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Instructional Leadership, Instructional Practice

Preparing Students to Be College-Ready: Insight from Former YES Prep Teacher Turned College Educator

 By: Sarah Murphy, Teaching Excellence Instructional Coach

Natalie Lund’s unique experience in education makes her an expert on that which is most pressing to teachers in the classroom: truly readying students for college. Natalie’s Teach For America placement school was YES Prep East End, and she thrived during her tenure at this campus serving as 7th Grade ELA teacher, 7th Grade Course Leader, HS Social Studies and English II teacher, and eventual serving as a Dean of Instruction. Now, Natalie is pursuing her Masters in Creative Writing at Purdue University. As part of her studies, Natalie teaches business writing to undergraduate students at Purdue. We here at Teaching Excellence wanted to tap into Natalie’s expertise and hear her insight as to what teachers in the primary and secondary classrooms should be doing in order to make their classrooms truly college-ready!

SM: Hi Natalie! Thanks for agreeing to chat today! In your opinion, what can and should teachers do to prepare their students for college?

NL: Teach students to advocate for themselves. Students in college need to recognize when they do not understand something, so they can proactively seek out assistance— whether that means attending office hours, finding a tutor, making an appointment with the writing lab, forming study groups, etc. It also means learning to approach professors and instructors respectfully when their grades are not what they expected– not in an attempt to convince the instructor to change the grade, but with the purpose of learning how to improve. In addition, when possible, students should request rubrics and grading scales before the assignment or project is due, or, if that is not possible, speak to the professor/instructor about his/her grading standards. Grades in college tend to be less transparent than grades at YES. 

SM: What qualities are present in those who are truly college-ready?

NL:  This relates to my above answer, but students who are college-ready tend to be those who can articulate what they are not understanding and seek out resources independently. They are not afraid to approach professors/instructors, and they do so with humility and a desire to learn/improve. Last semester, I requested that students submit their final projects in a PDF. A few minutes before the deadline, a student emailed me, asking how to convert his file. This issue would have been easily resolved if he had read over the instructions ahead of time and contacted me earlier, or if he knew that he could just use google to find the answer. I wanted to send him a Let Me Google that for You link (http://lmgtfy.com/), but I restrained myself :). 

SM: What habits do those who excel in college exhibit? How can teachers in primary and secondary schools build those habits in their students?

NL: At the risk of repeating the habits I’ve discussed above, I’ll talk more about writing-related habits. Students who excel in college revise their work. They crave feedback, receive it with a positive attitude, think critically about it, and then use it to improve. They offer cogent and extensive feedback to their peers. And they reflect and evaluate their own work. For example, for each writing assignment in my course, I give written feedback after the first draft. Students then revise their drafts three more times before they submit a final draft for a grade: one revision after my feedback, one after a peer’s feedback, and then a final revision after a self-reflection and evaluation. I think teachers in primary and secondary schools, in any subject, can build those habits in their students by teaching them the purpose of feedback, how to make revision plans after receiving feedback, and how to provide thoughtful, positive, and helpful feedback to their peers.

SM: What should homework look like in high school classrooms in order to replicate a college environment?

NL: I will say, for me at least, the homework is directly relevant to our lesson for the next day: either a pre-lesson reading or a writing component that will be used in class.  My students come from all different disciplines, so their homework varies by subject. For math and science, they seem to have a lot of problem sets. I can tell you, however, that homework in my class is most often writing assignment components or readings from our required textbook. The textbook is a collection of academic articles on writing, and I assign a few readings per unit. The students have access to my unit calendar and are responsible for reading the articles and uploading reader responses via Blackboard on the day we will discuss the articles in class. In addition, at the beginning of the semester, students are assigned one reading they will present to the class. On the day the reading is due, the student facilitates the class discussion.

SM:  In one sentence or less, a classroom which is preparing students for college is:

NL:  A classroom which is preparing students for college is one that is teaching them to be independent thinkers and determined learners.

SM: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

NL: Yay college!

 What are you doing each day to ensure that you are truly preparing your students to excel in college?

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