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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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T. Bourelle et al. Using Instructional Assistants in Online Classes. C&C, Sept. 2015. Posted 10/13/2015.

Bourelle, Tiffany, Andrew Bourelle, and Sherry Rankins-Robertson. “Teaching with Instructional Assistants: Enhancing Student Learning in Online Classes.” Computers and Composition 37 (2015): 90-103. Web. 6 Oct. 2015.

Tiffany Bourelle, Andrew Bourelle, and Sherry Rankins-Robertson discuss the “Writers’ Studio,” a pilot program at Arizona State University that utilized upper-level English and education majors as “instructional assistants” (IAs) in online first-year writing classes. The program was initiated in response to a request from the provost to cut budgets without affecting student learning or increasing faculty workload (90).

A solution was an “increased student-to-teacher ratio” (90). To ensure that the creation of larger sections met the goal of maintaining teacher workloads and respected the guiding principles put forward by the Conference on College Composition and Communication Committee for Best Practices in Online Writing Instruction in its March 2013 Position Statement, the team of faculty charged with developing the cost-saving measures supplemented “existing pedagogical strategies” with several innovations (91).

The writers note that one available cost-saving step was to avoid staffing underenrolled sections. To meet this goal, the team created “mega-sections” in which one teacher was assigned per each 96 students, the equivalent of a full-time load. Once the enrollment reached 96, a second teacher was assigned to the section, and the two teachers team-taught. T. Bourelle et al. give the example of a section of the second semester of the first-year sequence that enrolled at 120 students and was taught by two instructors. These 120 students were assigned to 15-student subsections (91).

T. Bourelle et al. note several reasons why the new structure potentially increased faculty workload. They cite research by David Reinheimer to the effect that teaching writing online is inherently more time-intensive than instructors may expect (91). Second, the planned curriculum included more drafts of each paper, requiring more feedback. In addition, the course design required multimodal projects. Finally, students also composed “metacognitive reflections” to gauge their own learning on each project (92).

These factors prompted the inclusion of the IAs. One IA was assigned to each 15-student group. These upper-level students contributed to the feedback process. First-year students wrote four drafts of each paper: a rough draft that received peer feedback, a revised draft that received comments from the IAs, an “editing” draft students could complete using the writing center or online resources, and finally a submission to the instructor, who would respond by either accepting the draft for a portfolio or returning it with directions to “revise and resubmit” (92). Assigning portfolio grades fell to the instructor. The authors contend that “in online classes where students write multiple drafts for each project, instructor feedback on every draft is simply not possible with the number of students assigned to any teacher, no matter how she manages her time” (93).

T. Bourelle et al. provide extensive discussion of the ways the IAs prepared for their roles in the Writers’ Studio. A first component was an eight-hour orientation in which the assistants were introduced to important teaching practices and concepts, in particular the process of providing feedback. Various interactive exercises and discussions allowed the IAs to develop their abilities to respond to the multimodal projects required by the Studio, such as blogs, websites, or “sound portraits” (94). The instruction for IAs also covered the distinction between “directive” and “facilitative” feedback, with the latter designed to encourage “an author to make decisions and [give] the writer freedom to make choices” (94).

Continuing support throughout the semester included a “portfolio workshop” that enabled the IAs to guide students in their production of the culminating eportfolio requirement, which required methods of assessment unique to electronic texts (95). Bi-weekly meetings with the instructors of the larger sections to which their cohorts belonged also provided the IAs with the support needed to manage their own coursework while facilitating first-year students’ writing (95).

In addition, IAs enrolled in an online internship that functioned as a practicum comparable to practica taken by graduate teaching assistants at many institutions (95-97). The practicum for the Writers’ Studio internship reinforced work on providing facilitative feedback but especially incorporated the theory and practice of online instruction (96). T. Bourelle et al. argue that the effectiveness of the practicum experience was enhanced by the degree to which it “mirror[ed]” much of what the undergraduate students were experiencing in their first-year classes: “[B]oth groups of beginners are working within initially uncomfortable but ultimately developmentally positive levels of ambiguity, multiplicity, and open-endedness” (Barb Blakely Duffelmeyer, qtd. in T. Bourelle et al. 96). Still quoting Duffelmeyer, the authors contend that adding computers “both enriched and problematized” the pedagogical experience of the coursework for both groups (96), imposing the need for special attention to online environments.

Internship assignments also gave the IAs a sense of what their own students would be experiencing by requiring an eportfolio featuring what they considered their best examples of feedback to student writing as well as reflective papers documenting their learning (98).

The IAs in the practicum critiqued the first-year curriculum, for example suggesting stronger scaffolding for peer review and better timing of assignments. They wrote various instructional materials to support the first-year course activities (97).

Their contributions to the first-year course included “[f]aciliting discussion groups” (98) and “[d]eveloping supportive relationships with first-year writers” (100), but especially “[r]esponding to revised drafts” (99). T. Bourelle et al. note that the IAs’ feedback differed from that of peer reviewers in that the IAs had acquired background in composition and rhetorical theory; unlike writing-center tutors, the IAs were more versed in the philosophy and expectations embedded in the course itself (99). IAs were particularly helpful to students who had misread the assignments, and they were able to identify and mentor students who were falling behind (98, 99).

The authors respond to the critique that the IAs represented uncompensated labor by arguing that the Writers’ Studio offered a pedagogically valuable opportunity that would serve the students well if they pursued graduate or professional careers as educators, emphasizing the importance of designing such programs to benefit the students as well as the university (101). They present student and faculty testimony on the effectiveness of the IAs as a means of “supplement[ing] teacher interaction” rather than replacing it (102). While they characterize the “monetary benefit” to the university as “small” (101), they consider the project “successful” and urge other “teacher-scholars to build on what we have tried to do” (102).