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Effective academic and personal skills are not inborn; they are something one can work on and develop through practice and reflection. Taking the Personal Skills module significantly aided my personal and academic development in that it helped me identify key gaps in my skills portfolio and develop effective strategies and techniques to address key areas of weaknesses. This ability is crucial not only for academic performance, but is also highly valued in the workplace, as knowing how to turn weaknesses into strengths and further improve them is of utmost importance to the constant learning process. Calling upon personal experience and using insights from the emerging literature on skills development I will attempt to critically assess my academic performance so far, discuss strategies that will potentially improve my skills and set goals to work towards. First, I will draw attention to one of my key strengths – academic writing in relationship to constructive feedback; then, I will analyze my experience with teamwork and finally, I will discuss a framework for maximising individual performance capacity.
From my perspective, reflecting on your own performance is the best way to identify learning strategies that will work best for you, develop effective work habits and become an independent learner. A good starting point in reflecting on my personal academic performance and skills development would be to outline one of my key strengths, which I have identified through feedback from markers and self-evaluation, namely critical analysis and its application to academic writing. When I entered university I was faced with the challenge to further develop my critical approach to working on assignments by utilising academic writing conventions and developing an effective procedure for writing essays. University essays don’t require only originality of thought; what is highly valued is the ability to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the subject through making use of key texts, articles or studies in your subject area, drawing on academic works of current experts in the field and challenging the ideas, concepts and theories you have learned.
My acknowledgement of this fact is at the heart of the procedure and strategies I have developed for writing essays and assignments. Particularly relevant to my approach are Elbow’s two complementary ways of thinking which I use in different stages of structuring and revising my academic essays. Peter Elbow (1983) calls these ways of thinking first order and second order thinking and argues that a good thinker utilizes both and judging from my personal experience with academic writing I supports his viewpoint. According to Elbow, first order thinking does not strive for conscious control or direction; it is rather intuitive and creative and it is essential to recognise its key strength while working on assignments – in many cases it brings out people’s best and most creative writing.
The second order thinking does not contradict with the first one; on the contrary, it complements it. It highlights the importance of reasoning, accuracy and control and is quite often perceived as “critical thinking”. My self-observation suggests that I usually utilise first order thinking for first draft exploratory writing in order to come up with a fresh point of view and form conceptual insights that are remarkably shrewd. Then I aim at developing my initial ideas through critical thinking, looking into relevant theories and concepts, evaluating their accuracy and then trying to challenge or support them, depending on the understanding I had gained and my personal opinion. Drawing on my personal experience with using both ways of thinking while working on an assignment I would argue that employing this kind of reasoned reflective thinking in combination with the intuitive one results in significant improvement of my academic performance.
In particular, over my time spent at university so far, my goal in terms of academic writing has been to further develop my second order critical thinking and make better use of it. As a result of my efforts and the constructive feedback I got from my first university essay, the second piece of work I produced was better thought out and more reasonable, which was evident from the score of 85% I received. In order to further support my academic development, I have identified a core strategy as to making constructive use of feedback from tutors. Authors like S. Quinton(2010) recognise the value of the relationship between reflection and feedback:”Feedback on written work can be used as a vehicle for reflection“. Therefore, the strategy that will potentially aid me in further improving my critical writing is to constructively go through the feedback I receive after each written assignment and list my tutor’s comments under “Major issues” and “Minor issues”(Cottrell, 1999).
Moreover, building the habit to compare my feedbacks from previous works will not only help he identify gaps in skills portfolio, but also keep track of my progress. Drawing from research on the effects of reflection combined with feedback on self-regulated learning (van den Boom, 2007) and my personal experience it is safe to conclude that the practical value of the combination of reflection and tutor feedback is a promising means to improve academic performance. Since I joined university I didn’t only have to respond to issues and challenges presented by the program in terms of my individual performance, but also had to engage in teamwork and gain first-hand experience of being a member of a group working towards a common goal. We had the opportunity to test out our group and teamwork skills, identify our individual shortcomings as well as our weaknesses as a group and work towards producing an outstanding piece of work.
