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.
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.
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Week 4 of the semester is about to begin—perhaps the most difficult semester I’ve ever had. Nearly eight years ago, I taught a full load of composition and ESL courses at a community college while going through chemotherapy. I wore hats to cover my hair loss, and fatigue kept me seated and perhaps a bit quieter than usual in the classroom. But the challenges of treatment were lightened by being at school: my colleagues and students offered normalcy and respite from relentless reminders of cancer. We lack even a semblance of normalcy this semester, and no respite from relentless reminders of Covid-19. I told myself getting ready to write this blog post that I wouldn’t “go there.” But I don’t know how not to. The pandemic is draining in its ubiquity. I don’t want to delve into “simple strategies for creating discussions” or “four things to do when you get to class on Monday” or “the best technologies for live streaming a class,” although there is a need for those sorts of posts. Instead, I will offer three reflections that give me hope. First, we are still teaching—in countless difficult but equally viable ways. I am teaching a “hybrid” course: in my Tuesday/Thursday class, I have half the group on one day, and half the other. I am also doing individual Zoom meetings, mini-videos in which I screen-capture content to share, online discussions, and a number of surveys and emails. And I may change this up next week, depending on what is happening with my students. Even when I have them in class, what I would normally do is not possible—and I’ve seen the effect of spaced out seating and masks (which we must, must, must have) on conversation and shared thinking. Even when we collaborate in the classroom, digital lines of communication mediate the shared work. We are learning to learn differently. I am exhausted at this moment, but I am learning. I have colleagues who are live-streaming, colleagues who are fully online, colleagues who are using Slack or Twitter or GroupMe, and some who are combining all of these. Then students test positive, and we juggle our teaching to accommodate both students fully online and those in person. We shift again. We savor the moments when the class latches on to a concept or a reading—they play with the language or the assigned text—and for just a moment or two they aren’t consumed with the logistics of doing a college class during a pandemic (how do I turn this in? Can I go to the writing center in person? If my internet is down, what I do? Can I send you a screen shot?). Second, students are still learning. “Aha” moments still occur in our Zoom meetings, discussions, individual video conferences, and social media chats. For some of my students, I think the invitation to do classwork is like a luxury now, a space away from the latest news cycles. For some, it is a means of coping, and for some others, it has added a new layer of stress to their already stressful lives. And when a student tests positive, we see the ripple-effects in their lives, the lives of their families, their workplaces, and our classrooms. In my hybrid space, I ask yet again: was this worth it? But students submit assignments, ask questions, revise and rethink. They are still learning, just as I am. Third, we are still collaborating as a profession. I miss office and hallway conversations, and I regret the cancellation of conferences. But new opportunities have arisen, and we are still—perhaps even more so—connected. I’ve been to virtual camps and virtual seminars. I’ve “attended” meetings on countless different platforms in virtual spaces, and scholars have shared their work in all sorts of forums. (Witness the Brazilian Linguistics Association, Abralin , which hosted a phenomenal summer gathering of some of the foremost thinkers in linguistics—all accessible and free). MacMillan hosted boot camps for corequisite instructors, too. And in the midst of all of this, I think I have connected more with instructors in my department and across campus locations than ever before. Our questions—How are you? Are you ok?—are not perfunctory. We have surely made mistakes in this season, just as our administrators and institutions have. Accountability is required, and we will have to address the failures in the weeks and months to come. But at the same time, I am encouraged. We can talk about what we are doing in this particular moment, using the present progressive—action in process: We’re still teaching. Students are still learning. We are learning along with them. We are forging connections and innovations in the now, present progressive. And these on-going actions result from who we are, simple present tense, across times and contexts: we teach. Students learn, and so do we. We create, connect, and innovate. We teach. How are you teaching in this moment? What are you learning? What gives you hope? I look forward to hearing from you.
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