Monday, March 9, 2009

The 3 Rs (for the 21st Century)

I recently attended a parent orientation at the junior high our daughter will attend next year. I always like getting a look into the future through what our children are experiencing in their school today. Whether it be the fact that most school districts now teach computer use in kindergarten and formal typing skills in second grade (second grade!) or the fact that there was only one formal computer class in the whole junior high experience, the comfort level with technology for our young people is amazing. The counselor affirmed what I assumed, when she told me on the tour that "most kids are so familiar with technology and they pick it up so fast, it's just an integral part of their world." I think about the implications for this in less than five to ten years when these students come to our door...or our website, will we be ready?

Some states have created large-scale initiatives to build on the Rigor/Relevance framework(TM) developed by the International Center for Leadership in Education (which is actually headquartered in New York State!) http://www.leadered.com/rigor.html. Since its creation, this framework has been updated to include relationships. The Rigor/Relevance/Relationships approach is far more comprehensive than the original "three Rs" of reading, writing, and arithmetic (spelling wasn't one of them). MVCC has much to learn from other sectors we work with - business, four-year colleges and K-12 education.

Rigor and Relevance
Assuring rigor throughout the curriculum and across content areas is fundamental to student success and curriculum integrity. Both public education and community college education have a broad array of learners that create some of the most diverse learning environments possible. I subscribe to the philosophy that I see come to life at MVCC - maintain the high standards but provide enormous support in and out of the class to give every student the best chance to succeed. Relevance comes through demonstrating the connection between learning and application. This was missing from much of my formal education until graduate school, which was my favorite learning experience because I knew why I was learning. Most people think of learning algebra – “why am I learning this?” Forget that algebra is all about problem solving, a top-5 skill demanded by nearly every employer - relevance in college comes from having a sense of a career path and an opportunity to apply a student's learning in that direction. Relevance also can come from making interdisciplinary connections. The human brain processes information most productively when it's in a larger context. Learning in distinct chunks of segmented academic disciplines slows the learning process in contrast to the acceleration that comes from learning in context - rigor experienced with relevance.

As I mentioned, the framework was updated to include the importance of relationships. I often tell students that all the research (Astin, 1993; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991, etc.) shows that if students can make a deep personal connection with even one individual on campus - another student, a teacher, a staff member, somebody they will see on a regular basis - the likelihood of achieving their academic goals increases exponentially. What if we were more intentional about organizing our academic enterprise around Rigor, Relevance and Relationships? What would the impact be on carrying out our mission of promoting student success and community involvement through a commitment to excellence and a spirit of service? If you have any thoughts on this, let me know at presblog@mvcc.edu.