College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

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Sweeney, Meghan A. Audience Awareness as a Threshold Concept. RTE, Aug. 2018. Posted 09/18/2018.

Sweeney, Meghan A. “Audience Awareness as a Threshold Concept of Reading: An Examination of Student Learning in Biochemistry.” Research in the Teaching of English 53.1 (2018): 58-79. Print.

Meghan A. Sweeney presents a case study of a basic-writing student, “Bruce,” who grapples with a composition “threshold concept,” audience awareness. The study tracks Bruce across a three-course composition sequence in his first semester, then through his second-semester work in a research-based composition course as well as biochemistry and chemistry classes in support of his planned major, anesthesiology (64). Sweeney argues that Bruce moved from a “pre-liminal” through a “liminal” phase to end with a “post-liminal” relationship to the concept of audience awareness.

The composition sequence emphasized college reading, which Sweeney finds to be undertheorized in writing instruction (58). Sweeney explores scholarship in disciplinarity to suggest that the development of effective reading practices is important to students’ ability to move beyond the writing classroom and enter “communities of practice,” which P. Prior defines as “a continual process whereby newcomers and old-timers reproduce and produce themselves, their practices, and their communities” (59).

J. Lave and E. Wenger, studying these phenomena, see them “as a set of relations among persons, activity, and world, over time and in relation to other communities of practice” (qtd. in Sweeney 61). Lave and Wenger propose the category of “legitimate peripheral participation” to characterize how students begin their acculturation into such disciplinary sociocultural environments (61).

In studying Bruce’s progress as he approaches the community of practice he intends to enter, Sweeney also draws on the “academic literacies approach,” which emphasizes the ways in which entry into a community of practice involves changes in identity as students begin to see themselves as members of new groups (60). Among the challenges this shift entails are those of transferring practices and concepts from more general academic work to the specialized requirements of the new environment (60-61).

Sweeney’s study examines how such foundational concepts function as students carry them beyond composition. She discusses “threshold concepts” as those that are “potentially transformative” in that, once students grasp them, they begin to think in new ways characteristic of the community of practice in question (63). She gives “opportunity costs” as an example of such a concept in economics (63), advocating more attention to how students introduced to composition’s threshold concepts use these concepts as they transfer their learning into new communities (63).

At the large public research university in the western U.S. where the study was conducted, students deemed underprepared take a semester-long three-course integrated reading and writing combination including “a three-unit composition intensive,” a reading course, and an editing-for-style course (64) before moving on to a second-semester composition course. Sweeney characterizes Bruce, a first-generation Korean American student from a working-class background, as “highly motivated” (64). She quotes B. Flyvbjerg to argue that an atypical subject like Bruce may “reveal more information because they activate more actors and more basic mechanisms in the situation studied” (qtd. in Sweeney 64).

Sweeney observed both Bruce’s second-semester writing course and two sessions of his lecture-style chemistry class, taking notes on Bruce’s involvement and on the ways in which the professors presented the material relevant to their fields (65). Her data collection also included “four semi-structured” interviews in which Bruce provided insights into his reading practices and use of rhetorical concepts across the different classes (65).

Data from Bruce’s work in the first-semester composition combination leads Sweeney to argue that when he entered the sequence, he limited his reading response to summary, failing to engage with audience questions (66). She writes that as the semester progressed, he encountered discussions and readings about how writers differ depending on their situated practice and membership within a field. This exposure, Sweeney writes, triggered Bruce’s deepening attention to audience, and by the end, he

had begun to visualize other readers of his texts, to expect writers to influence others through rhetorical choices, and to expect audiences to keep an open mind while still maintaining an awareness of the choices made. (67-68)

The author describes Bruce’s progress to this point as a transition from “a pre-liminal space” in which the “troublesome” threshold concept of audience awareness posed challenges (67) to a “liminal” phase (68) in which a learner recursively “engages with [the] threshold concept but oscillates between old and emergent ideas” (62).

Sweeney contends that in his second semester, Bruce’s experiences in chemistry and biochemistry classes completed his movement into a “post-liminal” engagement with audience awareness in his new community of practice and with the identity formation involved in this engagement (68). Noting that Bruce learned quickly what information was important to the professor and adjusted his reading strategies accordingly, Sweeney records such moves as the professor’s references to “we” in lecturing, inviting students to see themselves as community members (69).

In biochemistry, Bruce worked with a lab mentor; Sweeney finds it crucial that Bruce recognized that he was not the audience for the technical papers he was asked to read. That realization pushed him to do independent research on Google and other less-advanced sources to develop his acculturation into “biochem jargon” (69).

Sweeney draws on Bruce’s final paper for the course as evidence of his post-liminal growth: she indicates that his exposure to audience awareness in his composition class meant that he “expected a critical reader” (71) and paid attention to the details that would demonstrate to the professor that he had been a strong participant in the class. At the same time, Sweeney notes, Bruce saw the details as “necessary for other scientists who might want to replicate his experiment” (72). Thus he was writing for “dual audiences” but with full awareness of his own standing as a peripheral participant (72). In Sweeney’s view, Bruce’s transformational relationship with audience was further evinced by his assertion that even experts did not read as doubters when encountering new information, and that therefore his strategy of reading new material for comprehension rather than as a critic was appropriate for his early work in science (70).

