How to Create Passion around Study Skills

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“I am passionate about study skills, and I bet you’re wondering how that’s possible…”

 I always start my classes this way and most students either laugh out loud or look at me in disbelief. Then I explain that I am passionate about study skills because they saved me. I struggled mightily my first and second years of college, especially in Economics, and I was close to failing. I was struggling in other classes, too, including a Science requirement. It was the first time I had ever seen my grades so low and I hid by not telling a soul. But a teaching assistant who really cared noticed that my tireless efforts didn’t mesh with my grades. He told me that I wasn’t stupid, I just hadn’t been taught how to manage college level work. I needed study skills support.

 He was right, and I got help from my college’s academic resource center. I learned how to change my old habits, which ultimately changed my life. I finally felt like I could “do” college; that I wasn’t the mistake. Over time I learned there were “college ways” to becoming a true critical thinker that meant I studied more deeply, wrote papers more analytically, debated more effectively, and simply learned a whole lot more.

 So yes, I am passionate about study skills, but it can be difficult to instill this passion in students. And I get it. Study skills topics like time management, setting goals, critical thinking, taking notes, test taking, etc., are simply not thrilling. Many students think they already have study skills so they don’t see the point in a class dedicated to them. On top of it, study skills are very personal in that we all have individual learning styles and preferences so there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach.

 Which gets me to the real reason I’m writing this blog post: to share a number of approaches that instructors can take when teaching study skills. I believe there are opportunities to meaningfully engage students in study skills topics if self-reflection and personalization are built into the curriculum. When the topics start mattering to students, they are more likely to walk away interested, willing, and able participants. But, it is very hard to “teach” study skills because they are so personal and individual.

 And this is how the Instructor’s Manual for  The Pocket Guide to College Success  came about. It was developed as a way to offer very specific tools for instructors to consider as they plan for each class, with the goal of actually engaging students and helping them find their own “passion” for the topics. You’ll see that the Instructor’s Manual is filled with ideas focused on individuself-reflection through journal writing, small and large group discussions (starting with small group discussion channels, which can be more meaningful than large group discussions), relevant guest speakers, hands-on activities, and online videos and discussion boards.

 In reality, there are probably too many ideas in this manual. It’s not possible to use every activity or suggestion and I honestly have not been able to use every single one in my own teaching. But, I always revisit the manual when I am preparing for each class because I know I must use a variety of strategies to keep the students engaged in the topic at hand. I have a pattern of always including time for written self-reflection, asking students to share with one or two others about their personal experiences, and providing opportunities for those willing to open up to the larger group. I try to talk less and listen more. And ideally, I dedicate at least ten or more minutes for students to apply the study skills to the academic work they are currently engaged in. It’s a lot to fit in, but I hope it means I am making the material accessible to all students given the variety of learning preferences represented in each class.

 Authenticity also matters. It’s important to be real about your own experiences if they are relevant. If that’s not possible, I try to bring in “experts” who can speak more deeply about the focus of class and personalize the material, especially experienced peers who have truly been there. I don’t sugarcoat the often challenging and difficult parts of college, especially since my students come from academically disadvantaged backgrounds. The more honest I can be, the more likely students will be honest about their own struggles. And that is such an important opening because the information now matters to them. They then become more willing to make the effort to try out new study skills strategies that can really help them tackle and overcome their college obstacles.

 I don’t ever promise that students will suddenly become passionate about study skills. But I do promise that if they actually take study skills seriously, they will increase their chances of true learning and engagement in those college subjects they are passionate about! And that means more personal growth and college success!

The Pocket Guide to College Success provides straightforward and easily consumable coverage on all the topics typically found in a full-size College Success text in a handy, affordable, highly-customizable format. For more information on the Pocket Guide, please go to

About the Author
Jamie H. Shushan is Associate Director of the Crimson Summer Academy (CSA) at Harvard University where she works to increase access to higher education for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and helps them succeed once they arrive on campus. In her work at CSA and beyond, she teaches numerous classes focused on college success, engages students in career exploration fieldwork, and serves as an advisor and advocate for students at colleges and universities throughout the United States. Jamie earned her Master’s degree in Higher Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2006, where she served as an academic and residential advisor for first-year students and worked at the Office of Career Services, participating in counseling, student outreach, and program development. Before joining the Crimson Summer Academy, she worked with the Associate Vice President for Higher Education in the Office of the President, assisting with a number of presidential initiatives and priorities including the creation of the CSA.