Earlier this month I attended a planning session for the English Bridge to College pilot – a course for high school seniors who potentially will be attending community college after graduation. The course is a joint project between OSPI (Washington State’s K-12 Superintendent’s office) and SBCTC (the state’s community and technical college governing board). The goal of the course is to prepare students to be “college ready” before they take a college-level English class. High schools that are selected to participate in the program will use this spring’s SBAC scores to identify potential candidates for the pilot next fall. This echoes the state colleges’ decision to use SBAC scores to place their incoming students in core classes.
On the one hand, this is pragmatic. Washington State’s Community and Technical Colleges are losing money offering remedial classes for students who are not adequately prepared for college. On the other hand, this is a chance to bridge the gap between secondary school teachers and college professors. As Shoreline Community College English Professor Dutch Henry put it, “this is an a opportunity to create lasting partnerships between K-12 schools and Higher Ed to make a K-16 experience for our students.”
What Henry means is this pilot is a real chance to create a seamless education system in Washington that would strive for all students to attend school from Kindergarten to College. The first step in this process is having secondary teachers and college professors converse about what “college readiness” means in their classrooms. This, actually, is a novel concept. Right now the relationship is more built on assumptions, than partnerships. We assume we know what the other is doing in their classrooms, and then, blame the other for our students’ lack of preparation.
I am guilty of doing this as much as anyone. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had with my English department lamenting how unprepared our ninth graders are for high school. We disingenuously assume the middle school teachers only teach PowerPoint presentations or projects involving glitter and poster boards, instead of instructing writing. Yet, I rarely chat with my middle school colleagues in my district to see what they are actually instructing, nor collaborate with them to align our curriculum.
To have the opportunity to select curriculum with Higher Ed instructors was a unique opportunity I was excited to be involved with. I worked in a small group with college writing instructors from across the state to evaluate either LDC learning modules (aimed at secondary students) or modules from the California State College System (aimed at incoming college freshman) could or should be used for the course. We searched for modules that connected to our students lives, that were lasting and could be taught many years from now with fidelity, and would progress students’ reading and writing skills from adequate to advanced based upon the Common Core.
I enjoyed the discussions my group had evaluating each module. We looked at modules instructing how students can find text-based evidence, a unit using Orwell’s 1984 to teach informative essays, any my personal favorite, a module using Op-Eds to teach students rhetoric and argumentative writing. However, the best part of the day was the discourse between the different stake holders in the room.
I taught a few sections of College Composition as a grad student almost ten years ago, but I had no idea what that looked like today. I surveyed two of the college profs in my group what skills their incoming students had and what skills they felt their students lacked. Surprisingly, I saw some of the same gaps with my students. They can write a 5-paragraph essay, they know how to develop a thesis, and have some sense how to decode vocabulary. But, they lack the ability to critically think without guidance, are unable to annotate texts, are unsure how to research a topic and evaluate sources, and most troubling, they lack the “soft skills” like grit, self-advocacy, and creativity to be successful at the college level. Finally, the profs all said they were “disheartened” how few of their students had been exposed to academic writing. I made a mental note to share this info with English department.
At the end of the day, all the groups reported out about which modules we would implement immediately and which modules we would scrap. Then, we discussed how to move forward.
Amy Ripley from OSPI Language Arts Office encouraged the K-12 teachers in the room to apply to pilot the course. Justin Young, Director of the Composition Program and Writing Center at Eastern Washington University, asked whether a college could apply for the pilot. Before Ripley could answer, Dutch Henry smiled and answered for her, “If we have both colleges and K-12 schools participating in the pilot, that’s real K-16 readiness.”