Sweeney’s study suggests that for students like Bruce who have been deemed underprepared, awareness of audience may drive them to accept this designation (74). She proposes that for Bruce, his struggles to enter the biochemistry community in the light of this designation may have been “generative” because they pushed him to assert agency by developing effective personal reading strategies (76). She argues that actively teaching audience awareness in early composition courses, in contrast to models that assume students will acquire disciplinary identities through “apprenticeship,” can give students a more productive understanding of how they can begin to relate to the communities of practice they hope to enter (75).


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Jensen and Toth. Graduate Education for Two-Year College Professionals. July CE. Posted 08/10/2017.

Jensen, Darin L., and Christie Toth. “Unknown Knowns: The Past, Present, and Future of Graduate Preparation for Two-Year College English Faculty.” College English 79.6 (2017): 561-92. Print.

In the July College English, Darin L. Jensen and Christie Toth follow up the latest update of the TYCA Guidelines for Preparing Teachers of English in the Two-Year College with an examination “of the past and current status of graduate preparation for two-year college English faculty in order to imagine possible futures” (563). They include a current listing of institutions with graduate programs that prepare teachers for careers in two-year colleges.

The authors contend that “English studies graduate programs, . . . with some notable exceptions, do not yet meet their responsibility to prepare students to be two-year college professionals” (562). They contend that the “near-invisibility” of two-year colleges in English graduate education and the “institutional bias” some two-year faculty encounter (563) are “neither justifiable nor just” (562). They note that “more than 40 percent” of college English teachers teach in two-year colleges, which enroll “nearly half of all US undergraduates,” many of whom are from underrepresented groups (562). Jensen and Toth join Holly Hassel and Joanne Giordano in designating two-year college professionals as “the teaching majority” (qtd. in Jensen and Toth 563).

The authors contend that the field as a whole is unaware of the long history of two-year college teacher preparation. According to their research, the 1960s saw a proliferation of community colleges; a “damning portrait” of the teaching environment in these institutions from incoming NCTE president Alfred Kitzhaber, the authors write, led teachers in these colleges to begin to lay out the principles of their profession (565). Jensen and Toth note a number of important publications in the 1960s and early 1970s by two-year college teacher-scholars that enriched and documented an ongoing discussion in venues like major conferences (565).

The year 1971 saw the publication of the 1971 Guidelines for Junior College English Teacher Training Programs (564). Among the principles laid out in this document was the need to address the particular characteristics of the two-year student population, with an attention to the diversity of this population that, in the authors’ view, “anticipate[d] the 1974 document, Students’ Right to Their Own Language” (567).

Another important principle that emerged during this era was the mandate for actual classroom experience through internships under the guidance of experienced two-year college teachers (568). Jensen and Toth stress the document’s insistence that actual two-year college faculty are the appropriate authorities for designing suitable graduate training; moreover, the document asserted that two-year college professionals should be full-time members of all graduate faculties and that all constituents of such a program, including advisors, should be fully knowledgeable about the exigencies and opportunities of teaching at two-year institutions (568).

Another important document from this era was the 1978 “National Directory of Graduate Programs for Junior/Community College English Teachers,” compiled by Gregory Cowan and published in Teaching English in the Two-Year College (568, 569). This project located forty-three programs offering specific degrees. Many were “specialized master’s degrees, concentrations, or post-master’s specialist or certificate programs” (568). In addition, some institutions offered the new “Doctor of Arts” (DA) degree, meant as an equivalent to a PhD but with a stronger focus on teaching (569).

Twenty-seven other institutions billed their coursework as appropriate for teachers planning to teach at two-year colleges (569). The authors note that some of these programs indicated what “university faculty believed” was needed to teach at two-year colleges; in keeping with the principles articulated in 1971 Guidelines, the Directory noted which programs included input from actual faculty in two-year institutions and which required hands-on internships (570).

The authors report, however, that in ensuing years, most of these programs disappeared (570), partly because of a decline in the number of available jobs and the “adjunctification” of two-year colleges (570). They raise the possibility that the rise of rhetoric and composition as a legitimate scholarly career path may have affected the demand for specialized programs, but they contend that rhetoric and composition degrees do not necessarily meet the needs of two-year faculty (571).

Jensen and Toth find that during this period of “[r]etrenchment” (570), some community colleges undertook to design their own graduate programs. The authors identify three whose faculty published on their efforts (571). The programs reinforced principles highlighted earlier, such as the need for hands-on teaching and mentorship and the need for actual two-year faculty to lead in program design, but they also incorporated the need to prepare aspiring two-year faculty for the professional activities beyond teaching that the two-year college demands, such as attending department and committee meetings, becoming active in professional organizations, and pursuing a research agenda (572).

The 2004 Guidelines for the Academic Preparation of English Faculty at Two-Year Colleges, which has been “circulated widely within TYCA [Two-Year College Association]” (573), responded to the “specter of mass faculty retirements” as well as the labor issues surrounding the use of contingent labor by asserting that the need for properly prepared faculty remained unmet (572). Confirming the importance of professionalization “beyond the classroom,” the document pressed hiring committees to attend to the specific qualifications appropriate to two-year college faculty, even among adjuncts (573). The authors note their own use of the 2004 Guidelines in their own professional development and program design, but contend that ongoing labor conditions made this document “an aspirational rather than descriptive articulation of TYCA’s vision” (573).

