Deborah Bertsch is professor of English at Columbus State Community College (Ohio), where she teaches first-year composition and helps coordinate the English department’s dual enrollment program. Deborah is coauthor of A Guide to Teaching the Norton Field Guides to Writing, Fifth Edition.
Dual enrollment. Concurrent enrollment. Dual Credit. Postsecondary Enrollment Options.
They may go by different names, but programs that allow high school students to earn college credit are multiplying across the country. Whether you teach dually enrolled students on campus, online, or in a high school building, here are six practical tips for creating positive teaching and learning experiences.
1. Create a welcoming environment for high school students.
Some high school students feel intimidated at the beginning of their dual enrollment course, especially if they’re taking the class on a college campus. They might worry about fitting in socially or fear that the college teacher will be less than enthusiastic about working with high school students. So it’s important to help your students feel welcomed and comfortable.
One simple way to do this is to make a general statement on the first day to welcome any high school students who happen to be in the class. If appropriate, you could also direct course readings, activities, and class discussions toward topics that validate high school students’ interests or concerns.
Another way to help high school students feel comfortable—and to bolster their confidence in doing college work—is to highlight the achievements of previous dually enrolled students who’ve taken your class. In my courses, I create a “Student Success Gallery” in the LMS to showcase good student writing produced by current and former students, including dually enrolled students who are identified as such (with the students’ permission, of course).
2. Help high school students develop a college mindset.
Dually enrolled students are “ready” for college in the sense that they’ve met the appropriate academic prerequisites, like earning minimum ACT scores or passing placement tests. But in many cases, high school students are still developing other key components of college readiness, including self-regulation, motivation, engagement, goal orientation, self-efficacy, and perseverance (Conley and French; Zimmerman). As a result, dually enrolled students sometimes struggle with skills like managing time, persisting under pressure, or seeking out resources.
You can help by explicitly teaching and modeling the dispositions or habits of mind crucial to success in your course. For example, as a writing teacher, I’m guided by the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, a document that outlines eight essential habits of mind of successful college writers—habits like curiosity, engagement, flexibility, and metacognition. My students read about these habits in The Norton Field Guide to Writing, and they choose two habits they feel they most need to work on. Then they create plans for practicing those habits and reflect periodically on their progress through brief writing assignments or discussions.
3. Get the lay of the (high school) land.
This tip is for college instructors who may be new to teaching in high school buildings. If you can, visit the high school before your first class to figure out the logistics: What are the school sign-in procedures? Does someone have to unlock your classroom every day? What kind of technology will you have access to? Taking time to nurture relationships with school secretaries, guidance counselors, and other staff members can help you feel at home—and allow you to better serve the students.
Realize that the high school classroom environment might look and feel different from what you’re used to. The technology, for example, may not work as well as you’d like—or it could be more sophisticated than your on-campus technology. The number of class interruptions in high school can be quite jarring for college teachers: school-wide announcements coming over the intercom five minutes into your class period; a guidance counselor asking to see a student during class; a basketball coach sticking their head into your classroom to congratulate a star player on the previous night’s game. These are normal occurrences in high school settings, and it’s helpful to expect them.
4. Understand student dynamics in the high school.
Another tip for college instructors who are new to teaching in high schools: perhaps you’re used to having a handful of high school students in your on-campus classes, but having a whole roomful is different—in part because you’re entering an ecosystem that already exists. The students will most likely know each other already—and, in some cases, know a lot about each other. Students in the class might be dating each other, they might be teammates, they might be best friends since middle school. Sometimes, this familiarity allows students to feel more comfortable participating in class; at other times, though, the complex preexisting relationships among high school students can complicate class activities. Just being aware of this possibility is helpful.
Remember, too, that the student makeup of your class may be more homogeneous than that of your on-campus classes. The high school students will all be close in age, and in some schools, there may be little diversity in class, race, or religion. For this reason, it’s important to assign readings that represent diverse perspectives and to facilitate discussions in ways that welcome various worldviews.
Be aware that high school students’ attention and energy may be affected by activities or events going on at school—spirit week, school dances, athletic events. Make a point to get a copy of the school calendar ahead of time, and plan for times when students may be rambunctious—or exhausted—because of other school-related activities.
5. Distinguish the course as a college course.
If you’re a high school teacher offering a dual enrollment class, your students may have trouble seeing you as a representative of the college or seeing the college course as different from a high school course. So it’s important to think about how you can develop your ethos as a college teacher, and how you can make the course “feel like college.”
Some high school teachers reinforce the connection with the college by using only the college email system when communicating with students—and by requesting that students do the same. Others make a point to disseminate course materials and collect student work through the college’s LMS, rather than the high school’s. Implementing course policies that match those of the sponsoring college department—for example, policies regarding late work or attendance—can also help differentiate the course as a college course in students’ eyes.
Highlighting the greater time commitments of college coursework is another way to distinguish the course from a high school one. I like to provide “time-on-task cues” for assignments, giving students an estimation of how long a particular task should take to complete. These cues help students gauge the level of effort and commitment expected for college work—and help them plan their time more effectively.
6. Connect with your colleagues across institutions.
It’s always helpful to feel like you’re part of a teaching community, but if you’re a high school dual enrollment teacher, creating such a community can be a challenge—especially if you’re the only teacher at your school who’s teaching a college course in your discipline. Try to develop relationships with dual enrollment teachers at other high schools in your area, especially those that are partnered with the same college or university as you.
Try, too, to seek out someone at your partnering institution who can help you understand the culture, curriculum, and contexts of the larger academic program or department that your course is part of. That person might go by different titles depending on the institution—course coordinator, lead instructor, or something else—but they can fill you in on course policies and procedures, as well as the philosophical and pedagogical orientation of the program. Ask about institutional, state, or national policy documents that inform how the course gets taught at your partnering college or university.
And for college and high school faculty alike: try to attend meetings, workshops, and other events at your partner institution. Doing so can result in rich collaborations across traditional high school–college boundaries. At my institution, for example, high school dual enrollment teachers have led on-campus professional-development sessions, engaged in research projects, and presented at national conferences with faculty from our college. Such collaboration has enriched our teaching, both at the college and in the high schools.
Conley, David T. and Elizabeth M. French. “Student Ownership of Learning as a Key Component of College Readiness.” American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 58, no. 8, July 2014, pp. 1018–1034.
Zimmerman, Barry J. “Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner: An Overview.” Theory into Practice, vol. 41, no. 2, spring 2002, pp. 64–72.