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The Question Administrators are Asking: Can I Put All My Juniors and Seniors in the Same Course?

The Question Administrators are Asking: Can I Put All My Juniors and Seniors in the Same Course?

June 22, 2015

Let’s use ENG-1400 Composition to explore this question. It appears to make sense to put all of your students in the same course, and what better course than Composition? Composition seems like the Cadillac of dual credit courses. High schools require it, and freshman composition is an essential of any college or university general education core. Three thoughts immediately come to mind when discussing this scenario with an administrator.

  1. Proficiency scores. College Now students (and CU undergraduate students) must show proficiency via ACT or SAT scores to register for ENG-1400 Composition. The required minimum scores are 21 on the English ACT subtest or 500 on the Critical Reading portion of the SAT. While we consider and admit applicants who provide PSAT scores only, these applicants are limited to non-English (and non-math) courses until they provide ACT or SAT scores that meet these standards. What if not all of your students have taken the ACT or SAT?
  2. Level of rigor. ENG-1400 Composition is one of the most rigorous online general education courses offered to College Now students. This is evidenced by the number of College Now Composition students who find themselves with the status of “at-risk” by mid-semester.
  3. The goal. This is where the conversation can get convoluted. If all of your juniors and seniors have stellar transcripts and off-the-charts ACT or SAT scores, a full cohort taking ENG-1400 Composition is an exciting prospect for all of us! However, if only a few of your students are superstars, you will be faced with competing priorities. Plainly stated, if you have an academically diverse group of juniors and seniors, putting them all in ENG-1400 Composition will likely put some of them at academic risk. Consider the following.
    • I recommend two safeguards to all College Now students wanting to take ENG-1400 Composition: (1) Take another less rigorous course first, allowing yourself to adjust to college level thinking and writing and, if online learning is new, to adjust to the differences in face-to-face learning vs. online learning. (2) Wait until you are a high school senior to take ENG-1400 Composition, giving yourself the first three years of high school to practice thinking and writing well.
    • Having had some difficult conversations with parents regarding poor academic performance, I take very seriously my recommendations to students for course choice. The number of students who find themselves at-risk in our most difficult courses is fewer than it used to be, and I believe this is partially a result of students and parents following the simple advice given in the first bullet point.
    • Can the benefits of the cohort classroom be reaped just as powerfully if your students are taking different courses in the same space as when they are taking the same course? Is a large part of the benefit derived from students having a set time and place to work together, all intent on the same end of earning college credit? Or, must they be working on the same course to motivate each other toward that end? The interaction between virtual classmates in each course is designed to challenge the thinking and learning of students studying the same material. If physical classmates sitting side-by-side studying the same course material is necessary to succeed in an online course, then I dare say the course developers at Cedarville University have failed. Might it be helpful? Maybe. Is it necessary? I don't think so.

The concept of the cohort classroom using College Now online courses is new for us. The possibilities for helping with the curriculum needs of the small private school are very exciting. What I have tried to express in this post is the challenge of finding the right fit for the school while making absolutely certain that we place right priority on individual abilities and outcomes for each student.

I would love to hear from school administrators and guidance counselors regarding how a cohort classroom might be helpful to you and your students. How do you envision this concept at work in your school? What challenges would students taking different courses in a cohort group present for you? Is this idea valid?

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