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5 Posts authored by: David Starkey Expert

The two of you are former long-time California Community College professors now working for the Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges. Your current project focuses on using student support success factors to ensure learning. Can you begin by telling readers a little bit about what the RP Group is, and then give a brief overview of this particular project?

 

Kathy Molloy: The RP Group is a nonprofit organization that supports community colleges through research and professional development. Its goal is to build a community college culture that views planning, evidence-based decision-making, and institutional effectiveness as integral to promoting student success and increasing equitable outcomes.

 

Our project aims to understand how community colleges can feasibly deliver support both inside and outside the classroom to improve success for all students, with a particular focus on African-American and Latino learners. Using phone surveys and focus groups, the RP Group asked nearly 900 students from 13 California Community Colleges what supports their educational success. Feeling directed, focused, engaged, connected, nurtured and valued were the “success factors” that these students identified.

 

Your project promotes “the importance of affective learning in the classroom.” What are some of the most useful specific activities that you would recommend to instructors of accelerated composition?                                                                                                                                                                                                                        KM: My recommendations are for any class and any discipline, although students can get overwhelmed more quickly in an accelerated class. Making your expectations clear and letting students know that you are there to provide support are key. Doing activities that build community is essential throughout the semester, but especially in the first few weeks. For example, you can provide opportunities in your class for students to learn about you and each other. You can do this by giving multiple assignments involving different small groups and doing icebreakers and other getting-to-know-you activities. And you can teach students about the importance of a growth mindset and other practices of successful students so that they can carry those lessons beyond your classroom.

 

Diego Navarro: In the first few classes it is important to build trust and emotional safety in your classroom. If you have second language learners or students who see themselves as not really belonging in their college classes, do not use sarcasm or tell jokes that may be misunderstood by them. It is important to show respect and articulate the strengths of your students. Know that many of our students have radar that is keenly tuned to noticing when they feel threatened; how you treat one student is witnessed by all students. Know that if your students do not feel safe then there will be a negative impact especially the first few weeks of class when you are setting norms.

 

Slow down your tempo; become curious; listen beyond words to student needs, concerns or aspirations to understand their struggles. Realize that the greatest potency may be a pause. Identify and articulate your students’ strengths and positive intentions or traits.

 

It is also important at the beginning of the semester to keep a keen eye out for those behaviors that will sidetrack students later in the semester. Track and discuss with students their absences from class, missing assignments, and any behaviors that are disruptive to the learning environment that you are creating because the trajectory they create in the first three weeks of the semester may set a trend.

 

Finally, I think managing students’ energy in your classroom is one of the key affective practices. What I mean by this is: whenever energy is waning in the classroom during a lecture or some other passive activity, do not stop the class for a break since this dissipates the energy of the class. Instead, stop the class and lead them in an engagement-oriented exercise, such as those found in the Academy for College Excellence exercises, to refocus the energy of the students and accomplish one of the following: build community, help the students learn about each other, reinforce what they are learning in your class, build teamwork, or support the development of other professional skills like empathy and listening.

 

What do you think happens to students when their affective and non-cognitive needs are not met? What’s at stake here?

 

DN: When students’ affective and non-cognitive needs are not met then they go into bioreaction, a sympathetic nervous system response where the amygdala senses threat, the body receives a flood of hormones to amplify the body's alertness and heart rate, sending extra blood to the muscles. and then they go into a response of fight, flight, freeze or appease. When they are in this response their body biologically is ready for survival and not learning. Their cognitive brain shuts down and they are not able to absorb and process what you are teaching. They have to first deal with identifying that they are in bioreaction and then learn techniques to pulling them out of it. For many students, when their triggered response kicks in it may take them hours to pull out of it. So, these needs are imperative to address.

 

KM: Our students’ futures are at stake! We know from the survey data from the Center for Community College Student Engagement that 28% of entering students say they feel isolated and that 50% of our students don’t return after the first year. If students don’t feel that they belong at college and that no one cares whether they are there or not, they drop out.  That’s a huge loss in terms of the opportunities they might have for a well-paying job and a huge loss to us as a society.

(A Brief Homage to Wendy Bishop)

 

I was lucky to learn from and collaborate with the late Wendy Bishop, whose loss—more than sixteen years ago now—is still hard for me to accept. Wendy was a force of nature, a whirlwind of ideas about how to create better writers and better teachers of writing. Her early focus was on employing composition scholarship to inform the teaching of creative writing, but she quickly became just as, if not more, interested in ways that creative writing could bring life to expository writing courses.

