Thursday, April 9, 2009

Academic literacy

Jim Burke has a cool blog for English teachers. Here is a recent post about what California college professors say about what students need to be able to do in college.

Academic Literacy: What Do You Need to Succeed?

What are the skills necessary to not just survive but thrive in academic classes in general and at the college level in particular? This is the question the California State University and University of California systems asked some years ago in a report titled Academic Literacy.

Here is one of the most important passages in a section that discusses the concept of "habits of mind":
What constitutes academic literacy?

The dispositions and habits of mind that enable students to enter the ongoing conversations appropriate to college thinking, reading, writing, and speaking are inter-related and multi-tiered. Students should be aware of the various logical, emotional, and personal appeals used in argument; additionally, they need skills enabling them to define, summarize, detail, explain, evaluate, compare/contrast, and analyze. Students should also have a fundamental understanding of audience, tone, language usage, and rhetorical strategies to navigate appropriately in various disciplines.

Our study informs our conclusions about the complex nature of academic literacy. Competencies in reading, writing, listening, speaking, and in the use of technology that are described in later segments presuppose the intellectual dispositions valued by the community college, CSU, and UC faculty who teach first-year students and participated in our study. They tell us, and our experience confirms, that the following intellectual habits of mind are important for students’ success. The percentages noted indicate the portion of faculty who identified the following as “important to very important” or “somewhat to very essential” in their classes and within their academic discipline. College and university students should be able to engage in the following broad intellectual practices:

* exhibit curiosity (80%)
* experiment with new ideas (79%)
* see other points of view (77%)
* challenge their own beliefs (77%)
* engage in intellectual discussions (74%)
* ask provocative questions (73%)
* generate hypotheses (72%)
* exhibit respect for other viewpoints (71%)
* read with awareness of self and others (68%)

Faculty members also indicated, by the percentages below, that the following classroom behaviors facilitate students’ learning. They noted that students should be able to do the following:

* ask questions for clarification (85%)
* be attentive in class (84%)
* come to class prepared (82%)
* complete assignments on time (79%)
* contribute to class discussions (67%)

Successful college and university students also know how to take advantage of what college has to offer, especially when they do not understand an assignment, are confused about teachers’ expectations, or need particular guidance. Self-advocacy is, therefore, a valuable practice that emerges from the recognition that education is a partnership.

College and university faculty also expect students to:

* respect facts and information in situations where feelings and intuitions often prevail;
* be aware that rhetorics of argumentation and interrogation are calibrated to disciplines, purposes, and audiences;
* embrace the value of research to explore new ideas through reading and writing;
* develop a capacity to work hard and to expect high standards; and show initiative and develop ownership of their education.

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