Creating the College Bound: Helping high school seniors become college freshmen

Seniors need to grow independence. It takes scaffolding and trust. Creating both allows them to better prepare for what comes next
Seniors need to grow independence. It takes scaffolding and trust. Creating both allows them to better prepare for what comes next. This column originally ran theUFT’s NY Teacherin the fall 2012.

Four years of high school is coming to a close and soon 12th grade students will be taking the first of many steps into adulthood. Upon acceptance into college, they will leave home and become independent.

Preparing students for this next step is more than just academic readiness; it’s maturity, necessary for future success beyond their completion of college. So how can senior teachers motivate those afflicted withsenioritisto understand and accomplish the goals needed to achieve graduation and transition into college?

It starts with a plan. Teachers are role models and his/her organizational skills and preparedness will say a lot about a student’s willingness to comply. So make sure all learning is connected to what happens next and be transparent about it. If a project is given, tell them how it will help them in their future. Elaborate on the skills and ways it will help them be successful in college.; background-attachment: scroll; background-color: transparent; background-position: 50% 50%; background-repeat: no-repeat repeat;”>

As the teacher, you need to know what college level work looks like, to best prepare students to avoid remediation. Visit local colleges with students; ask if you could audit a class. Allow students to see what comes next for themselves.

Raise the bar. Higher expectations with progressively less hand-holding, teaching how to manage time and stress effectively will inevitably lead to readiness. Be firm in what you expect and create an environment where students feel safe to try on their own before asking for help. For example, when conferencing with a senior about his/her papers, it is no longer acceptable for them to drop 5-8 pages in front of me and say, “Is this good?” It’s expected they will come with specific questions about what they need help with along with the particular areas of the text the challenge occurs. Teaching students how to know their needs is a gift that will help them self-advocate in the future.

With higher expectations comes the need to do more rigorous work. Students should be reading longer novels on their own, or harder content specific academic articles that require stamina to endure. Build up and give them a little at a time. Students learn how to work through dry text as they aren’t going to like everything they are assigned and won’t have the same variety of choices they are accustomed to. It is an essential skill to build and develop that we can help them with that.

Vary your teaching styles to include a lecture every once in a while to build listening stamina and note making skills. Currently, teaching in secondary schools has largely shifted to cooperative, or workshop style learning. The teaching is short and the working is long, often not alone. In college, the format is much as it used to be: long lectures without pre-made notes. Seniors don’t know what to do with this. So when introducing a unit, use a lecture and then go over the notes they could have taken.

Create a syllabus for students to follow. Make them responsible for when work is due and don’t remind them all the time that it is. Let them learn to start managing their time appropriately, since their parents will no longer be responsible for it. Seniors need to learn how to see the big picture and how to break it into small easy bites. Explicitly teach them how to do this. For the first few extended assignments, provide benchmarks and slowly take these requirements away. Teach them to make them for themselves in the future.

Take them to work in a college library for at least one assignment. For the final assignment in senior English, I work with the local colleges to bring my seniors in to do research. Students sit through a lecture with the college librarians where they learn about the Library of Congress organization and how to do college level research. It demystifies the library, allowing the kids not to fear this valuable resource. Students sift through the stacks and databases in order to write a paper of their own choosing. Don’t allow them to use the internet as a source either. Too often, they aren’t sure how to evaluate what they find online and the ease in which they find it defeats the purpose of going to the library.

Talk about fears and help them avoid pitfalls of immature behavior. “I can’t” can no longer be their mantra and when they act out, they only stunt themselves. Their choices result in outcomes and they can control these outcomes by making smarter decisions. Let them come to you to address their fears. Help debunk these fears and put them into perspective, allowing them to know the concerns are normal and can be overcome.

Here is a copy of the assignment I do at the end of the year as a culmination exercise:Research Paper Assignment sheet

Here is a copy of my syllabus and assignments for the year:AssignmentSyllabus2012-2013



I worked with several college professors to develop a Senior Transition/Middle College style class for my seniors. I’ve been doing this for eight years and it has worked very well. Every year I have students that come back to visit and they thank me for helping them prepare for college through the design of my class.
While collaboration helps, we need the students to be able to work independently as well. Many businesses want “self-starters”. This is just jargon for workers who can work with little or no direction. They can “figure it out” on their own. Either way, the students win!

As the father of a graduating senior this year, this article was very helpful and reminded me of all those years ago when I wish I had someone to help guide me.

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