 

Wendy’s first book, Released into Language, was published in 1990, the year I began full-time college teaching, so she has been a constant presence in my thinking about pedagogy. Whenever I encounter a new teaching challenge, I wonder how Wendy would face it, and now that nearly all first-semester composition courses in California’s community colleges are accelerated, I’m returning once again to her work for ideas and inspiration.

 

Always ahead of the curve, Wendy seems to have intuited acceleration’s insight that students are ill-served by what Katie Hern calls “layers of remedial coursework.” Wendy writes in Released into Language that it “is no longer effective to remain tied to hierarchical ways of thinking,” arguing:

 

We should not assume that “basic” writing instruction should take place at “lower levels,” while upper-level classes exist merely to sort the “best” writers into smaller and smaller cadres. Instead, teachers need to look at the beliefs, goals, and pedagogy for each of these levels and to dismantle artificial “class” boundaries that have been formed, mainly, by a relatively unstructured historical progression. (xvi-xvii)

 

Wendy’s punning on “‘class’” is particularly appropriate to acceleration, as one of its chief goals is to break down the class (and racial) barriers that keep students entangled in pre-college-level classes.

 

Another aspect of Wendy’s work that is especially germane to acceleration is her persistent turning from the theoretical to the practical. Yes, she was concerned to ground her pedagogy in writing research, but she was never content to leave an idea alone until she could figure out how to apply it in the classroom. For all its cutting-edge scholarship, Released into Language is also a goldmine of specific ways that teachers can help their students become better writers. Wendy emphasizes the importance of course design and generative writing, which, are crucial in acceleration, where students benefit from clearly articulated goals and lots of help early in the writing process, when the blank page or screen can look so forbidding.

 

Accelerated composition instructors often teach Carol Dweck’s work on growth and fixed mindsets and Angela Duckworth’s ideas about grit, but Wendy was there much earlier, letting writers know that failure is not only okay, it’s inevitable—and temporary. “‘Take Risks Yourself’” was the title of an interview I published with her, and she was forever pushing herself, and the writers around her—both student and professional—to experiment and expand their repertoire of rhetorical moves, even if it meant falling on our faces.

 

Wendy loathed the Old School workshop model, with the bored professor fixated on taking down his—almost always his—students a peg or two, but she loved to create settings in which students could share their work with one another. Above all, she was keen to shift the focus “from the production of texts to the development of students as writers” (Bishop and Starkey 38).

 

Accelerating students are often underconfident because they don’t yet have a language for talking about when and where their writing is, or isn’t, working. In The Subject Is Writing, Wendy maintains that “a well taught composition or creative writing class should allow you to explore writing beliefs, writing types (genres) and their attributes and your own writing process. You will be successful to the degree that you become invested in your own work” (251). Metacognition, which is so essential to acceleration, was second nature to Wendy: a writing task was never complete until the writer had examined and learned from it.

 

Most importantly, she though writing was fun, an insight I am always trying to convey to my students. Wendy wrote all the time, and sometimes seemed to put as much passion into her emails as she did into her poems, essays and books.

 

I received my last email shortly before she died on November 21, 2003, at the age of 50 from complications caused by acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She talked briefly about her illness, but her focus, as always, was on the work ahead of her. Afterwards, I remember thinking, How she loved to write! As an epitaph, I think that would have made her smile.


 

Works Cited

Bishop, Wendy. Released into Language: Options for Teaching Creative Writing. NCTE, 1990.

---. “When All Writing Is Creative and Student Writing Is Literature.” The Subject Is Writing, edited by

Wendy Bishop, Boynton/Cook, 1993, pp. 249-260.

Bishop, Wendy, and David Starkey. Keywords in Creative Writing. Utah State UP, 2006.

Hern, Katie. “Some College Students More Prepared than Placement Tests Indicate.” EdSource, 12

Nov. 2015, edsource.org/2015/some-college-students-more-prepared-than-placement-tests-

indicate/90418.

Starkey, David. “Take Risks Yourself: An Interview with Wendy Bishop and Gerald Locklin.”

Writing on the Edge, vol. 7, no. 1, 1995, pp. 100-110.

As accelerated composition courses become more widespread, the co-requisites attached to them have inevitably come to take many forms. Co-requisites may be mandatory or voluntary; assessment-driven or open to anyone; held in the same classroom as the college-level course or convened in a different space; computer-assisted or reliant only on pen and paper; taught by the college-level instructor or someone else entirely. And that’s just a sampling of where things have gone so far.