“The Current Landscape” features results of the authors’ survey of extant programs claiming to offer graduate work suitable for two-year college faculty (573-77). Programs provide a range of options including master’s degrees and certificates. The authors find that curricular information on websites is often inadequate for full assessment. Many of the programs are housed in departments of education (574); some offer DA degrees under the auspices of “higher education” programs, which the authors state may be more appropriate to training administrators than teachers (574-75).

The authors note that many DA offerings have been subsumed under rhetoric-and-composition PhDs. This section addresses in detail strong models at four institutions: Murray State University, Marymount University, City College of New York, and San Francisco State University (575-77).

As they “imagine possible futures,” Jensen and Toth reiterate their claim that few programs address the needs of two-year college faculty; moreover, respondents to some surveys they cite report being discouraged from pursuing a two-year college career (578, 580-81). For the authors, this continued invisibility of the two-year college option in English graduate studies has major implications for all branches of the discipline. They cite the 2014 Report of the MLA Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature to note the “disjuncture between English studies graduate curricula and the actual postsecondary landscape” (579). They claim that as the job market grows tighter, most English studies graduates are not qualified to teach in half the institutions in the United States (578-79). In addition, they warn that increasing numbers of undergraduates are doing their first two years of coursework at these schools ().

They see this disjuncture as a “moral failing” (584; emphasis original) in that the institutions for which teachers are not being prepared house the underrepresented populations for whom English studies purports to advocate. They underscore this failure in noting that, despite the dismal working conditions often characterizing two-year colleges, the CCCC Labor Caucus’s 2015 Indianapolis Resolution

makes no specific mention of two-year colleges, nor does it include TYCA on its list of professional organizations that might enact and enforce the resolution’s recommendations. (586)

Acknowledging that recognizing the importance of the two-year college mission will vary depending on the individual contexts of specific institutions (580), Jensen and Toth call on all English studies professional organizations as well as programs to make the two-year college career option available and visible, with input from faculty specifically engaged in these institutions, ideally as full-time graduate faculty (584-85). Because “isolation is vulnerability,” they charge rhetoric and composition with pursuing an “integrative rather than separatist approach” (583) in order to fully embrace the needs of “the teaching majority” (586).


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Jensen and Ely. An “Externship” for Teaching at Two-Year Colleges. TETYC, Mar. 2017. Posted 04/06/2017.

Jensen, Darin, and Susan Ely. “A Partnership Teaching Externship Program: A Model That Makes Do.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 44.3 (2017): 247-63. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

Darin Jensen and Susan Ely describe a program to address the dearth of writing instructors prepared to meet the needs of community-college students. This program, an “externship,” was developed by the authors as an arrangement between Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska (MCC), and the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) (247).

The authors write that as full-time faculty at MCC, they were expected to teach developmental writing but that neither had training in either basic-writing instruction or in working with community-college populations (247). When Ely became coordinator of basic writing, she found that while she could hire instructors with knowledge of first-year writing, the pool of instructors adequately prepared to teach in the particular context of community colleges “did not exist” (248).

This dearth was especially concerning because, according to a 2015 Fact Sheet from the American Association of Community Colleges, 46% of entering students attend community colleges, while a 2013 report from the National Conference of State Legislatures notes that more than 50% of these students enroll in remedial coursework (250). Community colleges also serve the “largest portion” of minority, first-generation, and low-income students (250-51).

Jensen and Ely attribute much of this lack of preparation for teaching developmental writing to the nature of graduate training; they quote a 2014 report from the Modern Language Association that characterizes graduate education as privileging the “‘narrow replication’ of scholars” at the expense, in the authors’ words, of “more substantive training in teaching” (249). Such a disconnect, the authors contend, disadvantages both the undergraduate students who need instructors versed in basic writing and the graduating literacy professionals who lack the preparation for teaching that will ensure them full-time employment (248). They quote Ellen Andrews Knodt to note that the emphasis on teaching needed to serve community-college students suffers “almost by definition” from an “inferior status” (qtd. in Jensen and Ely 249).

Jensen and Ely’s research documents a lack of attention to teacher preparation even among resources dedicated to community colleges and basic writing. Holly Hassel’s 2013 examination of Teaching English in the Two-Year College from 2001 to 2012 found only “8 of 239 articles” that addressed teacher preparation (249). In 2006, Barbara Gleason “found fewer than twenty graduate courses in teaching basic writing across the country” (250). The authors found only one issue of TETYC, in March 2001, dealing with teacher preparation, and Gleason found only two issues of the Journal of Basic Writing, from 1981 and 1984, that focused primarily on professional development for teaching this student population (250).

Given these findings and their own experiences, Jensen and Ely designed a program that would be “activist in nature” (248), committed to the idea, drawn from Patrick Sullivan, that community-college teaching participates in “the noble work of democratizing American higher education” (249).

Jensen and Ely chose Gregory Cowan’s 1971 term “externship” over “apprenticeship” because of the latter’s “problematic hierarchical nature” (251). They abandoned a preliminary internship model because the graduate students were “not really interns, but were student teachers” and did not produce traditional papers (251). Subsequent iterations were structured as independent studies under Dr. Tammie Kennedy at UNO (251).

