By Kayla Burrow, Communications Specialist, AVID Center
As teachers, we are pulled in many directions by different priorities, and not all of them play well together: standardization vs. personalization, curriculum, content standards, college and career readiness, test scores, rigor, creativity, critical thinking, real world relevancy, 21st century skills, and new campus or districtwide initiatives that seem to pop up at every other staff meeting. What are we supposed to do?
My top priority as a teacher was always the 150 students in my care – how could I meet all the competing needs placed on me as a teacher and ensure that, at the end of the day, I’d done the best I could for my students and their goals?
Advancing technology has been changing our world at an exponential rate. Today, students have the ability to find any bit of knowledge with a few keystrokes. And, at the same time, middle class jobs continue to change, becoming more specialized or disappearing as technology advances. Business leaders have been harping on educators for years because they don’t think the newest members of the workforce have the skills they need to be successful in this new world. They proclaim that what a student can do and the skills they bring are more important than what they already know. What does that mean for those of us in education? If it doesn’t change how we run things, we are doing our students a disservice.
In his recent article, Need a Job? Invent It, Thomas Friedman reiterates this message and discusses Harvard education specialist Tony Wagner’s thoughts on our current K-12 college tracks. According to Wagner, “The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge.”
Wagner stresses that for students, motivation is critical. “Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own — a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.”
More and more, teachers are called on to be academic coaches or guides, in hopes they can help students tap into their individual passions, motivating them towards self-directed learning. We are called on to create lessons that develop our students’ abilities and confidence to create, think critically, and collaborate, just as they will need to in their future careers.
How do our college readiness efforts in the AVID class intersect with the kind of career-ready characteristics described by Tony Wagner? As Dr. David Conley recently noted in his Education Week column, it’s all about metacognition. For more on Dr. Conley, see the ACCESS interview with Rob Gira.
As AVID teachers, we push ourselves and our colleagues to use a variety of teaching strategies that arm our students’ minds with these skills. Some of the best days in my AVID class were when my students were drawn into a philosophical chairs debate or Socratic seminar discussion and I was able to tap into their excitement for learning. They pushed themselves to learn more, read more deeply, and struggle with new concepts with their fellow students. These were the days when I was most quiet, simply asking probing questions or guiding my students towards a strategy that would help them gain a deeper understanding.
That is the beauty of the AVID strategies and techniques that we bring to our students – they spark intrinsic motivation and allow our kids to sharpen their skills that will make them career ready. These classroom experiences will carry over into their adult lives – they will have the attitude, talent, and confidence to be true innovators in their chosen field. But for this to happen, we must embrace change in our current education system, and we must continue to push for what we know is best for our students.
Our strategies, activities, and assessments must change to reflect our current times. We have to allow our students to develop all of these skills through guided practices, and we must assess their ability to think, not to know. They need to know how to do something great with the knowledge they attain. I believe that our AVID teachers are more than able to take on that challenge.
What are you doing in your classroom to help your students become college, career, and innovation ready? Please share in the comments below!
Kayla Burrow is a Communications Specialist for AVID Center. She was a first generation college student and received her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Texas at Arlington in English and Secondary Education. Kayla has worked in education in many roles, including AVID tutor. She taught English at Grand Prairie High School Ninth Grade Center in Grand Prairie, Texas, where she was also the AVID Elective Teacher and Coordinator.