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Teacher to teacher
Helping seniors become college freshmen
by Starr Sackstein | November 1, 2012 New York Teacher issue
Four years of high school will come to a close at the end of this school year, and soon 12th-grade students will be taking the first of many steps into adulthood. Upon acceptance into college, many will leave home and become independent.
Preparing students for this next step involves more than just academic readiness; it also requires maturity, which will be necessary for future success beyond their completion of college. So how can teachers motivate students afflicted with “senioritis” to understand and accomplish the goals needed to achieve graduation and transition into college?
It starts with a plan. Teachers are role models and an educator’s organizational skills and preparedness will significantly affect a student’s willingness to comply. So make sure all learning is connected to what happens next and be transparent about it. If a project is given, tell students how it will help them in their future. Elaborate on the skills learned and the ways they will help them be successful in college.
As the teacher, you need to know what college-level work looks like to best prepare students to avoid remediation. Visit local colleges with students. Ask if you could audit a class. Allow students to see for themselves what comes next.
Raise the bar. Higher expectations with progressively less hand-holding, and teaching students how to manage time and stress effectively will help lead to readiness. Be firm in what you expect, and create an environment where students feel safe to try things on their own before asking for help.
For example, when I am conferencing with a senior about his or her papers, it is no longer acceptable for them to drop five to eight pages in front of me and say, “Is this good?” It’s expected they will come with specific questions about what they need help with, along with the particular areas of the text where the challenge occurs. Teaching students how to know their needs will help them address other needs in the future.
With higher expectations comes the need to do more rigorous work. Students should be reading longer novels on their own or harder content-specific academic articles. Build up and give them a little at a time. Students learn how to work through dry text by knowing they aren’t going to like everything they are assigned and won’t always have a variety of choices. It is an essential skill that teachers can help them develop.
Vary your teaching styles to include a lecture every once in awhile to build listening stamina and note-taking skills. Currently, teaching in secondary schools has largely shifted to cooperative or workshop-style learning. The teaching is short and the working is long and often not alone. In college, the format is much as it used to be: long lectures without pre-made notes. Seniors don’t know what to do with this. So when introducing a unit, use a lecture and then go over the notes they could have taken.
Create a syllabus for students to follow. Make them responsible for when work is due and don’t remind them all the time that it is. Let them learn to start managing their time appropriately. Seniors need to learn how to see the big picture and how to break it into small easy bits. Explicitly teach them how to do this. For the first few extended assignments, provide benchmarks and slowly take these requirements away. Teach them to make benchmarks for themselves in the future.
Take them to work in a college library for at least one assignment. For the final assignment in senior English, I work with local colleges to bring my seniors in to do research. Students sit through a lecture with the college librarians where they learn about the Library of Congress organization and how to do college-level research. It demystifies the library and helps kids overcome any fear of this valuable resource.
Students sift through the stacks and databases in order to write a paper of their own choosing. Don’t allow them to use the Internet as a source either. Too often, they aren’t sure how to evaluate what they find online and the ease with which they find it defeats the purpose of going to the library.
Talk about fears and help them avoid pitfalls of immature behavior. “I can’t” can no longer be their mantra. Remind them that when they act out, they stunt only themselves. Their choices result in outcomes and they can control these outcomes by making smarter decisions.
The author teaches English at World Journalism Preparatory School in Queens.
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