A Conversation with Peter Adams, Part 3

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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 third of four parts.


David Starkey: I’d like to shift the conversation, if I may, towards another reason we have for sharing this virtual space: both your book, The Hub, and my own forthcoming book, Hello, Writer, are specifically designed for accelerated courses. You and I have both written textbooks before. Hello, Writer is my fifth, and The Hub is your fourth. How did you approach the task differently when writing for an audience composed primarily of accelerated composition students?


Peter Adams: In some ways, The Hub is just a continuation of the work I did on my first three books. You might even say those first three were rough drafts for this book. On the other hand, my understanding of what we need to do to improve the success rate of developmental students has undergone radical revision in recent years. As a result, my earlier books were untouched by a number of pedagogical issues that I now think of as essential to effective teaching.


For example, the big chunk of The Hub addressing students’ non-cognitive issues was totally missing from my first three books


DS: That area was a central focus for me, too. In fact, it was really the starting point of Hello, Writer. Since I began teaching as a graduate student, more than thirty years ago, I’ve always felt that non-cognitive, affective areas were unjustly ignored in conversations about teaching. Consequently, I was excited about how well my accelerated students responded to my new emphasis on motivation, personal interactions with the professor and other students, and taking a meta-cognitive approach to feelings about the course and their education overall. At SBCC, we also focused on essential skills like time management, learning to correctly read and interpret a syllabus, meeting with your counselor on a regular basis, and so on. Granted, some students might pick up these competencies in a personal development class. Then again, they might not.


PA: At CCBC, we, too, require a one-credit “student success” course. Most students in ALP are also taking that course. Over the years, the ALP faculty have worked with the faculty teaching “student success” to minimize the duplication. In many cases, we’ve developed activities in ALP that reinforce what students have been working on in their “student success” course. For instance, in that course, students are required to keep an activity log in which they record what they do every minute of the day for a complete week. In ALP, we ask them to write a short paper analyzing their logs.


I’ve also, more slowly than I like to admit, come to realize that the artificial separation of reading and writing in community colleges both reduces the effectiveness of instruction in each area and, in addition, adds an extra developmental course students have to take before starting credit English.


DS: That movement to integrate reading and writing is clearly a very important one in acceleration. I think integration is right for students, but I worry it means we are losing some excellent faculty members because they don’t have training in composition. At SBCC, for instance, the number of reading courses we taught shrank so drastically, and so many reading faculty retired or moved on, that our “English Skills” department was absorbed into the English Department and essentially disappeared. What workarounds would you suggest for this issue?


PA: I agree, David, that integrating these two disciplines that we separated many years ago is a source of considerable anguish at many schools. It will, as you point out, result any many fewer traditional standalone developmental reading courses, but that doesn’t have to mean fewer teaching opportunities for our reading colleagues. It does mean they will need to learn how to teach writing . . . and that writing teachers will need to learn to teach reading. At first, I feared there was no way reading faculty could become successful writing teachers. How could they make up for all the training we had in grad school to become writing teachers? Then I remembered that many of us had little training in the teaching of writing (myself, included); many of us were focused on learning how to be teachers and scholars of literature. Nevertheless, with the help of colleagues, with attendance at conferences, with reading our journals, and with a lot of trial and error, we have become professional writing teachers. If we could do that, so can reading faculty.


I am more worried about the converse of that issue: can we writing faculty become effective teachers of reading?


I think the answer to both questions is yes, but not without resources to help us make the transitions, in other words, support for faculty development. I can’t claim I am yet a professional teacher of reading, but with the help of my reading colleagues at CCBC, I have become at least minimally effective, and I have observed many of my reading colleagues develop into excellent teachers of writing.


Part 4 of this conversation will appear next month.