Those of us who were schooled in the ideas developed by the Accelerated Learning Program pioneered by Peter Adams, and the California Acceleration Project, co-founded by Katie Hern and Myra Snell, learned very early on that fostering non-cognitive skills and academic habits is crucial to our students’ success. In Santa Barbara City College’s Express to Success (ESP) program, we emphasized the importance of slowing down and rethinking our classes from the ground up and, most importantly, seeing them through our students’ eyes. Essentially, that means taking nothing for granted. We should not, for instance, assume that students in an accelerated composition course automatically read the syllabus every week, or, indeed, ever read it again after we introduce it on the first day of class. It’s our responsibility to draw their attention back to it throughout the semester, emphasizing assignments that are especially important and alerting students to when they will be held accountable for completing those assignments. Obviously, every instructor enters the real or virtual accelerated classroom with a slightly different set of goals, but here are five non-cognitive skills and academic habits that I’d like my students to depart with by the end of the semester: Feel comfortable asking for help. There is perhaps no more important habit for student success than knowing you need help and going out and getting it. Part of this process is learning whom to ask, of course, but until students realize that it’s okay to feel at sea, they cannot course-correct. Low stakes assignments that require students to seek help—interviewing a counselor or a financial aid officer, for example—are especially valuable early in the semester, so that asking for help feels like part of going to college. Identify at least one person besides the instructor who is a reliable source of information. Naturally, I’d like to be the first person a student contacts with a question about the class, but sometimes students feel a question isn’t important enough to bother the professor, or they simply would rather connect with someone else. A tutor is certainly valuable in these circumstances, but a classmate—someone who knows what’s going on and won’t judge a peer—is even better. It’s here that our emphasis on building community pays off. And there are other options, too. An especially shy student in an asynchronous online class admitted to me during a conference that she was sharing our course materials with an older sibling, who had already graduated from college. When she couldn’t quite figure something out, she turned to her big brother for advice. Plan ahead. The pandemic has made many instructors more flexible with deadlines, and this attitude may well hang around for a while. However, as we transition back to more traditional classroom settings, deadlines may firm up once again. Whatever an instructor’s policies may be, it’s disconcerting how often students seem to be floating through the semester, unaware of what’s about to be due, or what can no longer be turned in. I want my students never to feel surprised by an assignment. Phone fanatics may rely on their digital calendars, although I’ve had many students tell me there’s no reminder quite as insistent as a circled date on a physical calendar hanging above a desk. Insist on your right to be educated. Sometimes the people who love a student the most will unwittingly throw up the most challenges. A working parent needs babysitting, for instance, and wonders how important it could be to miss just one class, or one test, or one essay? Other folks may not have students’ best interests in mind—the employer who needs a shift covered, or the friend who has deemed college a waste of time. That first step of enrolling in college is a huge one, but students need to remember that there are many more steps to come, and they are justified in taking each and every one of them. Take nothing for granted. Just as I move through the semester feeling that I cannot remind my students too many times about what to do, how to do it, and when it is due—let’s call it what it is: intrusive!—I want them to feel that there’s always something they should be checking on. Know what’s expected of you and what you can expect from others, I tell them. Be alert, be alive, be strong—and nothing can stop you.
