Thursday, June 11, 2009

New Push Seeks to End Need for Pre-College Remedial Classes

Okay, so did anyone notice this article from the May 28, 2009 New York Times?

It’s certainly not “news” to any of us who have been paying attention to educational issues and various reform efforts for the past, say, two or three decades, but it does seem to be an issue that is not going to go away unless we do something about it.

I don’t think I’m treading on too thin ice when I suggest that most of us who teach (or have taught) high school (especially seniors, especially “college-preparatory” seniors) are thoroughly ambivalent on the issue of non-credit, “remedial” college courses. After all, when we know that college is the student’s goal, and high school graduation is lurking a mere nine months away, we work hard to get our students ready. We know that there are some students who are going to struggle their freshman year—and maybe a non-credit, refresher course would be helpful. We also know, however, that there are students who will simply need a little guidance and instructional attention from their professors. Remediation, for them, we suspect, will be a waste of time and money.

And there are those of us who know—in our heart of hearts—that our high school curriculum could be more rigorous; that we could be more demanding in the depth and scope of understanding we expect our students to attain; that we could be more frank in our assessment of their achievement. We secretly understand the college’s desire to stick the kid into a, say, remedial writing course because we know that our curriculum has fallen short.

We are the lone wolves at faculty and department meetings, begging for higher expectations, more rigorous assignments, more honest grading systems.

We also feel as if we’ve been fighting a never-ending uphill battle.


Over the past several years, Prestwick House has striven (strived?) to translate the pedagobbledygook of educational reform into workable classroom materials. The results have been quite successful, and if you haven’t looked at any of the following, you really should:

3 Simple Truths and 6 Essential Traits of Powerful Writing is a four-year writing program designed to pick students up at the novice level (where the five-paragraph essay is the standard for organization, and the reasons for using a compound sentence versus two simple sentences are explained) and take them to the proficient level (where they are required to experiment with literary and rhetorical devices for the sake of tone, voice, and clarity).

This complete writing curriculum includes a scoring rubric (complete with level-appropriate anchor papers) that clearly illustrates the growth expected of students as they progress from level to level (the target score for the Novice level is 4, while the target score for Proficient is 13).

Instruction, practice, models, assignments, and scoring are all provided—and students who pass their twelfth-grade English course will not need remediation when they enter college.

Grammar for Writing: Understanding the Mechanics of Grammar and How Language Works is just about the only grammar text available that immediately applies every convention covered to its role in writing. Without getting wrapped up in the esoterica of grammar-ology, this little book takes a common-sense, descriptive approach.

Students’ time is not wasted on “drill and kill” exercises and rote memorization of a single rule and its 837 discrete exceptions. Instead, they’re taught to reason out what they want to communicate and then to apply the commonly-accepted conventions that will allow them to do it.

This book makes a great companion to the Novice and Developing levels of the 3 Simple Truths series.

Maximum Impact: Perfecting Student Grammar and Writing takes a more traditional approach to grammar and mechanics for those students who need it. Again, however, the underlying assumption is that, if students are going to be college-level writers by the time they leave high school, they must master the basic conventions of the language early on so that their later instruction can focus on depth, complexity, and—yes—style. A writer who is still struggling with verb tenses and pronoun-antecedent agreement in twelfth grade is doomed to a semester or two of remediation in college—a fate that is readily avoidable with the right tools.

Other books that are not intended to form the core of your curriculum but will certainly prepare your students for college are:

Writing an A+ Research Paper: a Roadmap for Beginning and Experienced Writers (you’ll love the instruction, guided practice, independent practice, do it yourself model of instruction and the strong, practical focus on avoiding plagiarism)


Rhetorical Devices: A Handbook and Activities for Student Writers (you’ll appreciate the fact that students are encouraged actually to use the devices in their own writing rather than simply learn how to identify them).

So, if you’re tired of being that lone wolf in meetings, if you honestly want to do the best for your college-bound students, and you want to be a part of the solution and not a continuation of the problem, why not contact customer service today and request Professional Review copies of any or all of these products designed to help you “raise the bar” and prepare your students for their challenging futures.

And if your state, school, or district is charged with spending some of its stimulus money on increasing the rigor of your curriculum, here are a few products that will help you do just that.


— Douglas Grudzina

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