As I plan for my fall college reading classes, I find myself making assumptions about what my students will and will not know.  I assume they will have at least minimum computer literacy, although every semester brings students who have none.  I assume they know about blogs, although many don’t.  I assume they will know about using key words to search online, although very few students in my classes have ever demonstrated that ability.

So, this semester one of my first steps will be to develop a survey.  “What do you know how to do??”  The longer I teach developmental English, the more convinced I become of the importance of challenging my assumptions about what students do and do not know.  If I don’t take the time to find that out, I will be building my instruction on the instability of their presumed understanding.

I particularly want to find out what they know about computers because I am thinking I will design Friday activities in the computer lab (if I can talk the powers that be into letting us reserve it every Friday – not easy….)  I love making plans for doing thus-and-such on Mondays (“Monday’s wash day…”), thus-and-such on Fridays, and perhaps another thus-and-such on Wednesdays.  I know absolutely that those plans fall apart in the first few weeks of the semester, so I know better than to share my lovely symmetrical schedule with students.  But here it is again, creeping into my planning.  On Mondays we’ll do vocabulary, Tuesday-Thursday general reading content, then Fridays we’ll go into the computer lab.

So what we can do in the lab on Fridays?  I have several projects that worked well in previous semesters but, wanting to push myself and them, I am thinking of creating a class blog for each section (I can feel myself gulp in apprehension every time I read that.)  I may design learning projects to explore software that I think they might be able to use.  But I need to know who I can set loose in the lab and who needs extra time to figure out the keyboard, the basics of searching and typing and scrolling and … all the other invisible skill and knowledge gaps.   I ignore those gaps at the risk of losing those students who just plain don’t know, and they think everyone else does know, and they shut down, then stop coming to class, then drop out or flunk out.  All for the want of a simple question – do you know how to do this??

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