A few years ago, I served as the chairperson for the College Board New England Regional Council. One of the best outcomes from our meetings was that I was able to talk with higher-education professionals about what makes students college-ready. I’ve identified several key issues, and I’ve made some suggestions for how high-school teachers can help their students achieve the goal of true college-readiness. While these strategies may seem geared to traditional college students, all students, including those in career and technical programs, can benefit from these skills.
- Professors told me college freshmen often lack digital media skills. They know how to use social platforms, but they are unable to effectively evaluate sources. When doing online research, students need to move beyond merely “Googling” a topic and taking the first two hits. Middle- and high-school teachers should give students a “checklist for evaluating sources” so they can assess the credibility and authenticity of a website to determine whether it is the best source for information.
- College courses require students to exercise intellectual curiosity, but incoming freshmen are unfamiliar with a loose structure that asks them to think beyond the assigned task. Secondary-school teachers should encourage students to ask deep and thoughtful questions about what they learn, to go beyond mere recitation and regurgitation of subject matter. Teachers can demonstrate this by providing thought-provoking questions and discussions which link student learning to real-life experiences.
- Students still struggle with basic grammar, punctuation and spelling. High-school students need practice with standard English conventions, and teachers should be sticklers for correctness. My own students often bemoan my strictness regarding appropriate use of commas and semi-colons, but each September, I receive emails from those same students who tell me their professors applaud their writing and often share their work with the rest of the class.
- College freshmen often are unable to develop strong thesis statements and then support claims in a clear, logical manner. Teachers should review basic writing conventions with students and provide multiple opportunities for the planning and drafting of writing assignments and projects. Providing students with exemplars of strong writing will help students absorb powerful writing styles they can emulate.
- Professors told me students often wait far too long before seeking help, so high-school educators need to teach students to self-advocate. Individual meetings with students about their progress will help them become more comfortable speaking one-on-one with a college instructor.
- Writing is probably the most essential skill for college readiness because it is needed in every class and in nearly every career. High-school teachers need to provide students with writing assignments across the curriculum that ask them to think beyond standardized test writing, including sociological analysis, literary criticism, historical analysis, document-based analysis and scientific writing.
- Since presentations are a key part of college classes, high-school teachers need to provide students with opportunities to work on their presentation skills through a variety of assignments. They should find ways to help students brainstorm and use their creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to explore innovative multimedia approaches.
- Secondary teachers can create assignments/tasks that help students practice time management skills, while also allowing flexibility in topic selection or development so students can exercise their intellectual curiosity.
- Professors told me that students still plagiarize — sometimes unintentionally — because they don’t understand the difference between research and copying, or they don’t know how to properly cite sources. Teachers and media specialists need to make emphasize what plagiarism is and isn’t by providing clear examples, and they should teach students to cite correctly.
- Secondary-school teachers should urge students to actively participate in class. Teachers should explain why it is important for students to contribute to the discourse in both high school and college classes.
- High schools need to continue to increase the rigor of their coursework. They should create a solid AP or IB program and encourage students to enroll in AP and IB courses or to take part in dual enrollment programs with local colleges. These courses help students get a head start on college level work, and they enable students to improve their writing skills and sharpen their problem-solving techniques. They also help students develop the study habits necessary for tackling rigorous coursework.
- Professors pointed out that strong internship programs help students master both college and career skills, and they enable students to gain new skills and work experience as well as networking opportunities.
Finally, professors pointed out that it is absolutely essential that the definition of college-readiness extend beyond proficiency in reading and math skills to include demonstration of learning mastery across a broad range of academic disciplines, including the arts, the humanities, world languages, history and the social sciences. College-readiness should also emphasize the development of students’ critical thinking and creativity skills. For educators to know that students are college-ready, student learning must be assessed through a variety of tools, and that measurement should reflect a student’s ability to apply and link what she’s learned in a classroom to real-life experiences. If high schools address these tenets, students will truly be college-ready.
Nancy Barile is a National Board Certified Teacher who has been teaching at a Boston area school for 21 years. She also is an adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Education at Emmanuel College in Boston, Ma. She is a member of the Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory and a Top 50 Finalist for the Varkey Teacher Prize 2015, and the 2013 recipient of the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award.
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