When You Teach, Are You Beginning With the Other End in Mind?Posted by AVID Center on 10/18/2018
By Tina Jenkins, Associate Professor of Psychology, Saddleback College
Even before Saddleback College implemented AVID for Higher Education in 2014, I grappled with questions about my role as a teacher. As an associate professor of psychology, I knew my content well and enjoyed interaction with my students. When I asked my colleagues, “What do you hope students accomplish by taking your class?” I received a variety of responses. Some of them are knowledge-based answers, such as, “the basic principles of algebra” or “the necessary information to construct a research project.” Other replies indicate a more philosophical approach like, “to get them to think in new ways” or “to appreciate and challenge unexamined beliefs about my discipline.”
Now, it’s your turn. At the end of the term, how do you want your students to be different after having taken your class? The answer to this question is seminal, as it most likely guides, at least unconsciously, your decisions on intended semester learning outcomes, weekly teaching objectives, and daily lesson planning.
Earlier in my teaching career, I wanted my students to exit my psychology classes with the requisite knowledge to progress to more advanced coursework and to fall in love, at least a little, with my subject matter. I would swell with pride when fellow professors would report that my former students had a solid grasp of foundational concepts and/or an esteem for my psychology discipline. Mission accomplished! But was it really? Was I contributing to my students’ objectives—the majority of whom are taking my class ultimately as a conduit to land a meaningful job?
Numerous studies tell us that many students are taking college classes in the interest of career advancement. The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA recently compiled data from 1.5 million first-time, full-time freshmen enrolled in undergraduate colleges to get a pulse on today’s college students. According to their 2016 report, 84.8% of college freshmen cite a desire for attending college so that they can get a better job.
Employers also have an expectation that in taking college coursework, and/or achieving a college degree, potential employees have attained the workplace skills to be successful. Interestingly, AVID’s core competencies of Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization and Reading (WICOR) line up well with what employers are looking for in college-educated applicants. According to Job Outlook 2018 Survey data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), employers have specific attributes they look for in recent college graduates. In order of importance, they are ranked as follows (with my own WICOR alignment):
- Problem-solving skills (Writing, Inquiry, and Reading). Is your lecture style simply dispensing information, or do you intersperse lecture with processing pauses for active contemplation? Do you give case studies or problems that students must struggle through, at least initially on their own? Building time into your lecture for self-discovery develops critical thinking and aids students in broadening their thinking.
- Ability to work in a team (Collaboration and Organization). Employers are looking for those who understand group dynamics and appropriate group behavior. This can be accomplished through quick activities, such as in-class group work with deliberate, clear expectations, or can be expanded into higher-stakes, graded group projects. The key for growth and success is to spend a bit of lecture time reviewing the typical group process. For more information, visit http://onlinemba.maryville.edu/resources/articles/4-things-to-know-about-group-dynamics-in-the-workplace/.
- Communication skills (written) (Writing). Whether we teach accounting or English, assisting in writing skill acquisition is essential. I’ve had students challenge me on why I have such high standards for my written assignments. My response is to explain that for career advancement, their bosses and customers will expect professional written communication. Whether they like it or not, our students’ writing proficiency will be an influencer of their career path and promotion.
- Leadership (Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization, and Reading). Hand-in-hand with working well in teams is the ability to lead others, lead a project, and even self-lead. The most obvious activity is group work. In one course, my students are in semester-long groups in which the leader rotates each class session. However, there is more to leadership than working in groups. Assignments that span several weeks or the full semester necessitate time management and self-initiative. Lastly, speaking in front of others is structured into my courses. I’ve had students ask that I not call on them in class because of social anxiety. Since oral communication is a key characteristic of leadership, a Think–Pair–Share is an easy way to get students to talk in a larger context while minimizing their discomfort.
Regardless of whether we teach psychology, art history, or macroeconomics, I suggest we have an obligation to teach skills important to our students’ future employers along with our subject matter. This is not accomplished in addition to, but in concert with, our current learning objectives. Now, when I plan my courses, I begin with the other end in mind: fostering desired work skills with my topics through class activities, assignments, projects, and lectures.
If you enjoyed this blog, then you will want to check out this year's AVID National Conference! Tina Jenkins will present a session focused on aligning college success and workforce readiness with AVID for Higher Education's high engagement strategies.
Tina Jenkins has focused her pedagogical and creative energies toward making exceptional educational experiences to inspire, mentor and motivate her students, peers, and academic institutions. From her experience in the public school, university and community college settings, she has gained insights and expertise in reaching vulnerable students by utilizing education as a gateway for significant, constructive life change. In recent years, she has been particularly interested in creating programs to develop student academic literacy that translates to success in the classroom and academic degree persistence. She currently teaches psychology courses and leads the AVID for Higher Education professional development faculty program at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California.
Higher Education Research Institute at University of California, Los Angeles. (2016). The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2016 [Data file]. Retrieved from https://www.heri.ucla.edu/monographs/TheAmericanFreshman2016.pdf
National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2017). Job Outlook 2018 [Data file].