How FFA supports rigorous instruction in academics

By Deb Buehler

Educators know that students have different learning styles. Some students perform well in “seat learning” settings: classroom instruction involving listening to lectures, independent reading and demonstrating knowledge through homework and tests. Other students excel when they can actively participate in real-world learning situations.

Agricultural content is presented in such a way that every student, regardless of learning style, can be engaged in learning that is relevant and rigorous. “Our agricultural content provides applied situations for academic content,” said Jim Armbruster, team leader for the awards and recognition team at FFA. Efforts are currently underway to align all national FFA events and applications with the agriculture, food and natural resources (AFNR) content standards. Teachers and students will be able to easily identify the academic content that is inherent in every competition and every award.

“Students involved in supervised agricultural experience programs (SAEs) can compare themselves to the standards and see their own progress toward mastery,” said Jim Craft, FFA Executive Secretary in Illinois. “Teachers can also compare to see how students are mastering a skill while seeing the progress toward ag careers by different performance measures.”

Craft explained that through FFA awards and recognition programs such as career development events (CDE), proficiencies, degrees and agriscience fairs, students gain solid classroom instruction, relevant hands-on application experiences and build very real relationships that mirror rigor, relevance and relationships.

Billy Sumeroll, superintendent of the environmental and natural resources cde and an agriculture teacher in Mississippi, provides an example of the connection between agriculture and science education. “A student in livestock production can learn the science beyond just raising animals,” he said. “They can explore taking care of the soil, forages the livestock eat and clean water – current issues that give it a real-world atmosphere. If you take care of the soil, it provides the grains and forage, clean water for animals and human consumption, crops – everything is relative. It’s not just pounds gained, but how everything is connected to human welfare at the same time.”

Preparedness for employment
Most state standards align easily with the afnr standards. According to Craft, because the afnr standards mesh well with what states expect, they are a great addition to an ag teacher’s toolkit. At the same time, they are a reflection of what employers have identified as vital to successful employment. They serve as a way for teachers to gauge whether instruction meets what the industry of agriculture has identified for student preparedness.

Teachers can use FFA competitions and applications to also assess their own instructional practices and explore areas where they are meeting most of the standards. They can also determine components that are missing. At the same time, the AFNR standards are not designed so that students reach full mastery in high school. The standards identify grade-level appropriate skill development--middle school, high school, and postsecondary--that will support them through academic and work pursuits beyond their secondary education.

“High schools don’t have the tools, resources and lab equipment available in universities,” Craft explained. “There are equipment needs in some of the AFNR standards that schools cannot provide to meet all of the pathways.” some students may not tackle some of the knowledge reflected by the AFNR standards until they receive on-the-job training from their first employer and/or postsecondary training.

Craft concludes that when teachers remain focused on preparing students for their future work in agriculture, provide rigorous, hands-on, real-life experiences and support them in building successful relationships in relevant ways, there is a chance for real student growth.