Teaching “accelerated” English and math is very different from teaching a traditional remedial class, write Katie Hern and Myra Snell, in Toward a Vision of Accelerated Curriculum and Pedagogy. In the LearningWorks brief, the two community college professors draw on their work with the California Acceleration Project (CAP), a project of the California Community College Support Network (3CSN).
In traditional models of remediation, students often work on sub-skills, such as completing grammar exercises or reviewing a long list of arithmetic and algebra procedures from their prior schooling.
“We don’t believe that the basics should be separated out and front-loaded before students can tackle more challenging – and frankly, more interesting – tasks,” writes Hern. “Instead, we believe under-prepared students need practice with college-level skills, content, and ways of thinking. They need to reason their way through open-ended questions on topics that matter. They need to think. And if, along the way, we see that they are weak in some of the basics, we need to build in targeted support.”
At 12 California community colleges offering accelerated remediation, completion of college-level English increased by 50 percent. Accelerated math students were 3.3 times more likely to complete a college-level math course, according to preliminary results from a study by the Research and Planning Group.
Ninety percent of low-level remedial math students never earn a certificate or degree. That’s “Old Testament bad, rivers of blood bad,” says Uri Treisman, a University of Texas math and public affairs professor.
“The evidence is clear that requiring students to complete multiple semesters of remedial courses is just not working,” says Linda Collins, executive director of LearningWorks. But community colleges “need to think about not only curricular structure, but about how faculty are teaching.”
Adjuncts don’t hurt — or help — student success at community colleges, concludes a preliminary study. Most research shows adjuncts aren’t as effective, notes Inside Higher Ed. But a study released earlier in the fall found students may learn more from adjuncts, “at least at research universities.”
Hongwei Yu, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Office of Community College Research and Leadership, was lead author of The Effect of Part-time Faculty on Students’ Degree and/or Certificate Completion in Two-Year Community Colleges.
The authors attribute their findings regarding adjuncts and student success to the possibility that community colleges “hire a significant percentage of part-time faculty who come directly from professional fields and have practical experiences, skills, and knowledge [...] which may help students achieve degree or certificate completion in two-year community colleges. In addition, part-time faculty may provide students connections to workplace or a community.”
Researchers found lower completion rates at large community colleges (10,000 or more students) and at rural colleges. High school grades also correlated with completion rates.
Some adjuncts are trying to organize for better treatment, but there’s a large pool of people with advanced degrees and limited job prospects.
The Adjunct Question is the topic for the week at National Journal.
Colleges are trying hard to raise the success rates — or, at least, the pass rates — of unprepared students, writes Eileen F. Toplansky, who teaches writing at two- and four-year institutions. She’s been urged to take an online seminar that promises to teach how to create relevant content, engage students and deal with “incomplete homework” and “course assignments that are sloppily completed or completely ignored.”
. . . as instructors, we are supposed to “tease knowledge out of students, rather than pound it into their heads. Projects and collaborative learning are applauded [whereas] traditional methods like lecturing and memorization are [often] derided as ‘drill and kill’” even though these latter methods do work well.
The vocabulary base of many of my students ranges between the fifth and seventh grade reading level. The dictionary is a foreign object. Yet, incessantly, instructors are told to engage in peer-review; that is, students grade and evaluate other students’ work.
Toplansky supplies unedited passages by community college students:
Interests of people change and people begin to seek a self-defiance. When these things happen, people begin admiring uncharacteristic traits. People fall in love and typically get married. But unlike in the past, people are getting married for a different reason.
From the study it was proven that even though the teen had an unplanned pregnancy, theirs evidence suggesting even though the teen got pregnant by accident they purposely don’t use contraception because they would like to get pregnant.
Another student wrote: “Every human being lurks for love from another, same sex or not.”
Ah, yes. Lurking for love in all the wrong places.
Listening to my retired veterans, my 18-year-old recovering addicts, and my young parents trying to drive a wedge between themselves and poverty, I unearthed which social causes were worth my championing. And I learned how vastly different someone’s reasoning can be from my own, based on the environment in which he or she was raised.
. . . I was empowering ex-convicts to combat recidivism, encouraging low-income kids to persevere toward the four-year degree they’d always wanted. I was inspiring young mothers. And most important, I had the great privilege of convincing my students they they had not just valid, but vital, academic voices and that they were a critical part of intellectual discourse.
To teach community college is to have the constant sense that something is beginning to happen. We are kickstarting lives, in ways we will never entirely know.
