School & District Management Opinion

Are We Appropriately Preparing Students for College?

By Starr Sackstein — November 22, 2015 4 min read
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Education is changing—at least, most of us hope it is, albeit more slowly than many of us would like.

We no longer treat kids as empty vessels made to be filled with our content knowledge, but rather seek to include students in the process helping them own their learning.

Classes are becoming more self-directed and choice-driven and teachers are more facilitators of learning rather than experts or “sage on stage” types. We are collaborative and empathetic. We prize problem solving and innovation above compliance and talent alone.

But are these environments truly preparing students for traditional college settings?

Recently, I had the opportunity to take my high school seniors to the local community college for a library lesson with a college professor. She was lovely, knowledgeable, and unyielding.

My students, who were very polite, were clearly bored and a little detached from what was going on. To their credit, they did the best they could to take what they were given and still managed to turn the potentially bad experience into a better one.

But I left the school feeling that perhaps my very student-centered learning environment was not preparing them for success in college.

Yesterday, I wrote about the challenges of lecture-style pedagogy and the ideas that professors are more concerned with delivering content than students understanding it.

Yet there is more to this conversation.

Although the actual class part is very traditional, the independent learning is blended in. Students are expected to do what needs doing on their time, make decisions about what classes they are to take, and to do the appropriate legwork to be successful.

Confidently, I send students into the world with those skills.

There is a large gap, however, in how students learn and the expectations that they will between higher education and secondary education.

What can we be doing on the secondary level that stays true to the current shifts putting students in the driver’s seats that continue to align with the even slower-changing higher education system?

Since I can’t suggest or force change on a system that I am merely contributing to, I can try to adjust my practice to ensure the greatest success for my students.

Here are some ways we can do that:

  • Although we likely agree that lecture style classrooms are passé in a progressive secondary atmosphere, we still need to develop listening stamina in our students. Instead of using class time to do this, we can flip lectures as a part of the learning in upper grades in high school, so students are at least exposed to extended periods of sitting and listening, the give and get model if you will.
  • We can arm students with the tools for being successful in this environment by developing auditory strategies and developing note taking skills and buddy systems to ensure that students are getting what they need out of class time.
  • Active listening skills can be taught in classes and practiced in a meaningful way so that students can really focus while in a lecture.
  • Where active listening fails, we can offer students applications and devices with technology that will increase their level of retention while in classes that expect them to attend for hours at a time.
  • Continued efforts to make students more independent and responsible for time management must be started earlier than the 12th grade. Excuses are simply not tolerated in some college classrooms, so students must learn to be accountable sooner.
  • Rather than give nightly homework, we can offer long term assignments with a syllabus, so students begin to manage their time better and are more equipped for how to handle this freedom in the future.
  • Although parents are partners in high school, professors don’t talk to parents and students have rights that protect them from their parents being too involved. Students must learn to advocate for themselves and learn to deal with the choices they make. There must be systems in place that allow students to fail if necessary and then more importantly learn from their mistakes. This is the only was we can begin to foster perseverance in our students.
  • Where possible it would be good to bring students into different college classrooms on field trips or see if partnerships can be developed for students to audit classes that support current learning, to truly experience the different expectations and then share their learning with their peers.
  • We can Skype with college professors or have guest speakers who are former students share their experiences and allow students to interview these folks for a deeper understand of what to expect.

Since all of the educational systems seem to work alone rather than as a coherent group, we need to do what we can to recognize the differences and try to mitigate for the gaps. The better we can prepare students for the possible difficulties they will encounter, the better their chances are at success.

In what ways can you implement change in your spaces now to help prepare students for their futures? Please share

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