While working on the task, I took advantage of the opportunity to reflect upon my interpersonal and communication skills. M. Bambacas and M. Patrickson (2008, p.52) argue that “Interpersonal communication explains “the means” by which organisational activities, such as managing, controlling, planning, and leading are delivered”. This area of interpersonal communication has also been explored by Hunsaker and Alessandra (1986), who had identified four Interpersonal Styles underlain by the degree of responsiveness and assertiveness each one of them suggests. Having reflected on my involvement in the group work, I came to the conclusion that I use the Analytical Interpersonal Style, which is characterised by self-actualisation and security, cautious actions and decisions, low degree of responsiveness and assertiveness.
One of its key weaknesses, however, is that it is associated with unwillingness of involvement with other group members and focus on autonomous work. From my viewpoint, a practical strategy or technique for dealing with this problem is to start building up from a small base by getting to know other group members better to feel more at ease and to make a decision to speak at least once during the meeting (Cottrell, 1999, p.97). Furthermore, drawing on my experience with teamwork, one of the major risks for unsatisfactory performance I had identified in groups and teams is not realising that different individuals have different interpersonal styles with both their weaknesses and strengths. Therefore, it is essential to make an effort to get to know your team members individually, to appreciate their strengths and to show respect for other people’s ideas which leads to real teamwork. Finally, study skills are acquired through trial and error, they evolve through practice, feedback and reflection as one moves through different stages of one’s course.
However, no matter the stage of the learning process, considerable attention should be paid to a straightforward but insightful framework for maximising individual performance capacity, namely the equation: Performance = Ability x Support x Effort (Shermerhorn, 2004, p.49). Even though this model is aimed at human capital at organisations, it can also be related to academic performance. According to Shermerhon, ability is the capacity to perform through job-relevant knowledge and skills. At university students acquire this ability through covering the relevant academic material and taking advantage of the educational opportunities the university gives them. The second variable in the equation – support- is associated with the opportunity to perform in an environment that stimulates and supports one’s application of job-relevant capabilities to one’s work. In terms of university education, making use of lecturers’ and tutors’ help and the university resources would provide one with this kind of “support”. Last, the willingness to perform, to do well, is displayed by effort.
This means that university students should always try to reflect on their personal and academic skills, identify areas of strength and areas that should be improved and develop strategies and techniques to improve overall performance. From my perspective, a good strategy for a student to achieve high and persistent performance results and to manage his/her own skills development is to keep those factors in mind and try to maximise them. In conclusion, the recognition that university students are given a great deal more responsibility for their own success than they have experienced before can be disturbing to some in that some might feel that their study lacks structure, which is generally considered a fault.
However, it is of great importance to realise that this can also be an advantage because of the freedom to study in ways that suit the individual. Putting time aside to reflect on my study habits helped me recognise areas where I can improve, identify strategies that work for me or are worth a try, set goals to work towards and keep track of my progress. After being a university student for almost an year, I can safely conclude that through self-reflection and constructive feedback I significantly improved my academic and personal skills and am a step closer to becoming an autonomous learner.
Bambacas, M., Patrickson, M., (2008), “Interpersonal communication skills that enhance organisational commitment”, Journal of Communication Management, Volume: 12, Issue: 1, Pages: 51-72 Cottrell, S., (1999), The Study Skills Handbook, Palgrave Macmillan, New York Elbow, Peter, (1983), “Teaching Thinking by Teaching Writing.”, Change, Vol.15(6), p.37-40 Hunsaker, P., Alessandra, A., (1986), The Art of Managing People, Simon and Schuster Quinton, S., (2010), “Feeding forward: using feedback to promote student reflection and learning – a teaching model”, Innovations in Education and Teaching International 47 (1): 125-135 Schermerhorn, J., McCarthy, A., (2004), “Enhancing Performance Capacity in the Workplace: A Reflection on the Significance of the Individual”, Irish Journal of Management25. 2: 45-60
van den Boom, Gerard, (2007), “Effects of elicited reflections combined with tutor or peer feedback on self-regulated learning and learning outcomes”, Learning and Instruction, Vol.17(5), p.532-548