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As long as I’ve been teaching—thirty-one years now—I’ve been witness to a phenomenon that strikes me as a quintessentially human. Whenever I assign an essay, a significant percentage of my students ignore what is in the prompt in favor of what they wish were there. For the most part, it’s not that the students willfully disregard the assignment; instead, they seem to be subconsciously remaking it into something more conducive to their own interests. The problem, of course, is that an instructor’s grading rubric is designed to respond to the prompt that’s actually there, and if the students and teacher aren’t, literally, on the same page, grades suffer and frustration is general. Moreover, I can’t help thinking that in a world where we too often look past anything we don’t want to see, carefully following an essay prompt is an excellent way to return students’ attention to the almost lost art of close and honest reading. Consequently, I make a big deal out of scrutinizing essay prompts. In Hello, Writer (forthcoming from Bedford/St. Martins, September 2021) I ask students to read the prompt carefully, not just once or twice, but three times. On that third read-through, I encourage them to approach the prompt as they would any other assigned reading. Annotate it thoroughly: write questions in the margins for the professor, look for keywords, underline unclear vocabulary words, and make connections between different parts of the text. I then ask students to return to the prompt yet again, this time with a specific set of goals in mind: Determine the focus. Students should be able to accurately respond to someone, not in the class, who asks: “What are you supposed to be writing about in your essay?” This first step not only helps students zero in on appropriate content, it just as importantly alerts them to what’s not on the table for this assignment. Pay special attention to instruction verbs. A prompt’s verbs are at the core of an instructor’s expectations. An essay asking students to “discuss” a single article is, for instance, very different than one requiring them to “compare and contrast” two articles. Look for limits. Most instructors have realistic expectations about what their students can accomplish in a limited amount of time with a limited amount of knowledge. Part of the process of understanding a prompt is identifying overlapping areas between what the student finds interesting and what the instructor wants to see in the essay. Know the scope. Just as the prompt sets limits, it also indicates how ambitious the essay should be. Often a word or page count indicates the scope, but there may be other markers specifying the ideal extent of the essay’s content. Note any required features. This may be the most important, and most frequently ignored, element of a prompt. Students need to realize that it doesn’t matter if they “would prefer not to” address certain parts of the assignment. If something essential is left out, the instructor’s final assessment will reflect that fact. Use the required style. In early-semester essays, professors may be more forgiving of formatting and documentation errors. However, the deeper the due date falls into the semester, the more insistent professors are likely to be that there are sweeping differences between, say, MLA and APA. Note details about submission. This is the nuts and bolts of this assignment. Is there a late penalty? Is there a date after which the assignment cannot be submitted at all? Because due dates may seem like a long way off when the prompt is first distributed, it’s important for students to calendar those dates in a place and format they encounter frequently. Ask for help. Students often don’t want to appear bashful or uninformed, but I encourage them to reach out to me directly. In a face-to-face class, I’ll ask students to write questions about the prompt anonymously, on scraps of paper, which I answer aloud in front of the class. Online, I open up a Google doc in which everyone can write questions. Ideally, by the end of the semester, students consider it only normal to have a lively and informative back and forth with the professor about every prompt they receive. Granted, I can easily imagine a colleague thinking, So much about prompts! With all the other elements involved in the creation of an academic essay, is spending this much time and energy on them really necessary? I think it is. To thoroughly explore, question, and understand the prompt before a single word of the essay is written ensures that the prompt is central to the composition process. The prompt becomes the “still point of the turning world” of the assignment, the center to which students return whenever they feel lost or uncertain how to proceed. To learn more about Hello, Writer, and opportunities to pilot in the fall, please contact Michelle.Clark@macmillan.com or something similar.
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In today's "What We've Learned" video, David Starkey (@davidstarkey), author of upcoming first edition Hello Writer, emphasizes the importance of following up with students who might be dropping off the radar and of giving feedback to all students, even those who are already engaged.
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In today's "What We've Learned" video, David Starkey (@davidstarkey), author of upcoming first edition Hello Writer, reflects on teaching in small, 2-3 minute chunks and the necessity of focusing on the most important information to communicate to students, as well as the surprising opportunities offered by the pandemic for reflection, mindfulness, and equity mindsets.
