Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Ready for college?

A recent article in the Montgomery Advertiser discusses the fact that many students entering Alabama's two and four year colleges are not able to do the work required of college freshmen. It is an interesting article, but it probably won't surprise many of us working in colleges and univeristies. There is some laying of blame on standardized testing, which probably won't surprise many people in K-12 education. The question is, of course, how do we change it.

This is something I deal with on a regular basis as an instructor in an Intensive English Program. There is generally a bog jump in complexity from ESL textooks to regular college textbooks, from ESL assignments to regular college assignments. So I have consciously worked to bridge that gap as much as possible. I try to make the work demanding and, at a more advanced level particularly, don't like to use ESL texts. I would rather give my students materials prepared for native speakers and them give them the extra support that they need to understand it and work with it than to give them easier work to do. I think that I can help them learn how to approach these materials so that they are better prepared to dela with them on their own in the future.

But I am lucky. I am the program coordinator; I designed the curriculum and choose the texts. We have no exit exam as such; our students have to reach a certain TOEFL score. High school teachers do not have that luxury.

But I worry about teachers who would allow a situation such as this one Jean Kerr from Auburn Univeristy Montgomery found:
I had a student who said she had not written a single essay her senior year in high school. All they did is study grammar.
That just doesn't seem right. But it is not an isolated incident, I know. One of my students this summer graduated from a US high school in June. He says he wrote one or maybe two papers last year in school.

English instruction doesn't have to be that dismal -- even with the burden of state testing. My friend, Melanie, taught English in an inner city school in New Orleans last year. Check out her blog, They Have Their Own Thoughts, for an idea of what her classes were like. Her students did work that would truly help to prepare them for college.

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