A Conversation with Melissa Long

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This is my fourth and final post focusing on the work being done by two-year college teacher-scholars who contributed to Teaching Accelerated and Corequisite Composition, a collection I edited for Utah State University Press that was published in November.

 

This month, I spoke with Melissa Long, an English professor at Porterville College in California’s Central Valley. Though her focus is in the classroom teaching college composition (both with and without a corequisite) and British literature, she also works as the campus outcomes coordinator, facilitates a community of practice for student-centered teaching, and oversees the college’s implementation of AB 705.

 

In her chapter, “Finding the ‘Right’ Amount of Rigor in the Research Paper,” Melissa argues that we should not burden our students with undue expectations. Instead, instructors of research-based

writing should “assess the student’s ability to demonstrate research, critical thinking, and competent writing,” keeping “our focus on [those] threshold concepts” and not “letting other factors seep

into our assessments.” Nevertheless, she writes from the perspective of an instructor who believes that students should work hard and be rewarded for their hard work.

 

For Melissa, the most important element of her chapter for those currently teaching corequisite/accelerated composition is reminding instructors “how they are holding themselves and their students accountable for achieving the outcomes of the course and at the same time, are not making a college education unattainable for some students.” Melissa wants to push her students to become better writers, but she doesn’t want to push them so hard that they leave the class: “Even if instructors are not currently using the research paper in their college composition courses, I hope they’ll take the time to consider how they are assessing to ensure learning. If they are using the research paper, I hope readers will consider where they can adapt and update the assignment and how they can add scaffolding to help underprepared students.”

 

Reflecting on her chapter about the research paper more than a year after it was written, Melissa acknowledges that “sometimes we get so focused on the writing portion that we don’t realize where there might be a breakdown in the other skills we are teaching, most often, reading and critical thinking. If students don’t know how to read a college-level text and don’t have experience thinking about complex, multi-faceted ideas, the breakdown is happening long before the first rough draft of an essay and yet we might not recognize the issues, or if we do, we find them in a final draft that is bare and anemic.” Melissa believes that “while the research paper might be the summative assessment at the end of the course and provide evidence that a student is able to put their reading, writing, and critical thinking skills together, I’ve found that if I include formative assessments throughout the semester, I can monitor how well students are demonstrating all of the necessary skills that go into the research paper and address them individually if one is not as developed as it needs to be.”

 

Teaching Accelerated and Corequisite was in the final stages of production when ChatGPT came on the scene, so its absence from the book, and its prevalence in current thinking about writing instruction, is not surprising. Like so many of her colleagues, Melissa is “really anxious about AI and how we teach our writing classes in a world where it exists and will only become more advanced over time. At Porterville College, we have instructors who are trying to strictly ban its use from their classes and others who are whole-heartedly embracing it as a tool that should be used to its fullest.” At the moment, she is “cautiously trying to figure out where the line is between a new method of cheating and a helpful resource to enhance student work (especially for those students who are learning English as a second language). I certainly don’t have the answers yet, but I’m seeking as much information as I can and enjoy learning how others are approaching the issue.”