We are finishing up week seven of our 15 week fall semester. We have the same rhythm as college classes, so midterms are happening, projects are both beginning and coming due, classes are intensifying, the end of the semester is looming, and students and teachers are exhausted. Last week our staff held our first of two big meetings where we discuss the progress of every first-year student in our program. The rest of the week was then devoted to student-led conferences. This added another level of intensity and urgency to our students’ lives, because they are coming to the realization that some of them really will be registering for university courses in January, and some of them will not. In order to register for university courses, students must demonstrate college-level soft skills and academic readiness, and this brings me back to “in our program, college and career readiness is everything.” (A side note: we primarily focus on skills required to complete a Bachelor’s degree because we are located on-campus at a four year university). However, we do our very best to prepare students for the careers they are interested in, even when those careers require a program not available at our university).
We directly teach soft skills. We use a variety of instructional methods for both soft skills and content. We provide as many supports as we possible can to the students and families. But ultimately, it comes down to the students’ grit and determination, and I saw a whole new level of that this week. College and career readiness takes on many forms. These are some of the things I witnessed this week as students began to make that transition to college-ready. As they always do, the students amaze me and surprise me on a regular basis.
A student pushed herself to explain her reasoning in class even though she appears very hesitant about her knowledge. A young man consciously chose to sit away from his friends because he realized they easily distract themselves during class. Another student tried sitting more towards the front of the room because I mentioned that in her comments. A different student consciously removed the words “How many points is this worth?” from the beginning of his statements because in his comment I said this was undermining his focus on content; as a result, I learned more about his thinking and processing this week than I have in the previous six weeks. I was met with genuine disappointment from students when I announced my office hours were reduced this week due to another school activity; many students wanted feedback on the assessment corrections, homework, and new study methods they had invested time in. Two students who have never been to office hours came this week to discuss their class notes and how to improve them. On the day I was late to class from a meeting, students were actively discussing math when I walked through the door. Student language has changed this week and I heard more statements taking responsibility for actions and asking for guidance. I saw students really looking at why a method works and how to connect this concept to their prior knowledge. I saw and heard some tears, but I also saw and heard many epiphanies, both about math and how to be a student. Students are beginning to trust us, and that says a lot, because they have only known us for seven weeks and we are asking them to change their beliefs about learning.
I am extremely proud of the work theses students are doing. Each part of the semester has a distinctive energy, and we are getting to my favorite part because I am beginning my transition from “teacher” to “facilitator and coach” as students become more engaged and directive of their learning. They are beginning to understand what it means to be a learner and this is exciting to witness and support. There will be some bumps in the journey, but students are starting to use the bumps as progress checks and signals that maybe a different strategy would be beneficial. They don’t all realize how much they have changed in the last seven weeks, but they will soon. And when students demonstrate the the soft skills and content skills we have specified, they will begin their journey through university classes and wonder why the 19 year old sitting next to them has no idea how to take notes and study independently. And that is my other favorite part of this job – watching our students wonder how other people get to college without these skills that they, themselves, argued against in the first few weeks of school this year!
First published October 23, 2015