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This is part two of a two-part interview with Mia Young-Adeyeba and Michelle Touceda on the topic of online education during the pandemic. Mia Young-Adeyeba is a veteran English teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She has a passion for helping students develop into lifelong learners and for cultivating collaborative partnerships. In addition to being a high school English teacher for Los Angeles Unified School District, Michelle Touceda is also an Instructional Faculty Lead Mentor for new teachers and a past LAUSD Teacher of the Year. * David Starkey: In the first part of our interview, you both focused on a few of the many ways online education can make learning more robust, and even fun. To be honest, I love hearing that there are, in fact, positive elements of online teaching, especially when it seems that the great preponderance of news coverage has focused on the negatives of distance education. That said, it would be wrong to ignore the many difficulties the pandemic has thrown in the way of students. What would you identify as the most pressing challenges for our students, and how can we overcome them? Mia Young-Adeyeba: The most pressing challenges I have learned about have to do with students feeling isolated, missing their teachers, friends, and their independence. The Los Angeles Unified School District and our union, United Teacher Los Angeles, emphasizes social-emotional check-ins and connecting families who may be struggling. Through these efforts, we have been able to establish strong support networks between school and home to offer support to those in need. Michelle Touceda: I agree with Mia, the hardest part for students has been the loss of social interactions. Something that has worked for my students, and something I learned from our Facebook group , is allowing students to self-select their breakout rooms based on a selection chart. (Small aside here, most students still pick #2, the Quiet Work Room.) They are able to choose to work independently, but they are also given the choice to work with groups or their friends. It is those little moments of autonomy that helps students feel like not everything in their life is out of control. Since I’ve made the switch to allowing students to choose their preferred work style my classroom engagement and submitted work has gone up which is definitely a positive. DS: I would agree that it’s the little things that make a difference between face-to-face and distance learning. To provide just one instance: after I’ve explained a concept in a physical classroom, when I look around, I can often tell by a shy student’s facial expression that my explanation didn’t quite click, so I can come at it from a different angle. These days, most of my classes are asynchronous, so I obviously miss out on those cues from shy students who might need a bit more help. I suppose, in that example, there’s a problem for both student and teacher. I’m curious about what challenges the two of you have found most difficult to overcome in your own online teaching? If you’ve managed to surmount those obstacles, how have you accomplished that? MY: Distance learning has definitely shone a light on the inequities in the education system. Most students want to learn and succeed, but there are often factors that hinder their ability to access the curriculum. Educators are working hard to provide resources and referrals for those students and families who need it the most. We reach out to parents, adapt lessons and deadlines, and try to view distance learning through a lens of empathy and understanding. Narrowing down lesson objectives to what is absolutely essential and pivoting when necessary seems to be a strategy that’s been working. MT: I miss being on campus and building relationships with my students. It has taken longer than in the past, but I feel like I’m finally making those connections. A real challenge has been technology. Not necessarily who has access, although that has been problematic as Mia mentioned, but especially in the beginning of the semester I spent a lot of time troubleshooting tech issues and teaching students how to maneuver through Schoology, Google Education Suite, and any outside digital platforms I wanted to use such as Flipgrid or Adobe Spark. What might take a minute or two in class could take much longer online and the frustration the kids were feeling sometimes caused them to want to shut down. I decided early on to allow turn-in windows instead of due dates to take some of the pressure off of everyone. That was a turning point. I think it also gave some ownership back to the students when they maybe didn’t feel like they had ownership over much.
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This is part one of a two-part interview with Mia Young-Adeyeba and Michelle Touceda on the topic of online education during the pandemic. Mia Young-Adeyeba is a veteran English teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She has a passion for helping students develop into lifelong learners and for cultivating collaborative partnerships. In addition to being a high school English teacher for Los Angeles Unified School District, Michelle Touceda is also an Instructional Faculty Lead Mentor for new teachers and a past LAUSD Teacher of the Year. * David Starkey: Mia and Michelle, thanks so much for allowing me the opportunity to talk with the two of you! I read about your work in a Los Angeles Times article about teachers using their ingenuity to help keep their students interested and engaged in online learning. Can you tell me how Distance Learning Educators, the Facebook group you started, came together and what its purpose is? Mia Young-Adeyeba: It all started in the breakout room of a Zoom meeting. We love to start our story off that way. Because we are both ambitious and always looking for new opportunities to grow as educators, our worlds collided during a district professional development course. We actually met for the first time in person to take the photo for the Times article. DS: A very appropriate way to begin an online discussion group. Michelle Touceda: It's true! We kept seeing each other’s names in teacher trainings and serendipitously we ended up in the same breakout room in training for teaching other LAUSD teachers on Zoom. It was Mia that created the FB group. It was less than an hour old when she asked me to join her in running it. I don’t think either of us expected it to grow so large so fast. From the start, our personalities just really clicked and our different skill sets, I think, came together in a way that neither of us expected, but was obviously filling a void. The purpose is to provide access to education experts we may never have encountered without this particular outlet. The fact that I can get advice from an educator halfway around the world in real-time is amazing, and that I am able to implement it immediately is awesome for my students. That I can then do the same for someone else helps with those feelings of isolation. DS: And I notice that the group is for all educators—not just teachers. MYA: Teachers, administrators, counselors, superintendents, and even personnel from various departments of education have all joined to build collaborative partnerships and