Benjamin Pottruff is one of two learning strategists in the Office of the Registrar. “A learning strategist is like a coach,” says Pottruff. “Learning strategists are neither teachers nor tutors; instead we work with students to develop a holistic process around their learning goals.” His job ranges from assisting students who find themselves challenged to develop strategies to improve their work, to helping high performing students figure out their next steps. Learning strategies range in scope from building time and stress management skills, effective notetaking, and reading comprehension skills, to assignment planning and finding life-study balance. The learning strategists on the Vic campus are available four days per week for 50-minute private appointments and learning skills workshops.
“The transition from high school to undergraduate life at University encompasses big changes both intellectually and emotionally, and many first-year students are just beginning to understand the tremendous shift that happens by the end of first semester,” Pottruff says. The winter holiday break provides students with an opportunity to look back on their first term and to think about what worked well for them in terms of their academic performance, but also what didn’t work—and to think about how they might do things differently in the New Year. It is also important to be able to discuss failure with parents and other trusted adults. “Failure can be really scary and something to which we react poorly, especially if it’s the first time we are experiencing it; however, it’s helpful to think about it as a gift: every time we fail, we learn how we can do something better for the next time.” Pottruff believes that it is helpful for parents to exercise and coach patience throughout this period. “First-year students in particular might need reminding that they probably won’t understand or adjust seamlessly to every aspect of student life right out of the gate,” he says. Similarly, Pottruff emphasizes that learning through failure is part of adult development and can actually serve to help students discover different interests, skill sets or next steps. “Learning from failure is both an emotional and an intellectual process,” he says. “The idea is to find a way to deal with the emotional reaction, so that we can move forward and ask: ‘how can I use this feedback to make my project more successful?’”