Developing a New Approach to Developmental

Perhaps we need to trash developmental and start over. (For the record, I teach and love teaching developmental. I was hired to do this job and I enjoy it. I have taught developmental since I began my teaching career 27 years ago.)

Community College Dean has been thinking about this and wrote a post that I think has significant thoughtful suggestions.

At the League for Innovation conference a few weeks ago, some folks from the Community College Research Center presented some pretty compelling research that suggested several things. First, it found zero predictive validity in the placement tests that sentence students to developmental classes. Students who simply disregarded the placement and went directly into college-level courses did just as well as students who did as they were told. We’ve found something similar on my own campus. Last year, in an attempt to see if our “cut scores” were right, I asked the IR office and a math professor to see if there was a natural cliff in the placement test scores that would suggest the right levels for placing students into the various levels of developmental math. I had assumed that higher scores on the test would correlate with higher pass rates, and that the gently-slanting line would turn vertical at some discrete point. We could put the cutoff at that point, and thereby maximize the effectiveness of our program.

It didn’t work. Not only was there no discrete dropoff; there was no correlation at all between test scores and course performance. None. Zero. The placement test offered precisely zero predictive power.

Second, the CCRC found that the single strongest predictor of student success that’s actually under the college’s control — so I’m ignoring gender and income of student, since we take all comers — is length of sequence. The shorter the sequence, the better they do. The worst thing you can do, from a student success perspective, is to address perceived student deficits by adding more layers of remediation. If anything, you need to prune levels. Each new level provides a new ‘exit point’ — the goal should be to minimize the exit points.

I’m excited about these findings, since they explain a few things and suggest an actual path for action.

I think this would be something my own college could do, track success rates, and see what it means to be developmental at our school. If we have some other way of organizing, perhaps we could help it work for our students better.

My alma mater has “dropped” the two developmental courses and has a single sequence by which previously labeled developmental classes take a year-long freshman comp first semester course. This gives the teacher and the students time to ramp up the writing and helps the students feel it is worthwhile by giving college level credit for it.

Yes, there are some students who would not survive with this approach and our students at the CC may be among them, but I think it is worth considering.

Getting Students In

Getting students into college is only the first step. Then we have to get them into programs. Getting them into programs (degree plans?) makes it more likely that they will complete. And really, aren’t we all wasting time and money if they don’t?

Many new students arrive at community colleges without clear goals for college and careers. Community colleges offer a wide array of programs but typically provide little guidance to help students choose and successfully enter a program of study. Community college departments often do not closely monitor the progress of students who do enter their programs to ensure that they complete.

from Get With the Program, a working paper by the Community College Research Center

MLA: Careers in Community Colleges


MLA Panel

This is a live blogging of the session.

We are here to talk about careers in two-year colleges. Two-year colleges in general. Appropriate preparation for teaching in two-year colleges.

Number of handouts at the end, so you will stay. 🙂

Two reasons for being here. (Yes, I know there are four.)
1. English professor
2. Experience with two-year hiring practices
3. Member of the Executive Committee of this
4. Seeing myself 40 years ago

Began looking for job in early 1970s. Could not find job. Got out of academia. Now professor again.

Taught diverse classes: Dev Writ, Dev Reading, Freshman Comp, Queer Studies, etc.

CC has multiple missions. Have found these challenging.

Can stretch my talents with colleagues. Members of my own department bring a range of backgrounds. We learn from each other. National CC folks, too. Body of knowledge that overlaps with high school and university.

CC English professor: teaching writing and reading

Remarks are geared to new PhDs in English.
No guarantee that CCs will offer full-time jobs.

2010 1,165 CC in US
99% public
12.4 million students
ave age 28
58% women
most Latino and African-American students attend CC
Most CC faculty have MAs. Usually lower than in four-year institutions.
Pay almost always not negotiable.
5/5 load common
At some there is a 4/4 load for comp teachers.

Ratio of lit to comp. Most of our departments only offer a small number of lit courses.

2-yr college faculty is supposed to be active in the university.
Many write and publish. Publication is not required but is valued. “Teacher scholar.”
Tenure process is 4 years.

He said his salary range is from $50-100K.
Ours is $34-72K. ($72K = 27 years of ft and a PhD)

Four Points:
1. Know what we do before you apply. Know how they are similar to or different from how you have taught. Explore current issues in community colleges. TYCA. Inside English, California two-year college journal, MLA
2. Learn about minimum qualifications.
In California: MA in some English field, PhD is rarely required.
Training in the teaching of writing.
3. Get the right training.
Composition training is required.
Reading training is a wonderful addition.
4. Get some experience.
Adjunct work is available.
Willingness to serve on department committees. Participate in the governance.
Online teaching experience.

