Magazine article Vocational Education Journal

The Specialists

Magazine article Vocational Education Journal

The Specialists

Article excerpt

"When are we ever going to use this stuff?" is a question all too familiar to teachers of academic subjects. At the other end of the learning spectrum, vocational-technical instructors keep hearing employers say, "Our new employees don't have the basic academic knowledge required in today's workplace."

To bridge the gap, Eastern Oklahoma County Area Vocational School (EOC) in Choctaw, Oklahoma, called in a couple of specialists and the result was the "applied basic skills program." We--mathematics specialist Jana Gaddis and communications specialist Patsy Kline--work with the rural school's instructors to build a curriculum that connects theoretical concepts and practical skills.

By modeling teaching techniques for our respective specialties, we show vocational teachers how to emphasize academic content within their technical area. The team teaching method has succeeded in motivating students beyond all expectations.

Taking off

Now in its sixth year, the program couldn't have taken off without support from the school's instructors and administrators. Their willingness to rethink teaching methods and restructure curricula was crucial to the program's success. Their first step toward that change was to look for two full-time academic specialists who could help them present academics in an understandable format.

As teachers at one of the four high schools that send students to EOC and believers in contextual learning, we applied for the positions. Once on board, we met with all 17 instructors, in groups and individually, to figure out what academic skills needed to be learned in each vocational field. We all determine a curriculum that incorporates each instructor's academic and vocational objectives and suits both adult and high school students' needs. When an instructor comes up with a special project for students, we plan for it and then team-teach it during our weekly one-hour sessions. Depending on the project, we visit the three-hour classes separately or together. We and the instructors also consult each other throughout the year to make sure we're meeting goals.

The instructors get outside input from local businesses and the school's industrial advisory committee. Professionals who volunteer their time, the advisors serve as resources who can keep the instructors informed of what's really going on in the working world and what employers want from their employees.

For us, learning about 17 different trade areas and what academic skills they called for wasn't the hard part; the challenge was how to present the concepts in an applied, hands-on manner. The approach we and the EOC instructors decided upon was an applied team teaching method. "We hoped that by keeping the vocational teacher as a full partner of the lesson delivery, the students would begin to see that math and communications are not separate entities, but are a part of any vocation," says Rick Ray, assistant superintendent of EOC.

Among each year's incoming high school students, it is not unusual to find resistance to the academic addition to their coursework. Many have not been able to write a coherent report or analyze data calculations in their high school classes. Their vocational instructors are key to reversing this negative attitude by illustrating the connection between academics and working skills. "My students didn't want another math or English course. But they've come to view their weekly lessons with the specialists and myself as just a part of their training to become successful employees," says Donella Perry, a business education instructor. "In reality these skills are the same ones that are taught in a traditional math or English classroom."

One strategy that works well is to remind the students that they need academic skills to make a living. The responsiveness from adult students testifies to that rule. "Many of these students had insecurities about their academic capabilities and had not been successful in their previous schooling," says Don Blasingame, an electrical trades instructor. …

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