The authors explain that neither institution fully supported the project, at least partly, they believe, because the “low value” of community-college teaching makes it “a hard sell” (252). Dr. Kennedy earned no compensation and had no clear understanding of how the work counted in her career advancement (251-52). The authors received no reassigned time and only a $500 stipend. They emphasize that these conditions “demonstrate the difficult realities” of the kind of change they hoped to encourage (252).

Students in the program committed to eighty hours of work during a spring semester, including readings, partnering on syllabus and course design, student-teaching in every community-college course meeting, participating in planning and reflections before and after the classes, and attending a collaborative grading session (252). The externship went far beyond what the authors consider typical practica for teaching assistants; it more nearly resembled the K-12 preservice model, “provid[ing] guided practice and side-by-side mentoring for the novice teacher,” as well as extensive exposure to theoretical work in serving community-college populations (252). The graduate students developed a teaching portfolio, a teaching philosophy for the community-college environment, and a revised CV (251).

The authors share their reading lists, beginning with Mike Rose’s Lives on the Boundary and Burton R. Clark’s “The ‘Cooling-Out’ Function in Higher Education,” which they value for its “counterpoint to the promise of developmental education in Rose’s books” (252). Works by Ilona Leki, Dana Ferris, and Ann Johns added insight into ESL students, while Adrienne Rich’s “Teaching Language in Open Admissions” spoke to the needs of first-generation students (253). The authors drew from Susan Naomi Bernstein’s Teaching Developmental Writing in the first year; readings on the politics of remediation came from Mary Soliday and Patrick Finn ((253).

The program emphasized course design beyond the bare introduction offered in the graduate practicum. Themed courses using “an integrated reading and writing model” involved “vocabulary acquisition, close reading, summary, explicit instruction, and discussion” (254). Jensen and Ely stress the importance of “writ[ing] with our students” and choosing texts, often narratives rather than non-fiction, based on the need to engage their particular population (255).

Another important component was the shared grading process that allowed both the authors and the graduate students to discuss and reflect on the outcomes and priorities for community-college education (255). The authors “eschew[ed] skill and drill pedagogy,” focusing on “grammar in the context of writing increasingly complex summaries and responses” (255). Though they state that the time commitment in such sessions makes them impractical “on a regular basis,” they value them as “an intense relational experience” (255).

Throughout, the authors emphasize that working with the graduate students to refine pedagogy for the community college allowed them to reflect on and develop their own theoretical understanding and teaching processes (254, 255).

The graduate students participated in interviews in which they articulated a positive response to the program (256). The authors report that while the four students in their first two years constitute too small a sample for generalization, the program contributed to success in finding full-time employment (257).

Jensen and Ely conclude that the current structure of higher education and the low regard for teaching make it unlikely that programs like theirs will be easy to establish and maintain. Yet, they note, the knowledge and professional development that will enable community-college teachers to meet the demands forced on them by the “persistence and completion” agenda can only come from adequately supported programs that offer

a serious and needed reform for the gross lack of training that universities provide to graduate students, many of whom will go on to become community college instructors. 257


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Klausman et al. TYCA White Paper on Placement Reform. TETYC, Dec. 2o16. Posted 01/28/2017.

Klausman, Jeffrey, Christie Toth, Wendy Swyt, Brett Griffiths, Patrick Sullivan, Anthony Warnke, Amy L. Williams, Joanne Giordano, and Leslie Roberts. “TYCA White Paper on Placement Reform.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 44.2 (2016): 135-57. Web. 19 Jan. 2017.

Jeffrey Klausman, Christie Toth, Wendy Swyt, Brett Griffiths, Patrick Sullivan, Anthony Warnke, Amy L. Williams, Joanne Giordano, and Leslie Roberts, as members of the Two-Year College Association (TYCA) Research Committee, present a White Paper on Placement Reform. They review current scholarship on placement and present two case studies of two-year colleges that have implemented specific placement models: multiple measures to determine readiness for college-level writing and directed self-placement (DSP) (136).

The authors locate their study in a current moment characterized by a “completion agenda,” which sees as a major goal improving student progress toward graduation, with an increased focus on the role of two-year colleges (136-37). This goal has been furthered by faculty-driven initiatives such as Accelerated Learning Programs but has also been taken on by foundations and state legislatures, whose approach to writing instruction may or may not accord with scholarship on best practices (137). All such efforts to ensure student progress work toward “remov[ing] obstacles” that impede completion, “especially ‘under-placement’” in developmental courses (137).

Efforts to improve placement require alternatives to low-cost, widely available, and widely used high-stakes tests, such as COMPASS. Such tests have not only been shown to be unable to measure the many factors that affect student success; they have also been shown to discriminate against protected student populations (137). In fact, ACT will no longer use COMPASS after the 2015-2016 academic year (137).

Such tests, however, remain “the most common placement process currently in use at two-year colleges” (138); such models are used more frequently at two-year institutions than at four-year ones (139). These models, the Committee reports, also often rely on “Automated Writing Evaluation (AWE) software,” or machine scoring (138). Scholarship has noted that “indirect” measures like standardized tests are poor instruments in placement because they are weak predictors of success and because they cannot be aligned to local curricula and often-diverse local populations (138). Pairing such tests with a writing sample scored with AWE limits assessment to mechanical measures and fails to communicate to students what college writing programs value (138-39).

