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A Conversation with Peter Adams, Part 1

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The following interview with Peter Adams, author of The Hub, was conducted via email in July and August of 2020. This is the first of four parts.

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David Starkey: Peter, in my opinion, you are the leading expert on accelerated composition, so I’m very happy to have the opportunity to share this conversation with Bedford Bits readers. You’ve conducted more than 200 workshops on accelerated learning around the country. What issues do instructors ask you about most often?

 

Peter Adams: At almost every school I’ve visited, instructors ask me how to structure the two courses in a 101/coreq pair or, as the question is usually worded, “What do we do in the coreq section?”

 

DS: And what’s your response?

 

PA: I begin by pointing out that the goal of a corequisite course is entirely different from the goal of a traditional developmental writing course. Traditional courses viewed students through the lens a deficit model—students were missing knowledge and skills they should have developed back in high school or, perhaps, middle school. And that knowledge and those skills were what we needed to teach. As a result, to students, traditional developmental courses felt a lot like seventh grade all over again . . . exacerbating many students’ fears that they didn’t really belong in college.

 

DS: And we know from experience that when students don’t feel they are “college material,” it’s sadly not too long before many of them depart college altogether.

 

PA: Very true, David, and an important goal of corequisite courses is to address and this the many other non-cognitive issues that can derail students.  

 

To avoid the deficit approach, corequisite courses no longer see their goal as reteaching what students seem to have missed in middle or high school; instead it is to provide whatever support students need to succeed in the ENG 101 course. The curriculum is “backward designed” from 101 and tailored to each cohort of students. In the coreq section, students are reading the same challenging texts and writing the same college-level essays as they are in the ENG 101 section, just more slowly, with more scaffolding, more opportunity for practice, and more individual attention.

As a result of this design principle, there are four major activities in most co-rec courses:

  • Activities designed to review, reinforce, and answer questions about the material just covered in the 101.
  • Activities designed to prepare students for what is coming next in the 101.
  • Activities designed to improve students’ ability to read challenging texts.
  • Activities designed to address the non-cognitive issues that too often cause students to give up and drop out.

DS: I know from experience that this can be a lot of material to cover in a 50-minute course! How do you juggle and prioritize these various activities?

 

PA: It is a lot of material. In a traditional developmental writing course, all we addressed was writing issues. At my school, Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), we call our corequisite model the Accelerated Learning Program or ALP. In ALP or other corequisite courses, in addition to writing issues, faculty have also taken responsibilities for helping students grow as readers while we also need time to address those non-cognitive issues. Because of all the material now loaded into the corequisite course, I strongly recommend that it meet three hours a week, although financial situations at some schools have made it necessary to limit these courses to just one or two hours a week.

 

Part 2 of this conversation will appear next month.