Saturday, March 29, 2014

This Is Not The Frustrated Facebook Father's Math - Or Yours Either!

The Problem in Question
A few weeks ago, much attention has been given to a story about a father who shared his frustration on his Facebook page about an assignment sent home with his child for homework that's been labeled as a "Common Core Math" that required analyzing how a problem was solved, evaluating what they did right and wrong, and expressing your conclusions in a letter.

The Facebook post went viral, and many e-news outlets, detractors of Common Core, and conservatives such as Glenn Beck who object to any kind of presumed "big government" influence on society and culture have turned this social media posting that was probably meant to be shared only with friends of the father into a political campaign.

I had a similar situation a couple of weeks ago when my 10 year old daughter came home needing to complete a worksheet full of math problems that looked like this. 
Lattice Multiplication
Instead of complaining about the assignment, I decided to take the time learn more about exactly Lattice Multiplication is so I could learn more about it to help my child - who, like the Facebook-posting Father, has similar learning challenges as the Frustrated Facebook Father's son - with the math they are expected to learn.

Googled "Lattice Multiplication" and clicked through a few of the web pages to learn what exactly this mathematical method is and how it helps kids understand multiplication, including this link to Khan Academy that offered a video I could watch to learn and understand deeply.  Once I felt I had the conceptual and procedural understanding I felt I needed to help my daughter complete her homework by explaining the procedures to apply to solve the problem.  What started as a very frustrating experience full of tears and yelling ended as a very enjoyable experience for my daughter and a rewarding one for me as we worked together to complete the worksheet and learned something new.

Now I'm not saying what the Frustrated Facebook Father did was wrong by sharing his feelings and frustration (though his appearance on Glenn Beck may have been a little much - not to mention attention-seeking and self-serving).  In fact, if you truly think about it, the father did address the prompt. 

He told "Jack", the person to whom the letter should be address, what he did wrong, which was use the mathematical featured in the question.  He argued that using the more traditional method for subtracting three digit numbers - using an mathematical algorithm rather than an mathematical model -would have been simpler.  He responded to the prompt in the appropriate format - a letter - and his response not only demonstrated the highest level of thinking according to Bloom's Revised Taxonomy - create - but he also communicated the highest depth of knowledge according to Webb - extended thinking - by defending his argument with his own expert opinion and his personal experience of how such a problem would be handled in the workforce.

I will also agree is NOT an exemplar assignment.  However, it's the kind of stuff offered by the textbook companies who profess their curriculum packages are "Common Core-aligned" even though there's no scientifically-based research to prove that claim yet because the practice tests from the PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium are currently being taken in some K-12 schools across the nation.  It's also the kind of stuff we teachers are given by the publishers and our schools in our desperate attempt to address the cognitive rigor of the Common Core State Standards, which I believe are challenging and engaging.  

My problem is not with the standards or even the politics behind them but rather how poorly the roll out and implementation has been, the lack of support in regards to funding and high quality training provided to us educators to implement these new standards, and how the partisan politics and misconceptions about the involvement of "big government" in education has created confusion and caused misconceptions about the intent and quality of the standards.

Procedural Knowledge
The deeper thinking our children will be engaged in to address the Standards of Mathematical Practices of the Mathematics CCSS goes beyond merely factual and procedural knowledge those of us in the pre-CCSS learned math in our K-12 education.   Most of us probably experienced instruction that was primarily teacher-led and content-driven in which the teacher told us what we needed to know and how to do it and we demonstrated our learning by reproducing and applying these facts and procedures just as they were taught - or told - to us.

Mathematical Process Standards
(NCTM, 2000)
However, the performance objectives of the Mathematics CCSS expects our children are expected to demonstrate their ability to reason and proof, which is one of the process standards set by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.  
Teaching mathematics reasoning and proofing truly determines whether the student deeply understands mathematics by having the student explain their thought process behind how they solved the problem.  Proofing challenges and engages them to determine the accuracy and validity of their answers.  Traditional math instruction called this "checking your answers", which used to be a suggestion but has now become an essential part of the deeper teaching and learning experience.

