Book Seeks to Teach Students
How to Succeed in College
Posted October 14, 2002
HOLLAND -- 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
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
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
"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
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