During a recent visit to the writing program at San Jose State, I had a chance to see the outstanding work they are doing – reevaluating, streamlining, and updating the curriculum for their writing courses and getting an ambitious, directed self-placement program underway. So no more “remedial” courses at SJSU. Rather, students choose to enroll in one or two semesters of writing (this is a “stretch” course that students can place themselves into). Then they will take a second-year course (English 1B) on critical writing, a course that may be taught from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.
Richard McNabb, who heads up the composition program, Tom Moriarty, who is in charge of Writing across the Curriculum, and Cindy Baer, who coordinates the “stretch program,” are all excited about the possibilities for students taking on more agency, more responsibility for their own learning and about the changes they are making to their curricula. And they, wisely, plan to follow the students carefully, monitoring the progress of those who elect one course and those who elect two. By this time next year, they hope to have a rich data set to share and to compare.
SJSU is also, wisely, working with the two-year and other colleges in the area that send students to them. In fact, the day I visited there were teachers from five area schools, all sharing information and eager to learn about what SJSU is doing. So if their work with the revised curriculum and directed self-placement is successful, it will surely have a ripple effect on other schools.
I’m wondering what other schools have similar programs, especially since directed self-placement has been around for quite a long time and research supports its efficacy, if implemented carefully and well. In the meantime, I’m impressed with colleagues and students at San Jose State.