These processes are especially troublesome at community colleges because of the diverse population at such institutions and because of the particular need at such colleges for faculty who understand the local environment to be involved in designing and assessing the placement process (139). The Committee contends further that turning placement decisions over to standardized instruments and machines diminishes the professional authority of community-college faculty (139).

The authors argue that an effective measure of college writing readiness must be based on more than one sample, perhaps a portfolio of different genres; that it must be rated by multiple readers familiar with the curriculum into which the students are to be placed; and that it must be sensitive to the features and needs of the particular student population (140). Two-year institutions may face special challenges because they may not have dedicated writing program administrations and may find themselves reliant on contingent faculty who cannot always engage in the necessary professional development (140-41).

A move to multiple measures would incorporate “‘soft skills’ such as persistence and time management” as well as “situational factors such as financial stability and life challenges” (141). Institutions, however, may resist change because of cost or because of an “institutional culture” uninformed about best practices. In such contexts, the Committee suggests incremental reform, such as considering high-school GPAs or learning-skills inventories (142).

The case study of a multiple-measures model, which examines Highline Community College in Washington state, reports that faculty were able to overcome institutional resistance by collecting data that confirmed findings from the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Columbia University showing that placement into developmental courses impeded completion of college-level courses (142). Faculty were able to draw on high-school portfolios, GED scores, and scores on other assessment instruments without substantially increasing costs. The expense of a dedicated placement advisor was offset by measurable student success (143).

The Committee presents Directed Self-Placement (DSP), based on a 1998 article by Daniel Royer and Roger Gilles, as “a principle rather than a specific procedure or instrument”: the concept recognizes that well-informed students can make adequate educational choices (143). The authors note many benefits from DSP: increases in student agency, which encourages responsibility and motivation; better attitudes that enhance the learning environment; and especially an opportunity for students to begin to understand what college writing will entail. Further program benefits include opportunities for faculty to reflect on their curricula (144).

Though “[e]mpirical evidence” is “promising,” the authors find only two studies that specifically address DSP models in use at community colleges. These studies note the “unique considerations” confronting open-admissions institutions, such as “limited resources,” diverse student bodies, and prescriptive state mandates (145).

The case study of Mid Michigan Community College, which implemented DSP in 2002, details how the college drew on some of the many options available for a DSP model, including two different reading scores, sample assignments from the three course options, an online survey about students’ own writing and reading backgrounds, and an advisor consultation (146). Completion results improved substantially without major cost increases. The college is now addressing the effects of a growth surge as well as the need for the model to accommodate students with dual-enrollment credits (146-47).

Other possible reforms at some institutions include “first-week ‘diagnostic’ assignments,” “differentiated instruction” allowing students with some degree of college readiness to complete the capstone project in the credit-bearing course; and various options for “challenging” placement, such as submission of portfolios (147-48). The authors caution that students who already understand the institutional culture—possibly “white, middle-class, traditional-aged students”—are the ones most likely to self-advocate through placement challenges (148).

The Committee reports that the nontraditional students and veterans in many two-year-college populations often do not score well on standardized tests and need measures that capture other factors that predict college success, such as “life experiences” (148). Similarly, the diverse two-year student population is best served by measures that recognize students’ abilities to “shuttle among a wealth of languages, linguistic resources, and modalities,” rather than tests that may well over-place students whose strength is grammar knowledge, such as some international students (149).

The Committee recommends that placement procedures should

  • be grounded in disciplinary knowledge.

  • be developed by local faculty who are supported professionally.

  • be sensitive to effects on diverse student populations.

  • be assessed and validated locally.

  • be integrated into campus-wide efforts to improve student success. (150-51)

The White Paper provides a substantial Works Cited list as a resource for placement reform.


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Anderst et al. Accelerated Learning at a Community College. TETYC Sept. 2016. Posted 10/21/2016.

Anderst, Leah, Jennifer Maloy, and Jed Shahar. “Assessing the Accelerated Learning Program Model for Linguistically Diverse Developmental Writing Students.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 44.1 (2016): 11-31. Web. 07 Oct. 2016.

Leah Anderst, Jennifer Maloy, and Jed Shahar report on the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) implemented at Queensborough Community College (QCC), a part of the City University of New York system (CUNY) (11) in spring and fall semesters, 2014 (14).

In the ALP model followed at QCC, students who had “placed into remediation” simultaneously took both an “upper-level developmental writing class” and the “credit-bearing first-year writing course” in the two-course first-year curriculum (11). Both courses were taught by the same instructor, who could develop specific curriculum that incorporated program elements designed to encourage the students to see the links between the classes (13).

The authors discuss two “unique” components of their model. First, QCC students are required to take a high-stakes, timed writing test, the CUNY Assessment Test for Writing (CATW), for placement and to “exit remediation,” thus receiving a passing grade for their developmental course (15). Second, the ALP at Queensborough integrated English language learners (ELLs) with native English speakers (14).

