Mid-semester interventions are designed specifically for students in the early stages of the learning process when they still have time to improve their academic performance. At this point in the semester, instructors have a) assessed student learning in multiple ways and b) had multiple opportunities to provide students with instructive feedback. The following guide provides instructors with resources to point struggling students towards specific resources and actions they can take to make progress in their learning. For long-term, future planning, this guide offers suggestions for supporting students from the start of the course.
Why are instructors critical for mid-semester interventions?
Instructors help personalize disciplinary content and the overall college experience. The relationships that instructors build with their students are key to student success. In addition to the instructor, UC Merced has myriad programs and workshops to assist students in need of academic support. When used early in the learning process, these programmatic supports are known to boost self-efficacy and student success (Kitchen et al. 2021). However, without instructor buy-in and referrals, many students may miss out on these strategic opportunities to improve their performance early in the learning process (Cambridge, 2005, p. 2).
What are evidence-based strategies for successful interventions?
When developing strategies for intervention at the mid-semester point, be sure to include your entire teaching team (e.g., teaching assistants, learning, assistants, co-instructors, etc.) in the process. Develop an expectation for the protocol together.
- Create multiple opportunities for self-reflection and assessment (Kitchen et al., 2021)
- Share information about learning progression and growth mindset (Dweck 2016).
- Provide multiple low-stakes, performance-based assessments early on.
- Offer emotional and interpersonal support (Kitchen et al., 2021)
- Connect with students directly (office hours, direct email, etc.).
- In large classes, TAs could be the first point of contact and should notice when students are slipping on early assignments. See template language for the first point of contact.
- Personalize the interaction as much as possible.
- Demonstrate genuine care and concern (Winfield 2018).
- For small classes, one-on-one in-person interactions are best.
- In large classes, a personal message is recommended. See template language for examples.
- Center discussions with students around adaptability and growth (Boretz 2012).
- Continually remind students that learning is a process and is unique for everyone (Ambrose et al., 2002). Avoid deficit language. State things in the positive; say what you want not what you don’t want.
- Be prepared for all possible reactions. Students react differently when being offered support or help.
- Connect with students directly (office hours, direct email, etc.).
- Remind students of your availability.
- Proactive planning and instrumental guidance (Kitchen et al., 2021)
- Point them towards the resources they need. See UC Merced resources https://success.ucmerced.edu/mid-semester-grades
- Keep discussions focused on specific actions, tasks, or strategies for approaching their learning.
- Ambrose, Susan A., et al. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. John Wiley & Sons.
- Boretz, Elizabeth. (2012). Midsemester academic interventions in a student-centered research university. Journal of College Reading and Learning. 42.2: 90-108.
- Cambridge, B. L. (2005). Promoting student success: What new faculty need to know (NSSE DEEP Report, Occasional Paper No. 12). Retrieved from http://nsse.indiana.edu/institute/
- Dweck, Carol. (2016). What having a “growth mindset” actually means. Harvard Business Review. 13: 213-226.
- Kitchen, Joseph Allen, et al. (2021). The impact of a college transition program proactive advising intervention on self-efficacy. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. 58.1: 29-43.
- Winfield, J.K. (2018). The Art of Intervention: Partnering with Faculty for Early Academic Alert. Academic Advising Today: 41(4). Retrieved at https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/T...
As part of our commitment to helping students progress successfully through their programs at UC Merced, we want to acknowledge that students entering college for the first time face new intellectual demands while also contending with complex social, emotional, and practical life changes. For first-generation, low-income, and students of color, the challenges can be even more complex and intertwined. What we have come to understand through educational research is that success in school depends on one's ability to
- exercise executive function strategies (e.g., organization, time management, task initiation, planning and prioritization, impulse control, and self-assessment) and
- develop into self-regulated learners (i.e., set personal goals, select and implement strategies to achieve those goals, and monitor progress).
Research suggests that few students are fully self-regulated when they enter college; however, those with better executive function and self-regulation skills generally learn more with less effort and report higher levels of academic satisfaction (Schraw, et al., 2006).
