried to come up with ways to encourage the students to study more, and to teach them how to study more effectively.
We decided to create a study hall for the students. Study hall meets three times a week, for one hour a day, and is scheduled between the English and A&P courses. Students are required to attend at least once per week, but they are welcome to attend as much as they like. Since the Freshman Seminar course is designed to help students acclimate to college and learn study skills, their attendance counts towards their grade in Freshman Seminar. I proctor the study hall regularly, though both the English and A&P professors have either dropped in quickly, or held meetings with students in study hall. Study Hall meets in a conference room near the Biology Department office, and I bring copies of all the English readings, as well as the Bio textbook and a few other resources.
We tell the students that study hall is their time to work on whatever they need to. Sometimes this means getting a jump on the English reading, or asking questions related to advisement and registration for Freshman Seminar, but usually it means that the students review A&P. They quiz one another, compare notes, tutor each other on things that they are unsure about, and generally help each other prepare for class. Some study hall periods are very quiet, with students individually reviewing their notes. Others are extremely animated, abuzz with the sound of students asking each other questions, calling out answers, and demonstrating their knowledge of the anatomy.
The study hall serves a few important functions. First, it reinforces to the students that we seriously do believe that they need to be putting in work outside class in order to be successful. While prior teachers may have said this, it may not have jibed with the students actual experience, and so dedicating time for them to study shows that we are serious about the need for it. By providing the students with a space that is dedicated to “whatever you need to work on” while removing distractions and keeping them focused (occasionally with a gentle “OK, let’s bring it back to the material” from me), they learn to manage their time, prioritize their work, and keep on track.
The study hall also works to channel some hyperbonding tendencies ofstudents, which is a perpetual concern among Learning Community practitioners, in positive directions. While it is certainly possible for a Learning Community to go off the rails due to unproductive hyperbonding, our study hall aims to use the connections between the students productively, to help them succeed in their classes. Students in the study hall exert positive peer pressure, encouraging their fellow students to work and focus.
While occasionally, at the beginning of the semester, some students question why the study hall is necessary, they quickly see the value of it as they prepare for their tests and quizzes together. At the end of the semester, many students even express disappointment that the study hall is a part of a one-semester long Learning Community, and it doesn’t continue throughout their college career. Some former Learning Community students have even created their own study groups in their second semester to continue to reap the benefits of the study hall.
The creation of our study hall shows the power of Learning Communities to solve problems across the curriculum. A problem in the Anatomy & Physiology class, that the students were not studying enough or effectively, was solved by creating something rooted in the Freshman Seminar course. We tend to think about integration in Learning Communities in terms of students making cross-curricular connections, but a highly integrated Learning Community also has the ability to create support systems between the classes that help the students succeed.
George J. Hill is a Freshman Seminar instructor and Academic Advisor in the Opening Doors Learning Communities at Kingsborough Community College.