Reasoning and proofing also requires challenging and engaging students to analyze and evaluate the mathematical thinking of others.  This means students will delve deeper into the concepts by learning about different mathematical concepts, methods, models, practices, and procedures as well as analyze and evaluate how math problems are solved using these different processes.

Conceptual Knowledge
Teaching math has become very conceptual and even metacognitive - which is great!  It fosters a scientific approach to teaching mathematics by having students research, investigate, and experiment with different mathematical theories.  It also encourages students to engage in creative thinking by coming up with their own ideas about how they can approach and address a math problem without having to be so concerned about following common, proscribed procedures or doing it the way the teacher taught it.

Metacognitive Knowledge

Not only will teaching for conceptual knowledge and metacognition involve reasoning and proofing but also communication, which challenges and engages students to express their deeper knowledge, understanding, thinking, and awareness.  

Use place value understanding to round
multi-digit numbers to any place
Using numbers and words are key component of the CCSS assessments designed by the Smarter Balanced.Sample questions will look like this example that challenges and engages students to reason and proof how the two people who solved this problem used place value understanding to round multi-digit numbers to any place (Math.CCSS.Content.4NBT.A.3).  Incidentally, this would be Part B of a 3 part problem that started with a question that would have students applying the procedures for rounding numbers and finishing with students to analyze and evaluate what could be the most amount of seats that can be in a stadium if the total number was rounded to 75,000 and explain their thinking or reasoning.

(By the way, this problem is an original problem I created based on a sample problem for the PARCC.  I changed the stadiums from baseball to football, Googled the seating capacity of U.S. football stadiums, and found these three to be the closest in size.  The name of the people in the problem were also changed to my brother and sister's names.  We will address how to create original questions, problems, and tasks aligned to the CCSS in future blogs.)

Students still need to solve and work with algorithms, equations, numbers and formulas to demonstrate procedural knowledge.  However, they should also be provided opportunities to demonstrate and communicate their deeper mathematical knowledge, understanding, thinking, and awareness by explaining their reasoning and defending their reasons through proofing.  These questions should be abstract, complex,and even "messy", encouraging students to think deeply and communicate clearly using oral, written, creative, and technical expression.

Problem solving, which is another NCTM process standard students should be challenges and engaged to demonstrate and communicate, should be deepened by providing a combination of algorithmic and story problems student should and open-ended, text dependent questions that challenge and engage students to delve deeper into the reasoning and thinking behind their answers.  However, these problems should establish connections between mathematics and the real world to show students how math is used to address, handle, settle, or solve real world issues, problems, and situations. 

So what exactly did the father do wrong?

First, he made a presumption and generalization that this problem is an example of "Common Core Math", which truly is not a curriculum.  The Common Core State Standards are performance objectives that define what students should be able to know, understand, and be able to do and how deeply they need to know, understand, think, and be aware of a concept, idea, subject, or topic in order to answer the question posed, address the problem presented, and accomplish the task provided by the teacher.  It's not a concept or idea.  It's performance objectives.

Second, he took the time to express his frustration by writing a sarcastic response to the prompt that was given to his child to do for homework, shared his feelings on Facebook, and then made the rounds in media to share his story and dismissing "Common Core Math", which, again, is a misnomer.  

He could have used that time more wisely and even productively if he Googled "subtracting three digit numbers with a number line".  He would have found an instructional video on that's less than that minutes long that explains how to subtract numbers on a number line.  If he scrolled down a little further on Google, he would have found a link to a webpage on K-5 Math Teaching Resources that explains what is an empty number line and how this mathematical model for addition an subtraction was developed by researchers from the Netherlands, and even more examples of how to use this model to perform addition and subtraction.

This is what we parents are going to need to do in order to understand the mathematical concepts, methods, and models that our children are learning in the class and bringing home for homework.  We're going to have to devote the time to familiarize ourselves with these methods, models, and strategies, which could be a struggle for us because we were taught math to simply listen, learn, and do.  Our children's math has them research, investigate, examine, experiment, explore, argue, defend, justify, refute, and come up with their own original ideas and processes for using math and how it can be used to address, handle, settle, or sole real world issues, problems, and situations - which, incidentally, is what mathematicians do.

