Writer's WebAdvice from "Happy"

Professor Susan "Happy" Herbert

B.A. Mary Washington College
M.A. University of Richmond

"I was 47 when I started back to school at Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. The classes there were not segregated by age as SPCS does here, so I had to sit next to 17 -21 year olds and compete for my grades with them. That meant my writing also had to measure up. I literally didn't know that there were styles of documentation - I had to raise my hand in class and ask what MLA meant. There was a lot of catching up for me to do. While my English professor told me that I was a good writer, I still had plenty to learn, just like most of our SPCS students do. But because we are older, our brains don't have the ability to store as much in our short-term memory banks, and if new information gets pushed out for lack of room before it shifts over to the long-term memory banks, it's simply lost. So memory is an issue as is the need for more time - more repetitions - to absorb new ideas and information. Another big issue is that older students may have learned something incorrectly to start with, and now they must unlearn their bad habits and relearn things correctly. The final issue may be that older students have trouble processing - where writing an analysis paper would make perfectly good sense to younger students because they've had practice doing it, older SPCS students don't even understand what analysis or argument mean."

What advice would you give to future non-traditional students?

"I'd tell them to dig in and study hard, to not be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help from anyone willing to give it. I'd suggest finding "study buddies" in every course they take, at least one person with whom they can talk about the assignments and work together, particularly if tests involving memory knowledge are part of the curriculum. Finding someone else who has the same life perspective can make a big difference. I also suggest taking the syllabi from all classes and creating a master schedule type calendar on which they place all major assignments (including things like scheduling time to do the research if the assignment calls for a researched paper) as well as their outside commitments - a parent needs to stay on top of children as well as his or her studies and anyone in a relationship still needs to give attention to his or her partner. All those other "real life" issues still need to happen. Putting a big calendar together and hanging it where it is easily visible, preferably color coded, can make a difference. Really, this is about organizing - sort an outline, just as we do when we write a paper."

We thank Professor Herbert for her help in creating this segment!

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