Have you been in a college classroom lately?
If it has been a while, things might look a little different these days. It’s hard to find too many old lecture halls with the theater seats bolted to the floor, or even the classic school desks arranged in neat rows. In many courses, collaboration is now the name of the game. Pairs or larger groups of students work on problems together. Campuses have fewer direct-lecture classes. Instead, group tables and moveable chairs make room for teamwork. Some “classrooms” are cleverly disguised as coffee shops or picnic tables or ropes courses.
In other words, the interactive learning that started in kindergarten now moves right on up the educational chain.
Of course every college is different, and your student needs to find their own academic fit. But a College Prep Parent should mentor their kid for the collaborative educational experience they will likely face – while preparing them for the regimented aspects of college, too.
Fortunately, a handful of skills can help your student thrive in today’s collegiate environment – both when they need to be “collaborative” and when they need to be self-controlled. But it might surprise you to learn that they’re skills I had to learn way back in kindergarten.
Skill #1: Plays Well With Others
The first report card that I ever got was in kindergarten. I remember my mom showing me the list of items that we were graded on. After all this time I still remember the first one: “Plays well with others.”
It was important then, and it is still important. I have observed some students who think they “play well with others,” but when their contribution to the group is not used, or when the “winning” ideas are not what they prefer, the student really gets a lesson in teamwork (or realizes they might not “play well with others” after all).
As a College Prep Parent, you can help fine-tune that skill a little with your student. In fact, your home may be the easiest “lab” for learning teamwork. Your student can feel empowered as you let them have a say in some decisions that affect others in the family, but they truly learn collaboration when that “say” is weighed on the strength of its merit – not just because it was their idea.
In college, just like in high school, the aim of classroom dialogue and cooperation will be to draw on the strength of a group to solve a problem – not for everyone in the group to sing a solo.
Skill #2: Asks For Help
I learned early on in school that we were graded on “asking for help.” Of course the rules included asking the right person at the right time, and only after you have made your best effort. My kindergarten teacher must have felt that asking for help was going to be important for a long time, and she was right.
There are a bunch of skills that we applaud kids for doing “all by yourself,” but in the new collaborative college world, our kids are asked to recognize the value of seeking extra help. Some students get in the habit of rationalizing “that’s good enough” or “I’m too busy,” and they avoid the necessary challenge of involving others in their work.
High school should be the practice field for what’s coming in college, so parents can be the coach who reminds students that a worthy goal is worth the effort it takes to achieve… and that oftentimes that effort includes asking for help. In college, this help may come in the form of a proofreader for an essay, a friend to ask anticipated test questions, or a brutally honest teacher who gives constructive guidance on how to improve.
Skill #3: Exercises Control in Talking
Another item that we were graded on in kindergarten, with a plus or minus, was “Exercises control in talking.”
This one had to be explained to me, because the “minus” I received confused little Mark Hines. I knew that I was a great talker, but apparently the control part was not something that I routinely practiced!
Certainly, part of good collaboration is learning not to talk too much. However, in my experience with students, I actually find that more of them miss out on things by not talking enough, as opposed to being too chatty. Asking the right questions to the right people is vital for gaining information to contribute to the group. Possessing the skill of inquiry comes in handy when the student is involved in collaboration on any level. (Just like it helps in the college search.) The willingness to speak up within the give-and-take of teamwork is valuable if it comes from a student whose goal is group success.
Skill #4: Follows Directions
In kindergarten, following directions usually involved rules like “Color inside the lines,” “Don’t eat the glue,” and “Don’t get up during nap time.” In high school, the stakes have been a little higher for your child – but in college, the stakes will be higher still. While the earlier three skills will help your student navigate the collaborative nature of today’s colleges, these next two “basics” will allow them to thrive when self-control is needed.
In Mrs. Sayre’s kindergarten class, if you stood up during nap time, you were told to lay down. In the world of college, if your student ignores the instructions for filling out leadership applications, returning scholarship paperwork, or scheduling classes, they may lose out on some big opportunities forever.
If your college shopper lives in a high school world of “squishy deadlines” and suggested due dates (and it’s likely they do), then they are not being fully prepared for the world of higher education. College Prep Parents can point out the firm deadlines in their lives (like Tax Day, Election Day, or project deadlines at work). Be sure your kid knows that “you snooze, you lose” is not just a cute expression.
Skill #5: Completes Activities in a Timely Manner
For some of us kindergarteners, scoring the highly prized plus-sign on this skill was particularly challenging. Completing activities in a timely manner is such an important skill that they start teaching this attribute in kindergarten… and address it every school year for the rest of the student’s life!
Any college-shopping kid has seen this play out through all of high school, and it only gets more critical in college. Waiting until the last minute or missing due dates altogether gets in the way of doing excellent work, because it leaves no time to be really good – only “good enough.” Thriving in college is about your student’s best effort. That may involve re-writes, editing over several days, or reading the “optional” stuff to nail down a concept. It always involves saying “no” to the less-important in favor of saying “yes” to the most important.
How can College Prep Parents help instill this kindergarten basic? Praise your kid when they display this skill. When they don’t, you can know that regrets and missed opportunities can be fantastic teachers.