Now the father - and Glenn Beck, for that matter - can retort back that he should not have to engage in such in-depth investigation to learn how to help his child use some mathematical method, model, or practice to do their homework - and he's right!  Those investigations should happen in the classroom with the teacher, who has the student either read and respond to the informational text, "What Is An Empty Number Line?" (or, since these are 2nd Graders, read it to them and ask questions for checks for understanding), and perhaps have students work on mastering such complex problems under the guidance of the teacher before sending them home to work independently.

Of course, the Frustrated Facebook Father is entitled to his opinion and can express it as freely as he wants.  I even don't disagree with how he feels about the work that was sent home with his child.  I can't criticize him for what he did because I felt the same way when my daughter brought him that Lattice Multiplication worksheet and thought, "This is just stupid!  She knows her times tables and how to multiply numbers!  Why can't she just do it the old-fashioned way to get the correct answer?!!"

Then I realized that's not what the assignment wanted her to do.  

It challenged and engaged her to look for and make use of structure (CCSS.Math.Practice.MP7) by determining the pattern of the mathematical model and how it can be used to multiply two and three-digit numbers .

It challenged and engaged her to reason abstractly (CCSS.Math.Practice.MP2) by considering the units involved in the algorithm, attending to the meaning of the quantities using a lattice, and demonstrating flexibility by using this new method. 

It challenged and engaged her make sense of problems and persevere in solving them (CCSS.Math.Practice.MP1).  Yes, she was frustrated - and so did I - but we both took the time to learn what exactly Lattice Multiplication involved and how it could be used to multiply two and three-digit numbers.  To verify whether our responses were correct, we used the traditional method by organizing the numbers in an algorithm and solving the equation "the old-fashioned way" her father (me) learned how to do multiplication.

That's what the Mathematics Common Core State Standards do. They challenge and engage students to demonstrate and communicate their deeper knowledge, understanding, thinking, and awareness in mathematics, which involves more than simply solving problems to find the correct answer.  

Mathematical thinking demonstrating and communicating deeper knowledge, understanding, and awareness of representation by selecting, applying, and translating mathematical representations to solve problems, which is what my daughter's homework on Lattice Multiplication challenged and engaged her to do and the Frustrated Facebook Father's son's assignment did using the Empty Number Line.

Mathematical thinking involves making and investigating mathematical conjectures and developing and evaluating mathematical arguments - or reasoning - and proofs, which is what the Frustrated Facebook Father's son's assignment challenged and engaged him to do.

Mathematical thinking involves analyzing and evaluating the mathematical thinking of others, which is what the Frustrated Facebook Father's son's assignment challenged and engaged him to do by having him  communicate his analysis and evaluation of what "Jack" did wrong and what he could have done differently in the form of a letter.

Mathematical thinking involves engaging in problem solving that challenges students to adapt a variety of appropriate strategies to solve problems, which is what both my daughter and the Frustrated Facebook Father's son was expected to do.

Unfortunately, what the assignments both my daughter and the Frustrated Facebook Father's son were given failed to do is make a connection for the Facebook Frustrated Father and me to understand the relevance of these methods and models and how they can be used in a context beyond mathematics.

Who's to fault for that?  It's not the teacher.  In fact, according to the interview on Glenn Beck, the teacher found the Frustrated Facebook Father's response on the assignment quite amusing and valid.  She also shared her frustration with how she is required to provide problems such as the one she assigned to the Frustrated Facebook Father's son or the one assigned to my daughter.  She's experiencing what millions of teachers around our nation are experiencing - grand expectations for teaching and learning with minimal support or training in how to teach concepts, ideas, subjects, or topics such as Lattice Mathematics or adding and subtracting using the Empty Number Line.

But that is another discussion for another day.  Here's hoping The Blaze - who broke the story about the Frustrated Facebook Father's post - or Glenn Beck invites me to have that discussion with them.


Friday, March 21, 2014

What Exactly Is the Thinking Curriculum?

What exactly is the thinking we need to teach?