Anderst et al. note research showing that in most institutions, English-as-a-second-language instruction (ESL) usually occurs in programs other than English or writing (14). The authors state that as the proportion of second-language learners increases in higher education, “the structure of writing programs often remains static” (15). Research by Shawna Shapiro, they note, indicates that ELL students benefit from “a non-remedial model” (qtd. in Anderst et al. 15), validating the inclusion of ELL students in the ALP at Queensborough.

Anderst et al. review research on the efficacy of ALP. Crediting Peter Adams with the concept of ALP in 2007 (11), the authors cite Adams’s findings that such programs have had “widespread success” (12), notably in improving “passing rate[s] of basic writing students,” improving retention, and accelerating progress through the first-year curriculum (12). Other research supports the claim that ALP students are more successful in first- and second-semester credit-bearing writing courses than developmental students not involved in such programs. although data on retention are mixed (12).

The authors note research on the drawbacks of high-stakes tests like the required exit-exam at QCC (15-16) but argue that strong student scores on this “non-instructor-based measurement” (26) provided legitimacy for their claims that students benefit from ALPs (16).

The study compared students in the ALP with developmental students not enrolled in the program. English-language learners in the program were compared both with native speakers in the program and with similar ELL students in specialized ESL courses. Students in the ALP classes were compared with the general cohort of students in the credit-bearing course, English 101. Comparisons were based on exit-exam scores and grades (17). Pass rates for the exam were calculated before and after “follow-up workshops” for any developmental student who did not pass the exam on the first attempt (17).

Measured by pass and withdrawal rates, Anderst et al. report, ALP students outperformed students in the regular basic writing course both before and after the workshops, with ELL students in particular succeeding after the follow-up workshops (17-18). They report a fall-semester pass rate of 84.62% for ELL students enrolled in the ALP after the workshop, compared to a pass rate of 43.4% for ELL students not participating in the program (19).

With regard to grades in English 101, the researchers found that for ALP students, the proportion of As was lower than for the course population as a whole (19). However, this difference disappeared “when the ALP cohort’s grades were compared to the non-ALP cohort’s grades with English 101 instructors who taught ALP courses” (19). Anderst et al. argue that comparing grades given to different cohorts by the same instructors is “a clearer measure” of student outcomes (19).

The study also included an online survey students took in the second iteration of the study in fall 2014, once at six weeks and again at fourteen weeks. Responses of students in the college’s “upper-level developmental writing course designed for ESL students” were compared to those of students in the ALP, including ELL students in this cohort (22).

The survey asked about “fit”—whether the course was right for the student—and satisfaction with the developmental course, as well as its value as preparation for the credit-bearing course (22). At six weeks, responses from ALP students to these questions were positive. However, in the later survey, agreement on overall sense of “fit” and the value of the developmental course dropped for the ALP cohort. For students taking the regular ESL course, however, these rates of agreement increased, often by large amounts (23).

Anderst et al. explain these results by positing that at the end of the semester, ALP students, who were concurrently taking English 101, had come to see themselves as “college material” rather than as remedial learners and no longer felt that the developmental course was appropriate for their ability level (25). Students in one class taught by one of the researchers believed that they were “doing just as well, if not better in English 101 as their peers who were not also in the developmental course” (25). The authors consider this shift in ALP students’ perceptions of themselves as capable writers an important argument for ALP and for including ELL students in the program (25).

Anderst et al. note that in some cases, their sample was too small for results to rise to statistical significance, although final numbers did allow such evaluation (18). They also note that the students in the ALP sections whose high-school GPAs were available had higher grades than the “non-ALP” students (20). The ALP cohort included only students “who had only one remedial need in either reading or writing”; students who placed into developmental levels in both areas found the ALP work “too intensive” (28n1).

The authors recommend encouraging more open-ended responses than they received to more accurately account for the decrease in satisfaction in the second survey (26). They conclude that “they could view this as a success” because it indicated the shift in students’ views of themselves:

This may be particularly significant for ELLs within ALP because it positions them both institutionally and psychologically as college writers rather than isolating them within an ESL track. (26)


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Giordano and Hassel. Developmental Reform and the Two-Year College. TETYC, May 2016. Posted 07/25/2016.

Giordano, Joanne Baird, and Holly Hassel. “Unpredictable Journeys: Academically At-Risk Students, Developmental Education Reform, and the Two-Year College.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 43.4 (2016): 371-90. Web. 11 July 2016.

Joanne Baird Giordano and Holly Hassel report on a study of thirty-eight underprepared students negotiating the curriculum at a “small midwestern campus” that is part of a “statewide two-year liberal arts institution” (372). The study assessed the placement process, the support systems in place, and the efforts to “accelerate” students from developmental coursework to credit-bearing courses (374). The institution, an open-access venue, accepted 100 percent of applicants in 2014 (372).

Giordano and Hassel position their study in an ongoing conversation about how best to speed up students’ progress through college and improve graduation rates—the “college completion agenda” (371). Expressing concern that some policy decisions involved in these efforts might result from what Martha E. Casazza and Sharon L. Silverman designate as “misunderstood studies of ‘remedial’ student programs” (371), Giordano and Hassel present their study as reinforcing the importance of a robust developmental curriculum within an open-access environment and the necessity for ongoing support outside of regular classwork. They also focus on the degree to which placement procedures, even those using multiple measures, often fail to predict long-term student trajectories (371, 377).

