Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Well, how did I get here?

As I was scrambling to prepare to teach my first classes at the college level (having gotten the offer only two weeks prior to the start of fall), I obtained the official course outlines and then I started collecting syllabi from colleagues and off the Internet. I was surprised by a couple of things. First, there was a tremendous amount of graded work -- from quizzes to homework to in-class essays to take-home essays to class participation to oral presentations to journals to tests, midterms, and finals. Deciding what to grade, how much to grade, and the weighting of assignments was completely new to me. Most surprising, however, were the extremely detailed instructions on how missed work would be handled. In almost every syllbus I found statements such as, "There are no make-ups for missed quizzes or graded assignments." Or, "Essays are due on the due date. Late essays will be lowered by one letter grade (10%). No essay may be turned in more than one week late and only one late essay will be accepted in the semester." Regarding attendance, "If you are absent three times, you may be dropped from the class. Two tardies count as an absence. Leaving early or coming back late from break counts as a tardy." These syllabi attempted to ward off -- or have an answer for -- any possible excuse, justification, or life event that students could imagine. Fearful of flaky college students trying to manipulate me, I dutifully included such policies.

Toto, we're not in adult ed. any more.

Now that the first semester is winding down, I believe that most syllabi's bark is worse than their bite. We are, after all, human -- students and teachers alike. However, I also believe that having some policies in place is essential for one's sanity. I just need to decide for myself what I'm truly comfortable with -- and what I can realistically enforce. It will evolve.

So, do I think that adult ed. needs to model this sort of rigor (rigidity)? No, I don't. I do think that it would be a good idea for adult ed. students, who are considering college, to read some college syllabi -- that would be a good reading task. They should have an idea of what college is and how it is different. I had two young brothers from Chechnya in my writing class this semester. Because of the demands of their jobs, they had to drop. They really wanted the challenge that college offered, but they were not prepared for the reality of its demands. They told me that they will be back next semester, having made the necessary arrangements in their complicated lives. I hope they return. If not, adult ed. should be there for them.


Blogger Marian Thacher said...

The suggestion to have students read a college syllabus really makes sense to me.

I also want to mention that I have several times heard Ronna Spacone present on her research project on transition from adult ed to post secondary, and her project found some interesting things. They looked at programs in several states that had good success rates in transitioning students, and tried to figure out what they were doing right.

There is a whole web site devoted to transitioning adult ed students to college, the National College Transition Network. They have a list of promising practices at http://www.collegetransition.org/promising/practice.html

CAELA, an ESL Resources project, has a brief that reviews the research on transitioning adult ed students to post secondary at http://www.cal.org/caela/esl_resources/briefs/transition.html.

Focus on Basics has a whole issue on Transitions, at http://www.ncsall.net/index.php?id=154

There is also a paper from NCSALL on transition posted at http://www.ncsall.net/fileadmin/resources/research/op_collegetransitions.pdf

9:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Again,

I had the privilege to hear Cynthi Zaft from the National College Transition Network present on her work at the Meeting of the Minds II conference this weekend. She has posted her slides and many other resources at:
It includes a pdf of the transition study.
She says, "By the Numbers" is a table of quotes on the
need for postsecondary education and links to the documents that they come from.


1. Those colorful charts that compare education to
income/unemployment, etc.

2. Cliff Adelman's study that talks about the negative impact of a
year or more of remedial reading at the college level:

3. And, to develop that skeptical eye about research, hot off the
press is "Stepping Stones to a Degree" which shows that older students
who enrolled in remedial courses, particularly math, were "less
negatively" affected.
[Cut and paste link into browser.]

4. Three initiatiives that might be of interest to you are:
Breaking Through Initiative: Helping Low Skilled Adults Enter and
Succeed in College and Career

Achieving the Dream which is branching out beyond youth to adults in
need of postsecondary education

Lumina Foundation for Education, Adult Learner Initiative

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