College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

Read, Comment On, and Share News of the Latest from the Rhetoric and Composition Journals

Leave a comment

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).

Leave a comment

Krzus-Shaw, Kassia. Service-Learning for Community College Students. May TETYC. Posted 06/09/2017.

Krzus-Shaw, Kassia. “Bridging Gaps and Creating Rich Service-Learning Experiences for Marginalized Students.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 44.4 (2017): 351-71. Web. 27 May 2017.

Kassia Krzus-Shaw argues that service-learning research has not adequately addressed the ways in which students from community colleges experience service-learning. Using her own practices teaching a service-learning component in a composition class at a two-year institution, Krzus-Shaw discusses how her students’ identities as members of the community they were expected to serve affected their learning and their engagement within an academic environment.

Previous research, Krzus-Shaw contends, generally addresses the “immersion” model in which privileged college students, usually white, enter very different cultural environments (353). Research that does consider students with different ethnic and cultural identities, she writes, has attempted to focus on individual identity groups, while in her experience, community-college students are likely to exhibit many different overlapping identities (352).

Krzus-Shaw presents her teaching model as an exploration of how these overlapping identities complicate service-learning when the culture the students serve is their own. She notes that her study must be considered “anecdotal” because, as contingent faculty, she had no “access to the IRB process, or other institutional supports” and thus could not present data such as student writing (355).

Within such community-college contexts, Krzus-Shaw argues, service learning can address marginalized students’ struggles with embracing an academic identity that confers authority and expertise, develops rhetorical awareness and agency, and encourages commitment to academic and professional contexts (353). This focus, Krzus-Shaw reports, differs from that of more traditional service-learning models in that traditionally, students are assumed to develop academic authority as a result of the service experience; in her class, students needed to begin embracing their identity as analysts and researchers before entering the service-learning environment (357). Unlike students in traditional service-learning courses, her students did not need time to become acquainted with the new culture but “already were experts on the lived social experience embodied by the service sites” (357). The new perspectives marginalized students encountered as they did service work within their communities were the views of themselves as scholar-researchers with “the academic identity to contextualize their experiences in a way that the academy recognizes as rhetorically exigent” (357).

Krzus-Shaw used a “bridge model” as “scaffolding” for her students’ service experiences (355-56). One element of this model in designing service-learning curricula is “flexibility,” for example as a criterion for the sites where the service will take place. Krzus-Shaw emphasizes that for these students, transportation and child care can prevent participation and commitment; her most effective site was within walking distance of the classroom, family-friendly, and bilingual (356).

Also central to the bridge model’s focus on agency, Krzus-Shaw writes, is the decision to make participation optional. She reports that her course outcomes and materials were pre-determined by her program, and that she was probably the only instructor to build a service-learning component into the preset course design (356). Making the service-learning unit optional made it easier for students to feel “ownership” of their choice to participate (357).

Krzus-Shaw writes that she found it possible to build her service-learning model on her department’s focus on “genre; the composition process; and rhetorical awareness” by assigning, first, a narrative “locating their rhetorical voice within their community” (357), followed by an analysis on some aspect of “community action” (357). The class moved on to writing “reports” about visits to the classroom by people active at the sites (357). These visits provided students with role models and mentors as well as contact points for the upcoming service component (358).

Students could then choose one of two tracks for their argument and research papers, either on issues related to the service site itself or on issues related to “community-based problems” to which they proposed solutions (358). Work by students writing for the service site was used to “create new public initiatives and to apply for new grants” (358). Krzus-Shaw writes that awareness that their writing would actually be used inspired students with an increased sense of audience, with subsequent effects on the amount and quality of revision as well as engagement both in the classroom and in the community (360).

Important components of the “pedagogical bridge” involved in service learning, in Krzus-Shaw’s view, are “observation and journaling” prior to developing formal research papers using secondary sources (359-60). In her view, it was during this process that students were able to “negotiate their personal identity with that of the organization, the community, and with the student-scholar role they’re being asked to engage” (359). This negotiation, she writes, contributes greatly to transfer, as students carry these identities forward into future academic, civic, and professional environments.

Krzus-Shaw reports that reflection further enhanced the identity transformation that resulted from becoming leaders and authorities within their own communities. Reflection allowed students to process “shock” at the level of problems faced by members of communities where they themselves were “living within those statistics” (361). Reflection, she contends, allowed them to recognize how systemic factors influence individual lives at the same time that it encouraged them to see how effective rhetorical action could make a difference (361) as they began “reaching for new ways of interacting with their world” (362).

Fifty percent of students in the last of the three semesters during which Krzus-Shaw taught the unit opted to participate, and two students in particular continued working with the participant organizations, noting that the experience “changed their life trajectory” with regard to career choices and confidence in their rhetorical agency (363).

Krzus-Shaw argues for more formal longitudinal studies of students from marginalized communities who undertook service-learning roles in those same communities (364). Such studies could validate her findings, which she contends were necessarily limited by her position as contingent faculty despite encouragement from her institution. First-year writing students, she maintains, are among those who would most benefit from the identity transformation that service-learning can enable (365), yet those students are most likely to be taught by part-time faculty who are burdened by their own economic status and workloads, as well as by being excluded from the formal support needed to design and implement service-learning initiatives (365-66).

She points to the “civic engagement statements” included in the mission statements of many two-year institutions as grounds for providing more support for service-learning in these environments. Meanwhile, she writes, instructors in these colleges can institute “small steps” in service-learning that, over time, can establish networks and practices that ease the workload involved (366-67). For students who become involved in service-learning within their communities, she states, “there is an aspect of service-learning on the student level that sustains itself well beyond our liminal role as professors” (367).

Leave a comment

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.

1 Comment

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).