Hanford Reports Changes Needed To Improve Records of Freshmen

Funds Needed to Advance Young Instructors to Tutorial Positions--Distribution of 1935 in Yard Discussed

The following article contains the section of Dean Hanford's annual report dealing with proposed changes in the Freshman year.


In spite of the closer contact between the College and the schools, "Freshman Week," the advisory system, Assistant Deans, the Freshman Halls, the abolition of September admissions, and other efforts to ease the transition from school to college, the fact remains that the proportion of failures among the first-year men is still somewhat large for a college that admits its students by examination. Also, there is little question that for certain of the more capable students the work of the Freshman year does not furnish sufficient incentive for scholarly work, with the result that they become satisfied with "just getting by." Because of the size of the entering class, the larger freedom in the selection of courses as compared with most other colleges, the wide variety of schools from which the men come and especially the fact that at Harvard students must be prepared for work of university grade at the beginning of the Sophomore instead of the Junior year, the problems of transition will always be more difficult than in the average college, the pace faster, and the rate of mortality somewhat higher. But if we are to derive the best possible results from the raw material which is sent to us, give every one an equal opportunity to make good according to his talents, and provide greater incentive for scholarly work, it is necessary for us to give careful attention to ways and means of reducing unnecessary failures, improving the quality of instruction, adjusting instruction to the needs of the individual, and treating the Freshman as a whole. Only in this way can we hope to place the Freshman year on a level with that of the upper three years, in which the General Examinations, tutorial system, and now the House plan have done so much to improve the intellectual and social life of the upper classmen.

Improvement of Teaching Staff

The greater need in the Freshman year is the improvement of instruction. So far as the lecture courses are concerned, the policy has been that of assigning the most experienced teachers to give the lectures with most gratifying results. The matter of expense, however, has made it more or less necessary to use young, inexperienced teachers for the quiz sections into which the large lecture courses are divided and for the elementary language courses which really should have been completed in school. These younger men are not only lacking in teaching experience, but they are for the most part absorbed in their own graduate study, and teaching for them becomes more or less of a side issue as a means of financing their own work. At a most important stage, when the Freshman needs assistance in learning how to study according to college standards, sympathetic attention, and an awakening of his interests, he too often finds himself working under instructors or section men who are poor teachers, uninteresting, unsympathetic with the problems of the new student, or too busy to give the student much attention. If the first-year student has come from a good preparatory school, he sometimes finds the quality of instruction outside of the lectures and a few of the smaller courses inferior to the instruction to which he has been accustomed. As a result, he oftentimes loses interest in doing good work, if not respect for scholarship.

As a first step toward strengthening the work of the Freshman year, funds should be made available so that young instructors with experience, ability, and interest in teaching similar to that required for tutorial work may be appointed as assistants and instructors. The number of part-time teachers in Freshman courses should be reduced. In some cases, if the compensation is made sufficiently attractive and scholarships available, a young instructor could afford to give alternate years to uninterrupted graduate work and to full-time teaching. The recognition in exceptional cases of especial teaching ability and interest in working with young men as a basis for promotion and less emphasis on writing and research would also make it possible to keep on the Faculty more or less permanently a few experienced and capable teachers whose work would be primarily with Freshmen. Such a policy as outlined above would involve a large expenditure of money, but it is believed that funds could not be spent to better advantage. In fact, improvement of instruction would do more than anything else to solve the problems of the Freshman year.

Methods of Instruction

In addition to an improvement in the teaching staff during the Freshman year, it is believed that in each of the larger courses which are divided into sections there should be a central office at which the head assistant or one of the other assistants should be available at regular hours for consultation with the students regarding note-taking, reading, and other problems which arise in connection with their work. Assistants should also be required to have office hours, and their compensation should be made sufficiently large to make this possible and just. In this respect, History 1 furnishes a good model for other large courses to follow.

Also, an attempt should be made to stimulate a larger number of Freshmen to do the high grade of work which their school and admission records indicate that they are capable of achieving. To a large extent, the work of the Freshman year is geared to the average individual. The new student who enters Harvard with a high admission record and a brilliant showing in his last year at school may find that in some of his courses very little effort is needed to make a "C," or perhaps he takes an elementary course when he is actually prepared for one more advanced. The result is a falling off in interest, a loss of valuable time, a slump in scholarly attainment, and the danger of developing lazy methods of thought and study. It is believed that this problem could be solved in part by more flexible methods within the first-year courses. For example, the Student Council Committee on the Freshman Year a few years ago expressed the opinion that the especially capable members of a large Freshman course should be given more advanced and independent reading than the others with provision for small group meetings similar to tutorial conferences in order to discuss their assignments. Such a plan of preceptorial conferences for the especially competent students has been employed in such courses as History 1 and at times in English 28 with most satisfactory results. In courses where the preceptorial plan of individual or small group conferences does not seem possible or advisable, it is believed that such incentives as a special section for the highest scholars in a course, conducted perhaps by the instructor in charge or some other experienced teacher, would stimulate higher achievement. Likewise, provision could be made for those at the other extreme who have diffi- culty with the course... Sectioning students according to ability, as is practised in History 1 and English A at Harvard and on a larger scale in most other New England colleges, seems to offer a partial solution of this problem. Such sectioning could be done after the November hour examinations or in certain courses at the very start by using data regarding the student's school and admission record, which are available in the Dean's Office, and by making necessary readjustments of sections as the year progressed. The chief objections to sectioning according to ability are that the removal of the best students from a section makes the discussion dull and uninteresting and that it is difficult to interest capable teachers in instructing the poorer sections.

An arrangement which is more satisfactory from all points of view than sectioning according to ability is one of individual or preceptorial conferences, as now employed in English A, under which each student has one section meeting every week and a conference of an hour's duration with his instructor every other week. In this way, instruction in Freshman courses might he adjusted to the needs and aptitude of the individual, thus providing for the Freshman within a course some of the advantages given the upper classman within his broader field of concentration under the tutorial system. If the obstacle of expense can be overcome, a wider use of the preceptorial method offers a most promising method of improving instruction in Freshman courses.

Also, Freshmen who are sufficiently prepared should be steered into more advanced courses from the very start. From the printed literature the student is led to believe that he is confined in his choice of studies merely in those listed as "regularly open to Freshman." As a matter of fact, however, a first-year student who has done very well in a particular subject in school and in the entrance examination may be prepared to take a more advanced course and may be admitted to certain courses in the middle group by convincing the instructor in charge that he is able to do the work. The adviser, who has