Educators are often surprised when students who did well in high school (i.e., performed well enough to be accepted into a research university) begin to flounder in their college classes. But this is not uncommon. For example, for Student A, exam preparation strategies that were sufficient in high school (e.g., rote memorization of facts and definitions) have proven to be insufficient for the cognitive demands of his university course. For Student B, writing that was once valued in the high school English class fails to meet the level of sophistication and disciplinary style (e.g., history or sociology) expected at her university. Most troubling, however, is that the students themselves do not even recognize the shortcomings in their strategies, and without targeted interventions, will fail to develop new ones.
The Role of Students' Thinking
While the specific experiences of both Student A and B were different, the similarity is their shortcomings in metacognition. Metacognition refers to the processes of reflecting on and directing one’s own thinking. Both Students A and B have trouble accurately assessing their own learning and performance, and as a result, fail to adapt their approaches to meet the new demands. “To be a successful self-directed (also called “self-regulated” or “lifelong”) learner, students must be able to
- assess the demands of the task, taking into consideration of the task’s goals and constraints,
- evaluate their own knowledge and skills, identifying strengths and weaknesses,
- plan their approach in a way that accounts for the current situation,
- apply various strategies to enact their plan, monitoring their progress, along the way, and
- reflect on the degree to which their plan is working so that they can adjust strategies as needed” (Ambrose, et al., 2010).
A Couple of Facts About Learners:
Compared to high school, college students take on more complex tasks and have greater responsibility for their own learning.
Students’ beliefs about intelligence and learning can have a powerful impact on metacognitive processes. Those with a fixed mindset believe they have to work with what they were given at birth. They believe there is little, if anything, they can do to improve their academic progress. Students with a growth mindset believe that intelligence is fluid and that with more effort and effective strategies they can improve their learning and intelligence. Carol Dweck argues that having a growth mindset is essential for success (see growth vs. fixed mindset).
As a faculty member, it is critical to identify students who are struggling and/or those who might benefit from additional support early in the semester. Certainly, it is better to identify these students BEFORE mid-semester grades reveal some students are failing (or near failing) the class. The following are suggestions for how you might intervene early and support student success.
One of the most effective vehicles for monitoring one's progress in a course is learning to use assessment feedback to evaluate one's strengths and implement effective strategies to address one's weaknesses. As such, the earlier students receive critical feedback on their performance and are directed to useful resources, the more likely they will be able to adjust their academic strategies and behaviors.
Assessing the Task at Hand:
Even when they have read an assignment, students can easily misjudge what needs to be done for the task at hand. Students may need to learn how to assess what it takes to complete a task and practice doing so until it becomes part of their "planning." You may want to model this with the class for the first assignment.
- Be more explicit than you may think necessary
- Tell students what you do not want
- Check students' understanding of the task
- Provide performance criteria with the assignment (e.g., rubric). Build rubrics for the purpose of learning progression that addresses what students can do to develop their learning.
- Adopt learner-centric language in rubrics (e.g., swap “low performer” for “early performer”).
- For writing assignments consider rubrics that respond to student needs (e.g., HyperRubrics)
Evaluating One's Strengths and Weaknesses:
Even if a student can determine what needs to be done to complete an assignment adequately, there is still the question of how well they are prepared to meet the demands of the assignment. People, in general, are not great judges of their strengths and weaknesses, and students appear to be especially poor judges of their knowledge and skills. Research has found that most students overestimate their abilities relative to their performance - and students with weaker knowledge and skills have a harder time assessing their abilities than students with stronger skills. Often, students underestimate how long it will take to complete an assignment, as well as the additional help and/or resources they will need to adequately complete the task (Ambrose, et al., 2010).
- Give early low-stakes (e.g., surveys, quizzes, homework, etc.), performance-based assessments (provides early feedback)
- Provide opportunities for self-assessment (e.g., practice with a rubric)
Planning an Appropriate Approach:
If assessing task difficulty and one’s own abilities is challenging for students, then it makes sense that planning adequately for a task will also be challenging. Often students don't allocate enough time for a given task or the plan they outline is not well matched to the demands of the task (e.g., inappropriate strategies). Research indicates that students tend to spend too little time (if any) in the planning stage, typically jumping right into the task.
