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Foundational Skills Critical to Both Teacher and Student Success

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Over the past few months I have been part of a few discussions that have focused on the ability and often inability of today's college students to articulate the benefits of liberal arts based education and a core set of courses at their respective colleges and universities. In many instances students often perceive these courses as a "hoop" they must jump through before graduation rather than a planned effort to ensure that graduates of colleges and universities are challenged to attain higher order thinking; analyze and apply information and problem-solve.

Today, I was reading an article* about the common core standards and the challenges associated with their implementation considering the massive number of educators throughout the country.

The common core places a renewed emphasis on the core subjects: mathematics, science, literacy/writing, and social studies in a building block way. The article discusses ways that schools across the nation have begun to implement the standards; including one teacher who carried the word 'corral' - first introduced within a story read early in the day to a vocabulary lesson and a math equation later in the day. The reemphasis of the word and its meaning across disciplines provided his students a depth of the word's meaning along with its use and application.

In spite of such examples of teacher success with the transition, the article expresses concern that done without planning and professional development for all teachers, the standards may fail in their attempts to improve the education of our students. The article cites a report by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation that finds, "teachers already struggle to help students engage in the higher-order, cognitively demanding tasks emphasized by the standards, such as the ability to synthesize, analyze, and apply information." It goes on to postulate that ensuring that our teachers have such abilities is critically important at the pre-service level.

Coupled together, the concern for college students' lack of understanding about the benefits of "core requirements" at the undergraduate level AND the necessity for our teachers to attain the skills intended in these exact courses, I encourage each of you to think about the courses you have or will take throughout your program. Savor the opportunity to practice the concepts and abilities that are so aligned with the curriculum you will one day teach in your classroom.

[Article Reference: Concern Abounds Over Teachers' Preparedness for Standards, Stephen Sawchuk, Education Week Published Online: April 23, 2012]

Joni O'Hagan
Senior Associate Director, Career Center
St. John's University

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