 

Granted, flexibility is one of the strengths of the co-requisite. However, whatever the course format, there are certain pitfalls instructors are likely to face. While my two previous posts discussed what an ideal co-requisite might look like, the following advice, generated once again with the help of my Express to Success Colleagues at Santa Barbara City College, offers some warnings about what to avoid.

 

Don’t Make the Co-requisite Feel Like an Obligation

As more and more states eliminate assessment restrictions for college-level composition courses, enrolling in co-requisites may become a choice—as it is at SBCC—rather than a requirement. And students who are compelled to enroll in the courses may feel punished in comparison to their peers who aren’t. Therefore, as former ESP director Kathy Molly notes, it is crucial “that teachers approach the co-requisite class in a positive way and that they help their students see this course as a huge advantage for them.” Sarah Boggs agrees, believing that “the co-req should be framed as a special, valuable opportunity to be more successful” in the college-level course.

 

Obviously, no matter what the course, we always want our students to feel as though coming to our classes is a stroke of good luck, but that can be extra-difficult with the co-requisite, which may feel like one more hoop students must jump through. Consequently, we should try, like Jennifer Baxton, to encourage students to see co-requisites as a chance “to grow their skills and for instructors to serve as coaches for students. To that end, instructors should frame the function of the co-requisite with speech that is intentionally asset-based, rather than a deficit-model approach. That way, students…can be agents for their own growth.”

 

Don’t Approach the Co-requisite as Though It Were Just a Shorter Version of the College-Level Class

While some co-requisites do include all the students in the main course, most co-reqs are made up of students who can benefit from extra writing practice. Bonny Bryan takes advantage of the smaller number of students to provide individualized instruction. Her goal is “to attend to each student, one-on-one, during each class.” That’s an ambitious objective, but it does speak to the fact that the co-requisite is a space for sustained personal interaction with students.

 

I like to make use of the smaller roster by giving students short writing assignments related to their essay prompts, then going around and reading each response—an activity I wouldn’t have time for in the larger class. In fact, I’ve found one of the best ways to envision how to spend time in the co-requisite is simply to ask myself, “What can you accomplish here that the restrictions of the larger class preclude you from doing there?”

 

Don’t Fall Back on “Skills and Drills”

Barbara Bell points out that “skills and drills should, of course, be avoided in any writing class,” but the brevity of the co-requisite may make rote work “more tempting” as instructors look for short, easily quantifiable uses of classroom time. To make the co-requisite instruction as accessible and relevant as possible, Bonny Bryan relies on “student writing to shape course content,” as does Sandy Starkey, who warns against “any kind of work that is not directly related to the writing the students themselves are doing for the course.”

 

Don’t Move Too Quickly

Experienced instructors take advantage of the extra time offered by the co-requisite. Bonny Bryan believes that “slowing down enables you to be thorough in your instruction and gives the students the time to both process the information and practice what they are learning.” For Bonny, slowing down means being more thorough with every aspect of instruction: “For instance, rather than looking at two examples of effective quote integration, I focus on multiple examples. I have students locate examples in their assigned reading, ask them to generate examples in their own writing, then have them share their examples with each other and with the group.” 

 

The speed at which new material comes at accelerating students can be daunting; it’s the reason too many of them bail out before they’ve had a chance to realize that they are, indeed, capable of handling the work. It’s important, therefore, to create a sense of the co-requisite as an oasis, a place where students can catch their breath, and catch up on what they’ve missed.

 

Don’t Be Too Hands-Off

While the co-requisite should provide a safe space to ask questions and take risks, the comfortable atmosphere shouldn’t lead to a sense that it’s okay to goof off. Even as they encourage students to delve more thoughtfully into their own work, professors need to keep an eye open for those who can benefit from an intrusive instructor presence. As Jennifer Baxton notes: “Ideally, the instructor should set up each class session in terms of what goals the students can achieve that day and help make their progress transparent.” Yes, variety is the spice of any co-requisite, but students should feel responsible for achieving some tangible outcome by the end of each class.

In my previous post I began discussing English 89, the accelerated composition co-requisite course originally developed for Santa Barbara City College’s Express to Success Program. I noted that while the course is still offered in a diminished form, ESP itself has been discontinued. Therefore, this post, like its predecessor, toggles between past and present tense as I document—with the help of my colleagues—those elements of our co-requisite that I believe are most worthy of emulation.

