Make Your Students “Now” Ready

Miller_andrewThe term “career and college ready,” or any other variation, is thrown around all the time in K-12 education with good intentions. We all want students to leave our classrooms with passion for learning, prepared for their job or their next step in education. However, you can’t simply rely on these ideas to engage your students.

One of the pitfalls to avoid with career and college readiness is just what the term can imply: “This will matter when you go to college.” Why do we default to the response that this material will help you later? For some kids, career and college has never been an option and seems well out of their realm of possibilities. Simply using it as a talking point will not break through to them. In fact, it may even create a barrier. A student could view this as a lack of understanding of their world and where they come from.

This is not to say you should never use future-oriented language. I have seen some amazing schools where the culture is “You WILL go to college,” but again, this is in the whole school’s culture, not simply a phrase that is used to try and get students engaged in the work. I think this culture of excellence needs to be paired with a culture on authenticity and relevancy in the present moment. As Chris Lehmann asked in a recent TED talk, “Why can’t what students do matter now?”

I agree. We can do better. We can show kids, through authentic and relevant tasks based in the present, that their work is important NOW. You can make students “now” ready. You can make the teaching and learning matter to them now, honoring them as crucial to creating and innovating in the current world around them.

Instead of having students investigate world religions in a traditional research paper or presentation, have them work in teams to debunk current myths, stereotypes, or misunderstandings for the local community through a variety of products and presentations. Instead of just interactive labs about the human body’s structures and systems, have students investigate current health care technologies or practices and suggest innovations and improvements in treatment. Instead of having them create a blueprint of detailed measurements and angles, have them engage in a design challenge to create a new outdoor school structure that will meet all teachers’ and students’ needs at the school (Ed. Note: see the work of 2011 Outstanding Young Educator Brad Kuntz).

Notice that in all these examples they will still learn significant content, but for an authentic purpose in the present. Making students “now” ready creates a culture of present and future excellence. Engaging students in critical thinking, rigorous work, and authentic learning today will convey the skills and content for success tomorrow.

Post submitted by Andrew K. Miller, an educator and consultant for the Buck Institute for Education, which specializes in project-based learning for the 21st century. Connect with Miller on Twitter (@betamiller) or by e-mail at andrew@andrewkmiller.com.