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy
It's not just the cognitive processes categorized within Bloom's Revised Taxonomy students are expected to demonstrate.  Those cognitive processes define the knowledge and skills students need to know, understand, and be able to do.
Webb's Depth of Knowledge

It also goes beyond the levels in Webb's of Depth of Knowledge that students are expected to communicate.  That determines how deeply students need to know, understand, and be aware of a concept, idea, subject, or topic in order to answer a question, address a problem, or accomplish a task.

It's also not the postsecondary ready (read this to understand why we don't use "college and career ready" in this blog) standards - be it the Common Core or those developed independently by those states who have not adopted the CCSS - that we need to address in our instruction.  Those designate the performance objectives our students must meet or exceed in order to achieve and attain grade-level proficiency in reading and mathematics.

Students also need to demonstrate and communicate domain or subject-specific deeper knowledge, understanding, thinking, and awareness - thinking, action, and knowledge that is specific to a particular content area.  

In English language arts and literature, we're not just teaching students how to read, write, speak, and listen fluently with basic comprehension.  We need to teach students to think deeply about how text - which can be print, audio, visual, or technical - is presented, why it is presented that way, and what effect the presentation has on the reader, viewer, audience.

In mathematics, we're not just teaching students  mathematical content, concepts, facts, practices, and procedures they need to reproduce and apply to answer questions, address problems, and accomplish tasks correctly and successfully.  We need to teach students to think deeply about how the procedures they followed led them to attain their answer, solution, or result; why a specific answer, solution, or result is correct or valid; how many different ways questions can be answers, problems address, and tasks accomplished; and how mathematics extends beyond numbers, algorithms, and formulas into the real world.

In history and social studies, we're not just teaching important dates, events, ideas, information, names, and people.  We need to teach the causes and reasons behind these events; why historical figures accomplished what they did; what was the situation or the thinking during a given time that influenced a person or an event; and what impact events throughout history had not only during the time in which it occurred but also on current events and perspectives in modern society.

In science we're not just teaching scientific facts, ideas, and theories.  We're teaching students research, investigate, and experiment with science in order to validate or refute existing theories, test their own ideas, draw their own conclusions, and even design new procedures and products that could improve - or even control - a particular scientific phenomena.

Such teaching and learning can be provided by implementing a thinking curriculum that addresses demonstrating and communicating knowledge, understanding, thinking, and awareness in the core academic disciplines in what we define as The Thinking Curriculum.

The Thinking Curriculum
The Thinking Curriculum is for us educators what Bloom's and Webb's are for our students - a specific framework that informs teachers specifically of what we should be addressing in the  instruction, assessment, and evaluation we plan and provide our students in the core academic disciplines.   Where Bloom's and Webb's details the level of knowledge, understanding, thinking, and awareness our students need to demonstrate and communicate in their learning, the Thinking Curriculum informs us teachers what we're supposed to address in designing and developing our subject-specific lessons, units, and assessments.

