Dr. Paul Nolting's Academic Success Press Blog: A Publication Dedicated to Math Success
Dr. Paul Nolting's Academic Success Press Blog: A Publication Dedicated to Math Success
As a company that has cut its teeth on promoting the importance of study skills and behavioral characteristics, it should not come as a surprise that we at Academic Success believe that students—particularly those with certain challenges—need to understand how to study before they ever set foot in a college classroom. Most high schools, however, do not prepare students with learning behaviors/study skills, especially in the area of mathematics. This is particularly true for students in developmental math courses.
With this in mind, a couple of years ago, we came across a fascinating article in the Journal of Developmental Education, which used an enlightening study to prove that study behavior is the second most important factor in student retention and success, just behind course placement. Conducted by Kevin Li, Richard Zelenka, Larry Buonaguidi, Robert Beckman, Alex Casillas, Jill Crouse, Jeff Allen, Mary Ann Hanson, Tara Acton, and Steve Robbins, the study followed just over 1,000 students who took developmental math courses between Fall 2008 and Spring 2009 at a school in the Midwest. The group recorded these students’ initial math readiness, course behavior, math knowledge, and course success.
In the end, the study found that students only succeeded in courses for which they were prepared, both in terms of math readiness and behavioral readiness. The group recommended using a model in which “each new student is assessed from both academic and behavioral risk perspectives and subsequently referred to resources for academic and behavioral skill development.” Just as important, the group recommended that institutions avoid using “one-size-fits-all” approaches to developmental courses. Instead, institutions should “take a multifaceted approach to assessing and identifying student academic and behavioral skill gaps, and, in turn, provide resources designed to address these gaps.”
We at Academic Success agree wholeheartedly. For years, Dr. Nolting has travelled the country preaching the importance of motivation, study skills and the ability to understand exactly how and when certain learning challenges affect a student’s capacity to learn and succeed. Additional research has shown teaching developmental and non-developmental students math study skills/learning behaviors during the first half of a math course has improved math success. Recently, Dr. Nolting and others at the AMATYC, NADE and MAA National Math Summits have focused on the need to improve student math learning skills as part of the national redesign movement. Wholesale approaches rarely work for developmental students—or for that matter, students without learning challenges. Each student learns in his or her own unique way. This means that it is incredibly important to work with each and every one of our students either before they reach the classroom or during the first few weeks of the semester in order to assess and compensate for any perceivable hurdles a student may have to jump on his or her way to graduation.
Readiness, Behavior, and Foundational Mathematics Course Success. Li, K., Zelenka, R., Buonaguidi, L., Beckman, R., Casillas, A., Crouse, L., Allen, J., Hanson, M.A., Acton, T., and Robbins, S. Journal of Developmental Education. 14-22.
Welcome back readers! As promised, here is part two of our interview with the founder of the Academic Success Press Blog, Dr. Paul Nolting! Scroll down for Part One; or, if you'd prefer, click here!
ASP Blog: Now that we have discussed the challenges of redesigning math courses, let’s discuss the benefits of these programs. How do these redesigned courses help students?
Dr. Nolting: In the past we had students who only needed calculus or only needed statistics because they were either social science majors or business majors. Some of these students really got caught up in intermediate algebra, and they couldn’t go any further. Because they were stuck taking intermediate algebra four, five, six times, they just stopped and dropped out of school. Now what happens, with these different pathways, students may be able to go right from pre-algebra into quantitative analysis or statistics, which are not algebra-based. This eliminates the major barriers for community college students. My joke is: how do you create a course with a 100 percent pass rate? You don’t have students take it. If they don’t have to take intermediate algebra, they can go on to statistics. Also, research in statistics and finite math shows that those courses have higher pass rates than intermediate algebra and college algebra.
Another positive thing about redesigns is that students with disabilities also used to get caught up in these courses. I’ve had students in these courses with poor abstract reasoning abilities who were not capable of passing intermediate algebra; however, their verbal reasoning skills were excellent. We put those students in statistics and they passed just as well as anyone else.
The negative aspect to this, I mentioned a little bit earlier, is that some states decide what courses students can take based on cutoff scores. One state decided that if you didn’t score a 30 in the bottom of the test, you had to take a remedial course. Another state, I won’t mention its name, eliminated developmental education. So what I’m seeing is that some of the lower-level students may not get to take the math courses they need to be successful. That’s been a concern across the country: whom are we leaving out? In Texas, they are called bubble students. There are several colleges who are helping bubble students rise above the cutoff scores. Otherwise they might not earn their degree.
