Basic Skills Software Helps Prepare High-School Students for Employment

Like any other educator, Larry Shelt strives to provide his students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life. However, he faces an especially tough challenge. As an occupational work adjustment area coordinator for Columbian High School in Tiffin, Ohio, Shelt deals with students who have demonstrated little interest in academics. His task is to help these at-risk students become reoriented with high-school curricula and prepare for college or a career. The students attend regular classes in science and math, then report to Shelt for two periods each day. Participants in the Work Experience Career Exploration program, as the federal program is called, are also allowed to hold jobs. What makes Shelt's approach unique is that he has done away with textbooks entirely. Instead, his students work exclusively on computers, all running Skills Bank 3 courseware. The software, published by Skills Bank Corp. of Baltimore, Md., is a complete curriculum addressing all the basic skills of literacy necessary to reach high-school equivalency. Emphasizes Critical Thinking The program helps students master reading, writing, language, math and study skills. Version 3 also places a new emphasis on critical thinking skills such as classifying, decision making, and inductive and deductive reasoning. Shelt first incorporated the software into his class in 1984, when the school's lab consisted of Apple II computers. Last summer, he upgraded to Version 3, which he has installed on 10 Macintosh LCs reserved for his program. The instructor reports that the revamped version is even more effective in capturing students' attention. He attributes that to the program's highly graphic screens and user-friendly interface. More importantly, Shelt says, Skills Bank 3 has generated recognizable results. "It has restored their confidence. Their self-image has improved 100%." And students' GPAs have also improved, according to Shelt. For example, two of his students will probably make honor roll this semester. Self-Paced Instruction The students work at their own pace, completing any one of several hundred "Thinking Skills" lessons, which ask them to perform tasks and solve real-life problems related to the subject area being studied. During class, Shelt moves along the row of computers, offering assistance to anyone experiencing difficulties. A Teacher's Program keeps track of how many minutes are spent on each lesson. Shelt assigns no homework, but students use additional applications, such as ClarisWorks, to write papers and complete other assignments. When it comes time for testing, Skills Bank 3 presents randomly selected questions and instantly grades the responses. Shelt says his students tend to score well under such conditions. "Some kids, when they face a written test, they freeze," he notes. "Now, the whole thing is non-threatening. ... There are no red pens checking them off." The approach has caught the attention of many colleagues. At least 19 school districts have visited Columbian High School to observe Shelt's class first-hand. Workplace Literacy Besides excelling in school, an important goal of Shelt's program is preparing students for the workforce. Toward that end, every student must prepare a resume. Other lessons focus on verbal communication or specific tasks relating to career exploration. But Shelt emphasizes that the students' ability to succeed in the business world stems largely from their daily exposure to Skills Bank 3. For instance, he adds that all his students thus far have achieved no less than a one-year increase in reading aptitude. Shelt has difficulty hiding his excitement about the product. As more people hear about the results, he expects that the software will become a common fixture in schools across the country. "The technology is making these kids feel good about themselves." Word has already spread around the Columbian campus: last year a record 65 students sought spots in the Work Experience Career Exploration program. And Shelt predicts that number will continue to rise. "This is just the tip of the iceberg."

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.