A Ground-Breaking, Totally Brand-New Approach to Helping Students Succeed

Years ago, a town’s churches and school served as major community and social anchors. In some instances, the two shared a single building. Parents, students, and teachers spent a lot of time together since local events were often held there. As a result, communication was frequent, and relationships were strong. Adults worked together to support the growth, development, and learning of students. Today, as our towns have grown into cities and residents are busy traveling from place to place, we’ve lost that central gathering place. Many parents rarely if ever visit their child’s school, and they typically receive a call or email from a teacher only when there’s a problem. While this practice may have been birthed from an efficiency perspective, it’s resulted in relationships that really aren’t—interactions simply represent the transfer of information: message sent/message received.

It may be one reason why students are still falling between the cracks. Teachers and parents are so busy trying to be efficient they may be overlooking the importance of truly considering the needs of each student. A gifted child may be feeling really frustrated because he’s bored in math class. A student diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) has recently turned inward and has stopped interacting with her peers on the playground. A student whose native language isn’t English may be struggling in American Literature class. Concerns like these can’t be addressed by a simple exchange of information through a phone call or email; it takes collaboration and partnership. It takes active listening, and it takes meeting people where they’re at. In other words, it takes building trust.

Rich, meaningful relationships are hard to build in the sterile, institutional environment found in most schools. That’s why an approach like some teachers in the Salt Lake City metro area are using appears to be so effective—because they are taking an important first step in building trust with parents—they are making home visits. This approach is not earth-shattering nor ground breaking; I actually recall many years ago my sister’s high school English teacher coming to our house for dinner one evening. I remember the uncertainty looming in the house before the event—we weren’t sure why she was coming or what to expect—we just received a note letting know what day and time she would be there. As a result, we cooked and cleaned as if the Queen herself was paying us a visit, hoping it would somehow be acceptable. Turns out, we fretted for nothing—the teacher was there simply to introduce herself and to get to know us better, so she could in turn better meet the needs of her student, my sister.

Of course, the Salt Lake City pilot is not without its critics despite its success stories; a lot of the concern centers around the age-old question, “But who’s going to pay for it?” I don’t claim to have the answer but it’s an approach worth thinking about.

One thing I do know, however, is that in the fast-paced, tech-driven society we live in, we must be very careful not to overlook one important thing: that each child, each student is precious, and they deserve our very best in helping them become their very best. We collectively share a large part of the responsibility for their success. If simply having teachers and parents slow down and take the time to talk with each other would help, isn’t it worth considering?

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

 

Practical Ways to Meet the Needs of Adult Learners

A huge chunk of college enrollments today is made up of adult learners—sometimes referred to as non-traditional students. Just as it’s not appropriate to teach all P-12 students in exactly the same way we must be careful to consider and address the unique needs of adult learners in our colleges and universities. In her article entitled, “4 Ways Universities Can Better Engage with Nontraditional Students,” Meghan Bogardus Cortez shares some tips for higher education programs, each of which can impact student enrollment, retention, graduation, and satisfaction rates. I’d like to add my own tips here:

Make what they are learning meaningful and relevant. Help adult learners to see connections between theory and practice. Show them why it’s important to be able to solve algebraic equations, or why they should know what the War of 1812 was all about. Try to tie it in to how key concepts and skills can be applied their current and future career goals.

Be respectful of them as adults. Non-traditional learners have very different needs than those 18-22-year-olds; treat them accordingly. Listen to them. Take them seriously. And don’t talk down to them.

Acknowledge that they are juggling a lot to go to school. Most adult students work at least one full-time job. They have a spouse and are raising multiple children. Perhaps they’re taking care of aging or infirm parents. Acknowledging that you know “sometimes life gets in the way” is not offering an excuse for them to fail but it’s important they know that you understand that sometimes other priorities must take precedence over their academic studies, and that’s OK.

Help them to set their own reasonable goals and support their efforts in attaining them. It doesn’t do any good to create a schedule for an adult learner or tell them how much they should read or complete in a week’s time—those decisions should be made by them, with some guidance from you. Help them avoid frustration and disappointment by steering them away from committing to too much at once. For example, most learners who are working full-time and trying to raise three kids while going through a divorce should probably not try to complete 18 credits in a semester or think they can read seven chapters and write a 15-page paper over a weekend. In some instances that kind of workload can be maintained for a while but eventually the stress builds up. It’s much better to take it a little slower and succeed than to let a student try to get through a program in record time and then fail.

Help them to see light at the end of the tunnel. Adult learners need an end game—they need to be able to know that their efforts will pay off for them when they are finished—and they need to know that this day will come sooner rather than later.

A dose of compassion and empathy works wonders: Sometimes you are the only positive, affirming, supportive person they will talk to in a give day or even a given week. Be a sounding board when things go wrong, and a cheerleader when things go right. You’re not their therapist nor their friend, per se, and yet so much of effective mentoring requires a dose of both.

These are all things that faculty members can do to help adult learners stay enrolled, graduate, and achieve their goals. Some students, particularly those who struggle or may be identified as “at-risk” could benefit from additional support through a mentoring model, which can be tailored depending on the structure of each college and university.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

What’s Under the Hood: Major Components of Competency-Based Educational Programs

This is the second installment in a series of blog posts on the topic of competency-based education. In the first blog, I provided a basic overview of what competency-based education is, why I started using it with my own students, and other terms it’s frequently known by. Feel free to reach out to me if you have additional questions or need support implementing CBE in your school.

Regardless of whether you work in a P-12 school or at a higher education institution, there are six major pillars that anchor a solid competency-based education program:

  • Curriculum
  • Instruction
  • Assessment
  • Faculty Training & Support
  • Parent/Caregiver Orientation & Support (for P-12 Schools)
  • Student Orientation & Support (for all learner levels)

 

A strong, healthy CBE program must be built on these pillars, which makes preparation, planning, and collaboration extremely important. All six should be tied directly to the school’s mission and vision, and they should all be connected to each other to avoid a disjointed program.

I recommend using a backwards design model when developing your own competency-based education program—in other words, create a well-defined “picture” of what you want to accomplish—what is your final goal? What does success look like in your school? How would that be defined? Once you and your team know what you want to accomplish, you can start working backward from there and build out each of those six components.

Installment #3 of this series will focus on developing curriculum in a competency-based education program.

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.