Closing the College Readiness Gap

"Mind the gap" sign on a Hong Kong MTR train

The following is an excerpt from a post last week in Campus Technology, reporting on the results of a set of recent surveys of university faculty and employers on college and career readiness:

Neither university faculty nor employers believe that American public high schools are preparing students for the expectations they’ll face in college and career. In fact, compared to 2004, the assessment is even more dismal… Part of the challenge, say students themselves, is that their high schools don’t set academic expectations high enough. Fifty-four percent said that they were only “somewhat challenged”; 20 percent said it was “easy to slide by.”

The area which professors found the most students with no preparation at all was in conducting research. Having worked in higher education, I don’t find this surprising. In fact, when I was working at a community college, many of the entering freshmen had not been required to write a single research paper during high school. Those students with research paper experience had typically taken the AP or Honors track in high school (go figure).

This is a big problem because conducting research is an excellent way to build skills in the other areas that professors found lacking in the survey, including critical thinking, writing, and comprehending complex materials.

The solution? In addition to setting higher expectations for ALL students (Common Core does attempt to do this by including research standards in the writing strand), it’s time for the powers that be to start recognizing the importance of librarians in the college preparedness process. The good news is that some progress is being made in that direction with the recent Reed-Cochran Amendment. The bad news is that the college readiness gap will not begin to truly close until we have a more cohesive transition from secondary school to college.

One part of that transition is the new ACRL Information Literacy Framework, which was informed by the AASL Learning Standards. So it would behoove college librarians to become familiar with the AASL standards and to learn about the issues and barriers that their K-12 colleagues are facing in getting the standards implemented. Middle and high school librarians should also familiarize themselves with the new ACRL Framework to become better informed on what information literacy looks likes at the college level. Most importantly, as individual groups, both school and college librarians have unique sets of knowledge that would be beneficial to share with each other. For example, school librarians have the kind of pedagogical training in collaboration that college librarians need, and college librarians can provide school librarians with insight into the kinds of resources and research assignments that incoming freshmen are expected to complete.

A Schema-Based Approach to Evaluating Information

How many of you use tools like the CRAAP test to teach students how to evaluate information? I have too, and even developed my own version at one point. There is a problem with the CRAAP test and similar tools though–they use a broad set of criteria to apply to any type of source, which really doesn’t do much more than promote procedural thinking about information. I liken it to the keyword approach to teaching word problems in math–it’s a horrible method because there are way too many exceptions to the rules and students never really learn to solve problems, only apply procedures. Bottom line, trying to simplify a student’s interpretation down to a set of keywords or criteria that can be applied to any type of problem (math or information) is moderately effective at best.

A better approach? Schema-based instruction.

Schema-based instruction is a method for teaching word problem-solving in math that has been proven much more effective than the keyword approach, especially for students with learning differences. But it is an effective method for all students (why it’s not taught more is a puzzle). Students learn how to identify word problem types first, then use an appropriately tailored strategy for solving each different type of problem. In a nutshell, it works.

I think this is an excellent approach for evaluating information as well. By first having students identify what type of information they are looking at, and then having them use a specific evaluation strategy for that type of source, students may be more likely to achieve a greater level of information literacy. I think it may also improve their appetite for better quality information (not just whatever pops up in Google). Another benefit of this approach? It supports metacognitive thinking.

For example, providing students with a graphic organizer as a scaffolding tool will help them identify and begin to differentiate between types of sources. This will teach them to look at information from a schema perspective rather than looking at all information as the same (thus, thinking more like a librarian).











An even better approach would be to have students identify the differences on their own (with guidance of course), and then construct their own graphic organizers that they can use as tools. Strategies for evaluating each type of source can then be further developed and dissected as students enter the upper-level courses in their majors.

The schema-based approach to evaluating information is more in line with the new ACRL standards than old standbys like the CRAAP test. It’s time to go beyond procedural thinking to support students’ metacognitive thinking about information practices.