A Conversation with Peter Adams, Part 4

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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 final portion of the four-part interview.


David Starkey: With all the curricular changes taking place across the country, how can we avoid having reading departments simply atrophy away?


Peter Adams: We can’t in every case. I have visited many schools that have had similar experiences to yours—where the department has been folded into the English Department or dismantled altogether—but there’s no reason that has to happen. If reading department faculty are allowed to simply “retire or move on,” I worry that reading will become more and more neglected in our integrated courses. We need a robust reading faculty to ensure that our integrated course include a robust treatment of reading.


Integrating reading and writing is not the only challenge facing corequisite faculty. Most programs have made a commitment to active learning, to group work, to having students discover meaning inductively rather than try to absorb it from lectures. Active learning results in more student engagement as, in small groups, they struggle to analyze a reading, make a list of results of some action, or define a crucial term. Students not only become more engaged with the course content but also with each other. In addition, they learn a skill that will be useful after graduation: how to work together with a team.


DS: That move to active learning can be really difficult for faculty who were trained as lecturers, or who just happen to be really good at talking to others from centerstage. I feel lucky that I never liked to lecture—and I was never very good at it—so stepping out of the spotlight wasn’t hard for me!


PA: Of course, faculty who are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with active learning should not be pressured into employing it. I was in this group when we first started ALP. But I would encourage even reluctant faculty to dip a toe into the active learning water. Most of us, when allowed to ease our way into it, have discovered its power, have even come to enjoy it. Here again, some faculty development to help faculty understand the reasoning behind active learning and to develop some techniques for employing it is very much needed.


DS: I’d like to circle back to my question about how you envisioned the audience for The Hub. Is it significantly different writing for students who are in a corequisite course?


PA: Not so different because each of my previous books was written for similar students. What is different about the audience I imagined as I wrote The Hub is that there were actually two audiences: students and instructors. If the student audience I envisioned was not that different from the audience for my previous books, the instructor audience was quite different.


Faculty teaching in today’s corequisite courses are asked to take on a number of instructional responsibilities they may have no preparation for and little experience with. Many comp faculty are now being asked to integrate reading and writing and to address students’ non-cognitive issues. ALP encourages extensive use of active learning, which many faculty have little experience with. Because The Hub invites faculty to take advantage of these unfamiliar but highly useful pedagogies, as I wrote the book, I constantly thought about what I could provide to assist the instructor in adapting these new pedagogies.


DS: I assume that’s in large measure because so many faculty have had accelerated courses thrust upon them by state legislatures. This feels like both a blessing and a curse to me. It’s a blessing because there’s so much evidence that accelerated courses propel students toward—in the case of community colleges—transfer to a four-year college, and ultimately to graduation. And yet we English teachers can be a prickly bunch when someone else tells us what we ought to do.


PA: Back in 2013 and 14, I worked for a year with six community colleges in Connecticut, where the nation’s first top-down mandate, PA 1240, had been enacted. Over the year, I met with a coordinator from the English departments of six different colleges, and prickly we were. At each of our meetings we groused about a bunch of politicians telling us professionals how to do our jobs. After a year of adapting ALP for these six colleges, of faculty development for how to teach in an ALP context, and of beginning to collect data on the success of ALP students, we gradually became committed to this corequisite model. At our final meeting, I asked the coordinators from the six schools how they were now thinking about PA 1240. The reply I remember best was this: “I still hate top-down mandates, but without PA 1240, we never would have done this.” At CCBC in Maryland where there is no statewide mandate, it took us ten years to scale the program up to 100%. Sadly, our calculation is that had we scaled up after three years, 6700 students who never passed ENG 101 would have passed. A sobering statistic that makes it hard for me to maintain my traditional faculty resistance to mandates.


DS: The numbers are, indeed, hard to argue with, and they certainly jibe with our own experiences in the accelerated composition classroom. I’ll end our conversation on that note, Peter. It’s been a real pleasure talking with you!


PA: And you, David.