Of all the challenges posed by the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, this may be the greatest: if we are truly to be a nation of college-goers, we must not only raise the bar on what students learn but we must also leverage an understanding of noncognitive factors to teach adolescents how to become effective learners. In the absence of developing students as learners, current reform efforts are unlikely to succeed at increasing students’ readiness for college.UCHICAGO CCSR Literature Review, Teaching Adolescents To Become Learners
This excerpt, from a report that describes the impact of noncognitive factors on student learning, achievement, and college readiness, has always resonated with me as a classroom teacher. I knew early on that many of the students I served struggled academically for no other reason than they had never had the opportunity to develop as learners. When students gain regular practice with the skills and habits that are the foundation for learning they approach their education with strategy, confidence, and resilience.
Organized Binder evolved out of my practice because I wanted to instill that academic dexterity in my students. I cared more about this work and less about the content I was charged to teach because it was clear to me that if I was to increase the rigor of my course without also developing them as learners, my efforts would fall short. Clearly we are not getting this right in classrooms around the country. A report from California Community Colleges found that,
“More than 70 percent of community college students who enter the system are under prepared to do college-level work with the majority being first generation college students, low-income and/or minority."Recommendations from the Student Success Task Force for Community Colleges
It does not have to be this way. Change is possible. Students can graduate from their K12 journey equipped for college or to pursue a career. The key is for teachers to embed the teaching of skills and habits into the teaching of content. The report from the University of Chicago cited above goes on to say that, "To make this shift, educators need to understand how best to help adolescents develop as learners in their classes. This should not be framed as an additional task for teachers, though for many it may mean teaching in new ways." When teachers see the teaching of noncognitive factors as one more thing they need to do or teach, they become overwhelmed because there is rarely enough time in the school day, the class period, the semester, or the school year to teach all of the content in their course in the first place.
An AP Biology teacher from San Jose, CA a few years back emailed in to share his students success with NGSS and the Common Core. He wrote, “I thoroughly enjoy Organized Binder as a dynamic component in my Biology class and my 2 sections of AP Biology. It aligns perfectly with CCSS & NGSS, making students read, write, and think!” In a follow up conversation with this teacher I asked him to explain further "read, write, and think!" He explained that by incorporating the system into his classes he could focus largely on teaching Biology because his students, by virtue of the classroom routine, were getting practice with the skills and habits needed to be successful in his rigorous AP course.
Until we take as seriously the teaching of skills as we do the teaching of content our efforts are unlikely to have any influence on students' success and their ability to thrive at the post-secondary level. How do you teach skills and habits to your students? What impact is it having on your class and your efforts to prepare your students for live beyond your class.
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