ASP Blog: Where can students in redesigned math courses find support and help outside of the classroom?
Dr. Nolting: The focus now is on trying to do the best you can inside the classroom, which involves several types of models. But what we are seeing is that some models have limitations that instructors can’t overcome, largely due to state mandates. This means we need to focus more on how to get students outside help.
First, we need to think about learning support centers and math tutorial centers. These centers are now being called on to take on more responsibility to help students who are barely getting into math courses or who decide to take intermediate algebra so that they don’t have to take a placement test. So when we look at these learning support centers, we need to train these tutors to become academic coaches, train the tutors to learn how to assess how to make students better learners, and train the tutors to learn about learning styles and use these styles to fit the needs of individual students. They can also show students various online math programs, math apps, that kind of thing, to help students learn how to solve problems on their own. I’m really getting into training students how to use their cellphones to record the information they learn from their tutors.
The other area involves working together with disabilities services and veteran’s services to help these students become more successful. When students with disabilities get involved in accelerated courses, the system doesn’t always work for them. They need outside resources to succeed. This means that universities and colleges should train their tutors specifically how to work with these students.
ASP Blog: Moving on, can you discuss the current state of online math courses? Are they as popular as they used to be? And how do students typically fare in these courses?
Dr. Nolting: Online math courses, about five years ago, were about the hottest topic around. I did research with several colleges, and every college we went to, their online math courses always had lower pass rates than traditional classroom courses. The exceptions were at colleges like Valencia College, where Fitzroy Farqhueson created courses with built-in Web-support. In these courses, students actually passed at higher rates than did students in traditional classrooms.
After a while, online courses kind of faded out. Now that the redesign movement is in full cycle, they are starting to come back. In fact, what’s happening at some institutions is that if students can’t get through the modular or accelerated courses, their only options are online. I see these students heading in this direction without proper preparation. Our research indicates that students do have the computer skills to be successful, but what they don’t have is the organizational skills. They procrastinate, and they don’t have proper study skills. To take a course online is to become an independent learner. What we have to do is teach students better study skills and strategies. So I see a focus going back online in the next several years.
Fitzroy and I actually just developed an online program, eMathready.com, which helps student prepare for online courses. It’s not a math program, per say. It is a program to help students with study skills, organization, anxiety, and other topics. It helps them understand different learning modalities as well.
ASP Blog: Finally, I wanted to ask you a bit about working with students with disabilities. You have worked with these students for decades now. I’m curious how things have changed over the years.
Dr. Nolting: Sure! The truth is, we have more and more students with disabilities come on campus every year. There are two groups coming on most rapidly. First, we have students with traumatic brain injuries or other students with short-term memory problems. Second, we have students with ADHD. What’s happening with them is that they are pretty smart, but they don’t have the ability to actually sit in a modular course. The hyperactivity part of ADHD makes these students want to move around, or it causes their minds wander. Some of these students really struggle in modular courses where they are sitting in a classroom by themselves. So what we’re trying to do is help them understand study skills, and specifically how their disabilities affect their ability to learn.
I recently wrote a book, My Math Success Plan, which is for students with disabilities and for Wounded Warriors. That text talks about study skills, but also focuses on how disabilities affect math. That is what we are missing. A lot of tutors and math instructors have a hard time explaining how various disabilities affect learning. For instance, if a student has a visual processing disorder, they read more slowly than other students. Or if you have an abstract reasoning issue, and you find that you work best with manipulatives, tutors aren’t able to explain this to students. So what we did in that workbook is teach students study skills, teach students how their disabilities affect math, then we taught them how to create a plan. This is like an IEP plan or a mission plan for veterans. It walks them through a math study skills evaluation then addresses specific learning strategies that might compensate for any weak points in their learning.
That’s our challenge: how to help these students become more successful!
As many in the field of developmental education likely already know, psychologist Benjamin Bloom first published his famous “Taxonomy of Educational Objectives” in 1956. Within this incredibly important document (and its subsequent revisions), Bloom, among many other achievements, deconstructed the importance of learning variables and assigned them value-based percentages, which created a hierarchy of sorts for the factors involved in the learning process. According to Bloom, the major variables that contribute to academic success are: IQ and cognitive entry skills (50%), quality of instruction (25%) and student affective characteristics (25%).
