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Choosing the "Cohort Classroom"

Choosing the "Cohort Classroom"

May 19, 2015

We've been so busy with summer registrations that this blog had to take a back seat for a few weeks! I hope this post is helpful to administrators considering what we have come to call the "cohort classroom". Read on.

Imagine that you are the administrator of a small private high school with 20-30 juniors and seniors enrolled. When planning next year’s schedule, you recognize that College Credit Plus funding could provide the means for all of these students to take a dual credit, college-level course. If they all take the same course at the same time, and it replaces a required course in your curriculum, it may also free up resources within your high school. Does this “cohort classroom” sound like a win-win?

I believe that it could be. However, administrators considering this type of “cohort classroom” are raising some important questions, the answers to which may help all of us successfully navigate this opportunity. Here’s a question that I hear often.

Question: Can I put all of my juniors and seniors in the same course, e.g., ENG-1400 Composition?

Answer: Maybe.

I know, right? This is helpful already!

Let’s take a step back and look at the first question that must be asked: Are all of my juniors and seniors college ready? In fact, College Credit Plus is offering funding to seventh graders if a university will deem them college ready. How do we know?

I don’t need to enlighten any of you about college admissions standards and the importance of high school GPAs and test scores. Admissions standards for Cedarville University's College Now program are posted online. These more objective benchmarks are easy to compare. I would like to share with you some of what I've observed about students who are college ready from several years of working with Cedarville’s dual credit program. Students who succeed seem to have these characteristics.

  1. Excellent verbal and written communication skills, especially written. Most College Now students will take their courses online. Almost all (usually 100%) of the communication between professor and student in an online classroom takes place in writing. This is not only important in completing assignments, it is also quite useful when emailing for help. A well-phrased, clearly written question will likely produce a very helpful answer. Students who claim professors are not providing helpful responses are often unknowingly asking the wrong question.
  2. Critically reading and critically thinking at a much higher level than high school classrooms. High school students taking college courses must make the jump to college level discussion. Recently, when requesting to drop her course, a now-less-confident student shared with me when referring to the threaded discussions in her online course, “I don’t feel like I have anything to contribute.” She met the admissions criteria, but she was not college ready.
  3. All the “self” words: self-discipline, self-direction, self-awareness, self-confidence. The college-ready student is able to succeed with less direction and less intervention from instructors, and this becomes more important in the online classroom because the online classroom is necessarily more student-centered than instructor-centered. A frustrated student who called me to share her feeling that there was "no instruction" in a particular course (an online course that has been very successful) was really sharing with me the she was not college ready, at least in an online environment.
  4. Tenacity with a capital T. Once again the online classroom demands more of this! I mentioned in #1 above that students sometimes aren’t asking the right question; I would add that often they are not asking enough questions. Some are too easily discouraged and feel that they are bothering the instructor with too many emails when, in reality, this is how they raise their hand in the online classroom!

When reading a related blog post titled "Soft Skills, Strong Success: Fifteen Skills for College Readiness", I found myself heartily agreeing with every soft skill Vickie Nelson defined. I believe you will find her post worthy of your time.

In my next post, I will tackle the question we started with here, "Can I put all of my juniors and seniors in the same course, e.g., ENG-1400 Composition?"

Posted in College Now