This post is co-authored by Louisa Benavidez, Math Instructor at The Science Academy of South Texas in Mercedes, and Dana Stiles, Math Instructor at James Bowie High School in Austin.
One of the core ideas behind College Readiness Assignments (CRAs) is that college and career readiness is about more than completion of high school. Readiness means developing skills – critical thinking, reasoning, analysis, etc. – that help students succeed in all areas of postsecondary life. Therefore, the focus of developing readiness should not be on the acquisition of content knowledge, but on the acquisition and development of skills that allow students to transfer concepts to any content. For some educators, this idea represents a shift in the way they think about teaching, learning, and readiness. It means moving away from drill & kill, away from memorization or surface learning, and toward deep learning. CRAs reinforce this idea as they serve as signals to educators as much as students of what readiness is, means, and looks like.
Another great example of a program seeking to shift educators’ perspectives on readiness is OnRamps. OnRamps is a program that offers dual-enrollment courses aligned with the expectations of leading research institutions. It seeks to increase the number and diversity of students who engage in these courses and accelerate their college success. Instructors who lead OnRamps courses participate in an intense 3-week summer training program to prepare them to implement these dual-enrollment courses. Part of this training includes a presentation by CRAfT on college and career readiness and how our perspective on readiness shapes our pedagogy. We invited a few instructors to share with us how their perspective on readiness has shifted as a result of this experience:
Readiness is . . . Defending Ideas with Evidence
As we’ve outlined in previous posts, the ability to defend ideas with evidence is a skill critical to success in college and career. Many view this skill as one developed solely in English and Social Studies courses. CRAs and OnRamps courses demonstrate that this is a skill that is not only necessary for all courses; it is one that can and should be developed in all courses. The OnRamps Statistics instructors underscore the importance of this skill:
- “My students know a lot of math, [but they] struggle with the communication of it.”
- “This course is HUGE in justification. The rubrics clearly state the expectations and students are extremely resistant at first to justifying their responses. For most of their career in math classes they have not had to justify their mathematical knowledge in words. To be college ready, students need to be able to clearly justify their answers in complete sentences. A couple of years ago we began putting writing components on our Geometry tests, so that students can begin getting used to the idea of writing in the math classroom early on. Not until now have I thought that adding a rubric to the question could be extremely beneficial to both the student and the teacher.”
Readiness is . . . Student-Centered Instruction
In college, students must be prepared to engage with material beyond just surface learning, and they will be asked to analyze, not regurgitate, information. To do this well, they need to know themselves, their strengths, their challenges, and the ways in which they learn the best. Educators can develop this knowledge by structuring a course so that students spend time in class engaging with problems and interrogating their learning rather than simply hearing or repeating content. This kind of instruction that values investigation over lecture places the emphasis on the student, their areas of confusion, and their learning.
- “Students are expected to actually READ the textbook. They are expected to come to class with some knowledge of the material and are held accountable for doing so. Class time is no longer a time for students to be introduced to the content, but now it is a time for students to truly formulate their understanding of the content by applying it to different situations.”
- “What this course has done . . . is completely made me shift in my thinking of how to present the material. Since students are held accountable to doing the reading outside of class and coming into class with knowledge before we even discuss it, I expect that they have already taken notes on the chapter. We now spend the class answering homework questions and doing extension problems to make sure they can apply the statistical knowledge to different situations. The class is entirely student driven with me just guiding them through the class. Wow! What a great way to teach!”
Readiness is . . . Taking Ownership of Learning
Professors and supervisors expect to answer questions, give advice, and offer feedback, but they also expect that students and employees have attempted assignments, made an effort to problem solve, and identified areas of confusion before approaching them. To be truly ready for college and career, students must practice and develop a level of comfort with diving into tasks, taking risks, managing their learning, and seeking help when needed. Colleges and supervisors are looking for individuals who are motivated, engaged, and who take initiative. These elements are often thought of as being innate, but they can be taught, cultivated, and internalized. OnRamps instructors understand that students must learn to take ownership of their learning.
- “College readiness is a student that is not afraid to start a problem. For example, I have several students that need some kind of reassurance that they are progressing correctly. They suffer great anxiety when they feel like they have to risk getting a question wrong. [In the past], I feel like we have trained our students to be ‘answer getters’ and not problem solvers.”
- “For students to be college/career ready, they cannot expect to get all of the answers from the teacher, but instead must try on their own to understand the material first.”
- “I am trying to create more opportunities for my students to become more independent.”
Now that you’ve seen the way CRAs and OnRamps shift educators’ perspectives, we encourage you to think about your own perspective on readiness. Does your pedagogy reflect the ideas above? How can you shape your classroom to be an environment that supports and encourages the development of college and career readiness?
Many thanks to Dr. Julie Schell, Rebecca Lyle, and Karen Smid for their help in soliciting contributors to this post.