Empowering Students: Using Key Learning & Transition Skills to Build Persistence in Students

In-Depth with Evelyn Hiatt

Question from the Keynote Session:

If you ask students whether they are ready for college, they will say ‘yes’ or ‘no.  In public schools, we don’t get to send them back if they are not ready. If we say a student is not ready, we immediately affect their persistence and possibility of completion in two years. In the public setting we have to take them as far as we can. HS’s take kids where they are and get them as far as they can. More assessments at the college level make it harder to say ‘yes’ for readiness. Where can we take them for the best life path?

Hiatt:  There are different purposes for K-12 and higher education. The focus on economic viability of every person is new.  High schools exist to graduate students from high school. We used to sort kids who were ready for college and those who were not ready…  Are the students ready or are the faculty ready to accept them?  The Constitution say the role of public education is to prepare good citizens. Now the emphasis is to prepare them for college. The rules changed and high schools were not told!  College as an expansion of your viewpoint of the world has disappeared. It’s now all about economics. College as opening your eyes to what is available is gone.  High school teachers have gotten a bad name because they didn’t prepare students for college, but high schools didn’t know that was their job.


  • Career center has same disconnect from high school to college.  We use hands-on activities and integrated academics. English is in every career path. Students ask why they weren’t taught this way in school. Apply knowledge from school in content area/area of interest. Cosmetologists realize they understand science because they have an opportunity to apply what they have learned. College and career centers cultivate knowledge application.
  • State education says this is what you must know and high schools have to deliver that knowledge so kids can pass tests to prove the school is effective.
  • College is the precursor for a career. Ladders and pathways for careers are important.  Students say they want to be something… you have to find out what that means. Does their skills set fit? If not then there are choices that need to be made.
  • Research into high engagement strategies: How can we blend the different types of paths to college and careers?

Hiatt:  What do we do about students who are not ready?

Community college is an opportunity to transition kids to college. Community colleges were created to assist and support students who are not ready. How do we do that? We need to change our mindset. We need to look at our policies and say “what can we do to help the situation?”  Some examples:

  • Provide up-to-date and accurate financial aid information. Do office hours fit student schedules? Students who need financial aid are not often available during regular business hours. Financial aid requires face to face meetings with trained personnel. How can we get the people who know and the people who need to know together?
  • Tutoring opportunities for students. PCP’s: Parking lot, course, parking lot (many students have other obligations that take their focus away). Change gateway courses into 4 credit courses with 1 hour  devoted to tutoring. Tutoring is embedded in the course. Full time student with 3 classes when each class is 4 credits. Tutors and faculty work together to support students. This works well for developmental level one.
  • Developmental education was created for traditional age students who are close to college ready. Then, because money for adult basic education was cut and because community colleges are open enrollment, additional developmental levels were created–to respond to community need. Some students will never get out of developmental education.


  • Urban vs suburban ed. College readiness is not about brainpower. It’s about developmental lags. Suburbs need to teach college ready curriculum. Urban is playing catch up AND trying to teach college skills. Waldorf education teaches reading at 7 years old instead of 5 years old. Students are asked to use cognitive skills they don’t even have yet. Finland doesn’t teach reading until 7 years old.
  • Competition – The top urban kids do not know the competition out there. They may be top in their school, but still need TOP and EOP programs to be admitted in college.  Paradigm we currently have is not working. Top urban students are not competitive with top suburban students. Algebra II is taken regularly at suburban schools, but not in urban schools.

Hiatt:  Urban schools give an opportunity for diversity. Finland is very homogeneous–students do better when everyone looks like them and they all come from the same background. Houston has 130 languages. How can we use diversity as a strength?  We are the ones who need to change the policies.  Gaps don’t start in high school. The gaps in learning build from early on.


  • Policy changed and now the student is being called not ready for college. There is a new definition of not ready, which high school teachers now have to address. Common core raises the bar and changes preparation. College teachers need to know and understand the students coming to them and how they can work with these students.
  • Fascinated by term “readiness” as if we have a clear definition of readiness. We don’t know what the world will be out there 5-10 years from now. Paradigm shift – what does college preparation mean? What is the college preparing students to do? We don’t do enough talking about this. This is why we dismantle social sciences. Teaching how to think is also important.
  • Learning and transitional skills are the important foundation. Those skills keep students flexible and able to adapt to changing environment.


