College Readiness is Not an Excuse for Bad Teaching.

Chad OstrowskiBlog, Innovation, Mastery Learning, Start Here

College Readiness is Not an Excuse for Bad Teaching

What about college readiness? I hear this from time to time during workshops as we discuss things like lesson structure, homework, grading, student ownership, or even multiple attempts on assignments. Whenever an educator wants to continue doing something like lecturing all the time, or scold and punish a student for forgetting a pencil, they say: “we need to prepare them for college, don’t we?”

There are a lot of reasons why this philosophy is completely illogical and incorrect, but I’d like to share just a few of my top reasons with you below.

Bad teaching tomorrow is NO excuse for bad teaching today.

Based on everything we know about education and all of the research and meta-analysis that has occurred I can undeniably tell you that lecturing does not work.

The same goes for un-engaging, textbook-driven instruction, direct note-taking, and mundane, un-inspired lessons that mimic the atmosphere of a college classroom. Many times when we discuss changing some of these out-dated and ineffective methods, we’ll hear “but that’s what they will need to do in college.” First off, instruction is changing in colleges and universities as more and more move towards competency based education and more immersive experiences. More importantly, though, just because they might get this type of instruction in college, doesn’t mean it’s what your students need now.

Just because a traditional model of instruction (that does not work by the way) is provided for students later, does not mean that putting them through the same model will better prepare them for success. What will prepare them is mastering content and building confidence in the material now. This will build a foundation of understanding for them that will allow them to further apply concepts they have learned from innovative, and engaging instruction that you’ve provided them!

Failing a student in your class will never prepare them for later success.

Let me start this by saying I have written quite a bit about, and talk constantly about, the importance of letting your students fail, and struggle while learning occurs. This is not what I am talking about here. I am referencing to when a teachers says, “well, they have to learn the hard way that they need to work harder.”

Failure can be a powerful tool. In fact, one of my mantras is that F.A.I.L. stands for “First Attempt In Learning” (I even put it on a poster for you). With this said however, when you try to use failure without providing the proper support, scaffolding, and opportunity for success, it becomes a dangerous weapon that just hurts the student.  Even the phrase “learn the hard way” doesn’t make sense to me in the context of education. Our job as educators is to help students learn the easiest way possible based on our expertise and experience and professionals.

Failing a student won’t make them go, “wow that teacher really cared about me…I’m going to work harder from now on.” What will do that is building a relationship, creating opportunity for them to succeed, and meeting them where they are with your instruction.

I’m not saying students should never fail classes. I’m saying it should never be utilized as a threat or weapon against them or their work habits. Our job as educators is to create bridges, ladders, and scaffolding to allow students to succeed…not walls to make failing more likely.

Your Job is to remove barriers NOT create them.

One of the other sides of teaching is the teaching of things that we call “soft skills.” These include preparation, effort, communication, collaboration, etc. We want our students to be productive members of society and take these universally applicable skills with them when they leave our classrooms. While I agree that these need to be taught, no student has ever improved or been helped by a teacher saying “you forgot your pencil, so you fail for today.”

Our students are coming to us from places we sometimes aren’t aware of, and sometimes from situations we can’t even imagine. This is especially true when teaching in a high needs urban middle school. When a student would forget something simple like a pencil or a book, my response was never “whelp…you need to learn responsibility so you don’t get to learn today and will take a zero.” There is nothing productive about this consequence. You have now taken a simple speed bump and created a full barrier to learning, while also demeaning and devaluing the student.

The correct action is to remove the barrier so that learning can occur. To put it simply GIVE THEM WHAT THEY NEED TO SUCCEED AND LEARN IN YOUR CLASS!!!

Yes, you may want to have a discussion about why they don’t have what they need, or maybe discuss some of the causes with the student. But for the sake of everything good…LET THEM LEARN. This same sentiment should be applied in all cases, whether it’s “I forgot my homework” or “I didn’t read last night.” Provide your students with an opportunity for success, not a trap door to failure.

Every little thing a student can forget to do, bring, or prepare for can become an excuse. As teachers we should remove as many excuses as humanly possible. Lock every door to failure we possibly can before our students can put their hands on the knob. Set them up for success, help them work through failure, and above all else…be their biggest asset and resource, not their adversary in their pursuit of success.

Final thoughts.

The next time you think you are “teaching a student a lesson” or “preparing them for college” by making learning less effective, harder, or more obstructive than it has to be…STOP. Step back and consider that you have an opportunity to be what actually shows them the power of education and learning. You have an opportunity to be the teacher that gives them the confidence, skills, knowledge, and ability to succeed in college by helping, not hurting, their success. Let’s make every student “college and career ready.” Not by making failure easy for them, but by making success our expectation and making it our job to get them there.