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Will the real CCR please stand up?

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SmartBlog on Education this month is covering college and career readiness. Join us for original content in which experts explore the trends and highlight best practices.

I have written previously about the college and career readiness conundrum. In a world that increasingly throws edu-babble around, it can be tough to determine exactly what this phrase means. Certainly, much has been stated about its importance, but it is hard to validate -- or argue with -- the importance of something if you can’t truly identify it. But, rather than preach to the choir, so to speak, this post will aim to shed some light on precisely what college and career readiness could look like, by shining a light on two student programs taking place in my region.

CCR is about learners pushing each other’s thinking, sharing congenial as well as collegial feedback, and reflecting on and changing practice based on that feedback.

Almost 30 years ago, my supervisor, Marla Gardner, worked with a number of districts in our region to design an event that would recognize students’ writing prowess, and much like a slightly different take on the ubiquitous pep rally, bolster young writers' capacity to develop their command of written and spoken language. Today, the program I coordinate welcomes close to 300 students from roughly 20 high schools each year to spend a day reading, writing, speaking and listening with each other and professionals in the field.

YAC3The Young Authors Conference is a phenomenal performance assessment in college and career readiness. It is neither high stakes -- at least not in the traditional sense -- nor assigned a grade for participation or achievement. And yet, the conversation, collaborative work and feedback provided in learning sessions exceeds much of what may take place in traditional learning environments or through traditional assessment measures.

Why?

Possibly because the students in attendance are present because they want to be present. Possibly because there is choice in exploring topics in language. Possibly because there aren’t any assumptions, time limits or requirements. As I walked into the different workshops, I smiled listening to the conversation that was taking place. It was incredibly academic and deeply woven into students’ lives. My brain was redlining trying to keep up with the critical thinking expressed by students, surely, their minds were racing as well.YAC1

What I learned, after reflecting on this year’s conference, was that CCR is so much more than ease in addressing standards or showing academic prowess. It is about engaging in (and enjoying) deep discussion and the sharing of feedback that can then be turned into positive change. If using that benchmark, then the students attending this conference are, clearly, college and career ready.

CCR is about breaking the barriers between P-12 and higher education.

Maybe, just maybe, college and career readiness would be easier to define if we -- meaning educators, students, parents, etc. --  had a better sense of what the transition between high school and college is really like.

True, there are plenty of “college level” courses that are taught in today’s high schools. But a lesser number actually provide students with the experience of working in a given career. If P-12 education is meant to serve as the foundation, than college has to be about getting that building ready for its true purpose.

Sports Medicine2As part of our Career and Technical Education Department, the Sports Medicine strand of the Health Career Academy is doing wonders helping high-school students actually experience a career, and through that process, a tremendous part of what our best higher education programs are doing.

The design of the course puts students in a two-year morning or afternoon cohort. Sports MedicineStudents either start their day at the health academy and then go back to district, or vice versa, where they engage in content and skills through practice tied to occupational and physical therapy, physical training and sports medicine. I recently had the opportunity to spend a morning with this group of students and their teacher. Not only was it clear how knowledgeable these students were, but also how prepared they were for expanding their learning in college, and how far they had progressed towards building an internal sketch and blueprint for potential future careers. Plus, they gave me a great workout too.

The key in all of this is that college and career readiness is less something to be defined, than to be seen/felt/experienced. We all know people and processes that yield the product of college and career readiness. Rather than simply looking for a definition, or bemoaning the fact that as a topic or category it is too vague, maybe we simply have to go with our gut, and share exemplars, tell stories and let our students speak for themselves.

In this case, maybe a vision of CCR is much more valuable than a definition.

Fred Ende (@fredende) is the assistant director of Curriculum and Instructional Services for Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES. Fred blogs at www.fredende.blogspot.com, Edutopia and ASCD EDge. His book, Professional Development That Sticks is available from ASCD. Visit his website: www.fredende.com.

Images courtesy of Fred Ende.

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