Preparing students to take the next step

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

Three years ago, Pelham High School created an interesting ACT prep requirement for sophomores and juniors.  Both sophomores and juniors were grouped alphabetically and divided into groups of 100 students who were then subdivided into groups of twenty-five students. The twenty-five student groups rotated each nine weeks allowing them to spend one grading period with a teacher specializing in one of the ACT subsections: English, math, reading, and science. Overall, PHS saw an ACT score increase during this experience.

“What’s an antecedent?” one of my 16-17 ACT English prep students asked. English ACT Prep groups had some students who were in our English classes and some students who were in other teachers’ English classes. This very intelligent, questioning young woman was a dual enrollment student. I was surprised that such a bright student would have to ask what an antecedent was; however, I realized that her Freshman Comp 101 professor was not reviewing antecedents—or the contents of the ACT.

The strange anomaly of ACT English is that “define antecedent” is definitely not a test question; however, to be prepared for the test, students must know what a pronoun’s antecedent is in order to correctly answer usage questions. The entire ACT English test is a copy-editing exercise that uses constructions that most students write around when they aren’t sure of a grammatical rule. That strategy works well for most of high school; however, on ACT English, every tricky construction will be a test question. ACT is checking to see if students know their grammar rules.

Since the ACT is designed to measure how well students will perform in college, teaching ACT skills is actually preparing students for college. I call grammar instruction ACT Prep for the same reason I find writing contests offering scholarships. My students are more motivated to engage in grammar review and writing in order to earn money for college.

My Junior English students save both the cost of the dual enrollment course and expensive outside ACT prep course fees. Dual enrollment courses should offer other courses besides high school English.