February 29, 2012
By Emily Worland, contributor
As spring break looms, the annual American high school plague of senioritis is spreading. Seniors begin shutting down and tuning out, as if further learning is not necessary when you’re “already in.”
They might not do that if they realized just how many college freshmen drop out after the first year and never obtain that elusive degree. Only about half of all students get a degree within six years of their high school graduation.
Who’s to blame? Why is this happening? What do my students need to know to avoid this fate?
I sat down with SMU film and media arts professor Rick Worland — a.k.a. Dad — to figure this out.
First, what necessary skills or academic abilities do current college students lack, from the perspective of a college professor?
Worland says that reading comprehension and technical writing skills often hold students back.
While reading comprehension is tested on the SAT, it’s a skill that many college students lack. It’s an inability to read a chapter, a section or an article and pick out two or three main points — to grasp the true significance of the topic or the argument. My father sees this most in essay writing and short answer identification questions when students cite minute and insignificant facts as evidence.
For example, in his class, he often discusses the first female actress to be given title credits in a film, Florence Lawrence. When asked on an exam to identify Florence Lawrence, a common student response is, “She died by ingesting ant paste.” While this is true, in no way does it demonstrate the significance of who she is in the context of the evolution of the film industry; it’s a minute fact obtained surely from Wikipedia.
Then there’s the ability to write technically well — constructing coherent sentences and following the parts of speech. While it is not important to know the exact names for each part of speech, it is very important to understand the logic and flow of written English.
Students lacking these two essential skills in college tell me, a high school teacher, that we are certainly not spending enough time fostering these skills in our students.
What skills do successful college students possess?
Worland sees being organized, possessing a strong work ethic, and generally being open to new ideas and concepts as the skills successful college students master.
“Professors don’t have time to hold students’ hands,” he said.
There will not be constant reiterations of the same information, nor will there be constant reminders of due dates and expectations — crutches my seniors rely too heavily upon.
Successful college students are those who are open to new ideas and perspectives, but also those who will question information and who do not take what my father calls a Wikipedia outlook on information.
Knowledge is not absolute. There is always more to be learned, and there are many different outlooks and perspectives to consider.
So, to my senioritis infectees, if what you desire is a college degree, don’t shut down and take it easy. Read as much as you can and continue to work on reading, writing and questioning.
Emily Worland of East Dallas is an AP psychology and U.S. government teacher at Marcus High School in Flower Mound. She is also a Teacher Voices volunteer columnist. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.