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Subject:

'Teaching Unprepared Students'

From:

Dan Kern <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 06:50:26 -0600

Content-Type:

multipart/related

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (215 lines) , image001.jpg (215 lines)

Nov. 25, 2008


'Teaching Unprepared Students'




Many experts say that the United States can only truly see gains in the
percentages of adults who have a college degree if colleges and universities
get better at teaching students who arrived on campus unprepared for
college-level work. But many professors find themselves frustrated by
teaching such students - and many of the students drop out. Kathleen F.
Gabriel's new book is designed to help such faculty members and, ultimately,
their students.
<http://www.styluspub.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=148352> Teaching
Unprepared Students: Strategies for Promoting Success and Retention in
Higher Education was just published by Stylus. In an e-mail interview,
Gabriel, a professor of education at California State University at Chico,
explained some of the key points of the book.

Q: Many professors would love to avoid this subject, saying that high
schools need to do a better job, or remedial classes should provide the
solution. You write that professors need to be engaged on this issue. Why?

A: I certainly agree that high schools need to do a better job of preparing
their students for college level curriculum. However, the reality is that
right now we have freshmen and transfer students who are not prepared, but
who are enrolled in our classes and want to learn. Many colleges do have
some remedial courses, summer bridge programs, and tutoring centers to
assist at-risk and unprepared students and attempt to increase their chances
of being successful. Still, those who have historically been underserved -
including those who are the first in their family to be able to go to
college - have the lowest graduation rate. Furthermore, we should not turn
our backs on students who were not adequately prepared for college in our
current public high school system regardless of the reasons.

If we are sincere about giving at-risk students who are enrolled in our
classes a real chance of success, then professors must be also be engaged
and not just refer these students to academic support or tutoring centers.
If we, the professors, are not reaching out to at-risk or unprepared
students who are enrolled in our classes, then we are simply setting these
students up for failure and, at the same time, only pretending our colleges
have somehow fulfilled a moral obligation of providing opportunities to our
diverse population in today's society.

Furthermore, several studies have proven that professors do make a
difference in their students' intellectual development. Unprepared students
can achieve an increased level of performance with the encouragement and
support of their professors.

Q: Your work stresses the importance of expectations and the way a course
starts off. What's the key to reaching students early?

A: I give several suggestions in my book, but I would say that there are
three very important things professors can do on the first day and during
first week of classes. First, on the first day of class, professors should
have their students participate in an engaging, yet educational, activity.
The activity should be one where professors and students are learning
information about the people enrolled in the class. It is very important to
start learning the students' names and allow students to meet each other.
Learning students' names is key to creating a community atmosphere for a
class.

Second, require students to be in class from the first day, which means
dropping students who are absent on the first day and not allowing students
to add unless they have attended the first class since it is on the first
day that professors should hand out and review the course syllabus. On the
syllabus, professors can include a "welcoming" statement, along with course
policies, expectations, reading assignments, grading policies, etc. (A
syllabus checklist is provided in my book to assist professors along with a
discussion for each of these subtopics.) Grading policies should include a
variety of ways that students can demonstrate what they are learning as well
as an accompanying rubrics for all assignments.

Third, on the first day, have students fill out an information card that not
only includes their contact information, but also has them write why they
signed up for the class and lists their personal goals for the course. By
reaching out to students and asking them to provide information about
themselves, professors can begin creating a positive and inviting
atmosphere. (Additional engaging activities that can be used early in the
semester are discussed in my book.)

Q: What are the common mistakes professors make when confronted with
students who aren't prepared?

A: There are many different ways to help students step-up to higher
standards and make significant gains in their academic performance. Teaching
Unprepared Students is not about lowering standards; it is about how
professors can use different techniques that will help student grow and
improve and how to help the students learn. The biggest mistake a professor
can make is to provide a "false" sense of progress and success to a student
who has not done the work or complied with the expectations that are
outlined on syllabi. I have seen this happen primarily in three different
scenarios.