support each other through distance learning. We now have 19 subject-based breakout groups and a dedicated Google Drive. Additionally, many educators have stepped up to help us moderate our groups. It’s been a team effort. DS: That’s a real wealth of resources. What are some of the online learning strategies that have been discussed in the group that you’ve found most valuable? MT: What I’ve found the most valuable is the support and network of teachers I’ve come to know and rely upon. While I have taken away great strategies on everything from taking attendance on Zoom, to engaging students, to how to teach a lesson on Of Mice and Men virtually, I’ve also found a resource where if I have a quick question on some digital platform or am in need of a sounding board for a lesson idea, I have this group of educators there to help me navigate through the process. I was already comfortable incorporating different digital tools in my classroom, but teaching remotely was something completely new. This group has helped me and others in the same situation feel like we have the support and tools necessary to build on what we already know and find the right strategies to make that shift from in-person to online. DS: So, teacher training is a key component of making online education work. MYA: We both completed LAUSD’s Future Ready program, which highlighted many of the digital instructional tools we would later come to rely on as remote educators such as Nearpod, Flipgrid, and Kahoot. Our group members have helped me understand how to engage students who may choose to keep their cameras off. Some days I facilitate my class with only a Google slideshow and the chatbox and it works! I can check in with my students, I can give them feedback, I can put them into breakout rooms, they can submit videos of themselves, take polls...the methods are endless. DS: Those sound like strategies you can continue to use when you return to the classroom. MYA: Absolutely. Another thing I did last week was create a shared Google slide show and asked members of our group to add their favorite TED Talk along with three discussion questions. Now I have a document with 17 Ted Talks that will last me through the end of the school year. Check it out! The collaborative nature of educators in our group has been the key reason I have been able to manage teaching during a pandemic. [Part 2 of this two-part interview will appear next month.]
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In today's "What We've Learned" video, Peter Adams, author of Hub with 2020 APA Update , reflects on the need for community in ALP courses, and overcoming the online instruction barrier through gamifying learning and class activities.
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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.
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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.
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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 second of four parts. * David Starkey: Teaching has changed dramatically with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Over the past summer, you and I were part of a Macmillan workshop on teaching corequisite composition. One of the biggest challenges many instructors seemed to be facing was teaching the corequisite online. I realize you’ve been retired for a few years, but we heard a lot of interesting suggestions from faculty participants. What’s your thinking right now about how best to teach the coreq in a distance learning format? Peter Adams: Let’s start with the admission that most of us are working hard to figure out how best to teach a coreq in a virtual environment. I know I am, and that I have learned a lot from listening to others’ efforts to figure this out . . . and, as you say, I learned a lot from the folks who attended our Macmillan workshop in June. One issue I found fascinating was the bifurcated attitudes toward synchronous and asynchronous approaches. Some instructors argue that the only way to create the sense of belonging, of engagement, is to spend at least some time with everyone meeting at one time in some kind of on-line space like Zoom or Google Hangouts. Other instructors pointed out that requiring everyone to be signed on at the same time would be impossible for many students who have limited computer and Wi-Fi access. DS: I’ve found myself in the asynchronous camp for reasons of both practicality and equity. Still, there are times when I sorely miss the back-and-forth exchange between students and teacher that only a classroom—even a virtual one—can provide. PA: Lots of instructors have reached that same conclusion, David, but I have ended up with a wanting to find just the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous approaches. It does seem to me that if we are going to hold synchronous sessions, we will have to be flexible with our attendance requirements at these, and whenever possible, we should make video recordings available for those students who were unable to attend. Another promising approach I learned about when visiting a college just before the pandemic was to organize the class into groups of three or four students and to have each group settle on a time they can meet online. Instructors could then assign these groups tasks to work on as a group—tasks like revising an essay, making a list of the evidence to support the thesis in a text, or analyzing the rhetorical situation in a writing assignment. This approach would seem to help with creating the kinds of bonds, or relationships, the sense of belonging that is so important to keeping students in school . . . especially in these times of isolation, without requiring that everyone be online at the same time. DS: I agree that’s an excellent idea. The accelerated courses I’ve taught that have been most successful have been those where students feel that other students care about their progress and have their backs when things get tough. PA: In addition, of course, lots of instructors are preparing video presentations that their students can view whenever they have access to the internet. My sense is that long videos are not so successful. A more productive approach is a short video, ten minutes at most, and then some kind of activity to apply or respond to the material from the video. These activities could be carried out individually or in the small groups. DS: At my college, Santa Barbara City College—and across the nation, too, I assume—we’ve been finding one hidden workload issue for those not used to teaching online is the requirement that all video and audio presentations must be captioned. Obviously, we want to offer equal access to all students, but I know some of my colleagues have been rethinking their more ambitious plans in the audio-visual arena. PA: I’ve been lucky in this regard. All the videos in my text, The Hub, have captions. Bedford has the resources to have these done professionally. DS: Workload aside, I’ve always felt that the combination of text, image and sound has the biggest potential to make an impact on student learning. I hope we can figure out ways to make this appeal to three of the four main learning styles a more central part of our teaching. Part 3 of this conversation will appear next month.
