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White Paper on Habits of Mind Campaign

 

Many Cerritos College students struggle with learning, and there are several factors that contribute to this phenomenon. A significant number of these factors (unfortunately) are beyond our range of influence. For example, fulltime jobs and family commitments pose real limits on students’ study time and while we can help with services like financial aid, there is very little we can do to mitigate these hurdles. But there are many students at Cerritos that struggle academically because they simply do not have the same set of practices, behaviors, or attitudes that successful students possess. They don’t have the same habits of mind.

Cerritos College recently completed two studies that speak directly to this issue. The two studies independently found that somewhere between 60% and 80% of our students are first generation college students—their parents do not hold bachelor’s degrees. The significance here is that these students come from families that have little or no familiarity with a college environment, not to mention the skills that are needed to succeed in college. These are families that love their children, but struggle when it comes to filling them with the practices, behaviors, and attitudes they need to succeed at Cerritos College. They struggle with this because of basic experiential deficits—they didn’t go to college. In the end, this translates to students sitting in our classrooms with limited awareness of what they need to do to succeed—limited awareness of the habits of mind.

So what are these habits of mind?

Identifying the skills and practices of successful students is not a very difficult process. They are well documented and readily available in a mature body of literature. A group of faculty members working on this project spent a good deal of time in the 2006-07 year reviewing the literature on student success to identify the most common behaviors practiced by successful students. Six core habits emerged from the review.

Note: As you read through the six core habits of mind, please keep in mind that these will seem obvious to you, but they are not obvious to every student.

Focus—Successful students focus on the work to be done. They are academically self-disciplined, spending appropriate amounts of time studying. They come to class on time and prepared. They complete all assignments and turn them in on time. They finish their programs.
Advance—Successful students advance by always improving. They embrace life-long learning. They understand that subject expertise requires a long-term commitment, and commit to ongoing development of thinking skills and learning skills.
Link Up—Successful students link up with the academic community. They get involved. They get to know their professors, study in groups, surrounding themselves with focused students and mentors. They use College resources and programs to help with their learning.
Comprehend—Successful students study for comprehension. They seek to understand course content rather than simply complete requirements. They ask questions to gain understanding, reflect on what they are learning as well as if they are learning.
Organize—Successful students are organized. They plan to succeed. They have an educational goal. They focus on their educational purposes, maintain a specific education plan, and choose classes with an intentional learning purpose in mind.
New Ideas—Successful students embrace new ideas. They are curious, seeking out new perspectives and skills. They transfer concepts to new contexts in order to solve problems. They integrate concepts and knowledge to form a greater personal understanding.
To get a sense of how well these habits are practiced at Cerritos College, we followed up the literature review with a survey distributed to faculty. Administered over the late summer and early fall of 2007, the survey results suggest that all six habits need to be emphasized and taught to our students.

Under the idea of FOCUSING, our faculty members most commonly indicate that between ¼ and ½ of our students are not sufficiently focusing on the work to be done. With regard to ADVANCING, faculty suggest that ½ to ¾ or our students are not sufficiently practicing this habit. With regard to LINKING UP, ½ to ¾ of our students do not appear to be implementing this practice. Approximately ½ to ¾ or our students are not studying for COMPREHENSION. Somewhere between ¼ to ½ of our students are not ORGANIZING around a plan to succeed. And ½ to ¾ are not reaching out to NEW IDEAS with the kind of curiosity that successful student practice.

All of this suggests that we can make a meaningful impact on student learning if we concentrate on raising our students’ basic awareness of what it is they need to do to succeed at Cerritos College. This is something we need to do across the entire student body. There are many factors limiting student success that we cannot mitigate, this is true, but raising student awareness of what they need to do to succeed IS something we can address, and it is something we can address effectively. The habits of mind should NOT be a mystery at Cerritos College.

There are several programs at Cerritos College already that have been addressing these issues for several years. We have dedicated courses and curriculum in study skills. We have learning communities that support the habits of mind. We have resources available through the ASC, LRC and similar services. We have orientations for the college, specific programs and individual courses. We have faculty that incorporate these skills throughout their curriculum. These and others constitute a very strong foundation for teaching the habits of mind. It is a foundation that we can build on, but there are two significant weaknesses in our current approach that we all need to recognize and address.

First, we do not have a coordinated message when it comes to teaching the habits of mind. We teach them in many different ways at Cerritos and this adds a degree of confusion to our approach—a degree of confusion to the student learning process. Having a consistent and coordinated message on this topic is critical.

Second, we are not reaching every student. We know that 60-80% of our students have no awareness of the habits of mind when they enter Cerritos College and we know that 100% of students need to continually work on these habits. Reaching all of our students with a coordinated message on the habits of mind is critical. In fact, that should be a fundamental goal at Cerritos. Every student should know what they need to do to succeed in college. Every student should be aware of the habits of mind. They won’t all chose to use this knowledge, but we should systematically expose every student to the habits of mind, and provide resources to help them further develop these practices.

So, how do we get 24,000 students to be aware of and committed to practicing these skills?

We need to launch and sustain a campaign to end the mystery. With a consistent, focused and coordinated campaign, we can force this issue and raise awareness across the entire student body. Our efforts should:

Adopt a campaign mentality around teaching the habits of mind. Notice that we took license with the habits of mind language deliberately building around a memorable acronym—FALCON.
Expose all students to the habits of mind through a sustained campaign with agreed upon slogans, messages and communications channels. A campaign in which all of us participate—some with substantial roles, some with smaller roles, but all a part of this campaign.
Recast student support services that already touch on these skills around the habits of mind campaign so that our message is consistent.
Develop new student support services if habits or skills are not sufficiently addressed at Cerritos College to fill in the gaps.
Continue and expand our celebration of students that succeed through practicing these skills and habits. Academic Excellence; Commencement; the President’s List; the Dean’s List; Successful Transfers/Job Placements/Alumni—all of these offer opportunities to showcase successful students practicing the habits of mind.
Monitor student success and student learning practices on an annual basis by leveraging ARCC and MIS data as well as our own data mart. Reports should be presented to the college community annually at the State of Education Address. Our habits of mind campaign should be analyzed regularly to address key findings from the annual report and adjusted as needed.  
Assign dedicated management to the implementation of this plan/program.
Infusing the Habits of Mind across the Cerritos College student body is one of the great challenges that we must address. There is no question that these habits lead to student success. There is no question that many or most of our students will benefit from them. We are well positioned—right now—to implement this approach. We have the faculty, the focus, the experience, the infrastructure, etc. Now is the time. If we can find the will and the leadership to do this, we will transform student learning at Cerritos College.


 

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