Cover Letter and Application
Fill out the application. Make sure you have minimum requirements.

Cover letter is my first impression.
1. Be choosy. Don’t apply to every single job opening. Apply to the ones you want. Make sure you are applying because you want to work in CC. Don’t apply out of “sense of failure” (Rob Jenkins).
2. Forget Whitman. Consistency is not the hobgoblin of little minds. 230 applicants. Many were weeded out because of different numbers of classes.
3. Tailor your letter and your CV.
4. Highlight your strengths. Show us how what we are looking for matches you.
5. Learn the lingo and use it, but only if you use it well.
6. 2-pages business single-spaced.
7. Begin by introducing yourself. Tell us which you are applying for. Identify your teaching experience pretty early and in great detail. Don’t talk about your research a lot. If your research area does have a connection to your teaching, make that connection.
We said 3 years minimum preferred. Teach at a CC. It is too risky for us to hire you if you don’t have experience at a CC already. Any teaching experience is important to us.
8. Your cover letter should be read by someone with a community college background.
9. In your letter describe specific experience. Did you create it? Did you grade it? Sometimes we can’t tell from the CV or cover letter. Tell us.
10. How will you retain those students (in foreign languages)? What are you going to do to help us keep them? What is your methodology?
11. Any service you can do (even in graduate school) makes you look good. Be an engaged colleague.


Over the past twenty years at a CC (30,000 students), I have hired 26 faculty members. In the last 4 years I have hired 100 adjuncts.

Everyone of us has someone from outside the department also interviewing you. Think about the ability to talk across the department or could be a staff person.

Best thing to do for the interview. Be there in person. Phone interviews are the worst for everyone concerned. We have a teaching demonstration. Not a taped demonstration, because those don’t turn out well. One hour to an hour and 15 minutes.

We come up with questions and then HR looks at them. We ask them in all sorts of different ways. We take copious notes.
A good chair of a committee will explain the interview process, keep it on time, collect materials, should tell the pay range, start date, and class load, class size, hiring process including the time frame.
We like to give the candidates a list of the questions.

Types of questions that we ask:
Something about rhetorical theory applied to the classroom.
We use a standard text and standard syllabus. How could you put a course together without any help?
What do you value about student writing?
Diverse student body issues?
Ability to be collaborative but also how you will fit and adapt.
How broad of a person can you be?
Lead teachers. Usually after tenure. Dealing with students, book issues, adjuncts.
Special needs.
Working with high school students. Different needs.
Student success. How many you can get to finish a course?
Advising a club.
Freshman orientation or experience.
Practical classroom problem solving.
How you deal with plagiarism?
Teaching theory. If you have a statement about philosophy, good to have.
Ask questions about how would you like to improve personally that will benefit our students?
What have you learned from your mistakes?
What you already know about the dept, college, and our students?
Ability to teach with technology.
Allow for time for your own questions. Ask a question. Always have a question.
Be as thorough and concise as possible. Give examples.

Teaching demonstration:
10 minutes.
How quick you can be on your feet.
How you can engage your class.
Sometimes you might be in an actual classroom, but usually in the SC.
Prove you can work interactively with your students.
Something about the writing process.
What is the most important thing to teach to freshman? Do 5-7 minutes to teach us. (Did not tell them beforehand.)

100 applicants per position. 10-12 that we interview.

Can be frightening to meet with the president or the provost. An hour with each. Trying to see how you will fit in. Final say on whether to hire.
Hired 7 people last year.
Hire at the instructor level. We lost some good candidates.

$4-5K in placement

We like to get thank you letters. Letters to the panel work.

It can be a very slow process. It’s always okay to contact the chair of the committee or the chair of the department. A good committee chair knows that professional lives are at stake. There are things we aren’t allowed to say or do. We can’t talk to you till we have a yes on the acceptance if you are the second or third choice.

Committees. Service. I am on a campus committee that does nothing. I feel weird about putting it on my CV. What would you do?

You can do community service relevant to your field.

Reading. Finding that a lot of CC are looking for actual degrees in reading. Training? Working in learning centers counts, right?

Reading: Getting training in reading is terrific. Very few graduate programs focus on reading, transitional/developmental reading. Have to go hunting for that training.

Some CCs have departments of reading.

Tutoring: Tutoring is terrific. Tutoring is a great place to begin getting experience. It will begin to help you see the kinds of problems all sorts of students do.

We do employ our adjuncts in the writing center, but not our full-time people.

In groups of eight students? Not in English, but is teaching or tutoring experience. If that’s the first, it will be wonderful.