- Early in the semester, provide a plan for students to implement (especially if it is a complex or multidimensional assignment/task). Include a timeline for deliverables, suggested strategies, and potential outside resources. While this does not teach them to plan, it will help them think through the planning stages.
- Make planning a central part of the assignment (with points for the plan). Have students submit their plan for completing a complex assignment (e.g., paper or project).
Applying Strategies and Monitoring Performance:
Once a plan is in place, strategies are selected, and students put the plan into motion, they need to monitor their performance. Students need to stop periodically and ask themselves, "Is this strategy/approach working or might another one be more successful?
Researchers have found that students who practice self-monitoring and elaboration (i.e., they stop and try to explain to themselves what they are learning along the way) generally show greater learning gains than those who engage less in self-monitoring and self-explanation activities. Autonomy-supportive teaching fosters student motivation (Cheon & Reeve, 2015; Reeve 2016).
- Adopt autonomy-supportive teaching:
- Take the students’ perspective.
- Vitalize inner motivational resources.
- Provide explanatory rationales.
- Acknowledge and accept negative affect.
- Rely on informational and non-pressuring language.
- Display patience.
- Provide students with guiding questions, such as “Is this a reasonable answer given the problem?” or “What assumptions am I making here, and to what extent are they appropriate for cross-cultural analysis?”
- Have students do guided self-assessments – using a set of criteria that you provide (e.g., a grading rubric). You might also share annotated samples of student work, in which high quality and inadequate work are highlighted, before students complete the self-assessment.
- Use peer review: Using the same scoring rubric the instructor/TA will use, have students analyze and comment on a peer's work. This could also be an assignment given to each student -- review and annotate your own work.
Reflecting and Adjusting One's Approach:
According to the National Research Council, good problem solvers will implement new strategies if the current strategy(s) are not working, while poor problem solvers will continue to use a strategy even after it has failed (e.g., how they study/prepare for an exam). Students assess the cost of adjusting their approach and will avoid adopting newly learned strategies unless the perceived benefits clearly outweigh the costs associated with making the change (i.e., investment of time and effort).
- Provide activities that require students to reflect on their own performances.
- Have students analyze the effectiveness of their study skills after receiving the first exam/quiz back (e.g., exam wrappers). Collect their responses and pass them out before the next exam/quiz.
- Create assignments that focus on strategizing rather than implementation. For example, have students propose a range of potential strategies and predict their advantages and disadvantages rather than choosing one and carrying through with it.
The research presented above implies that many of our students will need our support to learn, refine, and effectively apply basic metacognitive (i.e., executive function and self-regulation) skills. As instructors, we must consider the advantages these skills can offer students even after they leave the university, and then, as appropriate, make the development of metacognition skills part of the course goals/learning outcomes.
Consider incorporating the following self-analysis assignment into your course as a low-stakes assessment. Doing this early on in the course, or even multiple times can change the trajectory of a student’s progress.
As you progress through this course, it is important to maintain a growth mindset and reflect on your learning process. Answer the following questions and try to incorporate your responses into your daily activities: What is not supporting your learning that you would like to stop doing? What would you like to start doing to support your learning? What is working that would like to continue?
Needs some help with writing emails to students? Download this template on intervention emails and strategies to automate emailing in large classes through Canvas.
- Ambrose, S. A, Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., & Norman, M.K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
- Cheon, Sung Hyeon, and Johnmarshall Reeve. (2015). A classroom-based intervention to help teachers decrease students’ amotivation. Contemporary educational psychology. 40: 99-111.
- Pintrich, P.R. (2000). The role of goal orientation in self-regulated learning. In M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich, & M. Zeider (Eds.). Handbook of self-regulation (pp. 451-502). San Diego Academic Press.
- Reeve, Johnmarshall. (2016) Autonomy-supportive teaching: What it is, how to do it. Building autonomous learners. Springer, Singapore. 129-152.
- Zimmerman, B. J. (2001). Theories of self-regulated learning and academic achievement: An overview and analysis. In B. J. Zimmerman & D. H. Schunk (Eds.), Self-regulated learning and academic achievement (2nd ed., pp.1-38). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.