Tuesday, January 27, 2015

If you could talk to them a year before they come....

Greetings, all!

It has been a minute, to be sure. I've missed your cynical avatars. Your woeful tales of miserable snowflakes. Your classy heartfelt advice. The duck.

Anyway, I have a question for you. Something to crowd-source on this not-at-all-overblown snow day that half the country has been experiencing (crybabies).

If you could contact the Freshman class of 2015 now, before they enter the classroom, what skills would you want them to have? This year's seniors are focusing on violin lessons and charity work to be attractive to their top choice. What should they focus on instead?

I feel like a running theme here is how unprepared our students are for the real work of college. I blame the Admissions process, which focuses more on how many extra-curriculars and AP tests a student has than they focus on study habits, independence, and writing skills. But if it were in your power to, I don't know, conquer Admissions and have a better sense of what students are coming in and what skills they bring with, well.... what would be on your wish list?

29 comments:

  1. Well, your question is more directed at competitive schools than nearly-open-enrollment publics, but I'll tell you what I suggest, if someone actually asked:

    Read.

    Fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, sports journalism, NYT op-eds, whatever.

    Read, and talk about what you're reading with people (online or in person, whatever)

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    1. I think that open enrollment schools also have to spend an awful lot of time creating remedial content for catching students up to college level. Just because a check clears doesn't mean they are ready for college, and all my CC friends spend their lives essentially teaching 9th grade high school writing.

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    2. At our open-access institution, about 30% of our incoming students don't meet the ACT reading benchmark.

      And they don't see why they should have to take the non-degree credit English and college reading courses before they can start taking courses for credit.

      So...yeah. It's fun all the time here.

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  2. Second that.

    It would have helped if they had read an entire encyclopedia set in junior high, but that requires being in a Zen state of nothingness, and America is all pointless business.

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    1. I remember doing this in elementary school when my parents bought us a set of encyclopedias. Was that a foreshadowing of what my career and calling in life would be? Probably. :)

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  3. College is not high school. Your professors can, and will, fail you without the slightest compunction if you don't do the work. So develop the skill of self directed time management, because we won't do it for you.

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  4. Interesting. I thought you'd focus on skills -- know how to research responsibly, how to write, how create a lab report -- but you seem more concerned with content.

    That is a complete surprise to me.

    Dresner, what do you view as the goal of this reading? Familiarity with the world, being more confident in tackling longer articles, elevating discourse?

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    1. I've never been 100% convinced there was a real difference between skill and content

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    2. For me (a writing teacher), the point of wide reading would not be so much content, but deep and wide (though perhaps unconscious) familiarity with a wide variety of genres, prose styles, ways of indicating the sources of information/ideas (formal citation isn't the be-all/end-all, though it's one often-clunky, very formal way of accomplishing something that needs to happen, in most cases less visibly and more gracefully, in all nonfiction and some fiction writing), etc., etc. Most encyclopedias probably wouldn't accomplish the purpose, because the style is too uniform, but a 50+-year-old Britannica might (though the rest of the vocabulary and world view the kid absorbed might be a bit scary).

      It's really, really hard to teach someone who hasn't read to write (or to read something more complicated than a textbook, or even a textbook). The two are complementary, and the process needs to start as early as possible, but one could do worse that send the class of 2015 to an island with no screens or internet connectivity, but lots and lots of old books and magazines. Alternatively, just lock them in a used book store or technologically-outdated library for the summer (with appropriate alimentary and sanitary resources, of course).

      The result would either be better-prepared freshpeople, or an updated version of Lord of the Flies. Maybe both.

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    3. I don't know how I ever left. The blog relaunched, I got excited, and then a million things happened and suddenly it's almost February.

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    4. You got back just in time for me to close the site again. 10...9...8...7...

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    5. DONT YOU DARE PLAY WITH MY HEART

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    6. What Contingent Cassandra said, mostly. A writing instructor once told me that the best way to improve writing is by reading and writing, and the more someone reads and writes, the better they get. There's a little more to it than that, but I see assigning interesting and substantial readings as a very real part of my job.

      Reading is a cheap and quick way of experiencing things without having to experience them, so to speak. I think a lack of imagination and empathy to be at least as substantial barriers to learning as bad historical preparation.

      Reading and writing are forms of thinking (don't push me too hard on this point, it's protean and still pretty weak) that are really powerful tools in the world.

