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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Does Creative Teaching Hurt College Readiness?

Does Creative Teaching Hurt College Readiness?

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This may seem like an absurd question, but it has been bothering me recently so I will pose it nonetheless. I work at a private college prep school outside of Houston that is similar to Kip and Yes Prep. So our students come from inner-city Houston and are all on scholarships. I am very interested in non-tradition (non-lecture) teaching methods and encouraging discovery and student centered instruction. At the same time, I can't help but remember what college was like (for me, less than a year ago). By playing to how students learn and become interested and engaged, are we teaching them to be college ready students. What will they really face in college. They will have to read large sections of text per week, with one or two lectures where the professor will most likely cover a small (often insignificant) section of the subject material covered in the reading, and students will be expected to be tested through exams or essays on the material regardless of whether the professor directly addressed it or not. If students are not actively exposed to lecture style teaching, especially in the 11th and 12 grade years, how can we say they are ready for college style teaching. They may be ready intellectually but perhaps we have not prepared them to have the student skills required to deal with this style of teaching. I want my students to learn and become interested in the subject. I want them to be prepared to write essays and think critically. However, my students can't take notes - they don't know how - from a lecture. As k-12 educators adapt and work to teach based on how students learn, but the college level continues to (for the most part) teach along traditional lines, are college prep schools making college ready students? How can we be innovating and engaging but also prepare students for teachers and professors who are not?

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Paul Bogdan's picture
Paul Bogdan
Student-Centered Secondary Math Teacher
Blogger 2014

The problem is that students are not taught how to study the reading that they have to do. I didn't learn how to do this until after I flunked out of my first college and then found another one that would take me. The teacher says to read chapter one, so the students do it and think they are good students. What they should do is read paragraph one of chapter one and then write something; read paragraph two and then write something, etc. If they do this ahead of time before the lecture, the lecture will make more sense, they will already have most of the knowledge that the teacher is trying to impart, they will already have most of the notes, and will only have to jot down a few things that the teacher says. If they do not do this, the lecture is overwhelming them and they can't keep up with note taking and they feel stupid.

I am also into student-centered learning and would like your reaction to my blog article. Colleges and universities are starting to wake up. Here's an article about MIT.

I am also very interested in more ideas about how to do student-centered learning.

S Lowe's picture
S Lowe
High School science teacher Virginia

In order to be successful in college, a student needs to learn how to learn. Taking notes from a lecture might seem to be highly important from an initial look, but its superficial, and rapidly becoming less necessary with the technology available. (pens that record the lecture, and tie them to your written notes, inconspicuous video devices, etc).

When I do lecture, I keep it brief, and follow up quickly with application. What I've discovered is that most of my students are not assimilating the information independently and don't know why they take the notes or how to use them. These are the more important aspects of learning. I care less if they can take the notes (which can be supplemented with technology) then if they can use them effectively for learning.

Creative teaching, problem-based learning, mathematical tasks, science research...all of these create contexts where students will need notes to explain their process and summarize their understanding. Then, and only then, will they know what they needed to take notes on in the first place, and learn how to do so the next time.

If a student is learning how to learn, then learning from lectures will be an easy transition. If a student doesn't know how to learn, then the medium of instruction is irrelevant.

I'm writing from ISEF (sci fair). I asked a finalist what was the most valuable thing he learned in the course of his experiment. "To keep better notes." That's a lesson learned that I, as a teacher, could never have instilled as successfully.

Evin Fox's picture
Evin Fox
College Education ZProfessor

I am a college professor, and I teach "creatively" using principles of engagement and inquiry as supported by Vygotsky. As Rogoff, Wilhem, and Hillocks, purport, we need to support student learning using student-centered, teacher-supported techniques.

Lori Day's picture
Lori Day
Educational Psychologist and Consultant at Lori Day Consulting
Blogger 2014

I continue to wonder how SAT performance is affected by various teaching methods. Having been an administrator at both progressive and traditional schools, I see the value in a variety of techniques, but some seem to result in higher test scores. As a former member of the MIT admissions committee, I saw the emphasis placed on testing. So, even if schools like MIT are moving away from large lecture formats, as Paul Bogdan points out in his hyperlink, are they as enthusiastic about the same student-centered learning environments in high school even if they do not result in all those 800's on the SAT? I'd love other viewpoints. Perhaps times *are* changing in this respect. We absolutely need alignment between our teaching philosophies, and how we then assess students for eventual admission into colleges.

Sarah Ward's picture
Sarah Ward
Graduate Student in Education/Future Elementary Teacher

If schools are realizing that creative, student-centered education is more effective, then we should not choose to teach ineffectively just because many colleges still are. That is ultimately doing a disservice to our students. I went to a small, private college and all of my teachers used a balance of both creative and lecture style teaching.

I really agree with what S. Lowe said: "If a student is learning how to learn, then learning from lectures will be an easy transition. If a student doesn't know how to learn, then the medium of instruction is irrelevant." If we focus on teaching students how to learn, through creative, student-centered methods, than they will be ready for whatever they need to do in college.

We cannot expect that simply mirroring the expectations of colleges will prepare students to succeed in them, rather students need to be motivated to care enough about something enough that they will sit in a lecture for hours taking notes. If they had truly learned how to learn, than they will be able to succeed in whatever they choose to do, whether that's in a traditional, lecture-style university, or in art school.

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