Instructors don’t always see their influence, writes Oakland Community College (Michigan) professor Linda Boynton in Hidden Harvest. “Parents become positive role models for their children or other family members. Cycles of failure get broken. Students, once content with low-paying, unfulfilling jobs, begin to want more, which means they find the courage to face rejection instead of letting it control them.”
The top community college professor of the year is Robert Chaney, a professor of mathematics at Sinclair Community College in Dayton. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching presented awards to four professors at different levels of higher education.
Chaney’s students use math to “study a personal hobby, program a robot or start a mock company,” reports Inside Higher Ed. “I want them to look at real-world problems and be able to see math as something that is helpful and useful,” said Chaney, who teaches algebra and trigonometry courses, as well as business statistics and math for engineering students.
Chaney uses a blend of traditional teaching, real-world examples and activities. The goal is to help students understand the math they’ll need for future courses and apply math skills to solve problems.
In one class, students use algebraic functions to program a calculator-controlled robot called SAM (which stands for “science and math”).
“They see algebra working right before them and it puts meaning and definition behind the algebra,” Chaney said.
Through his work with Math Machines, a nonprofit he started with a colleague, Chaney is helping educators at high schools and community colleges create control devices, like SAM, and build lesson plans for science, math and technology courses.
Also honored for teaching were: Gintaras Duda (for master’s universities and colleges), an associate professor of physics at Creighton University, in Omaha; Steven Pollock (for doctoral and research universities), a professor of physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Ann Williams (for baccalaureate institutions), a professor of French at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Online students expect a lot of support from instructors. Online teachers think students should be independent. The misaligned expectations lead to “frustration, confusion, and tension,” concludes a Community College Research Center study by Rachel Hare Bork and Zawadi Rucks-Ahidiana. They interviewed students and instructors at two Virginia community colleges.
. . . most instructors felt that students should be solely responsible for being motivated, identifying the most important material, prioritizing course-related tasks, reviewing assignments in advance, and asking any questions of the instructor several days before assignments are due.
While students agreed that students should manage their time well and perform course tasks and assignments on schedule, they expected instructors to work more actively to make key tasks, material, priorities, and assignments clear; to motivate student learning by ensuring that materials were engaging; to inject their own presence into the course; and to support student learning by being proactive in providing substantive feedback.
Students expected written feedback on assignments. Instructors typically provided only a grade, expecting students to ask questions if they needed more information.
Students were disappointed when instructors didn’t comment on their discussion board posts. One student complained:
She’ll give us questions and in those questions it might ask you “Discuss such-and-such, being in depth with this, be specific with that” and you can put your opinion in there. But the thing is … you don’t get any feedback. And so it feels like “Why am I telling you anything if you don’t really [read it]? I mean like you are not responding to me in any kind of way.”
While students liked YouTube or PBS audiovisual clips, but they strongly preferred multimedia presentations created by the instructor. Hearing and seeing the instructor “provided a personal touch . . . giving students the sense that the instructor was actively teaching them.”
Students wanted teachers to “have a strong and frequent presence” online to guide them through the learning process.
Another student suggested that online instructors were implicitly telling students that they had to learn course content independently. “I think the problem with online teaching is that the teachers kind of tell you ‘Okay, here’s the book, you know, study pages 12 through 23 and know this for a test in a few days.’” The student continued that this approach did not work for him because “I can’t teach myself math.”
Many instructors saw themselves as course designers and managers rather than teachers.
Colleges should prepare students for the demands of studying online, the researchers suggest. Distance-learning orientation — offered before and during registration — could help students decide if they should take the course online or in a face-to-face classroom.
Readiness activities should provide practice in skills and knowledge needed for online learning, they add. They recommend “mandatory modules on time‐management, self-directed learning and computer literacy.”
Give low-income college students a free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch, proposes Sara Goldrick-Rab. Ending “food insecurity” would boost student success, argues the University of Wisconsin professor. It’s one of her “three radical ideas” for improving higher education on Education Optimists.
Her second idea is to make teaching — not research — a priority in public higher education. All new hires should have teaching experience and earn professional development credits every two years, she proposes.
Idea #3 is to “focus funding where it can do the most good.”
The fewest dollars flow to the neediest students. Per student spending of about $6,000 in community colleges is a travesty.
. . . Require that all states receiving any Title IV financial aid maintain adequate per-student spending at their community colleges. Base this on appropriate adequacy funding studies done by state.