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In a recent meeting with instructors teaching gateway/corequisite pairs (both math and English) in a range of hybrid formats (with as little as 10% to as much as 75% online), I heard my colleagues talk about the difficulties students were having in navigating their courses—not just our corequisite or “learning support” courses, but their psychology, history, sociology, and science courses as well. In some cases, corequisite instructors reported serving in the role of scheduling advisors; they are helping students figure out when to go to class, when to log into a Zoom meeting, where to find assignments, where to submit assignments, and how to navigate staggering variations in online course layouts. In short, for many of our students, managing logistics has trumped learning for this term. What can I do to address the situation? Obviously, I cannot adjust anything outside of my own class, and within my class—an IRW corequisite paired with an FYC course, each with its own online course shell—I must still work within constraints. What I want my students to do, in truth, is approach my course like a text and “read” it—actively, carefully, and critically. I want my students to find dialogue in the structure of the course, just as I want them to talk to and with a text: dialogue with me, with the texts we are reading, with the media we use, with other students, and with the content as a whole. I wouldn’t want them to spend hours finding the right page in an assigned text, and I certainly don’t want them spending hours just figuring out how to locate course content. When I assign a difficult text to first-year writers, especially those in my corequisite courses, I provide scaffolding—background information, strategies for handling content or vocabulary, questions to consider, annotations, and opportunities to revisit the text and consider it in light of other texts or experiences. And that’s exactly what I need to do for my “pandemic-hybrid” course: provide the kind of scaffolding that will encourage students to read it actively, carefully, and critically. How? By deploying the tools available to me: The delete key on my laptop: I have been cutting away some of my oh-so-carefully designed activities and significantly rewording instructions on others. Students need to spend less time on figuring out what to do, how to find the resources, and where to submit their work… and more time on reading, writing, and thinking. To that end, I have a second tool: Active use of the in-person space, while we have it. I have half of my class for 125 minutes on Tuesday, and the other half for 125 minutes on Thursday. My goal is to keep my talk to no more than 30 minutes of that allotted time, and to break up those 30 minutes into increments of about 10 minutes. Less of my voice, more of theirs. “Zoom-alongs.” I am creating spaces for students to do some assignments with me working alongside. I think students find encouragement in just talking through their work with some immediate feedback—rather than submitting what they are unsure about and waiting a few days for me to respond. Normally I schedule three conferences each semester, but this term I am also adding more opportunities for these sessions I’m calling “Zoom-alongs,” which allow students to take a more active role: they initiate the sessions and determine the focus. The sessions may end up being “write-alongs,” “read-alongs,” or “do-some-grammar-alongs,” or even “figure-out-who-my-advisor-is-alongs.” “Reflect and Plan.” These are weekly check-ins that students can submit via a Google Form. I ask students some very basic but important questions: which assignments took the longest? What did you take away from those assignments? What questions do you have? They can submit these with the click of a button, and I get good information about how students are “reading the course”–where they are focusing attention and time. The first three weeks of these assignments have helped me frame the mid-course correction I am implementing now. How are you adjusting your FYC, IRW developmental, or corequisite courses this fall? What unforeseen challenges have come up? How have you handled these? I’d love to hear your strategies.
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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.
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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