 

Support from Peer Tutors and Academic Counselors

In an ideal co-requisite, the instructor is not alone in supporting students. SBCC is fortunate to have a robust peer tutoring program, with student tutors normally attending class and holding additional tutoring hours outside of class. As a result, peer tutors are an integral part of the course. They not only know the writing assignments, they also know which students are engaged, and who seems to be checking out. ESP tutors were nearly always former accelerated composition students, which gave them an additional insight into the material and, frequently, the instructor.

 

My previous post emphasized the importance of building community, and peer tutors are instrumental in that process. Form ESP instructor Bonny Bryan, who now directs SBCC’s composition program, recalls: “When the tutor and I worked with students individually, students nearby would often lean in and participate. That cohesion resulted in an unusual efficiency.”

 

Reflecting on the strengths of the co-requisite during its Express to Success incarnation, one of my tutors, Matthew Garcia, commended the “mellow and low-pressure environment for students to work on their assignments,” which “made students feel comfortable about interacting with the professor and [the tutor] whenever they had questions or needed help.” Tutor Anna Kaavik offered similar comments, describing the ideal co-requisite as an “additional resource” that provided students “more time, in a smaller class with more concentrated attention on writing from both the professor and the tutor.” According to Anna, “Having that extra time boosts their confidence in writing, and in a smaller class, they feel more comfortable asking for help, which is something most students are scared to do.” 

 

To ensure that students saw their composition course in the context of their long-term college goals, ESP also assigned an academic counselor to each section. Counselors visited the larger class twice a semester, and they were particularly “intrusive” and proactive with the “accelerating” students in the co-requisite. All Express to Success students were required to plan their next semester’s work with a counselor, and ESP counselors were on campus throughout the week so students could drop in with last-minute questions and concerns. Too often, meeting with an academic counselor feels optional to students; ESP insisted that it was not.

 

A Combination of Full-Class and Individualized Instruction

The small size of the co-requisite makes it perfect for reinforcing instruction in the college-level class that didn’t quite take. Often, for instance, as I read through student drafts, I would find that their thesis statements were not adequately responding to the prompt. In these cases, I would pause individual work and use the computer projector to review not just the basics of composing a thesis, but how those basics applied to the current assignment. Then full class instruction would end, and the tutor and I could briefly meet with each student to discuss their revised theses.

 

Indeed, to my mind, the single most useful function of the co-requisite is that it ensures instructors have extra time to spend with students and their writing. This is particularly helpful during the revision process, when the gap between what an instructor is looking for and what the student believes needs doing can be tremendous. As Sandy Starkey points out: “Many times, students don’t know how to prioritize your comments. Naturally, they’d rather correct that one wrong word you circled instead of addressing the issue of a lack of analysis in the essay. But when you’re working one-on-one, you’re able to tell them, ‘Yes, it’s important to correct that small error, but it’s much more important to address the global issue.’”

 

Just-in-Time Remediation

When the co-requisite is humming along smoothly, much of the classroom time will focus on just-in-time remediation, with instructors teaching specific skills that students need right then, when they are practicing them. As its name suggests, just-in-time remediation requires instructors to be open to their students’ needs and willing to change plans on a dime. Say, for instance, that the college-level class finished with a heated discussion of what constitutes a credible secondary source, with many students still unclear about how to locate and assess the sources needed for their essays. It would make sense that the focus of that day’s co-requisite—even if it was supposed to be a pithy lesson on argument—would instead concentrate on research.

 

In ESP, scheduling itself emphasized the close connection between what was happening in the college-level class and what would take place in the co-requisite: English 89 classes were generally held 10-15 minutes after English 110. ESP director Kathy Molloy believed moving almost directly from one class to the other meant “students were able to start on their essays immediately after class and get individual help from their teacher, the class tutor, or their classmates.”

 

Curricular Collaboration and Flexibility

Clearly, it’s important for co-requisite instructors to have common goals that reflect those of their composition program. In ESP, we met monthly to discuss how successfully our classes were meshing with these larger goals. It was also a time to share what Stephen North calls “practitioner lore,” talk about the nitty-gritty of what was working well in our classrooms, and what wasn’t. Like my colleagues, I found this lively back and forth nearly always improved my next day’s teaching.

 

While it is vital to ensure that every co-requisite is serving departmental goals, it’s equally essential that instructors have control over what happens in their own co-requisites. As indicated throughout this post, curricular flexibility is necessary to serve the actual—as opposed to the ideal—students in our classrooms. Their lives are complex, and the co-requisite can be an important tool helping to accommodate that complexity.

