On Tuesday 20th June, a group of colleagues from a range of disciplines got together with members of the LLI and the Library to discuss the role of schools liaison work in helping inform how we support student transitions to HE study.
I kicked things off by setting some context – in particular the potential value in our obtaining more detailed insights into pre-HE study as part of our broader approaches to supporting transitions to HE study – before inviting Mark Rawlinson (School of English) to report on the work he and School of English colleagues have been doing with teachers at Beauchamp College. Brief notes from this session are available, here: notes on meeting between School of Arts and Beauchamp College
Mark also referred to a list of questions we had devised over the last year so to prompt discussion and reflection on the differences between study at school/college and study at university. These are intended to provoke those of us on the HE side of the transition process to pause and think a bit more about the experiences and expectations of students for the various rules and conventions of HE study can often appear, as Theresa Lillis (2001) puts it, as ‘institutional practices of mystery’. Our ability to respond to these questions could be greatly informed by working more directly with school teachers and students.
Discussion focussed, in particular, on assessment practices and how far these were thought to differ between school/college and HE, in particular where expectations and criteria are concerned, how far staff and students worked from shared understandings of these (what’s known in edu-speak as ‘assessment literacy’)
Next we spent some time thinking about the particular questions we would have for teachers and students. This exercise yielded some really interesting discussions around a variety questions and themes, including how were commonly-cited academic practices and virtues like ‘critical thinking’, ‘independent study’, ‘pursuing own lines of enquiry’ etc. promoted in A-Level teaching?; and what kinds, and levels, of support do school/college students receive from teachers and how does this compare to HE? In particular, there was discussion around how differences in this respect were communicated and explained to students. We also talked about the scope (or otherwise) school teachers might have to encourage more critical approaches to their subjects, especially given the imperatives of A-Level assessment and more directive curricula. In the study of Business and Management, for example, how far where students prior to HE encouraged to explore questions of power and ideology and also to consider alternative models of organisation to dominant capitalist ones (these being key questions students would be encouraged to engage with in HE)?
Towards the end of the session, discussion turned to how student reading was supported in HE, especially as, for many disciplines, the assumption was that at university students’ independent study would comprise largely of time spent reading from a variety of sources. Colleagues shared examples of how they had sought to ‘scaffold’ reading practices by providing, in the initial stages of HE study at least, guiding questions to help students engage with material. It was noted that, depending on the design of the questions, such resources need not inhibit students’ agency. Indeed, they might make it more likely that students engaged with reading, especially if the response to feeling daunted and unsure where to begin could be to develop strategies of evasion. It was further noted that structured reading activities were one of most interesting features of the recent session in April with English teachers at Beauchamp College. We agreed it would be helpful to continue this discussion in future.
On a personal level, I found the session to be really interesting and energising (I don’t necessarily like this word’s connotations with the world of leadership training seminars, but it’s genuinely how I felt!). There seems a real appetite to re-consider and develop how we enable students to make transitions to HE, based on our obtaining richer and more nuanced insights into where our students come from, educationally, and that might mean for the journey (again, sorry, but it seems to fit!) we’re inviting them to take.
Lillis, T (2001) Student Writing: Access, Regulation, Desire. London: Routledge