Next week I will be involved in doing our first High School Connections
seminar as part of Passaic County Community College's Writing Initiative. We are in year three of this five-year grant from the Department of Education’s Strengthening Hispanic Serving Institutions Program (Title V). The grant itself is aimed at increasing achievement and program completion rates of students by integrating critical thinking, information literacy and technology into writing.
A component of the Writing Initiative is to make connections with the area high schools that send students to the college, and next year to connect with the 4-year colleges where our students often matriculate after completing their Associate degrees. It's what I think of as part of sending out more ripples from the center of the Initiative. We are looking to collaborate with teachers from area schools to introduce writing assignments into classrooms across disciplines.
We want these connections to work both ways. PCCC already has dual enrollment programs in English and other subjects in place. We want to explore improving student success by providing a learner-centered environment, and provide faculty professional development opportunities that support student success.
There's a lot of research that shows that the integration of critical thinking and writing skills into all classrooms helps student performance and understanding of the discipline being taught. We are interested more in the idea of "writing to learn" than the typical English classroom "learning to write" model.
These two-day seminars are full of collaborative activities designed to strengthen the integration of critical thinking and writing skills, and are based in some of what we have learned in redesigning 20 of our General Education courses as writing-intensive course sections the past three years.
We ask each teacher to bring to the seminar on day one a writing activity "greatest hit" - a lesson that always seems to work. It can be anything from a prewriting activity to a follow-up to a larger assignment. It should be something that can be done in 1 or 2 class periods (not a long term assignment such as a research activity).
We also ask them to bring a writing "lesson-in-progress" that they have used less successfully but believe has potential, or a lesson that you are hoping to develop but need some help creating.
We have lots of questions, including:
What are the top 5 things should PCCC know about what your school and students are doing in regards to writing?
Does your school have: a writing center; writing across the curriculum program; portfolios; or writing magazine?
What would you like to know about the expectations that PCCC has for entering students?
What might a college (PCCC and others) offer to your school that would improve your ability to use writing?
From the applications we received, it was clear that teachers were interested in using technology to teach writing - but it was also clear that the public schools put amny restrictions on their ability to do so. We asked them "What technology works and doesn't work in your classroom?"
One way to answer that question before the seminars is to have them just try out a series of web links from their school computers to see what works and what is blocked. I invite anyone of you in a school setting to try the links
and leave a comment about the results. It's an informal survey about access issues in K-12 schools.
This week on Serendipity35, I will concentrate on posts related to high school connections.