A Window into Faculty Collaboration
By Homeira Foth
Normally when one class ends and another begins, the instructor leaving and the one coming exchange very few words, maybe a “have a good class.” But last spring, when Jeanne Costello’s English class ended and Kim Orlijan’s began, the dialogue was more substantive. Costello and Orlijan were both teaching a pilot course in accelerated developmental English, and the 10-minute gap allowed Costello quickly to fill in Orlijan on what worked that day, what didn’t, and what Orlijan might want to modify. The back-to-back schedule wasn’t planned, but the feedback between the two instructors is a perfect example of the successful collaboration that took place at Fullerton College last spring.
Costello and Orlijan, along with English instructors Bridget Kominek and Nadine Arndt, piloted a new accelerated version of their developmental English curriculum in Spring 2012. Fullerton’s traditional sequence has three levels below transfer. In the pilot, the group took 4 sections of their existing course two levels below transfer and increased the level of academic challenge, aiming for the learning outcomes of the next level up. At the end of the term, students whose portfolios were determined to be ready could be “popped up” to the college-level course through the pre-requisite challenge process.
Fullerton is one of 30 colleges across the state participating in the California Acceleration Project’s year-long faculty development program, the Community of Practice in Acceleration. In designing their class, the team drew upon CAP’s emphasis on giving developmental students access to challenging, college-level tasks; providing just-in-time remediation; and supporting students’ affective needs in the classroom.
Their results so far have been promising.
Because the first pilots ran in spring, we will need to wait until after Fall 2012 to get our first glimpse at how accelerated students are performing in the transfer-level course.
However, the above results are already a significant improvement over the traditional sequence: 59% of the accelerated students became eligible to enroll in the college-level course, compared to just 48% of students who began two levels below transfer in the regular sequence. What’s especially striking is that the accelerated group did it in just one semester, while students on the traditional path were tracked for three years, including repeats. As Fullerton follows the accelerated group for three years, they can expect these initial gains to grow.
Costello has been an instructor at Fullerton for twenty years, teaching developmental courses every semester. She describes herself as “extremely committed to developmental education” and invested in the success of her basic skills students. For years, Costello says, she had “bought into the goals of the sequence” and the values behind having a multi-level pre-transfer English courses. However, after attending a 3CSN event in early 2010 and seeing data from accelerated pathways at other colleges, she made a turn around.
Kominek says that the idea of acceleration as an alternative could not have come at more perfect time. The college had just gone through the accreditation process and program review, and the instructors were looking closely at their student success data, which Kominek describes as “dismal.” They were also concerned about the achievement gap for students of color. So when Costello proposed to the department that they look into acceleration, Kominek and others were intrigued and motivated. “It made sense,” Kominek says.
Click on the video below to hear Bridget Kominek
discuss Fullerton College’s first semester of piloting acceleration
Key to Success – Collaboration
“We couldn’t have made it through without being so collaborative,” says Costello. The four instructors spent many hours discussing and designing the pilot. In fact, the hard work began the semester prior, with three full days of planning.
The first big meeting was dedicated to the course readings. The four instructors agreed on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as the full-length text and the basis for the theme of the class, issues of intelligence, education and disability. The book was also Fullerton College’s “one book, one college” choice for last year. The course was divided into four units: “Intelligence/Education,” “Developing Brain,” “Perspectives on Disability” and “The Novel.” The first readings in the course packet — Carol Dweck’s “Brainology” and Howard Gardner’s “Multiple Intelligences” – created a perfect introduction to different theories of intelligence (sample quiz). Other articles included “From Moral to Deficit-Based to Strength-Based Thinking” by Edward Hallowell and “Fit Teenage Boys Are Smarter — But Muscle Strength Isn’t the Secret, Study Shows” from Science Daily.
The four instructors met a second time to come up with ideas for the unit plans and to compose essay topics. The objective of the essays was for students to synthesize and draw upon the readings to form a strong argument. A good example was the final essay of the semester, which required students to take an article they had read earlier in the semester and apply it to Christopher, the Autistic protagonist of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time — for example, applying Dweck’s concepts of fixed and growth mindsets, or Hallowell’s ideas of adult happiness.
At their third meeting, they finalized the unit plans and created handouts for the first few class sessions. Having the same goals in mind made these meetings highly productive, as did what Costello calls, “a really trusting attitude toward each other.” If one of them recommended an article for the course reader, the others trusted it was going to work.
During the first pilot semester, the collaboration got even more intensive with meetings once a week for an hour or more. The meetings focused on how the lesson plans went, and how the students responded to the material. By mid-semester, they also began to deal more with specific students and their class behavior. As Kominek says, the meetings gave them an opportunity to say, “I don’t know what to do with this student.” The once-a-week meeting became a place not only to share stories but to develop ways to address issues.
Bridget Kominek (center) and students in her accelerated English class
There was also a daily exchange of emails and conversations, which Kominek says allowed them to make adjustments and shape the course as it went along. “We were in a constant feedback loop,” says Costello. “Everything we did we shared with each other.”
At the end of the term, the group met a couple more times, once to assess portfolios from each others’ classes (portfolios accounted for 30% of students’ grades), and once for their final de-briefing, to reflect on their experiences and make plans for the following semester.
When asked about their challenges, Costello mentions the difficulty of scheduling times to meet each week. It wasn’t always easy to work around four teachers’ busy schedules. Costello says, “sometimes we would just end up meeting at 5:30 at a bar somewhere” or at a local Vietnamese restaurant.
Kominek also says that at times the amount of information and feedback they got from each other was “intensive.” However, she points out, “Do you want too much information to process? Or would you rather be grasping in the dark?” Kominek also says that when things did get overwhelming, they got a lot of encouragement from each other. “This was more like a support group.”
Another challenge involved their reading selections. The group found that not all the readings were suitable for developmental students. Many of the articles were scholarly, written by experts for experts, and some of the vocabulary proved to be too specialized. Other readings required too much prior knowledge about the subject, and as a result, Kominek says, “it took too much class time to give students the background they needed.” Over the summer the four instructors met and revised their course packet, editing out some articles and including new, related readings.
Costello also adds that at the end of the semester they agreed they needed more work on just in time remediation of things like essay organization and addressing sentence-level errors. One of the core principles of the CAP Community of Practice is that foundational skills should be taught in the context of more challenging academic tasks, rather than “front-loaded” in advance. Like many faculty new to acceleration, the Fullerton group needed to figure out how to provide this support effectively. “We were so concerned about not doing too much frontloading of instruction, I think we all felt at the end we hadn’t done enough,” says Costello.
The Future of Acceleration at Fullerton
In addition to the current pilots, Fullerton’s English department is developing a new, permanent accelerated course one-level-below college English (English 99). The original plan was to have the course in place by Fall 2013, but the process was delayed a year, as concerns from some colleagues prompted revisions to the proposed course outline.
Both Costello and Kominek believe it’s very important to have a course outline that articulates accurately and clearly what they are doing. “We want to make sure we’re happy with what we’re proposing,” says Costello. The delay will also enable them to gather several semesters more data from their pilots. Meanwhile, they will continue to offer four sections of the pilot.
Costello, along with her cohorts, is looking forward to teaching her accelerated course again and being back in an environment where the students, even if they’re labeled as developmental, embrace being challenged academically. Costello says, “When we treat them like they’re actually college students and have high expectations from them, they rise to the occasion.” She also adds, “They are motivated to the do work.”
For more information, contact Jeanne Costello, firstname.lastname@example.org
Data on Fall 2007 cohort, followed through Spring 2010, provided by Jeanne Costello.