You mentioned a little about your personal philosophy. How much in your cover letter v. separate statement? How much will the teaching statement be different?

Our college doesn’t request a teaching statement any more. But they were useful when we were in the final times.

Anything you can add specifically about your teaching you should put in your cover letter.

Go ahead and have someone who is in CC look over your whole app package.

One of the important points that I am hearing from my colleagues is that you really have to look at what a particular department is looking at/for. We want different things. For example, we don’t have cover letters. We look for the supplemental questions, like the teaching statement.

Address everything that a particular department asks for. Put it in the requested material even if you are repeating.

Just finished my PhD, have been working in student affairs with transfer students. Are there opportunities like that?

Most people in student affairs have education/educational leadership degrees. Rarely do our faculty go into something like that.

We don’t have a position that bridges that.

For the most part, student affairs would start by working with academic advisor. Then go to work with registrar.

How do you look at MFAs in Creative Writing? Does 4-year experience count?

First two years would be similar.

Of our 230 files,
60 PhDs
50 ABD
15 MFAs- teaching experience was entirely creative writing

Do you ask for teaching portfolio?

We don’t ask for them.
During the interview process there would be no way we could look at it.

Most candidates bring a folder with syllabi. Even with electronic submissions other documentations are allowed.

If you are in the pool of 20 we are considering, we will look at those other submissions.

Student evaluations, syllabi, sample assignments…

Is it true that PhDs are too expensive?
Our foreign language dept does not have PhDs.
English almost all have PhDs.

Pay is irrelevant. Our pay doesn’t matter for PhD; it’s all on years of service. Ours is linked to PhD.

Composition Courses are the “College Fear Factor”

Composition courses are potential pits of fear for our students, according to Community College Spotlight: “The College Fear Factor.”

Struggling students will drop out without asking for help — unless they have some relationship with the instructor, Cox says. That can be as basic as calling on students by name.

Writing instructors also can start the semester by asking students to write about themselves without the fear of being judged or graded. The teacher can learn about the students and assess their writing skills.

Trying to boost completion rates, community colleges are focusing on peripheral strategies, such as offering more advising, tutoring or access to a learning center, Cox says. We can’t restructure community colleges “unless we think about the very core function — teaching and learning in the classroom.”

So, we can have an introductory writing diagnostic, but not a grade, and we can call our students by name. Those two things can make a connection between our students and us that may help them overcome the struggles they have to get to and stay in college.

Getting a Job at a CC

This was my response in the Chronicle fora to questions about getting a job at a CC. I mentioned, to begin, that I have eight years of adjuncting at CCs and one year in a ft position. The questions were specifically related to requirements and expectations on the part of the CCs to which one might apply.

Previous CC experience
CCs have a huge load of students. Often these students are the ones who don’t have the skills to go to college. They need basic remediation for math and English. CCs are open-admit, so if you got a HS diploma from somewhere, then you can attend. Very few four-year schools are like that (though University of Houston Downtown is). The reason CCs want you to have CC experience is because most graduate students teach to their own, often R-1, population. If you don’t have CC experience, you don’t have the correct mindset.

I tell people when I talk about my inner-city school that my students come in with an eighth-grade education. It is hard for them to read newspaper articles. Imagine going from R-1 to that in one semester.

No specializations
There are no specializations at CCs. They don’t hire enough ft faculty for that. Plus, you will usually find that you and someone else in your department both want to teach all the X courses, because there are only two a year.

Example out of English: Out of 16 ft faculty at my present school, only one has a rhet/comp background. Every one of the ft teachers has to teach composition. All the other 15 are lit people. We only teach 30 lit sections a semester. CCs typically (around here anyway) have 5/5 loads. So there are only 2 lit sections per person. My CC works hard to share the courses; unfortunately sometimes that works out to the bad. We have a theater owner/director who is also a ft faculty here. He agreed two years ago to let someone else teach the drama course and he hasn’t gotten it back.

The largest set of classes in English and math are the remedial courses. We have developmental courses for people who don’t know that a sentence should start with a capital letter and end with a period. Most math teachers teach at least two of the remedial courses a semester. And they teach college algebra most often.

My last CC shared out the course load so that the four math sequences went to one teacher every two years. So ProfA would teach college algebra, trig, pre-cal, and calculus. Then in fall of the next year, ProfB would begin that sequence. Bad for students if you got a teacher you didn’t mesh with. You’d have to wait a year to get someone else.

Hiring process
Most CCs do not advertise for positions until the spring. I’ve seen ending dates for applications as early as March and as late as August, for an August start date. The job I have now did not advertise till late June and did first on-campus interviews on July 12. Final interviews were July 22. They called ten days later with an offer and work started August 15.

