Monday, July 25, 2011

Defining College Prep - Part 4

In my original post on the topic, I explained that I've been exploring what "college prep" actually means, both in 2011 and in the years to come. After all, I believe its entirely possible we're doing "college prep" in schools across the country based on what college looked like for us years ago rather than based on what college actually looks like now and may look like in the near future. To get a current, accurate snapshot of what's happening on college campuses, my school organized an Alumni Summit, a round-table discussion with current college and university students. In a nut shell, they said the three things most frequently expected by their college professors are:
  • Collaboration for the purpose of solving a problem
  • Reading, writing, discussion
  • Clear, concise, fact-based oral communication
Let's look next at the third point: clear, concise, fact-based oral communication. The alum were unified in their message on this point. College professors fully expect students to be able to articulate their thoughts, ideas, arguments, beliefs, etc., orally.

This third point certainly flows from the second point. Just as college professors expect students to communicate well through the written word, they also expect students to communicate well via the spoken word. The alum cited numerous examples from their classes in a wide variety of disciplines in which the professors would call on students and expect them to articulate or explain the solution to a problem, an hypothesis based on a reading or observation, an interpretation or analysis of a piece of literature, or something else along those lines. Often the professors would needle the student who had been called upon until the professor was satisfied with the response; the poorer the communication skills, the longer the student would remain on the hot-seat.

The alum in the liberal arts and humanities, in particular, noted that professors often required students to demonstrate mastery and/or comprehension of a particular passage by taking a position and defending it. Furthermore, as with the expectation that students cite specific lines or quotes in writing assignments, professors frequently expect students to refer back to texts when speaking.

Several alum noted that when they were required to collaborate on problems or projects, they frequently had to give oral presentations in lieu of written presentations. These presentations, they explained, couldn't be canned, rote orations because the professors and other students often interrupted them to ask questions or present opposing viewpoints. The presenters were expected to then get right back on track.

The alum added an interesting footnote to this topic. Almost to a person, they agreed that students who argued and spoke with confidence and authority usually got off the hook sooner than those who floundered.

What does this mean for today's high schools? Well, for starters, the Speech class in your school that's been assigned to the offensive line coach because "it's just Speech class" needs to be taken seriously. Also, teachers in every content area should require students to participate in meaningful discussion in class. The best teachers already do this and they often use a rubric to assess the caliber of students' contributions to the class. Finally, as often as possible, students should be afforded every opportunity to speak in front of large groups of their peers; chapels, pep rallies, town hall meetings, school assemblies and other community meetings are terrific opportunities for this to happen.


Randy Wright J.D. said...

Nathan, I agree that having a foundation in oratory skills is imperative for the modern college student. In my studies at Saint Edward's University it was a crucial fundamental skill that was required in nearly all of the required classes. Effective communication, whether it be the written or spoken word is a fundamental requirement for undergraduate, as well as graduate level education.

One area, coupled with communication skills, that many modern college students struggle with is time management. From the time you knew me at Vanguard, through my time at Law School, the one key area that lead to my successful completion of my degrees was time management. During my entire educational development I witnessed first hand students who struggled with time management. Indeed, procrastination seemed to be a common denominator amongst students who were struggling.

Having a stronger focus on oration will help instill a sense of time management in students. Speeches, by their very nature, contain time constraints which requires the student to form a succinct point within the allotted time. I believe that one of the best examples of this was an in class project that was implemented not only in my college level speech class, but also in my advocacy class in law school, was the in class topic assignment and speech. That is to say, at the beginning of a class session, the instructor assigns each student a topic and allots twenty (20) minutes to research the topic, and then an additional ten (10) minutes to prepare the speech. Once that time has elapsed each student must then present the speech they had prepared for evaluation.

That sort of project ultimately hones the sort of time management skill which is needed for a student to excel at the undergraduate level. These sorts of projects occur throughout every field of study at the undergraduate level, and require that the student have a foundation in time management. In my experience, time management is the key to satisfactory performance in all of the educational, and indeed professional tasks that a student will face in his or her life. The earlier in their educational career that a student can master these skills the better.

The students who I saw fail in their endeavors, were the ones who simply could not find an efficient way to manage their time. That is not to say that there might not be other factors contributing to their failure, rather it seems to be one of the over arching contributors. Therefore the question for me is, what is the best method to instill the skill of time management for students? I think, as previously mentioned, that taking the speech classes seriously is one approach, but are there other possible approaches that could be applied as well? I would be curious to hear your thoughts on this.

Randy A. Wright J.D.

Nathan Barber said...

Randy, great to hear from you. I certainly appreciate your thoughts and insight. Thanks for sharing.

Regarding your time management inquiry... I will answer your inquiry in a post shortly, as my response will be too long for the comments section. You may be surprised at my answer...