A Brit’s view of U.S. college culture

British college students who study abroad in the U.S. should expect a different college culture, writes Sophie Pitman in The Telegraph.

As an undergrad in Britain, Pitman was taught to argue with classmates, she writes.

Regardless of each student’s genuine beliefs, it was seen as beneficial to challenge, question, and refine one another’s interpretations. Discord was expected, and not taken as personal. I started out in America with the same approach, disagreeing with my classmates vocally. I was met with blank stares and scowls, and quickly learnt that discussions here are more cordial and positive.

. . . In America, the customer is always king – even in the classroom. In my humble opinion, American students act as consumers and demand more from their tuition fees than their British counterparts. Expect to be asked by your professors for formal written feedback during or at the end of term, and you might be able to access former students’ evaluations of your prospective tutor when picking classes. I have even witnessed students asking for regrades when they didn’t like their grade – something I was initially shocked by.

She also warns her Brits to expect less alcohol — and no wine parties with the prof — and more carbohydrates.

Put argument at the core

Common Core Standards need More Argument, Fewer Standards, argue Mike Schmoker and Gerald Graff in Ed Week.

Argument . . .  includes the ability to analyze and assess our facts and evidence, support our solutions, and defend our interpretations and recommendations with clarity and precision in every subject area. Argument is the primary skill essential to our success as citizens, students, and workers.

Many educators don’t realize the importance of argument or the research showing that students learn more — and earn higher test scores — when they have “in-school opportunities to argue and debate about current issues, literary characters, and the pros and cons of a math solution.”

Argument not only makes subject matter more interesting; it also dramatically increases our ability to retain, retrieve, apply, and synthesize knowledge. It works for all students—from lowest- to highest-achieving.

The new standards affirm the importance of argument, but ask teachers to do too many other things too, they argue.  “For all their merits, these standards are still overlong, redundant, and often confusing.”

All standards are not created equal. We believe it is far more critical for teachers to help students to analyze, evaluate, and support their conclusions with evidence than it is for them to spend precious time on puzzling standards like these:

“Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style”; or

“Analyze different points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) creating such effects as suspense or humor.”

In addition, there are too many “foundations” standards with “long lists of mechanical skills well into the later grades,” they argue.

When I was in high school, we didn’t write journals, much less design posters. It was all expository writing all the time. Make an argument. Support it.  The dread 3-3-3 paragraph consisted of a thesis statement supported by three topic sentences, each supported by three subtopic sentences, each supported by three “concrete and specific” details. I never used the 3-3-3 in college. I didn’t need to.