Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Curriculum Development/Vocational-Academic Learning

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Can schools integrate vocational and academic learning?

Basic skills, Thinking skills, and Personal qualities are the, “foundations,” deemed necessary for America’s youth to possess in order to be successful upon graduation from high school. “Look beyond your discipline and your classroom to the other courses your students take, to your community, and to the lives of your students outside school. Help your students connect what they learn in class to the world outside (Moore, 2003).” These foundations as identified in the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) report, and the five workplace competencies, together have to be developed on a daily basis in the classroom by integrating vocational and academic learning,

There are Five Competencies found in the SCANS Report:

  1. Resources: Identifies, organizes, plans, and allocates resources. Examples would include time, money, material and facilities, and human resources.
  2. Interpersonal: Works with others. Examples would include participating as a member of a team, teaching others new skills, serving clients/customers, exercising leadership, negotiating, and working with diversity.
  3. Information: Acquires and uses information. Examples would include acquiring and evaluating information, organizing and maintaining information, interpreting and communicating information, and using computers to process information.
  4. Systems: Understands complex inter-relationships. Examples would include understanding systems, monitoring and correcting performance, improving or designing systems.
  5. Technology: Works with a variety of technologies. Examples would include selecting technology, appling technology to a task, and maintaining and troubleshooting equipment.

The use of alternative assessments is a way for classroom teachers to link students’ academic needs/skills with real world experiences that are required to enter the workforce.

Basic Skills[edit]

Basic skills are defined as reading, writing, listening, speaking, and performing arithmetic/mathematical operations (SCANS report, 1992). Most curricula are designed to incorporate these basic skills in daily lessons. The challenge is for teachers to educate the students to take these basic skills and apply them to their real world experiences. This can be accomplished through hands on lessons and alternative assessments. Educators are almost forced to use traditional assessments and are unable to think and teach outside of the box, in order to prepare students for state examinations. Traditional assessments require students to regurgitate information that is memorized, as opposed to alternative assessments that allow the students to prove their knowledge using hands on methods. Integrating vocational education can only complete these basic skills. “The stock market game,” is an assessment that can be used in all subjects. Each course is able to make changes necessary for it to be relevant to its subject matter. History teachers are able to use the stock market game to show the affects of the great depression. A government teacher is able to show how policies and elections can affect how people respond to change. Students would be required to research stocks and give written reports explaining their results. Presentations are then prepared so that individuals are able to show successful and unsuccessful portfolios.

Thinking Skills[edit]

The scan’s report refers to thinking skills as the ability to think creatively, make decisions, solve problems, visualize, knows how to learn and reasons. The need for effective problem solving and higher level thinking skills is essential inside and outside the classroom. Fortner (2006) suggests that providing alternative assessments taps into higher level thinking and problem solving skills, invokes real-world applications, uses tasks that represent meaningful instructional activities and encourages students to continue learning beyond the scope of the assignment (include reference). “Sell my mobile,” is an assessment that will allow students to develop thinking skills while incorporating other foundation skills. Each student will have a snowmobile that they are required to sell in order to raise money for a down payment for a car. They are given a pre-determined monthly salary that will be factored in their decision making. Students are required to create flyers for advertisement that will be used to sell their snow mobile. Research will be required to determine the cost of snowmobiles, current car prices, insurance and interest rates. Calculating monthly expenses will determine the type of car the student will be able to afford. Decisions on the selling price and what is affordable will have to be made in order for the student to be successful on this assessment.

Personal Qualities[edit]

The display of responsibility, self-esteem, sociability, self-management, integrity and honesty define personal qualities (SCANS,1992). In helping students develop personal quality, it is vital that teachers model good moral character. Focusing on such things as citizenship, responsibilities, and self-management can aid in developing these qualities. In today’s workforce employers seek individuals that are able to complete tasks with minimal supervision. Integrity and honesty are as important in the workplace as they are in the classroom. A student that “borrows,” his neighbors’ answers on a test only learns at an early age how to cheat and learns to use others trust in him against them. Managers would rather focus their attention on increasing profits and customer service instead of focusing on the cashier whose register seems to come up short often. Personal qualities are usually taking for granted, especially in a society where customer service is a thing of the past having minimal person to person contact. Creating a job list and assigning students tasks to complete in the classroom is a good way to teach responsibility and self-management. Creating a task that requires the work of multiple students creates the opportunity to develop sociability. Ensuring the task is complete to the teachers’ specifications creates integrity and honesty, while giving praise for a job well done builds self esteem. According to Vaughan (2007), it is the responsibility of the teacher to develop the whole child.


The standard curriculum is an excellent place to teach skills that will last a lifetime (SCANS) and help our students to become productive, well-adjusted members of society. SCANS skills are not only appropriate for workforce development, but they are also key factors for academic success in K-12 classrooms (Moore 2003). “Educators have to instill in students the perspective on results that the SCANS skills demand. If you do not, you will be failing your students and your community as they try to adjust to the next century. You, more than anyone, are responsible for helping our children develop the skills they need.” As quoted by the Secretary of labor in his 1992 SCANS report, it is believed that students are graduating from high school into a world they are not adequately prepared for. It is essential and necessary to integrate vocational and academic learning. Through this we are able to develop the, “foundation,” as identified by the SCANS report.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Which of the following would not be considered a foundation skill?
A. Basic skills
B. Teamwork
C. Thinking skills
D. Personal qualities

B. Teamwork

According to the scans report whose responsibility is it to develop the foundation skills?
A. Government
B. Parents
C. Teachers
D. The student

C. Teachers

Which of the following is not defined in thinking skills?
A. Visualizes
B. Makes decisions
C. Is able to direct others
D. Knows how to learn and reasons

C. Is able to direct others

Mrs. Sullivan is assigning duties in her classroom, which SCANS skill is being used.
A. Personal qualities
B. Basic skills
C. Thinking skills
D. The ability to read and write

A. Personal qualities

Ms. Wilkens is allowing students to develop the essay questions for the final exam, which combination of skills does this incorporate?
A. Basic skills, personal skills
B. Basic skills, thinking skills
C. Personal skills, thinking skills
D. Thinking skills, teamwork

B. Basic skills, thinking skills

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal a sample response.

When trying to integrate vocational skills and academic learning, how would you use a combination of traditional assessments and alternative assessments to develop your students?

In today’s fast pace society, it is essential that students are fully equipped to enter the work force upon graduation. While the optimal choice would be for students to enter into a college program immediately after high school, the fact still remains that the foundation for professional success should be developed prior to completing high school. Most curricula are not designed to integrate vocational skills in the classroom. It has become the responsibility of teachers to incorporate these lifelong skills in their daily lessons. One such way is through the use of alternative assignments and assessments. Alternative assessments and assignments are the gateway to higher level thinking. Combining the foundation skills set forth in the SCANS report with alternative assessments and assignments ensures that the need for vocational skills are met.


  • Fortner, Sandra. (2006, December). Alternative Assessments. Powerpoint presented at Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA.
  • Moore, Wayne. (2003). Facts and assumptions of assessment: technology, the missing link. THE Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), 20 (7). Retrieved September 19, 2007 from
  • Vaughan, Kimani (2007, September 20). Personal interview conducted with Elementary School Teacher who uses alternative assessments in her classroom.
  • What Work Requires of Schools. (1992). A SCANS Report for America. Retrieved September 17, 2007 from