The researchers characterize their institution as offering a “rigorous general-education curriculum” designed to facilitate student transfer to the four-year institutions within the state (372). They note that the two-year institution’s focus on access and its comprehensive placement process, which allows faculty to consider a range of factors such as high school grades, writing samples, and high-school coursework (375), mean that its developmental writing program is more likely to serve underprepared students than is the case at colleges that rely on less varied placement measures such as standardized tests (374). The thirty-eight students in the study all had test scores that would have placed them in multiple developmental sections at many institutions (374).

The institution’s goal is to reduce the amount of time such students spend in developmental curricula while supporting the transition to credit-bearing coursework (373). The writing program offers only one developmental course; after completing this course, students move to a two-course credit-bearing sequence, the second component of which fulfills the core writing requirement for four-year institutions within the state (373-74). A curriculum that features “integrated reading and writing” and a small-group “variable-credit, nondegree studio writing course” that students can take multiple times support students’ progress (373).

Examination of student work in the courses in which they were placed indicates that students were generally placed appropriately (375). Over the next two years, the researchers assessed how well the students’ written work met course outcomes and interviewed instructors about student readiness to move forward. Giordano and Hassel then collected data about the students’ progress in the program over a four-year period (375).

Noting that 74% of the students studied remained in good academic standing after their first year, Giordano and Hassel point out that test scores bore no visible relation to academic success (377). Eighteen of the students completed the second-semester writing course. Acknowledging that this percentage was lower than it would be for students whose test scores did not direct them into developmental classes, the authors argue that this level of success illustrates the value of the developmental coursework they undertook. Whereas policy makers often cite developmental work as an impediment to college completion, Giordano and Hassel argue that this coursework was essential in helping the underprepared students progress; they contend that what prevents many such students from moving more quickly and successfully through college is not having to complete extra coursework but instead “the gradual layering of academic and nonacademic challenges” that confronts these students (377).

The authors present a case study to argue that with ongoing support, a student whose scores predict failure can in fact succeed at college-level work (378-79). More problematic, however, are the outcomes for students who place into more than one developmental course, for example, both writing and math.

For example, only three of twenty-one students placing into more than one developmental section “completed a state system degree of any kind,” but some students in this category did earn credits during the four years of the study (380). The authors conclude from data such as these that the single developmental section of writing along with the studio course allowed the students to succeed where they would ordinarily have failed, but that much more support of different kinds is needed to help them progress into the core curriculum (381).

The authors examined the twenty students who did not complete the core requirement to understand how they “got stuck” in their progress (381). Some students repeatedly attempted the initial credit-bearing course; others avoided taking the core courses, and others could not manage the second, required writing course (382-83). The authors offer “speculat[ion]” that second-language issues may have intervened; they also note that the students did not take the accompanying studio option and their instructors chose a “high-stakes, single-grade essay submission” process rather than requiring a portfolio (382).

In addition, the authors contend, many students struggled with credit-bearing work in all their courses, not just writing and reading (383). Giordano and Hassel argue that more discipline-specific support is needed if students are to transition successfully to the analytical thinking, reading, and writing demanded by credit-bearing courses. They note that one successful strategy undertaken by some students involved “register[ing] in gradually increasing numbers of reading-intensive credits” (384), thus protecting their academic standing while building their skills.

Another case study of a student who successfully negotiated developmental and lower-level credit-bearing work but struggled at higher levels leads Giordano and Hassel to argue that, even though this student ultimately faced suspension, the chance to attend college and acquire credits exemplified the “tremendous growth as a reader, writer, and student” open access permits (384).

The study, the authors maintain, supports the conclusion, first, that the demand from policy-making bodies that the institutions and faculty who serve underprepared students be held accountable for the outcomes of their efforts neglects the fact that these institutions and educators have “the fewest resources and voices of influence in higher education and in the policy-making process” (384). Second, they report data showing that policies that discourage students from taking advantage of developmental work so they can move through coursework more quickly result in higher failure rates (387). Third, Giordano and Hassel argue that directed self-placement is not appropriate for populations like the one served by their institution (387). Finally, they reiterate that the value of attending college cannot be measured strictly by graduation rates; the personal growth such experiences offer should be an essential component of any evaluation (387-88).


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Coleman et al. Risky Equity Work. TETYC, May 2016. Posted 06/07/2016.

Coleman, Taiyon J., Renee DeLong, Kathleen Sheerin DeVore, Shannon Gibney, and Michael C. Kuhne. “The Risky Business of Engaging Racial Equity in Writing Instruction: A Tragedy in Five Acts.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 43.4 (2016): 347-70. Web. 27 May 2016.

Taiyon J. Coleman, Renee DeLong, Kathleen Sheerin DeVore, Shannon Gibney, and Michael C. Kuhne recount their experiences attempting to deal with equity issues at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) between 2005 and 2015 (348, 353). They argue that white dominance is entrenched in higher education and that faculty, administrations, and institutions must recognize and act on the material and emotional consequences of this dominance.

The article grows out of a presentation at CCCC in Tampa in 2015. It is structured as “Five Acts”; each author presents personal perspectives illustrating the struggles involved in making the curriculum of MCTC more responsive to the students it serves.

