Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Five Communication Strategies for Summer School Success!

Can't you picture yourself reading on this comfy chair?
In my last post, I talked about one of my summer classes at my former community college in Nevada. 

You remember:  I got a "C" and I am at peace with it! (My name is "Ellen"... You:  "Hi, Ellen!" Couldn't resist.)

In that post, you may recall that I communicated exactly twice during that class:

Time #1: I feebly tried to ask my prof if there was anything I could do to improve my grades.

(The answer was "No." What creative, out-of-the-container thinking was I expecting when my prof's teaching method of choice was lecturing from a legal pad for three hours?);


Time #2:  I passed notes.

(Not my finest hour of student behavior).

We can safely say that I made some mistakes in that class. Now, after spending years in school and now as a prof, I know better. After I published that post, I remembered that I was talking about summer school, and taking summer classes can pose special opportunities and challenges.

The good about summer school?
-You get to pick up some extra credits in a shorter period of time.
-The classes run for fewer weeks.
-The workload is typically distributed differently than in a regular-term class. By the way, it's a false sense of security to believe that you will have far less work in a summer term or that the work is way easier.

The challenges with summer school?
-You may be a little burnt from the rest of the academic year and need a break, but can't take one.
-The classes run for fewer weeks.  
-The learning requirement/workload feels way faster than a regular term... because it is.

Whether you're new to this blog or a two-month veteran of it (as in, when I started), you know that I believe communication skills up your success capital in college. Summer school is no different. Here are five talking strategies to do your best while you're there:

-Talk to your professor on the first day!
This is a two-parter:  If you've read my previous blog posts, you know my ongoing theme is "early" when it comes to talking to your profs about goals or getting help. The pace of summer school means that you have no time to waste. If you "need an 'A'", or any other grade, in that summer school class, see the prof before the first class, after the first class, or walk with him/her out to the parking lot if you have to (but no stalking!).

Say, "I am looking to earn at least a B in this class, and hopefully an A. Do you have some advice? Will you review work early?"

You simply don't have the time to find out in week 6 that you are not getting the grade you want. So, hatch your plan on the first day of summer school!

then, part two...

-Talk to your professor every day, if necessary!
Have I mentioned in this post that summer school moves at a quicker pace? That you may feel like you have to learn at lightning speed? (I believe I have!). If you struggle in the shorter timeline, there aren't as many days to pick up the pieces. So, ask for help as often as you need it and be extremely proactive with your professor!

In fact, don't just rely on your prof for help: A summer term is a great time to familiarize yourself with other on-campus resources. Ask your prof, "Can you tell me what tutoring, resource centers, or other campus help might be available?" Then go to those areas and check on the summer hours.

It might be tempting to drop your summer class, and the only way I'd even consider recommending this is if you and the prof collaboratively determine that you are far in over your head (On this note, it's not the wisest decision to take your toughest class in the summer unless you can devote every waking hour to it, and to getting help for it). Otherwise, this accelerated schedule is a great time to pump up your work ethic, become brilliant about locating help for yourself, and get to know on-campus services that you may not have needed or had time to investigate.

-Ask about your prof's office hours or e-mail availability, if this is not abundantly clear in the syllabus.
Most profs feel just like students do:  It's a long year; we want to hook up some summer! Profs do not usually have committee work or regular meetings over the summer, which means that they are not available on campus as much. This could be a disadvantage for you if you need a good deal of help. If your syllabus doesn't tell when your prof is available, either in-office, on the phone, or on e-mail, then make sure you ask. This way, you can schedule yourself around the times that your prof is there for you.

-Chat up classmates--quickly! 
In your summer classes, you are likely to have both students who have been at your college a while, and you might have others who are just there to pick up a class or two. These "others" could be folks from the business world, or, they might be students who are home from other colleges and picking up a few summer credits.

Meeting these new classmates offers great opportunities for you to:

a) make new connections that you can bridge into the fall term--can't have too many fresh study partners or friends, right?;
b) find out about an actual student's experience at a college you may consider attending;
c) meet a new professional contact, if the person is out in the workforce already.

But don't wait until mid-summer-term to start chatting with someone of interest! Summer is shorter and nurturing new friendships and networks takes time. Try making some small talk, such as:

"I see that you have U of X logo on your backpack. Was last year your first year?"
"I remember that A & P book. Do you have Professor Jones?"
"You said on the first day of class that you work for the city. How long have you worked there?"
"Didn't you and I have Environmental Science together last semester?"

-Get to know profs-to-be.
It's hard not to count down the seconds before summer class ends so you can sprint to your car, get to work, or hit the pool or beach. However, if you will remain at the same institution for your fall term, sticking around campus after class, or getting on campus an hour or so early, can give you a head start for later. Here's why:

Many students know their fall schedule when taking summer classes. This gives you a golden opportunity to meet your profs well before the term starts, if they are on campus during the summer.

Why not go visit a prof or two, say hello, see if you can grab a syllabus, and even check out the textbook? If you have a special issue with a course, or have particular goals, even more reason to see the prof early and say,

"Hello, I'm Ellen. I'm looking forward to taking your class, but have an intense fear of public speaking. Have any early suggestions I can use?" (Saying, "I just wanted to let you know" is also fine)


"Hello, I'm Ellen. I know this is really early, but I'm in your class this fall. I'd love to see a syllabus if you have one so I can learn about the class and prepare myself."

The personal connection will make you feel more comfortable when you walk into a prof's class on the first day.

And, if your feelings aren't warm and fuzzy about the prof or the class, guess what? You have plenty of time to get out of that class and change your schedule.

Prof off for the summer? The department secretary might have access to a syllabus from the previous term.

I sincerely hope that you have an incredible summer that is full of barbecues, lots of (safe!) sunning, outdoor movies, vacations... and the college credits that you seek.

Communicate--not by passing notes like I did--and make it so!

For students who are summer school veterans, what are your tips for success? Colleagues? What would you tell students about summer school?

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