The Thinking Curriculum consists of four areas:
  • Literary Thinking: Literary thinking focuses on teaching students how to recognize what a text says, what a text does, and what a text means by analyzing choices of content, language, and structure.   Instruction focuses on non-critical reading (understand the text ), critical reading (understand the patterns and style of the text), and critical thinking (understand the meaning) (Kurland, 2000).   The foundation of literary thinking is learning to read and write, where the student learns how to hear and recognize sounds, gains experience with and exposure to text, hear what good reading sounds like, and have opportunities to read and write at their developmental level.  As students develop phonemic awareness and fluency, they should also be taught to engage in critical reading and thinking by restating in their own words what the text says (restatement); describing what type of text they are reading or viewing, what it is discussing, and what it is doing or its purpose (description); and also what the text means or its underlying message (interpretation).  Students should also be taught to learn how to analyze and evaluate the text for the ideas its infers or suggests (inference), the elements the author includes within the text to support its meaning or message (choices), and consider such elements when developing and producing their own text.   Students should also be taught how to read and write different text that present a specific message or purpose (ways to read).  Teaching and learning grammar are also a key component of literary thinking not only to know, understand, and apply the conventions of grammar and usage but also build fluency, develop a deeper understanding of how authors and their text use language to convey a particular tone and create a desired or unintentional effect on the reader, and use conventions of writing to develop a desired tone or effect on the reader or viewer.
  • Mathematical Thinking: Mathematical thinking address how mathematical ideas interconnect and build on one another and can be connected to contexts and phenomena outside mathematics (connections); making and investigating mathematical theories and developing and evaluating mathematical arguments and proofs (reasoning and proofing); expressing mathematical thinking clearly and coherently and analyzing and evaluating the mathematical thinking and strategies of others (communication); create and use representations to organize, record, and communicate mathematical ideas and  to model and interpret physical, social, and mathematical phenomena (representation); and build new mathematical knowledge by solving problems that arise in mathematics and in other contexts (problem solving) (NCTM, 2000).  Mathematical thinking goes beyond knowing, understanding, and doing math - or, more specifically, reproducing and applying procedures to attain the correct answer.  Mathematical thinking challenges and engages students to think about the mathematical concepts and practices they are learning, how answers are attained or how they attained their answers, explain their thinking process, and develop and demonstrate analytical and creative problem solving skills that will not only help them in math but also in every aspect of their lives.
  • Historical Thinking: Historical thinking goes beyond knowing historical dates, events, facts, ideas, information, and names, which remain a key component of teaching history and social studies.  Historical thinking challenges and engages students to develop a deeper understanding of what and when events occurred as well as recognize, analyze, and evaluate patterns of historical duration (length of time) and succession (relationship between and sequence of events) (chronological thinking); understand the intentions and difficulties of various cultures, people, regimes, and societies encountered and the complex world in which such historical figures actually lived (historical comprehension); recognize and realize the differences in the various opinions and perspectives of educators, experts, eyewitnesses, how they convey ideas and information; distinguish between fact and opinion, and determine the credibility of sources (historical analysis and interpretation); conduct in-depth research and investigations to discover the facts, reasoning, and truth behind historical events, facts, ideas, information, and people and draw their own conclusions, opinions, or perspectives supported by evidence (historical research capabilities); examine and explore past and current controversial issues, problems, and situations deeply, develop arguments, claims, conclusions and provide solutions; and analyze and evaluate their impact on subsequent or current actions and decisions (historical issues). (NCHS/UCLA, 1996). 
  • Scientific Thinking: The core idea behind scientific thinking is evidentiary thinking - thinking that requires proof to support arguments, choices, claims, and conclusions.  In science, students demonstrate and communicate evidentiary thinking in three ways: inquiry (asking questions), investigations (conducting examinations and research), and experimentation (testing and validating ideas).  There are two processes students can be taught to demonstrate and communicate their thinking: the scientific method in which students generate and test a hypothesis about an observation or phenomena and engineering design, which involves inventing a new plan or product or innovating an existing procedure or product to solve a problem (Kuhn, 2010).
For teachers, the Thinking Curriculum is our Bloom's Revised Taxonomy and Webb's Depth of Knowledge - the framework that tells us what and how we need to plan and provide our instruction, assessment, and evaluation.   In order to do this, we need to go beyond the textbook, the classroom, and even beyond ourselves to provide that deeper teaching and learning experience.

Literary Thinking with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
(CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.2, 3.3)
If you're going to teach a novel such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, don't only teach how to read the story but ask students to consider how Dahl satirizes - or, if working with younger children, brings attention to - how children behave and how parents do not attempt to adjust their improper behavior.  Have students analyze and evaluate how Dahl describes each of the characters and how their appearance, words, and actions  define or reflect their character.

Literary Thinking with Genre Study
If you're going to teach a genre study such as science fiction, don't just have your students read and view text from the genre, identify the main idea, describe the characters, and analyze the themes.  Teach students the motifs of science fiction and have students analyze and evaluate how these stories address and incorporate these motifs.  Have students consider whether science fiction influence scientific fact or vice versa. Challenge students to create their own science fiction tales that have deep, resonating themes about the future, space, time, machines, monsters, and society. 

