Saturday, February 11, 2006

College Knowledge - Subject Area Recommendations

I’ve finished College Knowledge. I think you should all consider reading it – maybe this summer? Anyway, I thought I would finish with a rather long post that lists some of the recommendations it has for specific subject areas. You really should read it, though, as it lists many more specific things for each subject area. So here goes – I think it’s worth your time.

Language Arts
[The curriculum should] consist of a set of texts explored in depth and a broad collection of readings designed to expose young people to a variety of styles and genres. The core texts should be read for deep comprehension of author intent, style, voice, and use of literary devices. (p. 79)

When they go to write about their observations and insights, they need a set of writing skills that should be developed continuously and progressively over four years of high school. Although writing should most certainly occur and be developed in English courses . . . students [should] write frequently in a variety of courses and on a variety of topics and subjects across disciplines. (p. 80)

Students should make it a habit to edit and rewrite their work regularly and thoroughly. This is both a skill and an attitude. A goal should be to have students view writing as a craft, not a mechanical process. They should routinely rewrite a piece of work two and three times, with feedback in the interim from the teacher, from fellow students, and even from community members. (p. 81)

[S]tudents need formal, progressively more complex experiences in researching. (p. 81)

[S]tudents are able to engage in vigorous intellectual give-and-take without either feeling hurt or needing to be right all the time. They can accept critiques of their written work or their line of reasoning without viewing such feedback as a personal attack. They can respect the perspectives and lines of argumentation of those with whom they do not agree. In short, such students are prepared to enter a community where these habits of mind are the ground rules for interaction inside and outside the classroom. (p. 82)

[E]xemplar papers should be created for all the major writing genres students are expected to employ, regardless of the class or discipline in which the writing is to occur. Accompanying the exemplars should be a common scoring guide, with adaptations for specific genres. . . . In essence, the school should produce an explicit set of writing standards that results in all students having the same general expectations applied to their writing. (p. 82)

The culmination of this program of study in English should be a senior-level seminar-type course specifically designed to emulate the demands of college classrooms. (p. 83)

Algebra is conceptually rich, and although the ability to solve equations accurately is, of course, of great importance, understanding the principles that underlie various algebraic operations is at least as important at this stage of students’ mathematical understanding. . . A successful high school mathematics program should therefore strive for both mastery and deeper understanding of algebra. These dual goals can be achieved through instruction that engages students in tasks that require thinking and reflection about the methods used to solve problems in addition to solving it. (p. 84)

The content knowledge students master in a high school program of instruction should be viewed by them and their teachers alike as simply a set of tools to serve a sophisticated goal – the development of mathematical reasoning. (p. 85)

Making connections between mathematics and other disciplines becomes increasingly important, because most students use their math knowledge to pursue majors in college that employ math as a tool for study, not as an end in itself. (p. 86)

A coherent high school mathematics program gears students toward the progressively more complex application and use of mathematical knowledge and reasoning to understand and seek solutions to real-world problems . . . In a coherent mathematics program, these ultimate connections can be made in a capstone seminar course that does not focus on new knowledge but instead on integrated application of knowledge students already have . . . As with the English seminar described previously, the goal is for students to receive in-depth feedback and diagnostic information on their college readiness, both in content knowledge and in the habits of mind associated with mathematical thinking. (p. 86-87)

What should a well-designed science curriculum that prepares students for college success look like? Such a program would be much more closely connected and integrated with the high school mathematics program than is the case in most high schools today. (p. 87)

Biology, chemistry, and physics, the backbone of most high school science programs, remain necessary but probably not sufficient for an intellectually coherent program of study. . . [A]n area that is often undeveloped in high school is the role of science in society. Students may learn science as a series of terms and laws to memorize. Science is taught as if it somehow floated above society at a different plane of objectivity, detached from the real world. This perspective makes it difficult for students to understand that science and scientific theory are not absolutes, and that they should be challenged and questions. In a coherent program of study, students should learn how scientific theory influences the way people think, how societies formulate problems and solutions in response to scientific beliefs, and how governments use science to make decisions about important public policy issues. They should understand that in college and in the real world, scientific disciplines do not have boundaries between them in the same way that high school courses do and that most modern science is multidisciplinary in nature. (p. 88-89)

Perhaps most important and in some ways the most challenging to develop is the mindset of student-as-scientist, referred to by university faculty as learning to “think like a scientist.” At the heart of this perspective lies inquisitiveness and genuine curiosity about how the natural world is ordered and how it functions. A coherent program of study would foster in high school students the ability to think experimentally, to think about how a problem could be investigated experimentally and how the scientific process could be employed as a means to gain insight into a problem. (p. 89)