For years, we at Academic Success have used these percentages in our books and multimedia. For now, they remain the standard in educational psychology. According to a new study, however, Bloom may have greatly underestimated the role of one of these variables, at least as it pertains to developmental math courses. In a study conducted in 2013, Zientek, Ozel, Fong and Griffin (2013) indicated that affective variables contribute to 41% of developmental math grade variance.
According to the aforementioned authors, the following variables, among others, add up to account for over 41% of grade variance for students in developmental math courses: attendance, beliefs in resource management strategies, beliefs in motivational strategies, repeating a mathematics course, beliefs in self-regulated learning, students’ interpretations of how often teachers explained to student what will happen if they do not complete their homework, and beliefs in meeting others’ expectations.
This study provides hard data for what many of us already know through our first hand experiences with students: study skills, self-efficacy and persistence are what ultimately tip the scales for students teetering on the edge of failure. This is especially true for students in non-traditional and online courses, which require students to become better independent learners.
For more information on this subject—particularly the other nine variables the authors used to determine their percentages, please see:
Zientek, L. R. , Ozel, Z. E. Y, Fong, C. J. & Griffin, M. (2013). Student Success in developmental mathematics courses. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 17, 990-1010.
Welcome to the Academic Success Press Blog! Part One of a Two-Part Interview with Learning Specialist Dr. Paul Nolting
Hello! Welcome to the brand new Academic Success Press blog! Academic Success Press, Inc., is dedicated to making the classroom, modular, and emporium model learning experiences less difficult, while improving student learning. We want to transform the classroom into a more successful environment where educators and students can use inventive learning techniques based on sound academic research.
Created by Dr. Paul Nolting, a national-expert on math study skills and learning disabilities, the Academic Success Press blog will focus on myriad issues, including: improving math success, learning disabilities, study skills, affective characteristics, helping Wounded Warriors, and many more. In the immediate future, we plan to pay particular attention to the developmental math course redesign movement.
With this in mind, we thought we’d begin with a two-part interview with the man himself.
Dr. Nolting was kind enough to get the ball rolling by answering a series of questions about what he plans to accomplish with this blog. He also answered questions regarding current trends in the world of collegiate mathematics. Feel free to return next Monday, when we’ll run the second section of the interview, which focuses predominately on disabilities, online math courses and outside-of-the-classroom support services.
Check back Wednesday (April 15) for the rest of this interview! In the meantime, check out our other posts, which will be updated at least twice a week.
ASP Blog: Good morning Dr. Nolting! I’ll start with the most obvious question: Why did you create this blog, and what are your plans for it in the near and distant future?
Dr. Nolting: Mainly, I wanted to give instructors resources that might help their students become more successful. [On this blog] we’re going to talk about different issues such as math redesign, disability issues, and how to help students become more successful through tutoring. It’s going to be an informational process. We’re going to have certain experts come on and talk about different topics: tutor training, improving math success, working with students with test anxiety, disabilities, etc. Hopefully readers can take this knowledge and apply it to their own classrooms.
ASP Blog: With all of that in mind, are there any trends within the world of mathematics and developmental learning you want to focus on specifically?
Dr. Nolting: The biggest thing right now is that many states have mandated redesigns for developmental math courses. Universities and colleges are already in the middle of these redesigns, even in states that have not mandated changes. They are looking at different ways to improve course success. When we look at the redesigns themselves—there are many different types—we have a lot of students that are having a hard time keeping up. Many universities and colleges have reached out to me to help with the redesigns because some students are doing better than others in these courses. That’s another major part of this blog: how to make redesigns more effective. We’ll specifically look at ways to supplement redesign efforts to make students more successful.
ASP Blog: Great! For the uninitiated, do you mind explaining exactly what these “redesign movements” entail? If I’ve done my homework correctly, they seem to focus on developmental math, no?
Dr. Nolting: Exactly. Redesigns involve having students get through developmental math courses faster, or they are designed to eliminate developmental courses all together. [Before the redesign movement] some students were required to pass two or three math courses before they could take credited math courses. This sometimes caused problems for students and colleges alike.
The other issue is that in non-algebra courses like finite math, students really didn’t need intermediate algebra to be successful. So if we could streamline the process and have students go directly from pre-algebra courses into these non-algebra courses, this eliminates developmental courses. The same thing was true with statistics courses. A lot of people were requiring college algebra for statistics courses. Florida, for instance required intermediate algebra courses for statistics. We found out that these statistics courses mostly involved learning concepts unique to the subject. So states such as California are now going straight from pre-algebra to statistics. So the big picture is fewer students taking developmental courses and more students getting into the math sequence for graduation.