If you're going to challenge students to interpret a multiplication equation as a comparison, don't just have them work with numbers, algorithms, and formulas.  Have them explain the reasoning behind their conclusions, choices, and decisions.  Provide them a real world situation in which they would have to use multiplicative comparisons such as express in a number sentence the difference between the average size and weight of a porpoise (5 ft., 121 lbs.) to a dolphin, which is double or triple the size and approximately nine times heavier.

If you're going to have students learn about seminal historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the articles of the U.S. Constitution, or The Gettysburg Address, don't just talk about or even read these documents.  Have students analyze and evaluate the the style in which these documents were written; why these documents were written; how they reflect the thinking of the individual, period, or situation they address; and the impact these documents had not only during the time in which it was written but also its impact on modern society and culture.  Have students analyze how and evaluate why Thomas Jefferson carefully worded The Declaration of Independence to convey the colonies' conflict and concerns were with King George, not the people of England.  Have students analyze and evaluate the reasons behind the amendments of the U.S. Constitution and whether those reasons remain practical or pertinent.  Have them analyze and evaluate why Abraham Lincoln said what he did in The Gettysburg Address and the effect he hoped to have on his listeners.

Scientific Thinking with Natural Disasters
4-ESS2-2. MS-ESS2-2, HS-ESS2-1-3) 
If you're going to have students learn about natural disasters, don't just have them identify what natural disasters are and what causes them.  Have them research natural disasters throughout history, analyze and evaluate the impact of different kinds of natural disasters, why people continue to live in areas prone to natural disasters, how human interference and man-made disasters can cause natural disasters, predict the possibility of a historical natural disaster occurring again, and design a plan to protect people from or even prevent natural disasters.

Not only will lessons and units such as these encourage students to develop, demonstrate, and communicate deeper knowledge, understanding, and awareness of what they are being taught and learned but also make learning interesting and relevant for them - and perhaps, even you as the teacher.

Stay tuned to this blog for entries in which we delve deeper into the four core content areas of the Thinking Curriculum.

- E.M.F.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

College and Career Readiness: Less Political Rhetoric, More Practical Strategies

College and career readiness.

It's the latest education reform movement for improving student achievement, teacher effectiveness, and overall school performance.

It’s what we educators need to consider as we plan our instruction, assessment, and evaluation.   

It’s what the performance standards of the Mathematics and English Language Arts and Literacy Common Core State Standards profess to address and prepare our students to be.  

It’s how our schools’ effectiveness will be evaluated based upon the results of the assessment developed by the consortium – PARCC or Smarter Balanced – to which your state belongs (or if your state opted out of the CCSS, whatever assessment your state developed.

However, what exactly does college and career readiness mean, and how should we educators be preparing our students to be college and career ready?

When I present to educators at conferences and schools on teaching and learning for higher order thinking and communicating depth of knowledge, I begin the conversation about college and career readiness by showing this picture.

Is This What College and Career Ready Means?
If you've even seen Animal House, you know Bluto with his 0.0 grade point average and the seven years he's taking to complete college does not is not the poster child for college and career readiness; at least, not according to ACT, Inc., which defines college and career readiness as "... the acquisition of the knowledge and skills a student needs to enroll and succeed in credit-bearing first-year courses at a postsecondary institution (such as a 2- or 4-year college, trade school, or technical school) without the need for remediation", or, as Cynthia Schmeiser, ACT’s former Education Division President and Chief Operating Officer, testified on Capitol Hill during the 2010 hearings for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind“Simply stated, readiness for college means not needing to take remedial courses in postsecondary education or training programs.”

According to the report Diplomas Count, the national high school graduation rate is approximately 75% - "the highest rate in 40 years," according to a press release by Education Week -  and is projected to rise as high as 77.1%.  However, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and the Southern Regional Education Board, "nearly 60% of first-year college students discover that, despite being fully eligible to attend college, they are not ready for postsecondary studies [and] must take remedial courses in English or mathematics, which do not earn college credits".  According to the College Board, students take, on average, 6.2 years to complete a 4-year degree (at an average cost of $18,000 per year), often due to remedial coursework (which is eight months less than the amount of time it took for Bluto to graduate college).