Michael C. Kuhne recounts his participation in curriculum changes designed to restructure the English department and its developmental writing program so that they no longer mirrored the pedagogical assumptions of the older white male faculty (348) but rather more nearly met the needs of an increasingly diverse student population. Of special concern in this shift was improving low retention and graduation rates, particularly among African American men and Native American students (349). The developmental sequence shifted from a “formal, structural approach” built around paragraph structure and timed tests to a portfolio system and then to the Accelerated Learning model in which developmental students enroll in regular first-year writing but participate in additional class time with their instructors (349-50).

These changes led to some success, and Kuhne was among the faculty instrumental in changing hiring practices to bring the faculty make-up more in line with student demographics (352). But Kuhne contends that because of his “naïveté and white privilege,” he “was not able to see that simply hiring faculty of color without changing the culture within the department and institution would not move equity forward” (352).

DeVore follows with a history of changes at the college that, she writes, show “How We Broke” (352). Central to her account is the effort to include a request in the hiring language that new hires exhibit “an awareness of Critical Race Theory [CRT] and a demonstrated connection to communities of color” (Position Description, qtd. in Coleman et al. 354). DeVore offers definitions of Critical Race Theory, including one from Tara J. Yosso: “A critical race curriculum exposes the white privilege supported by traditional curriculum structures and challenges schools to dismantle them” (qtd. in Coleman et al. 354). DeVore argues that the new hiring language “simply referred to the need for applicants who understand that we live and teach in a nation with a raced social order” (354).

Including these qualifications resulted in new hires, several of color, changing the department makeup. However, a white male adjunct who had not been hired brought discrimination charges against four members of the hiring committee (355). After a “yearlong investigation,” the committee members were cleared but were required to strike the CRT language from the hiring language (355).

Meanwhile, a new hire of color acquired funding for series of workshops with Tim Lensmire of the University of Minnesota (356). After the first workshop meeting, DeVore reports, “a majority of faculty of color asked to caucus out into two groups, one for faculty of color, one for white faculty, as levels of experience, awareness, and understanding of white racial identity formation and white privilege were painfully low in the combined session” (356). DeVore states that this practice was “a common move in racial equity work,” but in her view, it led to a drop in workshop participation; subsequently, the new hire resigned (356). DeVore recounts a final department meeting dominated by emotions as faculty of color expressed their frustrations with the department (356). According to DeVore, the program has not been able to return to constructive equity work in the three years since (357).

Shannon Gibney adds her account of returning to the mass communications classroom after a personal health and emotional trauma and attempting to begin a discussion of “the legacy of ongoing racism in American life” (357). A “small group of students” exhibited what Gibney describes as “animosity at this black female body in front of them” (357); their reactions led to a reprimand from the college vice president that cast Gibney’s “tone as ‘defensive, angry, and disrespectful'” (358). She was ordered to attend training sessions to “learn to model ‘civility'” (358). She reports being the only faculty member of the 172 who had faced student complaints to be “disciplined” (358). After two appeals, as her case was about to enter arbitration that would make the case documents public, the president removed a letter of reprimand from her file (358). She reports being “offered ‘a blank check’ to leave MCTC altogether” (359).

Gibney argues that her willingness to speak up led to the unease with which administrators and colleagues regarded her. In her view, institutional pressures generated within a white-supremacist system act to silence those who would critique the status quo (360).

Renee DeLong, a “white, child-free lesbian,” was moved to protest the establishment of a creative-writing associates’ degree because she sees such courses as invested in white privilege. However, she found her role in the discussion “just erased” in favor of the voices of the black women faculty (362). This experience, in her view, suggests the need for victims of oppression to recognize their interconnectedness, as called for in the 1977 Combahee River Collective’s Manifesto (363). She urges attention to black LBGT women (362) “through the lenses of both critical race theory and queer theory” (363). White faculty, she maintains, must move beyond making claims about their love for students of color to recognize that their motives, in her description, are born of a sense of themselves as students’ “white savior[s]” (363). She deplores “this grandiose vision of pedagogical prowess” as “damaging [to] the health and lives of colleagues and students of color alike” (364).

Taiyon J. Colman discusses the degree to which she contends most educators see dominantly white institutions and classrooms as “normal” (365). She draws on her own experience as a marginalized student to suggest that a context in which the majority of faculty and the bulk of the administration are “institutionally constructed as white” (366) cannot serve student populations that are largely non-white (365). She argues that racial constructions of the type she describes deliver a message to black students that they are “not supposed to be there”:

If I am not supposed to be there through the continued normalization of racially constructed and dominantly white spaces, places, and teaching positions, then who, too, is still not socially, historically, and institutionally constructed to be in the writing or literature classrooms? (366)

She agrees with Gibney that efforts to address this problem result in the derogation of those who speak up (366). She offers eight preliminary steps for addressing equity issues (367), focusing on rejection of “silence” and “rationalization”; attention to institutional and systemic accountability for the development of equity (367-68); and recognition by privileged faculty of their own responsibility for these changes (367). She emphasizes the importance of “moving forward collectively” because “achieving equity benefits all members of the institution and the communities that we serve” (368; emphasis original).