The high school to college gap is like college readiness, one of those realities that implant itself in our minds like fake news or mass incarceration. Unfortunately, these simple-sounding concepts indicate massive, almost unapproachable issues that we talk about but feel helpless to address. The truth is these realities are complicated and multifaceted and national in scope. We could and do talk in circles about what to do and get nowhere.
So what to do?
Here’s what I’ve learned about what I think might lead to lasting change. I say it might because I have no hard evidence to support these suggestions: no data, research studies, primary sources, or citations. I have my experience and observations, and my qualifier: the ideas below are opinions, not claims or facts.
All one has to do is turn on the news or look online to view and read insults, name-calling, and continuous drama, which increases polarization and solipsism. But any successful team knows they need to stop and reflect, assess, collaborate, and be inclusive, so every member contributes. If people do not feel connected to a team, an institution, or person, they may turn inward, self-sabotage, and drop-out. We need our students to feel connected to one another, to school, and to us, so they do not walk away to a world they feel unable to change.
Focus on academics
We cannot change what happens in our students’ lives but we can try and influence how they respond to life by creating effective habits of mind. We can model smart approaches to research: reading laterally, evaluating evidence, click restraint, and reading multiple sources and perspectives before drawing conclusions. We can offer access to a diverse range of resources so they can build knowledge and explore their identity. We can curate differentiated texts as scaffolds, and personalized learning supports for students. We can create assignments to engage students in real-world problem-solving and critical thinking with social justice and civic-minded purpose.
Too many projects in my past depended on the expertise and commitment of the participants. And once circumstances changed – someone moved away, changed jobs or responsibilities, the funding ended – so did the work. So that’s why I recommend institutionalizing the work so it is not reliant on specific people but becomes part of the fabric and culture of the office, the school, the district, the organization. For this to happen, enough people have to be involved in the work so they value and depend on it, and if the participants are across institutions all the better because it means the responsibility and investment becomes disseminated. A grant is a strong instigator of this type of work, but a brand is what will ensure it lasts.
Author: Leanne Ellis
I am a School Library Instructional Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Literacy, AIS, and Library Services. I plan and deliver workshops, provide on-site instructional and program support to school librarians, coordinate programs, administer grants, and just started facilitating an online course on Information Literacy for Spring 2019.