Facing Placement Policy Changes in the Two-Year College: Faculty Response

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My college is beginning its first semester under a new “multiple measures” placement policy (a misnomer in our case, for as Alexandros Goudas has pointed out, such policies are actually implemented as multiple single measures). In our case, this is a state decision; local faculty did not participate in the development of the policy and cannot deviate from it. Faculty responses have ranged from hand-wringing and consternation to resignation and cautious optimism. What we can say with confidence is that more students will place directly into our college composition programs and co-requisite courses, while enrollment in our developmental IRW courses will continue to decline.

The talk around the single-cup coffee maker these days raises important questions: are college composition instructors now de facto developmental or basic writing instructors? How will this change pedagogy, syllabi, and expectations? If instructors have no training in basic or developmental writing or familiarity with its rich history of research—what should they do?

I’ve been thinking about how to respond to these questions. Each class will be different, of course, and some instructors will notice the effects of our placement changes more than others. In general, however, there are three positive and proactive steps community college writing instructors can take in light of significant placement changes:

  1. Focus on what you already know about teaching writing; reject quick fixes, gimmicks, hacks, and “all-it-takes-is-a-few-hours-on-our-website” approaches. We do know a lot about what works in writing instruction, according to John Warner. Warner notes that students may not have had opportunities to “[engage] with writing that demands they work inside a full rhetorical situation.” Basic writers thrive in courses that provide just such opportunities, where they can “make choices and wrestle with ideas that will be presented to interested audiences.”
  2. Listen to the students. Nicole Matos recently wrote a thought-provoking and poignant piece detailing how developmental students responded to this question: “What do you really, really wish your professors understood?” As the primary audience for whom students are writing, we must find ways—explicit and implicit—to ask this question and assure students that their answers will be heard.
  3. Join the professional conversation about composition at two-year colleges and developmental/basic writing. TYCA (Two-Year College English Association) has a list-serve, and the Council on Basic Writing has a very active discussion on Facebook.  There are national and regional TYCA and CCCC conferences, and the National Association for Developmental Education (NADE) hosts an annual conference as well. Instructors and researchers exchange best practices for pedagogy as well as platforms to advocate for equity in access and resources for all students (and adjunct faculty).

The placement changes can force us back into the role of learners—always a beneficial stance to take. As my students learn to make rhetorical choices in unfamiliar writing situations, I must make pedagogical choices in sometimes unfamiliar classroom contexts. Moreover, two-year community college instructors can—no, must—look at the changes as an invitation for reflection and scholarship: we should gather data about the results of these changes and look for ways to refine and improve them (and ensure faculty voices are included in policy discussions at local, state, and national levels).

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About the Author
Miriam Moore is Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Georgia. She teaches undergraduate linguistics and grammar courses, developmental English courses (integrated reading and writing), ESL composition and pedagogy, and the first-year composition sequence. She is the co-author with Susan Anker of Real Essays, Real Writing, Real Reading and Writing, and Writing Essentials Online. She has over 20 years experience in community college teaching as well. Her interests include applied linguistics, writing about writing approaches to composition, professionalism for two-year college English faculty, and threshold concepts for composition, reading, and grammar.