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When educators talk, students benefit

December 03, 2012 —

A postsecondary degree is the first step to a viable career path. But many students — especially minority and first-generation college students — falter both before and when they get to college. They struggle to meet academic expectations and drop out before earning a degree or credential.

To help students persist to graduation and succeed when they leave high school, FHI 360 is taking a page out of doctors' playbooks. In the medical profession, experienced doctors make rounds both to check on their patients and to educate new physicians to accurately diagnose conditions and suggest treatment options. In the education field, this concept — minus the life-and-death decision making — has been adapted into what are called instructional rounds.

This model is used in K-12 systems, but FHI 360 has taken it one step further by using it to bring high school and college educators into each other's classrooms. FHI 360's team of education experts identify secondary school and higher education partners, work with them to determine a topic of common concern and establish a process that allows educators to observe and learn from each other's work without judgment or evaluation.

"The whole notion here is not to point fingers," says Rick Moses, who directs the Citi Postsecondary Success Program in Philadelphia. "This is an opportunity for educators to say, 'This is what we are seeing, and this is what we need to see.'"

Roxborough High School and Temple University in Philadelphia piloted this work, which focused on literacy. They wanted to know why almost half of Temple freshmen had to take a developmental course before enrolling in English 101. After a day observing each other's classrooms, participants determined that high school students were generally expected to analyze their reading at a level that does not align with what they need to be able to do after they graduate. In college, they were expected to challenge what they read, use multiple sources to analyze a topic and generate their own analyses.

The instructional rounds experience is not only leading to changes in practice in high schools but has also prompted Temple to make changes to the first-year writing curriculum. Now, Temple professors are enthusiastic about teaching incoming students how to take a position and write to support it.

These changes, says Rochelle Nichols-Solomon, director for postsecondary success at FHI 360, do more than help students bridge the gap between high school and college academics — they also link K-12 and college educators as partners in student achievement. "What we did was move the instructional rounds model beyond the K-12 context. We're using it to align what students are learning in high school and what students in college need to know."

In 2012, FHI 360 is sharing this innovative K-16 alignment approach with sites in San Francisco and Miami that also see K-16 alignment as critical to postsecondary success and is working to expand it in Philadelphia. The FHI 360 team works one-on-one with each site to use instructional rounds in a way that makes sense for them. At the same time, the team connects schools with best practices and research from other sites and collaborates with colleagues in the field to maximize and amplify everyone's success.

Stephen Brandt,  principal of Philadelphia's Roxborough High School, says FHI 360's assistance was critical in structuring the rounds. And now, the school has a framework to engage with local colleges on other issues. Next focus: Mathematics.