'We need to help students bridge the gap between school and college study'

7th May 2017 at 10:02
New FE learners need to be able to manage their time and work independently – and these skills don’t grow naturally in the summer holidays, says Matt Bromley

Last year, I wrote a book on transition. Like most literature on this subject, it focused on pupils’ transfer from primary to secondary school, as well as between the various years and key stages of compulsory schooling. But, in working with FE colleges across the country, it’s struck me just how important the transition from school to FE is and just how unprepared students are to make this change.

A common mistake that FE teachers make, particularly when planning assignments, is to assume that in the six weeks between leaving school and starting college students have – somehow, somewhere – acquired an armoury of study skills and, perhaps by a process of osmosis, become adept at working independently. Study skills are not innate; they must be taught – and this is about making the implicit explicit, the invisible visible.

Teaching study skills is about breaking down complex processes into their constituent parts, modelling each element, then providing multiple opportunities for students to practise and refine them.

We must teach students the tactics of independence

For example, if an assignment requires students to research information for an essay, we must explicitly teach them how to use multiple sources, skim and scan for key facts and distinguish between fact and opinion and detect bias. We must then teach them how to use evidence to support an argument, including how to embed quotations and write a bibliography citing their sources.

If we expect students to work independently, perhaps drafting and redrafting work based on feedback, and to do so outside of lessons without our support, we must teach them how to manage and organise their time, revise (avoiding cramming by distributing and spacing practice, and interleaving topics), and how to self-assess then redraft, referring back to the success criteria.

If we expect students to engage in classroom debates, we must teach them active listening skills and turn-taking, as well as how to agree or disagree with someone else’s contributions without it becoming personal.

If we expect students to adopt a growth mindset, willingly accepting and acting on feedback, taking risks and regarding mistakes as an integral part of the learning process, then we must teach and model resilience.

Ongoing development

Explicitly teaching and modelling study skills is certainly one means of bridging the gap between school and college, but we shouldn’t just teach skills at the start of a student’s first year. Instead, we should teach skills on a sliding scale as students progress from one year to the next and from one level of qualification to the next.

For example, although we might start by teaching students how to write a simple bibliography, as they progress towards level 3 and HE programmes, we must move on to Harvard referencing.

A useful starting point when planning the teaching of skills is to map the skills students need and when they need them.

This should be done for every programme and for every level of qualification, noting the difference between a skill required by a student at level 1 and a similar skill – albeit more developed and complex – that may be required at levels 2 and 3.

Matt Bromley is an education journalist, author, consultant and trainer. He tweets @mj_bromley

This is an edited version of an article in the 5 May edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Your new-look Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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