We talk a lot about the importance of college and career readiness. We say that students need to be prepared for both when they graduate high school. However, for a number of reasons, the reality is that most are not.
When I taught English at Northern Arizona University, my students entered my classroom at both ends of the spectrum. I had a student who had taken AP English in high school, was writing “A” essays at the start, and had aspirations to be an English teacher herself. I had another student who typed with his two index fingers, didn’t know how to spell simple words such as “that,” and had never heard the word “thesis” before. As a college teacher with students who were all over the board, I knew that because my students weren’t held to sufficient college and career readiness standards some of them would be left out in terms of teaching and learning.
Endless cycle of “teaching to the middle”
The best way I could spend my time was “teaching to the middle.” I knew it would be unbearable for my top-performing students to have to go over the basics of MLA format and how to write a thesis statement, but it was completely new information for about half of my students. On the other hand, trying to explain the complexities of a well-written argumentative or analytical essay went right over some students’ heads. Unfortunately, the “teaching to the middle” philosophy is exactly what got these students here to begin with, and my perpetuating that cycle didn’t help anything.
A need for personalized learning
What students really need is a personalized approach. For teachers and schools using a blended learning model, this is easy. They use a teaching model in which the students are learning in part through virtual courseware, and in part in a brick-and-mortar classroom. Implementing this kind of approach frees up the teacher to spend time working with students in small groups or one on one, ensuring that students are receiving the education they need.
This type of individualized attention has a multitude of benefits:
- Students become familiar with the technology they’ll need to use every day in college and in their careers. It would be a disservice if students graduated without knowing how to use basic word processing software or without knowing how to type.
- Students can take ownership of their own learning. They need to understand early on that knowledge is power and they have to reach out and collect that knowledge—no one is going to simply hand it over to them.
- Students learn to ask for help when they need it. This is one of the most vital lessons a student can learn before entering college or a career, because a professor or boss isn’t necessarily going to know that they’re struggling unless they raise their hands and say so.
The next generation of students
Once blended learning models are more widely accepted in schools across the country, more students will graduate college and career ready. I know I would have had a much more successful experience as a college teacher if my students were more prepared. And, I wish I had the technology we have so readily available today to transform my college classroom into a blended classroom. My students would have been much better served if I had.