ASP Blog: Right. A lot of these issues came up at the National Math Summit you co-chaired, correct? Can you tell me a little bit about this summit, maybe how it came about and what it ultimately accomplished?
Dr. Nolting: The National Math Summit came about in 2013, because instructors associated with NADE and AMAYTC and MAA felt that universities needed help finding success with redesigns. Many states were requiring these redesigns, and presidents of universities were coming down and telling math departments to change the system to make it more successful; however, they weren’t telling them how to change the system. Instructors did not have the input to give to the administration on how to become more successful with the redesign. So the math instructors who were a part of these organizations came to their officers and said that they wanted to have some sort of training. About five years ago, I worked with Hunter Boylan, who is the head of the National Center for Developmental Education. We talked about how to do a math summit. At that time, we had somebody ready to help us out, but that didn’t work out. Then I approached AMAYTC, and they were kind enough to host the first summit.
That first National Math Summit, we gathered all the national math experts in the area—from the Carnegie Foundation, the Dana Center, from NADE from AMAYTC, myself—and hosted a panel. We brought in 150 people to have experts explain to instructors the best way to go about redesigns. We developed plans of action. So now the instructors could go back to their presidents and say, “I’ve listened to the national experts on the subject, and we want to change the system to make it more successful.” Over the next couple years, we had another summit at AMAYTC, and two more at NADE. The idea again was to support instructors.
We’re having another one in 2016 at NADE. This one is going to be more about evaluating the results of the math redesigns. Currently, we are into these redesigns and there is not much research on how it is going. I’m particularly interested in figuring out what type of redesign works best with what type of math student.
ASP Blog: And what about these students themselves? What, exactly, do students need to do to become more successful in these redesigned, streamlined courses?
Dr. Nolting: We discussed this at length at the National Math Summits. We soon isolated a common theme: a lot of the redesigns made students learn math faster, more independently, and more on computer based systems. What this added up to was that students must become better independent learners. In fact, four of the six national panelists indicated that making students become better independent learners was the main focus of these redesigns. You may not be able to change the curriculum, but you can change the student’s ability to learn.
This involves teaching math study skills, not only in the math classroom, but also in the emporium model, in modular systems, and also in accelerated courses. Accelerated classes move twice as fast as regular math courses. They cover the same amount of material in eights weeks that most courses cover in 16, which is saying something because college courses move three or four times faster than high school courses. That’s one of the major themes. How do you make a student a better learner? And how do you construct redesigns to meet the needs of different types of students.
ASP Blog: What is the best redesign program? And which of them concerns you the most?
Dr. Nolting: What we’re finding out is that there isn’t one particular program that works best for everybody. In fact, the research says that colleges and universities should have at least two or three different designs for students because we have different types of student populations. Often what happens is that when students are going into say an intermediate algebra class in Texas, using different types of designs will better the chances that different types of students can find the courses that best match their learning profiles. Now, saying all that, in doing my consulting, I found that strict modular systems—where students work on their own in front of a computer with paper and pencil, usually with one instructor or tutor—got the least amount of results. This model is the one I’ve been ask to consult about the most. With those, you can still be successful, but you really need to do what we call “pull outs” where you pull students out for mini-lectures. This allows you to integrate math study skills and group work. Because what we know is that students learn in radically different ways. They have multiple learning styles.
One of the better designs I’ve seen is the co-requisite design in that you actually have a course attached to a course. In other words, if you have an accelerated eight-week math course and you attach a study skills course, which probably lasts about five weeks, they can use these skills immediately. A lot of colleges are going to this model because it is much more successful. The Dana Center, out of the University of Texas, recommends that your first math course should involve a co-requisite course on studying and learning. This makes it easier for students. We understand now that a lot of the variance with students and their grades depends on their motivation.
Dr. Nolting is a national expert in assessing math learning problems, developing effective student learning strategies, assessing institutional variables that affect math success and math study skills. He is also an expert in helping students with disabilities and Wounded Warriors become successful in math. He now assists colleges and universities in redesigning their math courses to meet new curriculum requirements. He is the author of two math study skills texts: Winning at Math and My Math Success Plan.
American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges presenter, Senior Lecturer-Modular