Trinidad Gonzales is a Mexican American studies and history instructor at South Texas College and the author of Norton’s classroom resources for use with Give Me Liberty! in U.S. history courses. He has received the American Historical Association’s John Lewis Award for History and Social Justice.
I have taught dual enrollment (DE) courses over the last 17 years through South Texas College. One of the DE courses I taught was Mexican American history at Mission High School, and my experience teaching this course fundamentally changed my perspectives on teaching and learning. Victoria Rojas, my high school colleague for the class, helped me understand the value of low-stakes, repetitive assignments for helping students learn how to do history as opposed to simply learning content.1
Dual enrollment offers an ecosystem of collaboration that can help history faculty from K-12 and higher education engage in critical discussions of teaching and learning and develop new pathways for increasing majors. An educational ecosystem is an analytical framework for understanding the various entities that interact in providing education to a community. For instance, the school district has relationships with nonprofits, federal and state agencies, and private sector supporters. Included in that ecosystem is dual enrollment and the relationship that develops between a high school and institutions of higher education.
Irvin L. Scott, in “A New PK-12 Education Ecosystem Framework for a New Normal,” examines how educators and those associated with education can best impact the educational ecosystem. Here, I am building from his thoughts but focusing on DE and my experience teaching alongside a high school colleague.
Like most history faculty who completed their undergraduate degrees during the late 1980s and 1990s, I experienced highstakes assignments and exams as typical assessment. In large part, our understanding of what distinguishes college-level work from high school work is the issue of high- versus low-stakes assessments. Another perceived difference is the use of the lecture as the primary method of teaching for college-level instruction versus the more active learning methods that many high school instructors use.
The level of skill and content expectation is certainly greater for college curriculum versus high school, but what is not different is how people learn. Scholarship related to teaching and learning has provided the empirical evidence for reducing the use of the lecture as the primary mode of instruction. Because of my collaborative teaching with Rojas, I redesigned all my courses so that low-stakes, weekly, repetitive assignments provide the foundational material for three long essays. My passing rate went from the mid-50 percents, normal for introductory history courses in the United States, to the 70s and 80s.
The most radical and unnerving aspect of my course redesign was not the shift to low-stakes, repetitive assignments but allotting more class time for active learning. Roaming the classroom, and helping students grapple with historical analysis and writing as opposed to lecturing, I at first felt that I was loafing off. After the first semester of engaging in active learning sessions, though, it became clear that this approach helped students improve their abilities to muster historical arguments with the use of secondary and primary source materials. Rojas upended my cultural and intellectual understanding of teaching and learning, and I would not have changed my teaching methods without the DE ecosystem.
Likewise, Rojas benefited from my content knowledge of Mexican American history, which helped her include new material in her own courses. For example, because of my expertise in local history, Rojas began using local content to help students make connections between the history of their community and national events. Through conversations about how to structure the class, using my lecture outlines and notes as a guide, we both enhanced our teaching toolkit—and the students benefited from an improved learning environment.
DE programs can also become a pathway for developing majors. Unlike institutions of higher education, high schools provide structural opportunities for recruiting students through their direct counseling. Counselors are key resources for helping students choose courses and their degrees. By working with dedicated counselors, disciplinary departments can help begin a process that promotes a major.
High schools also allow students to take field trips to museums, national parks, and other venues that are difficult for many institutions of higher education to organize. By accompanying students to such events, faculty can show how their discipline is relevant for students’ educational and career goals. Besides hosting field trips, faculty can bring other speakers to their class, much as they do on campus, to meet with students and discuss topics related to their discipline.
The DE ecosystem provides a world of opportunities for helping higher-education faculty rethink teaching and learning and bring the best of both high school and college learning to the class. For disciplines that are witnessing declining majors, working with high schools affords the opportunity to help generate enthusiasm early to slow or reverse that decline. The DE ecosystem is a relationship that can be leveraged to bring all the services of the institution of higher education to high schools and vice versa, like continued educational training for high school instructors, mental-health services for students, and other wraparound services. There are plenty of possibilities for DE instructors to consider.
1On the debates concerning the coverage versus the historical thinking models for introductory history or survey courses, see Joel M. Sipress and David J. Voelker, “The End of the History Survey Course: The Rise and Fall of the Coverage Model,” Journal of American History 97 (March 2011): 1050–1066.