 

[In his next post, David Starkey will reflect on some of the challenges in enacting a model co-requisite.]

Long before California Assembly Bill 705 went into effect, making accelerated composition the de facto first-semester composition course in my state, I was privileged to be part of a group of educators and counselors working for Santa Barbara City College’s Express to Success Program (ESP). 

 

Similar to the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) pioneered by Peter Adams and others at the Community College of Baltimore County, ESP “mainstreamed” a cohort of students who assessed below college-level into our first-semester composition course, English 110. In addition to taking 110, which met twice a week for a total of two hours and forty minutes, students in the cohort also met twice a week in English 89, a 50-minute Pass/No Pass co-requisite. Class size for English 110 was a manageable 24 students, with approximately half the students enrolled in the co-requisite.

 

Under the leadership of Kathy Molloy, ESP received the 2012 Chancellor’s Award for Best Practices in Student Equity and was chosen as a 2014 “Example of Excelencia” by Excelencia in Education, and was presented with the 2018 California Community Colleges Board of Governors Exemplary Program Award. It was a program with which both students and faculty were proud to be associated. (If I write at times in the past tense about the Express to Success Program, that’s because it was dissolved in May of 2019, a few months before AB705 went into effect.)

 

I’ll address the thorny issue of co-requisites and funding in a later post, but for the moment, I’d like to offer ESP’s co-requisite as a model for other colleges. What I found most valuable about English 89 was that it provided extra writing practice, built community, was supported by a peer tutor and counselor, combined full-class and individualized instruction, offered just in time remediation, and allowed for curricular collaboration and flexibility.

 

I’ll discuss the first two of these significant—and replicable—elements of the co-requisite in this post, and address the others next month. In doing so, I will be drawing not only on my own experiences, but also those of my colleagues in what was always a highly collaborative enterprise.

 

Extra Writing Practice

Writing is hard work, even for experienced writers, and growing as a writer requires lots of opportunities to fall flat on your face. Therefore, among the most important benefits of writing in the co-requisite is that students can experiment, take risks, and make mistakes that don’t affect their grades. Meeting twice a week allows for more of this low-stakes writing, and more time for instructors and tutors to talk students through different ways to best approach the assignment they are working on.

 

Sandra Starkey, my wife and ESP colleague, was always keen to make sure students generated at least some text during the fifty minutes they were in class. “The co-requisite,” she says, “gives students a chance to actually engage in writing. I tell them they’re like journalists: they have a deadline—the end of class—and they’re going to have to turn in a draft of a paragraph for the essay they’re working on. It may not be perfect, but it’s something they’ll be able to take home and work on further.”

 

As a writer myself, I loved the frenzy of drafting and revision that went on when the co-requisite was humming along. Students looked more closely at their texts than they were used to doing; they argued with one another—sometimes passionately—about the best way to express an idea. At its best, with everyone fully engaged in the complexities of the composition process, English 89 sometimes reminded me of a graduate writing workshop.

 

Building Community

Peter Adams and others are right to laud the benefits of the “cohort effect.” When students spend time together in the same small group over the course of a semester, they can’t help but come to cheer each other on. Bonny Bryan, now SBCC’s director of composition, found that what she most appreciated about English 89 “was the quick sense of community that emerged. Given its size and the fact that it was located in a computer lab, students quickly moved between working as a group of twelve to collaborating as triads and pairs.”

 

The small size of a co-requisite makes faculty members more accessible—and less threatening—to students, and provides instructors with opportunities to get to know their students as three-dimensional human beings. Jennifer Baxton, who took over coordinating English courses in ESP’s final semester, valued the way “the co-requisite workshop served as a way to further strengthen the connection between faculty and students, as well as students with their peers. As a group, the [co-req students] were invested in their success, working together toward the refinement of the skills taught in the composition class.”

 

Indeed, Kathy Molloy notes that the co-requisite students were often so enthusiastic about “the advantages of the support class…many of the students who weren’t assigned to the co-req asked to come as well—they clearly saw how helpful the extra support could be.”

 

Appropriately, it’s that growing sense of dedication to the act of writing that seems to create a sense of community. Enthusiasm is contagious, and with everyone in the room working towards a common goal, students begin sharing with one another their too-often untapped wisdom and kindness.

 

[More details on a successful model for the accelerated composition co-requisite are forthcoming in David Starkey’s next post.]