At the very least, a more intellectually coherent high school program would make systemic connections between the science and mathematics curricula. It would emphasize the scientific method and scientific thinking throughout the science course sequence and seek to develop more sophisticated applications of scientific thinking to real-world problems that require thoughtful solutions based on understanding and application of key concepts and principles from scientific disciplines. Science labs can be useful tools in the pursuit of these goals, but are not automatically so. If lab work consists largely of undertaking experiments that are supposed to yield only one possible result and then completing an exercise in a lab manual, students quickly become conditioned to follow the steps in the manual and write up whatever results they obtain, whether the results make sense or not. This is the antithesis of scientific thinking, and leads to counterproductive habits of mind that limit ability to apply concepts to solve problems. (p. 90)

Another strategy for achieving a more coherent science program resembles that suggested for English and math – a capstone seminar for students who have completed three years of science . . . For example, a seminar could be organized around one or two problems that require application of physics, chemistry, and mathematics, the solution of which would be presented for public review. (p. 91)

Social Sciences
The social sciences present an interesting challenge. They are a collection of disciplines that employ different methodologies and are founded on different theories and laws. . . In a coherent program of study, the key cognitive skill to be developed in the social sciences is analytical thinking. The bedrock of analytical thinking is solid reading skills, particularly the ability to read an article or document closely, with attention to nuance . . . [S]tudents should gather information not as an end in itself but in service of the scientific method as practiced in the social sciences. (p. 93)

In a coherent program of study, such seminars would be designed to draw on content knowledge gained previously in the social sciences to comprehend current issues and topics through the lens of a social scientist. The seminar format allows students to collect, analyze, and present data on a social problem or issue. Such data are now more available on the Internet and easier to analyze with existing software. Students can make data-based presentations and suggest solutions derived from analysis and not just opinion. These products can then be put to the test of a public review and comment, an excellent way for students to learn to accept criticism of their work while also coming to understand that others may have different viewpoints than they do. (p. 94)

A high school program of instruction that prepares students for college success requires intentionality and a certain commonality of purpose . . . the faculty must have a vision of what a well-educated student looks like after four years of study at their school . . .

High schools may be hindered by their departmental structure and consequent compartmentalization of knowledge. Seldom do high school teachers engage in cross-disciplinary discussions about how students should mature intellectually over four years of instruction at their school . . . Let us think for a moment about a vision that articulates what well-educated, intellectually mature students know and can do. Here is an example. These individuals can present and support a point of view convincingly and catch the potential flaws in an argument or in a text. They may even be able to make connections across different disciplines, drawing on principles learned in science to analyze policy proposals intended to remedy a complex social problem. These students might occasionally read something challenging simply because it catches their interest and then want to discuss it. This is not to imply that these students are not still vibrant adolescents. They are full of unanswered questions, are passionate about many things, and are still coming to an understanding of their full potential.

What is remarkable about these young people is how different they are now from when they entered the high school four years earlier. What is even more remarkable is how the high school they have attended has consciously and deliberately brought about this transformation in them. (p. 102-103)


  1. Interesting post. I wonder how long it took to reach the conclusions that 1) students should write (and in classes other than English), 2) Math stdies should be based on algebra and its problems, 3) science should be a study in science and not about what "results" science should produce, and 4)social sciences should use the scientific method in their studies. It seems like this has been the issue for quite awhile in education. This book sounds good but does it provide any implementation ideas? What about examples of places where this works already? How do we go about this with the limited time we have and within the structure of schools as they are now? I am trying to incorporate, into my classes in science, the people and the culture that drives science. My goal is to start to produce learners who know about the sciences and how they were formed and the significance of the findings.

    It seems that the discussion on departmentalization has been looked at in the Douglas County schools and they are returning to the more traditional sstructure of departments. Does any one know if this is true?

  2. I admit that I only read the math section and I agree with what they are saying. I have been trying emphasis the problem solving aspect of math every time I get asked the question,"when am I going to use this?"

  3. The Language Arts section surprises me in how formalist it is:
    "The curriculum should] consist of a set of texts explored in depth and a broad collection of readings designed to expose young people to a variety of styles and genres. The core texts should be read for deep comprehension of author intent, style, voice, and use of literary devices."
    Does this book address the reader-response approach to literature? The way that the above paragraph is phrased seems pretty anti-constructivist; it suggests that the book is an independent entity that we "expose" students to, rather than viewing the text as a tool for students to create and explore their own meanings. Perhaps I'm reading too much into this excerpt without a larger grasp of the author's intention.

  4. Sure, Karl, be just like the CSAP and put the Social Sciences below everything else :) Anyway the info that you wrote about has been generally discussed in a number of our department and inter-department meetings lately. We can certainly do a better job of making the 4 years of study in our department more cohesive.

  5. It's alphabetical, Amanda. If you guys would change your names to the asocial sciences . . .