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.
... View more
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.
... View more
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.
... View more
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.
... View more
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.
... View more