Technological strategies to help disadvantaged students succeed are “tinkering towards utopia,” concludes Goldrick-Rab, a professor of education policy and sociology.
Can online courses make teaching more human? asks Anya Kamenetz on Hechinger’s Digital/Edu blog. ”Data-driven pedagogy . . . conjures a robotic, dull future,” but “computer-powered analytics could expand humans’ ability to focus on the most human aspects of teaching and learning,” she writes.
I reported earlier this year on a small experiment the video website Khan Academy ran to this end.
While browsing the web site, some Khan users saw a simple slogan added to the page next to, say, a math problem: “The more you learn today, the smarter you’ll be tomorrow.” The line linked to a further explanation of the concept of “mindset,” the famous body of research by Harvard psychologist Carol Dweck on growth, achievement and motivation.
Displaying that one line led to a 5% increase in problems attempted, proficiencies earned, and return visits to the site, compared to otherwise similar learners who did not see the line.
Udacity is analyzing MOOC data to understand students’ motivation and engagement, blogs intern Andrew Liu.
How much explicit sex is acceptable in a book required for a college class? asks Siobhan Curious, who teaches in Quebec’s version of community college.
This year, she put Scott Spencer’s Endless Love on the reading list for a course on novels about adolescence. She’d read an excerpt, but not the whole thing, till after she placed the order.
Thirty-five pages in, I was greeted with a graphic, dripping, pulsating depiction of teenage, heterosexual anal sex.
The scene is not gratuitous. It’s fundamental to the fabric of the novel. It is beautifully, if shockingly (at least to me) rendered. It is absolutely appropriate to the book.
The questions is, is it appropriate for a college classroom?
Some of my students will be under eighteen; some will be deeply and narrowly religious; some will be really immature. Others will be able to handle explicit sex scenes and appreciate them for what they are: an integral part of the story. When I briefly present the book to the class and mention that some of them may wish to avoid it if they’re uncomfortable with graphic sex, many of them will be titillated and will choose the book for that reason. (This is what happens with Alice Sebold’s Lucky in my memoir course, when I tell them they should avoid it if they are worried about the opening rape scene; the vast majority of students choose it as one of their readings.) Others will be absent that day, will be assigned the book or choose it themselves, and will be outraged.
Curious wonders if she should trust her students “will choose wisely and handle the consequences” — or find another book.
Community college faculty are working to increase rigor in developmental education, write Melissa Barragan and Maria Scott Cormier in Inside Out, a publication of the Community College Research Center’s Scaling Innovation project. Three strategies predominate:
(1) aligning content with college-level course expectations, (2) providing consistent opportunities for students to construct knowledge, and (3) making struggle a part of the learning process. These strategies are not mutually exclusive; rather, they work together to contribute to enhanced rigor.
Some instructors stress “productive struggle,” making students “wrestle with complex ideas and processes, and capitalize on their misunderstandings in ways that promote in-depth and transferable learning.”
However, others believe struggle frustrates students, especially underprepared students who’ve done poorly in school.
Struggle requires scaffolding, the Scaling Innovation researchers write.
In one developmental integrated reading and writing class we observed, students working in small groups were asked to respond to . . . the following prompt: “Explain what the author means that many people believe that higher education is ‘the great equalizer.’ Does the author believe this? Do you think that education is an equalizer?”
These questions seized on subtle differences between what the writer reported and believed . . . The questions also asked students to construct knowledge by drawing on their own experiences and by coming to a conclusion about the impact of education on social mobility.
. . . (The instructor) noted passage topics and page numbers in the handout so that students did not spend valuable time trying to find relevant passages in the text. She also actively circulated among the groups to monitor their progress, addressing misunderstandings by redirecting students to the text and asking them to justify their interpretations. Her pedagogy emphasized discovery on the part of students and rarely involved providing students with the “correct” answer.
“Productive struggle” encourages students to “develop a healthy disposition toward uncertainty in their pursuit of skills and knowledge that they will later revisit and apply in other contexts.”
“Rigor is a slippery concept,” writes W. Norton Grubb in a response to the paper. Preparing students for college courses that require deeper comprehension, reasoning, problem solving and transfer of knowledge “requires different pedagogies, rather than more or different content.”
The problem is that there are instructors in virtually every college who have shifted to these classroom techniques, but they are usually isolated and reach relatively few students.
Getting most faculty to change their teaching approaches “requires reform strategies that go beyond individual classroom methods, and that are more collective or institutional.”