In a good location, CCs can get hundreds of applications. The job I did not get last year told me there were 250+ applicants.

If you don’t have any CC experience, you won’t usually make the cut.

When there are 250+ applications, what makes your app stand out? The same thing as at any place: conferences and publications. The publications don’t have to be top flight, but you do have to have some.

For the phone interview CCs call 20 or so people.

First interviews are 8-10, though I have heard of as many as 14.

Final interviews are for 3. Who makes the decision on the final one varies. At one CC it was the search committee, as long as the higher-ups did not disagree. At my CC it’s the deans, as long as the president is okay with it.

How Many Students in a Class?

In an interview Christopher L. Picard, provost of academic affairs at Salt Lake CC, said:

[W]e were at 20 students per classroom, which if you know how it works at community colleges, is a pretty high ratio of students to instructor.

I wish.

In my developmental writing class at CC6 (or FinalCC) I have 25 students. The lit courses have 30. The history courses have 35.

At CC1, where I was an adjunct for 8 years, composition courses are capped at 25 students. Other courses are capped at 35.

Focus on Quality

Community Colleges Must Focus on Quality of Learning, Report Says offers this:

Increasing college completion is meaningless unless certificates and degrees represent real learning, which community colleges must work harder to ensure, says a report released on Thursday by the Center for Community College Student Engagement.

While national education goals prioritize attainment, community colleges must focus on quality, says the annual report, which is based on focus groups and data from three surveys: the 2010 Community College Survey of Student Engagement, the 2010 Community College Faculty Survey of Student Engagement, and the 2009 Survey of Entering Student Engagement, which polled students in their first few weeks of enrollment last fall.

This year’s report, “The Heart of Student Success: Teaching, Learning, and College Completion,” centers on “deep learning,” or “broadly applicable thinking, reasoning, and judgment skills—abilities that allow individuals to apply information, develop a coherent world view, and interact in more meaningful ways.” By some measures, students are doing well.

Would it surprise you to know that I was frustrated by this study? The reason I was is in the article, by Sara Lipka, itself.

the national push for attainment could drive those expectations down further, she says, citing a remark she worries about hearing on campuses: “Well, sure, we know how to retain students and help them complete. We just lower our standards.”

I’ve heard it on my campus. Haven’t you heard it on yours?

My classes in developmental writing have a 40% attrition rate. I have seven essays, three revisions, and one hundred homework/classwork assignments.

Someone else at my college has 95% retention rate. She has two essays and no homework.

But if you are looking at attrition rates, her classroom is the more attractive.

Writing Exams

The Shadow Scholar is a Chronicle of Higher Ed article purportedly written by a ghostwriter for hire who has created theses and dissertations, as well as hundreds of run-of-the-mill term papers.

I may write about that in some other post, or not, but comment 195 caught my attention and I thought it was worth writing about here. (Perhaps a later commenter mentions it. I don’t know. I stopped at 195 to write this post.)

Here is the pertinent section of comment 195:


On another matter: the unedited student emails in “Dante’s” article, with their egregious problems with idiom and verb management, strongly suggest that a lot of these ghostwriting requests come from ESL/ESOL students, for whom writing fluent, near-native English is a problem, and for whom plagiarism and other forms of cheating are less of an issue in their home countries than here. This possibiliity suggests a need to administer on-grounds language proficiency examinations for all international and domestic students for whom English is not the first language and get those who need it into English remediation courses as a first order of business.

I am struggling with how to address this comment, though I have a lot of points.

Purdue University, where I received my PhD, had just this kind of writing exam. They only administered it to foreign students.

Local SLAC used to have an English entrance requirement for all their students who did not take freshman composition there. However, there was no mechanism to force the students to take it immediately and so sometimes graduating seniors were taking–and failing–it. This forced/encouraged the administration to drop it, even though it showed that the likelihood of those students having graduated without someone like Dante’s (see article mentioned above) creative connivance. Now there is no requirement for English ability.

FinalCC, the college I teach at now, could really benefit from a writing component or writing test like this one. However, I would suggest/petition that it be a placement exam for all entrants rather than just ESL. I think many of our students, coming in from area high schools, are singularly unprepared for writing.

CC -> Job

Community College Spotlight has a post called “CCs are Pathways Out of Poverty.”

Small-scale community college programs are preparing students for well-paid jobs in energy, water systems, solar power installation, diesel engine retrofitting, construction skills and other infrastructure fields.

It’s an interesting niche market which has been what CCs were about before. Now many/most CCs appear to be funnels for four-year colleges. Should we reconsider our missions?