Teaching First-Year College Students


Bette LaSere Erickson, Calvin B. Peters, and Diane Weltner Strommer


Experience has shown that students arriving on campus for the first time flourish when they feel welcomed, challenged, and supported.  However, If they feel abandoned and overwhelmed, they escape to a place that is more comfortable and affirming.  The result is that for at least the past two decades colleges and universities have been paying special attention to the first-year experience, and at the center of any first-year student's experience, of course, is teaching and learning, the focus of Teaching First-Year College Students.  Erickson, Peters and Strommer immediately point out that before any instruction can begin, professors need to understand who first-year students are, what their expectations, attitudes, intellectual development and views on learning are.  Thus, they devote the first three chapters to "Understanding First-Year Students," and in fact, the book is worthwhile reading for this first section alone.  It is easy for professors to forget the dramatic contrast between the high school routine and the more idiosyncratic style in college.  When compared to their high school experience, the college classroom can seem very cold and impersonal.  Furthermore, assignments are much longer and most frequently demand application rather than memorization.  Time management immediately becomes a problem, and there is inevitably a disconnect between the number of hours spent studying professors expect and those that first-year students find adequate.  With this in mind, the authors say, "we want to encourage some reflection on just how our stated expectations for first-year students fit with the actual practice of our instruction" because far too often a bargain is struck that allows professors and students alike to remain in their comfort zone.  Courses evolve into something less than what was originally intended and students decide that college is not so different after all.  However, if professors understand the intellectual development of first-year students, they are better equipped to provide appropriate challenges and support first-year students at the same time.  Many of you will undoubtedly remember the superb Friday Faculty Luncheon presentation that Christin and Dwayne Taylor gave on this subject, and indeed, Teaching First-Year College Students gives an overview of the research on student intellectual development, including Perry's four groups (dualism, multiplicity, relativism, and commitment in relativism) that Christin and Dwayne discussed.  Because understanding learning styles allows professors to design instruction appropriately, the third chapter in Part One outlines research in this area using four recognized learning style inventories.  Part Two includes nine chapters on effective instruction, everything from from goals to evaluation of first-year student learning, and Part Three examines the opportunities and challenges of first-year instruction.  In short, this is a valuable text for any professor teaching a First-Year Seminar or an introductory course where first-year students predominate.      

Review by Elizabeth Richardson Viti, Director and Professor of French

This book is available in the JCCTL library.