Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Remediating remediation, Part III

Another recommendation of the NCSL is to encourage colleges to innovate remediation. Pffft. And then suggests that "legislators can be key actors in the reform and improvement of remedial education." Wrong again unless the legislators have any role in funding (more) and/or policy making.

Let's keep in mind that remedial courses are not credit-bearing. Some may be three-hour courses and others may be only 1-hour courses, but none of that time in class counts towards graduation. What students in remedial courses need to understand is that the work they do for remediation counts towards graduation in ways they cannot yet see. But that's only if the remediation course is any good.

Now most remedial courses have a syllabus like any other course and students are expected to progress through the 15 weeks of the course just as they do with any other course. They will be forced to do work or activities in which they don't really need remediation, which means they might be bored or resentful or both. Rarely will most of us get excited about that experience as review to reinforce what we think we already know.

Again, it's not just the courses that need change, but the processes. Franky, Elisa, and Maria plus, apparently, most of the others in their freshman class need some sort of remediation. Policy wisely requires they not take on too many courses, but advisers tend to focus mostly on the general education requirements without necessarily giving a lot of thought to reading and writing loads, an important consideration for students who need to take a remedial reading/study course and/or English (aka grammar and writing) course(s).

One of the NCSL ideas is actually a pretty good one and that is to form learning communities. Rather than have a separate reading/study course and a separate English course, students would sign up for a block of learning community time. After all, writing and reading are inextricably linked so there are ways to reinforce reading strategies that can also reinforce writing strategies. In addition, the community becomes a safe space for learning critiques which can spill over into other content areas given that varying degrees of reading and writing are required in all college classes.

Universities would have to offer more than one block of learning community time: 8-9:50 Tue/Thu, 10-11:50 Tue/Thu, 8-8:50 Mon/Wed/Thu, etc. Block options that will allow for students who have to work as well as for students on athletic, arts, or other scholarships. I'd build in some specific policies about missing meetings, but I'd also spend some time with coaches and other professors to talk about implications of learning community penalties. That will certainly vary from school to school.

The content of the learning community requires a bit more work, I think, on the part of the professor. I would treat it like a reading and writing workshop so assignments from other classes are part of the learning community activities. Some activities for the learning community alone to help students focus on specific skills and needs. In fact, I'd even make sure students had choices for the activities because some will advance more quickly for some skills and need greater attention to others. I also think that students who progress quickly should be given the option of staying with the community or, in effect, passing out of the community. I'd prefer they stay in the community even if they've met the learning objectives because that experience is more likely to reinforce any of those new learning skills.

I don't like the idea of accelerated courses because it suggests the remediation is just a hoop and might lead the student to see the course(s) as a nuisance exercise.

Another reason I like the learning community idea is that it can reinforce that learning can be a collaborative process. While students are expected to do their own thinking, their own problem-solving, etc., they are also expected to participate in the community activities of discussion, brainstorming, and even debate. With that kind of experience, kids may even want to sign up for remediation.

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