– Peter Santoro –
As a teacher in a public high school, the term “college-ready” gets thrown around a lot. What does it mean? Our students all do well on the New York State standardized tests, SATs, and ACTs. Doesn’t that mean they are ready for college? According to EdGlossary, college-ready is much more than scoring well on those standardized tests. The term college-ready also includes all “the knowledge, skills and aptitudes” that students will need to be successful in higher education. How do we, as teachers, ensure our students’ success on those standardized tests and equip them with the skills necessary to succeed in the world of higher education? This is where a conflict between those two ideas gets real for all classroom teachers.
In public high schools, there is a LOT of pressure to deliver results, a.k.a. the need to “teach to the test.” With the introduction of Common Core a few years ago, that pressure escalated even more. In general, my state did a poor job of rolling out Common Core. Teachers weren’t sure what to teach, and more importantly, how to teach the varied topics. There was virtually no training and the implementation was rushed and poorly planned. Common Core was supposed to help in the area of college readiness, wasn’t it? In theory, if planned and implemented correctly, that would have been true. In the trenches (our classrooms), though, we were treading water to keep from drowning. Who could think about college-readiness? All we could think about was: how do I present this material so that my students do well on the standardized exams at the end of the school year?
The feedback from colleges and universities to the school guidance counselors was that our students were able to perform the required skills, but when they actually had to apply those skills to solve problems, they fell short more often than not. There was a disconnect, and many students were ill-equipped to deal with setbacks. For their entire K12 school careers, they earned great success. It is easy to understand why: they never had to struggle with school work nor were they asked to apply their knowledge in any meaningful way. This is the classic problem with “teaching to the test.” As a teacher, how do you extricate yourself from this sinkhole of teaching despair? In the mad rush to present the new content, there was no time to do anything more than that.
I would talk about “active learning strategies” and my colleagues would look at me as if I landed here from Mars! Some did not even know what the term meant. Others were so quick to point out that there was no time for any creativity, particularly with the school calendar marching on and with so much content yet to cover. Active learning is the solution to the college-readiness issue. Colleges and universities are expecting students who can perform at the upper levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. They want students to go beyond applying. The real thinking occurs when students analyze, evaluate and create. This is how discoveries are made in all fields of study.
As you can see, the overarching problem teachers face is time, or actually the lack of face-to-face (or group space) time with their students. Flipped Learning is the solution to this “time” problem. In my classroom, I have been able to move my students from passive learning to active learning. I have used Inquiry, Mastery and Project Based Learning to transform my classroom into a dynamic, active learning space. My students are developing intellectual curiosity as they delve deeper into the mathematics topics that are in my curriculum. Mastery has enabled my students to regain their confidence, and it motivates them to learn more. More importantly, my students are willing to take risks with their learning in their quest to learn more. When I introduced Project Based Learning, it transformed my classroom. By giving my students choice, they take ownership of their learning, their research, and the way they present what they have learned. In addition, my students have learned resilience and have become much more resourceful in their learning. Active learning strategies have enabled my students to move to higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy in ways they had not believed possible.
College professors are expecting our students to have not only the base knowledge but also the ability to build upon it, then apply it in varied ways. Our high school students need to have skills to conduct academic research, exercise their intellectual curiosity, explore, question, and apply what they have learned. Our students need to be good writers and have experience in presenting their learning in varied ways.
This is the real test of college-readiness. I have many students who come back to school to visit after they have been in college for a year or more. All of them tell me their stories of success in their post-high school studies. I always ask them how well-prepared they were in meeting the expectations of their professors. My students all feel well-prepared to meet the challenges they face in college, but this is due to the active learning that students experience in my classes. Without Flipped Learning, I would not be able to cover all the required content and provide an active learning classroom. For high school teachers, there is this push and pull that takes place in every school. We have content to cover, and we have to prepare our students for college. Success happens when we can do both, and do them well. And Flipped Learning is the magic sauce needed to make that happen.