First, it is a mistake to excuse an unprepared student from a class
assignment or grade his/her work differently from other students in the
class. Professors must hold all of their students to a fair and equal
grading system. There should never be a special deal, or "secret" extra
credit after the fact. Any kind of extra credit or revision that is offered
should be available to every single person enrolled in the class - and
announced publicly in class and well before the last few weeks of a semester
- or after classes have ended. Not holding all students to the same
standards and requirements is unfair to everyone - especially the unprepared
students.

A second mistake is to treat the unprepared students with pity, disrespect,
or considering them academically incapable of improving. Regardless of a
students' academic history, professors should maintain high levels of
expectations for unprepared students since most students tend to respond to
how they are treated and the expectations that are set for them. It is a
mistake not to let students know that you expect their best effort, hard
work, extra time spent on assignments, and make a commitment to the class if
they are behind.

A third mistake is failing to provide students with detailed rubrics for all
assignments, especially written ones. We need to provide the opportunity for
undergraduate students to revise their written assignments. Unless it is
impossible to do, I highly recommend this practice with specific guidelines.

Q: What kind of out-of-classroom support do colleges need to provide to
reinforce what professors are doing in class?

A: There are many ways colleges can support their faculty. Colleges should
have faculty development programs for faculty, and second, colleges need to
have academic support centers available for the students. Faculty
development programs can provide pedagogical workshops and support as
professors develop learner-centered teaching methods to engage students,
broaden their use of assessments and rubrics to improve learning, develop
and improve clear and thorough syllabi, incorporate universal learning
design techniques, etc.

Professors are also supported when colleges have academic support for
students. Having tutoring centers, writing labs, and supplement instruction
programs for targeted classes can help any students who are struggling and
seeking support.

Q: Many fear that too much emphasis on the poorly prepared will detract from
the experience of those who are prepared. How would you respond?

A: The teaching strategies presented in my book are ones that support the
Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,
<http://www.uis.edu/liberalstudies/students/documents/sevenprinciples.pdf>
by Chickering and Gamson, which are positive and beneficial for all students
whether they are highly prepared for college or unprepared. In addition,
several research studies have found that when we engage all students in
"educationally purposeful activities" then all students can benefit. In one
study,  <http://nsse.iub.edu/pdf/Connecting_the_Dots_Report.pdf> "Connecting
the Dots," by Kuh et. al. (2005), they report that the traditionally
underserved students made greater gains but did not do so at the expense of
other more prepared students. Using learner-centered teaching practices and
other techniques that I discuss in my book does not required faculty to
lower their expectations or do anything that would detract from more
prepared students.

- Scott Jaschik <mailto:[log in to unmask]> 

The original story and user comments can be viewed online at
http://insidehighered.com/news/2008/11/25/gabriel
<http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/11/25/gabriel> .

C Copyright 2008 Inside Higher Ed

Comments, so far:

 


Underprepared vs unmotivated


I never had a problem reaching and teaching underprepared students who
wanted to learn. However, the students who are both underprepared and who
lack any semblance of a work ethic are another matter. When these students
have been taught for twelve years that they will advance to the next grade
regardless of how little they have learned or how little effort they have
invested, they are incapable of performing at a college level. That is
because many of them have never even achieved a junior high school level of
self-discipline. Such students are doomed to fail not only in school, but in
life. They are tomorrow's blue- and white-collar criminals.

Steven D. Aird, at 6:40 am EST on November 25, 2008


UNPREPARED?


If they are unprepared for college-level work, retention should not even be
reached as an issue - because they should not be admitted.

Comm Prof, at 7:45 am EST on November 25, 2008

I agree with Aird about motivation. With more and more unprepared students,
and a life outside of work, time becomes a constraint. One should always
work with unprepared students who are willing to make the extra, sometimes
small, effort to succeed. It is not my job to act as a parent by setting up
a whole set of activities and rules to get the student to do what they are
supposed to do. It is certain that employers in this ever increasingly
competitive world environment will not hand-hold them and "pass" them
regardless of outcome performance.

Ollie, Motivation is key, at 7:45 am EST on November 25, 2008

 


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