So where's the disconnect?

Perhaps it's not how K-12 education is preparing our students to be college and career ready but rather the misconception and misunderstanding of what exactly our students need to be prepared to know, understand, and able to do to succeed and survive in life after high school.

Postsecondary Readiness (Conley, 2010)
College and career readiness is actually only half of what our students need to be prepared for according to Conley (2010), who identifies the qualities of postsecondary readiness as the following:
  • Work Ready: Meets the basic expectations for workplace behavior and demeanor.
  • Job Ready: Possess specific knowledge, skills, and behaviors necessary to begin an entry-level position.
  • Career Ready: Possesses key content knowledge and key learning skills and techniques sufficient to begin studies in a career pathway.
  • College Ready: Prepared in the four keys to college and career readiness necessary to succeed in entry‐level general education courses.
Criteria for College Readiness (Conley, 2010)

Conley goes beyond the ACT's definition and Schmeiser's "simple statement" of what constitutes as college readiness by identifying four criteria for both college "success" and "survival":
  • Key Content Knowledge: Deeper knowledge, understanding, and awareness of academic vocabulary, terminology, and specific details and elements of the core academic disciplines
  • Key Cognitive Strategies: Demonstration of higher order thinking and communication of depth of knowledge of what is being taught and learned
  • Key Learning Skills and Techniques: Academic behaviors and life skills such as goal-setting, persistence, self-direction, study skills, and time management
  • Key Transition Knowledge and Skills: Deeper knowledge, understanding, and awareness of the organizational and social structures of a postsecondary institution and the student's identity, role, and responsibilities within the institution.
Conley's criteria for college success and survival - or what he refers to as "college knowledge" - goes much more in-depth description of what students need to know, understand, and be able to do by the time they graduate high school that goes beyond not needing to take remedial courses or even academic proficiency and performance.

However, it's still rhetoric - in this case, academic instead of political.

We educators do not need any more campaigning about what we need to do to prepare our students for life after high school.  We understand.  We need to make sure they acquire and develop the knowledge, skills, and behaviors that will not only strengthen our workforce and economy but also strengthen their chances at succeeding and surviving in their personal and professional lives.   

We also do not need any more theory explaining to us the pedagogical, psychological, or sociological qualities and traits that mark a graduate as ready to meet or exceed the demands, expectations, and responsibilities they will encounter in their personal and professional endeavors.   We are presented with numerous ideologies, philosophies, and theories about what postsecondary readiness means that we can reference.

However, we need practical strategies that will help us educators provide teaching and learning experiences that support postsecondary readiness.

Practical Strategies for Postsecondary Readiness
Work readiness can be addressed through the discipline policies, practices, procedures, and programs we implement at our school.  However, we need to examine and explore whether how discipline is administered and our expectations for behavior mirror its administration and the expectations of the workforce.   We also need to consider how we educators also behave as employees, the expectations for our behavior, and whether we are presenting the demeanor we want our students to develop.

Is the discipline administered at our school or in our classroom based upon punishment and reward or consequences of positive and negative actions?  Are the negative consequences more punitive than educational?  How can students be held accountable while also learn - or even want to learn -from their mistakes and setbacks?   

We also need to reflect upon our own behaviors and demeanor at work and whether they model work readiness.   What does our employer expect of us?  Are we dressing professionally or do we push the policy for appropriate dress?How are we educators as employees of the school conducting ourselves?   How do we behave when we are attending a staff meeting or a professional development?  Are we sitting attentively ready and willing to learn and being respectful to the person speaking or are we whispering to our neighbor, texting on our phone, surfing the internet, or even being rude and disrespectful to the person presenting because we don't like what they are saying - or even like them as a person?

Job readiness is a combination of developing skills and teaching responsibility.  However, we need to examine and explore whether the skills they are learning are what the workforce wants from their future and prospective employees.  We also need to consider what exactly being responsible and taking responsibility means.

