A Conversation with Haleh Azimi and Elsbeth Mantler, Part 1

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The following interview with Haleh Azimi and Elsbeth Mantler, Co-directors of the Community College of Baltimore County’s Accelerated Learning Program, focuses on professional development for faculty teaching corequisite composition and was conducted via email in December of 2021. This is the first of four parts.

David Starkey: First, I want to say how lucky I feel to be able to talk with the two of you about your role in faculty development for instructors teaching accelerated/corequisite composition. Can you tell me a bit about how you came to take on this role at the Community College of Baltimore County?

Haleh Azimi: Peter Adams, the founder of the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) designed the ALP leadership structure with our Dean of Developmental Education and the Vice President of Instruction. When ALP was instituted at CCBC in 2009, ALP was a co-requisite course sequence that paired Composition I with English 052 (Basic Writing). After Peter retired, Professor Susan Gabriel became the director of the program which shifted to an integrated reading and writing model (IRW). The configuration shifted in 2016 so that Composition I was paired with Academic Literacy 053 (ACLT). Critical reading instruction then became infused in the ALP support course.

DS: So, you have a co-curricular model.

HA: Yes, and that model influenced the leadership structure because this new course arrangement consisted of an English class and an Academic Literacy class. CCBC looked at this new structure to build the new leadership model, which is a co-directorship.

DS: Haleh, you’re an Academic Literacy faculty member, and Elsbeth teaches in the English department.

HA: We come from the two disciplines that form the ALP course. The best part of this co-directorship is that I get to work with my colleague, Elsbeth, on such a close basis, and both of us also teach an ALP class every semester. We think this is essential in leading this program because it gives us an opportunity to grapple with the same issues other faculty deal with on a first-hand basis. This has truly been the most collaborative partnership, and one of the most rewarding parts of our work is that we both learn so much from each other regarding discipline-specific practices.

One example of this would be ways to address students’ grammar in context. Prior to collaborating with the English department, I would teach discrete skills that had nothing to do with what they were writing about. Now, I focus my efforts on providing just-in-time support based on individual student needs. So, if a student has a chronic writing issue, I will work with them individually with their own writing.

Elsbeth Mantler: I’ve learned so much about incorporating critical reading strategies from Haleh and others in her discipline. Before I started collaborating with ACLT faculty, I would assign students complex readings with no context about who wrote it, when it was written, and what it was about. Oftentimes, students would come in having read the assigned reading but not understanding a lot of the concepts presented in the reading. Now that I have learned more about reading strategies, I spend a lot of time scaffolding the readings with pre-reading strategies. I have students research topics, authors, and publications prior to even reading an article. This helps students access prior knowledge, and it provides context for what they are about to study.

This cross-collaboration between English and Academic Literacy is the reason why this partnership has been so successful – but I also want to reiterate that teaching as part of my co-director role is invaluable because I love our students, and I am able to remain current on ALP developments. The teaching provides an opportunity for both of us to put in practice new methodologies.