      It's not about content, but about empathy, and breadth of understanding, and experience with words and styles. You need content for that, obviously, but what's important isn't the specifics of the content but that there be something there.

      Not sure that's a good answer to the question, but that's what I've got.

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  5. Please bring sharpened abilities to concentrate, to focus, to attend to task, to think, to pay attention, to...oh who am I trying to kid

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  6. Ability to keep track of assignments found a silly thing called the syllabus...

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  7. College isn't here solely to provide you with a job. An education is about more than being employed.

    TO echo the first post: READ SUBSTANTIALLY so you're not so ignorant about everything.

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  8. Learn to focus, to work hard (without whining), and, if you're going into science, to do algebra. I'm sick of students who've passed a calculus class or three, but can't do simple algebra.

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  9. LEARN TO LISTEN and WRITE THINGS DOWN so we don't have to repeat things 18 times before you actually understand what it is that's required.

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    1. or at least to read the "too long & complicated" assignment prompts we write because we know you're probably not going to do either of the above.

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  10. I'd want to somehow tell them to worry about learning the material (with all its setbacks and mistakes), and stop worrying about "what-the-teacher-wants". What the !@$%#% prof wants is for you to learn the #%%@# material.

    I have no idea how to get this message across to someone who doesn't already get it.

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  11. Yep I'm a college students and I've seen a lot of students who don't do the work, especially a lot of athletes who do the bare minimum,

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  12. I got lots of advice at that age. Some of it was good, and some of it was bad. Some of it I listened to, some of it I didn’t. The best advice I got at 17 that I listened to was that if you take a girl out on a date and she's mean to the waiter, she's mean, and it's just a matter of time until that gets turned on you.

    But then, why do we think they will listen to us? I observe that they almost never do, and maybe rightly so.

    Nevertheless, if I had to say something, it's that they're going to need lots of money in college (which they already know, so maybe it'll sink in), so they should get the best-paying job they can get now, for all the things they'll need in college, nudge-nudge, wink-wink. (Again, we want this to sink in, so be totally shameless.) With any luck, the best-paying jobs a 17-year-old can get will be thoroughly disagreeable, e.g. laying sod or house painting. What I want them to get from this is what it's like to work a disagreeable job, so when they get to college, they will take the opportunity seriously and STUDY. For the rare and perhaps aberrational 17-year-old inclined to listen to me, I'd say not to pass up opportunities lightly.

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    1. Oh, and stop being snobbish of the working class, since you've been there!

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  13. Yes, this business of admission based on `extracurriculars' and being `well-rounded' is an American distortion that doesn't do anybody any good. I'll admit the single-minded young person who found his/her passion already and pursues it rain or snow or shine with precedence over the `well-rounded' any time.

    With that out of the way--my message would be that college started already. Personally I'm much more interested in mastery of specific content than `general skills'. So get the Calculus book (they're all the same) and start working all the problems, especially the hard ones. Do enough integrals that the whole business becomes second nature (you'll need that.) Get a hold of the Physics book and--same thing. Read good, interesting fiction (I don't know, Murakami, Chabon, Borges), and some Philosophy can't hurt, either. Get used to the idea that you have to teach yourself ; the profs are just there to point to what they find interesting, it's up to you to make it your own.

    There's a large number of universities that are roughly equivalent in terms of faculty resources and material ones; wherever you go, make sure you surround yourself with people at least as smart as you are. That's not so easy if you pick the party school.


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  14. Forget everything you learned in high school. And gird your loins. And open your minds. And quit being little shits.

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  15. Understand that there are 168 hours in a week. No more, no less. In those hours, you have 15 hours of class time plus 3 hours of work per credit per week--sometimes more, sometimes less. You need to sleep. You need to eat. You probably have a job. You have to do your laundry regularly. You might have kids. You might be at a commuter college. You have to learn how to manage the finite number of hours available so that you can get your work done on time. Because I don't take late work.

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    1. It sounds a bit like you want a brand new parenting experience: 18 years of re-raising children to adulthood. Lol.

      Also: just heard about Herr Walker's $300 million budget cut and its impact on Wisconsin learning institutions.... I thought of your excellent coverage of the protests so many years ago. And that guy wants to run for Prezzie? Boggles the mind.

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