What are the skills our students practice in our classes if not transferable? By definition, transferable should include anything from our classroom to something in our students’ lives. From the most survival-skill role-play to the abstract lost-in-a-jungle-with-only-three-items activities, we design them so students practice and acquire the language (and academic) skills needed. I’m guessing I’m not the only teacher, however, who feels the sting when a student doesn’t recognise what even seems like the most obvious transferable skill.
It’s the very end of the academic year, 26 weeks of academic writing with the same students gone by. In October, we began the writing process: brainstorming, choosing a topic, researching…outlining, drafting…submission; you know the drill. Through a number of smaller, we encouraged (hand-held) students through this process. We showed benefits of instructor feedback on drafts. We showed the correlation between thorough process and final grade. We gave them some autonomy to choose this process on a bigger assignment. Most did. All seemed on the up and up.
Cut to the last week of the term and meeting with a worried student about their grades, specifically their content credit-course grade in History. I check their grades (I can do that as coordinator of the program) throughout the term and find a failing grade for her term paper with a note that she hadn’t handed in a first draft, and thus not received feedback from the instructor, nor met her during office hours. A conversation ensues:
I ask, “Why didn’t you go through the writing process for your History essay?”
She responds, “I had some mistakes when I wrote the first draft so I wanted to fix them.”
I ask, “But part of the process is to get feedback from your instructor if available. They can help you find those mistakes and give you suggestions for the right path.”
She responds, “I didn’t think it was that important to hand in a first draft.”
Perplexed, I state, “Why? In our class we’ve been practising the writing process over and over since October. You’ve done it. I know you know how to do it. Why wouldn’t you do it for your History essay too?”
She responds, “I thought it was just for your class.”
Her apathetic tone cut through me. Her unapologetic disregard for transferability slapped me in my face. I was stunned. I wanted to shake her and exclaim, “What do you mean you thought it was just for my class!? Why do you think we have been doing this process with every single writing assignment!? When the reason you take my course is to directly support you for success in the History course, how could you think anything we do is isolated to my course!?” But I didn’t.
Clearly along the way I had not explicitly shown how useful the skills taught were to other courses. Or perhaps somewhere she had decided they weren’t.
The question then really becomes what are the best ways to demonstrate the practical transferability of skills from our programs to the needs of their lives outside our courses, be they their university courses in my case, or perhaps their work or daily lives in yours. In #EAPchat today, we discussed this and through griping camaraderie, we agreed that collaboration with content course instructors in choosing the skills that best apply to their courses is vital. I’m lucky enough, however, to already have that collaboration. It hasn’t seemed to work well, at least not for all students.
Ask the students themselves, “when will you need to do this on your degree?”