How are our students working?  Are they working at their desks by themselves as if they were in a cubicle expected to complete the same tasks as everyone else, or are they working together as a group contributing their knowledge, strengths, and skills to complete the task?  Who's in charge?  Do they need to be told what to do or are they self-directed?  Do they need to wait to be told what they need to do and be given explicit guidelines or are they encouraged to take the initiative as well as risks?  What are the technology tools they are using to help them learn?

We also need to think about our own experiences on our first job or working an entry-level position, whether we were prepared well with the skills needed, or did we fully understand the responsibilities facing us.  What did we learn before we attained our first job and what did we have to learn on the job?  What do we wish our teachers taught us about the world of work?  What technology and tools did we have to learn - or relearn - how to use?

Career readiness is about teaching our students to set goals and understanding how to handle setbacks, successes, and shifts (not work ones).  We need to challenge and engage students to consider how they can develop their interests, skills, and talents into a career.   We also need to help our students realize that their interests may change, their skills may develop even deeper, and they may discover they have talents they can use to set themselves on a career path they never imagined.

How are the teaching and learning experiences provided in our classroom and school helping set our students on a career path as young as Kindergarten while also helping them realize the direction of their career path may change, which is completely appropriate?  How may we support our students in developing their interests, skills, and talents into a possible career they can begin preparing for presently?

We also need to look at our own beliefs and perspectives about our career.  What made us want to become educators?  Why do we continue to stay in education?  What happened when our careers went in a different direction?  Is this what we always foresaw ourselves doing, did our career paths take an unexpected turn for the better (or worse), or did we create our own career out of our education and experiences?

Of all the criteria in postsecondary readiness, teaching and learning for college readiness is the most concrete and familiar since educators are all college graduates and are familiar with the type of work they did in college.  However, we need to consider whether we are primarily focusing on developing foundational knowledge and basic skills or are we truly providing our students the type of teaching and learning they will encounter in college.

Lecture is a teaching method in college, especially in the introductory and lower level courses of colleges and universities in which our students may be one of hundreds of other underclassmen.  Students are also generally assessed and evaluated in these classes by multiple choice tests.  However, the complexity of those tests often require students to gain deeper knowledge, understanding, and awareness about what the concept, idea, subject, or topic and think critically about what the correct answer could be.  More importantly, the student is generally expected to do this on their own.  

College professors lectures are generally either deep discussions about a concept more based upon their own conclusions and theories than what the text says or, if the professor wrote the text, expanding and expounding upon their research and work.  They don't expect to have to teach the basics because the student should be well-versed enough in learning to develop their own knowledge, understanding, and awareness.  They should also be able to understand what the professor is discussing and form their own conclusions.

After the introductory courses, students generally demonstrate and communicate what they have learned in the following ways:
  • research
  • investigations
  • experiments and hands-on learning
  • collaboration
  • project design
  • communication using oral, written, creative, and technical expression
These learning experiences not only require students to demonstrate and communicate deeper knowledge, understanding, and awareness of what they are being taught and learning but also provide students experiences with the type of tasks they will experience in the workplace.

These are the type of learning experiences we need to provide our students in our classroom.  Lecture is a good thing, but as the old adage goes, too much of a good thing is not a good thing.  We need to lecture to introduce topics and also help students develop their listening skills.  However, we need to ensure our lectures are a balance of providing and discussing information.  We should only focus on the very basics, giving students just enough they need to know to be able to answer simple questions, address simple problems, and accomplish simple tasks.

However, this should also constitute between 20% and 30% of the learning experience - if that.  The rest of the experience should have the students take the basics of what they learn and go deeper with it by researching and investigating.  They should test validate the concepts, ideas, and theories they learned through experiments and hands-on learning.  They should take what their learned and create new ideas, perspectives, and ways of thinking and demonstrate and communicate their innovative and inventive ideas through project design, development, planning, and production.  They should also not have to feel alone in their endeavors and seek out other resources - the teacher, the text, their peers, credible sources of information, or even experts - who can help them accomplish their goals and deepen their learning.

When they talk about preparing our students to be college and career ready, this is what it means, and hopefully, these are the practical strategies we all educators know, understand, and are able to do.

And remember what happened to Bluto after he finally graduated college...

- E.M.F.