Avoiding Pitfalls in the Accelerated Composition Co-requisite

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As accelerated composition courses become more widespread, the co-requisites attached to them have inevitably come to take many forms. Co-requisites may be mandatory or voluntary; assessment-driven or open to anyone; held in the same classroom as the college-level course or convened in a different space; computer-assisted or reliant only on pen and paper; taught by the college-level instructor or someone else entirely. And that’s just a sampling of where things have gone so far.


Granted, flexibility is one of the strengths of the co-requisite. However, whatever the course format, there are certain pitfalls instructors are likely to face. While my two previous posts discussed what an ideal co-requisite might look like, the following advice, generated once again with the help of my Express to Success Colleagues at Santa Barbara City College, offers some warnings about what to avoid.


Don’t Make the Co-requisite Feel Like an Obligation

As more and more states eliminate assessment restrictions for college-level composition courses, enrolling in co-requisites may become a choice—as it is at SBCC—rather than a requirement. And students who are compelled to enroll in the courses may feel punished in comparison to their peers who aren’t. Therefore, as former ESP director Kathy Molly notes, it is crucial “that teachers approach the co-requisite class in a positive way and that they help their students see this course as a huge advantage for them.” Sarah Boggs agrees, believing that “the co-req should be framed as a special, valuable opportunity to be more successful” in the college-level course.


Obviously, no matter what the course, we always want our students to feel as though coming to our classes is a stroke of good luck, but that can be extra-difficult with the co-requisite, which may feel like one more hoop students must jump through. Consequently, we should try, like Jennifer Baxton, to encourage students to see co-requisites as a chance “to grow their skills and for instructors to serve as coaches for students. To that end, instructors should frame the function of the co-requisite with speech that is intentionally asset-based, rather than a deficit-model approach. That way, students…can be agents for their own growth.”


Don’t Approach the Co-requisite as Though It Were Just a Shorter Version of the College-Level Class

While some co-requisites do include all the students in the main course, most co-reqs are made up of students who can benefit from extra writing practice. Bonny Bryan takes advantage of the smaller number of students to provide individualized instruction. Her goal is “to attend to each student, one-on-one, during each class.” That’s an ambitious objective, but it does speak to the fact that the co-requisite is a space for sustained personal interaction with students.


I like to make use of the smaller roster by giving students short writing assignments related to their essay prompts, then going around and reading each response—an activity I wouldn’t have time for in the larger class. In fact, I’ve found one of the best ways to envision how to spend time in the co-requisite is simply to ask myself, “What can you accomplish here that the restrictions of the larger class preclude you from doing there?”


Don’t Fall Back on “Skills and Drills”

Barbara Bell points out that “skills and drills should, of course, be avoided in any writing class,” but the brevity of the co-requisite may make rote work “more tempting” as instructors look for short, easily quantifiable uses of classroom time. To make the co-requisite instruction as accessible and relevant as possible, Bonny Bryan relies on “student writing to shape course content,” as does Sandy Starkey, who warns against “any kind of work that is not directly related to the writing the students themselves are doing for the course.”


Don’t Move Too Quickly

Experienced instructors take advantage of the extra time offered by the co-requisite. Bonny Bryan believes that “slowing down enables you to be thorough in your instruction and gives the students the time to both process the information and practice what they are learning.” For Bonny, slowing down means being more thorough with every aspect of instruction: “For instance, rather than looking at two examples of effective quote integration, I focus on multiple examples. I have students locate examples in their assigned reading, ask them to generate examples in their own writing, then have them share their examples with each other and with the group.” 


The speed at which new material comes at accelerating students can be daunting; it’s the reason too many of them bail out before they’ve had a chance to realize that they are, indeed, capable of handling the work. It’s important, therefore, to create a sense of the co-requisite as an oasis, a place where students can catch their breath, and catch up on what they’ve missed.


Don’t Be Too Hands-Off

While the co-requisite should provide a safe space to ask questions and take risks, the comfortable atmosphere shouldn’t lead to a sense that it’s okay to goof off. Even as they encourage students to delve more thoughtfully into their own work, professors need to keep an eye open for those who can benefit from an intrusive instructor presence. As Jennifer Baxton notes: “Ideally, the instructor should set up each class session in terms of what goals the students can achieve that day and help make their progress transparent.” Yes, variety is the spice of any co-requisite, but students should feel responsible for achieving some tangible outcome by the end of each class.