Friday, April 4, 2008

Gen Ed Critical Reading?

I was thinking of you, Dr. Crazy, and my blog comments about reading and physics problems that others can probably find by hitting the "reading" category, when I read the IHE article about revisions to the general education curriculum at Trinity University in Washington DC.

There was that magic word in the key sentence:
This fall, the 631-student women’s undergraduate college introduced a revamped general education curriculum, built on the bedrock of first-year classes emphasizing “foundational skills” — critical reading, written communication, oral communication, critical reasoning, and quantitative reasoning.

If they agree that critical reading is a "foundational skill", then why is it taught so rarely today? My students say they only write reaction papers (how did long division make you feel) in their English composition classes in college, and ditto for high school. Critical reading seems limited to sophomore literature classes.

I find that I have to teach critical reading to teach physics, and it has been something I have been working on trying to master for more than a year. Right now I am thinking about using a homework reading exercise (rewrite in your own words and see if your neighbor will agree) as a way to attack weaknesses they have with problem identification on the final exam. I think it works, but I'm not very good at using those techniques in the classroom.

There was one other striking comment in that article:
So-called urban learners “tend to come from big urban public high schools where they’ve been educated in chaotic and unsatisfactory ways.” Ah, that is not just a problem with big urban high schools. Our feeder schools are nothing like the ones in Washington, DC, but chaotic seems to describe everything in their educational program that is outside the specific topics and question types covered by the state exit exam.

Chaotic and unsatisfactory might make a good school system motto if it was in latin.

Chaos et ???

OK, its not really all that bad, but the lacunae in their basic knowledge (little things, like the area of a sphere or the quadratic formula) can be shocking. It seems that the only way to fix it is to add a topic to the exit exam so it gets taught systematically in the schools.

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