posted October 14, 2002

Book Teaches Strategies for College Success

When it comes to helping students succeed in college, Dr. Scott VanderStoep of the Hope College faculty wrote the book.

VanderStoep is co-author, with Dr. Paul R. Pintrich of the University of Michigan, of "Learning to Learn: The Skill and Will of College Success," published by Prentice Hall. The book has one goal: to help students learn how to learn.

"The research in psychology says a lot about how students can do better in college," said VanderStoep, an associate professor of psychology whose research interest is in college student learning.

"The lesson is, you can improve your skills and you can improve your motivation," he said. "It's not something you're born with, and it's not something that you have to resolve yourself to live with in a fatalistic way."

The book presents a variety of suggestions for improving cognitive strategies, the "skill" of the title, and motivation, or "will."

The discussion of "skill" improvement, for example, includes improving cognitive strategies. "Certain techniques... form the foundation of completing college work well," the authors write. The authors describe four cognitive strategies--rehearsal, organization, elaboration and metacognition--and ways to improve them. Moreover, different courses and professors will require students to use combinations of the strategies to do well, and the book challenges students to adapt the strategies to particular course needs.

The suggestions for improving "will" include focusing on qualities that can be changed. In considering failure, VanderStoep and Pintrich note, "Believing you're not smart is not helpful. In contrast, attributing a failure to lack of effort is more useful, because you can control effort. You can work harder next time and expect to do better."

The authors emphasize "learning strategies" rather than "learning styles" in keeping with their focus on the things that students can do to improve themselves academically. Conversely, VanderStoep noted, for a student simply to identify himself or herself as a "visual learner" won't prove helpful in situations that require different skills.

"We like the term 'strategy' because it implies adaptability," VanderStoep said. "The issue is, you are a student in a particular time and place, and you've got to deal with the demands at hand."

In presenting an overview of issues related to learning strategies and motivation instead of a recipe approach, VanderStoep noted that he hopes to help a range of students, people whose skill and will levels vary. While study-skills books can take many forms, the authors emphasize academics--as opposed to, for example, emphasizing relationships or personal adjustment--because of academic work's central significance.

"If you're doing well in school, you've done a lot to adjust to college," VanderStoep said.

The book was written with college courses in mind, particularly courses in learning strategies and study skills, and first-year experience courses. VanderStoep also hopes that the book, written with activities designed to help students assess where they are currently as they seek to improve, will be useful to students working independently as well.

VanderStoep's interest in college student learning developed while he was a graduate student working with Dr. Wilbert J. (Bill) McKeachie at the University of Michigan. Pintrich had also been mentored by McKeachie during his post-doctoral studies, and then as a faculty member at Michigan was a member of VanderStoep's dissertation committee. They dedicated the book to McKeachie.

VanderStoep graduated from Hope in 1987 with a major in psychology. He completed his master's degree in social psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign in 1989, and his doctorate in psychology and education at the University of Michigan in 1992.

He has been an associate professor of psychology and director of the Carl Frost Center for Social Science Research at Hope since 1999. He was also a visiting member of the Hope psychology faculty from 1992 to 1994.

From 1996 to 1999, VanderStoep was an assistant professor of psychology at Calvin College. He was a member of the psychology faculty at Northwestern College from 1994 to 1996.