  • Research tells us certain things about our students. Students with deck stacked against them find it difficult to persist. Keep students connected to institution and don’t worry about how long it takes students to complete. Build those persistence skills. If you can’t do it this year maybe you can next year.
  • Learning to learn skills are very important. Manage time, take notes, study for tests, memorize,, read strategically, learn collaboratively, use technology.
  • Strategic reading – identify and communicate the purpose for reading. Pre-reading skills and strategies. Reading cues and strategies, highlighting, underlining, key words. You have to understand what you read before you can really talk about it.
  • Note-taking should be institutionalized and the focus should be on how you use the notes later. Cornell note-taking method.
  • Flipped classroom model changes how knowledge is transmitted.
  • Memory performance over time – Higher retention of information if students review notes over time.
  • Summarization is also important.
  • Study groups and learning groups.
  • Use of peers/mentors/tutors. Orientation and first week of classes to help students feel comfortable. Students need connections.
  • Orientation is a wonderful tool if used correctly. Give them what they need for the next 4 weeks. Get them started and then follow up.
  • Explain to students about careers and the skills and options that are available.
  • Create multi-campus learning communities: P-college working together
  • Organize a 10:00 club to supplement chats/office hours. Meet the students where they are rather than having students change to meet our requirements. Form learning communities of different groups of students.
  • 1st generation success stories – share your story with your students.
  • For students, going to faculty offices feels like going to the principal’s office. Meet students in more informal locations or online. For example,  use TodaysMeet.com as a back channel to see student questions and responses. Can be set for anonymity.

We should be outraged. As soon as we say, “that’s the way it is,”  that’s the way it is. What can we do to improve college readiness and close the gaps?


  • Clark middle school throws out curriculum grades 7 and 10. They only work on literacy and numeracy. They use lexile books to bring students back up to grade level in reading and math. This breaks the system apart, but doesn’t break the rules.
  • Angst about common core – cart is before the horse. We have assessed before we have implemented. We talk about weighing the baby and weighing the baby, but we don’t feed the baby. It used to be ready set go, and now it’s are we ready…? We are using the deficit model and this goes back to a tracking and sorting models.  Rush-Henrietta took a risk at middle school. They quit sorting and raised the expectation. They moved a Regents courses to middle school (earth science). 92% of kids are passing. No sorting and everyone takes the course. This has led to a higher district pass rate for earth science.
  • Teachers are making the materials. They won’t want the textbooks when they finally come out.

Hiatt:  We need to take back what is important to teaching and learning and children. We can not be afraid to speak out. When teachers say “students are not ready,” what do they think they are there for?  Students are there to learn!  In Texas every 6 weeks there is a test to check for learning. It has taken responsibility from teachers.  If you are not ready now it’s our job to get you ready. You have to teach the students in front of you – ready or not.


  • Highest retention rates at a local 4 year institution were in top tier and lowest tier. AOP program supported lowest tier. How can we model those supports and scale them for the middle group?
  • When we speak of college and career readiness it speaks to responsibility, accountability, persistence. College is hard. How can I make my kids care to bring it home to see it more? It’s easy to blame K-12. We have a society problem of not caring?
  • 6th grade excited to learn, 7th grade we have lost some. 8th graders are disengaged. It’s a society problem… It doesn’t matter how it was created. How can we fix it?


The push forward needs to come from us as educators. Parents and community need to be involved and research shows that the most successful programs bring the information to families, not have them come to us.

  • College connect – Austin Community College. Most kids do not know what developmental ed is. Ideas of things to do online and independently to get ready. If you complete the readiness program upon graduation in your diploma folder there is an acceptance to the community college and the date you are supposed to come for orientation. Bridge programs to get ready for spring for those students coming late and wanting to start college
  • Capital idea – intrusive advising. Call students to remind them they need to go to school. Texts to students and support for due dates. Program provides daycare.
  • We have to do extra to get what we want from students.

“Give pupils something to do, not something to learn; and if the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking or the intentional noting of connections; learning naturally results.”

–John Dewey