Bakersfield College: Teaching Developmental and First Year Composition to Latin@s in the Community College

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Bakersfield College is located in the San Joaquin Valley about two hours north of Los Angeles. It was founded in 1913, and in 1956 it was moved to a 153 acres main campus on the Panorama Bluffs overlooking Chevron’s Kern River oil field. At 102 years old, Bakersfield College is one of the oldest continually operating junior colleges in the United States; it serves about 18,000 students each semester and has an extensive athletics program; its best known alumni include a large number of successful football and baseball players.

The college’s mission is to provide “opportunities for students from diverse economic, cultural, and educational backgrounds to attain degrees and certificates, workplace skills, and preparation for transfer. [Their] rigorous and supportive learning environment foster students’ abilities to think critically, communicate effectively, and demonstrate competencies and skills in order to engage productively in their communities and the world.”

Bakersfield College’s diversity statement declares: “We insist that diversity be valued and promoted, recognizing that multiple perspectives lead to a better education and knowledge of the world; listening and witnessing different experiences helps us to understand and contextualize power and privilege related to gender, race, class, religion, disability, and sexuality in terms of access and barriers to resources and opportunities.” During fall 2013, the student ethnic/race profile consisted of: 5% African American; 4% Asian/Filipino/Pacific Islander; 62% Latino; 25% White; 3% two of more ethnicities/races.

The college uses Moodle, a free open source learning management system.


Standing on Panorama Drive, across from the college, one can see the Kern River oil field and its 9,183 active wells. This oil field has been operating since 1899. It is the third largest oil field in California and the fifth largest in the United States. (Photo by DMG)

Courses are offered on a traditional 16-week semester calendar as well as in a variety of non-traditional scheduling and modalities (evenings, weekends, short-term/compressed, summer, training programs, and online) and in eight other alternative locations.Currently, the college is working to become a pilot site for a new statewide Online Education Initiative that will provide education for all Californians no matter where they live. Additionally, according to the Bakersfield College Education Masterplan 2014-2017, “Bakersfield College faculty and administrators are working to establish the college as a pilot site for the baccalaureate degree through Senate Bill 850, Community College District Baccalaureate Degree Pilot Programs. Bakersfield College seeks to prepare students with bachelor’s-level degrees in applied science in industrial technology and more fields through this innovative initiative” (7).


(Photo by DMG)

The English Department‘s website states: “Majoring in English can prepare you for the professions, government service, and politics. Career opportunities in English include teaching, journalism, publishing, advertising, and copywriting. Students seeking an Associate Degree must take a writing course, either English 1 or 1a, and may take a literature class in fulfillment of the humanities requirement.” The English Department offers an Associates in Arts Degree.

During my visit to Bakersfield College, I observed the teaching of Eng B1A Expository Composition and one of its prerequisites, a compressed version of ENSL B50 Introduction to College Composition. After I observed each of the sections of English 1A Expository Composition and ENSL B50 Introduction to College Composition, I interviewed the two professors teaching each class.

The 2015-2016 Bakersfield College catalog describes English B1A Expository Composition as follows: 3 units, prerequisites: English Level 6 – Transfer or ENGL B50 or ENGL B53 or ENSL B50/EMLS B50 with a grade of ‘C’ or better. Description: Critical reading, writing, and thinking. Students will critically read and write primarily expository and argumentative texts that respond to a variety of rhetorical situations and contexts and incorporate college-level research. Minimum 6,000 words formal writing. Hours: 54 Lecture.


(Photo by DMG)

Student Learning Outcomes English B1A Expository CompositionAt the successful completion of English 1A, the student will be able to perform the following:

  • Read and think critically, including a variety of primarily non-fiction texts for content, context, and rhetorical merit with consideration of tone, audience, and purpose.
  • Evaluate and establish the credibility of print and online sources.
  • Demonstrate the legitimate use of scholarly sources by
    • using library and online reference materials;
    • incorporating summary, paraphrase, and direct quotes;
    • synthesizing multiple primary and secondary sources;
    • avoiding plagiarism.
  • Write essays out of class that
    • demonstrate the use of expository and argumentative or persuasive forms of writing;
    • reflect an orderly research and writing process;
    • use correct MLA form and documentation;
    • show evidence of drafting, editing, and revision to reflect an academic style and tone
  • Write timed essays in class exhibiting acceptable college-level control of mechanics, organization, development and coherence.
There are lots of places for students to congregate. (Photo by DMG)

There are lots of places for students to congregate. (Photo by DMG)

At Bakersfield College, most English 1A Expository Composition courses include an “umbrella topic” for the research paper and the reading of two full-length works. I observed an English B1A that focuses on the US prison system; the theme is described as follows: 

Although English 1A is first and foremost a research writing course, the subject of the prison and the larger system of criminal justice will provide the context for our research and writing. In fact, there is an on-going conversation about the purpose of the prison and whether or not our current system of criminal justice is working. Many experts and scholars have approached the topic from a wide range of perspectives, and they have published articles and books in order to argue their positions in the hope that their writing might bring about a transformation of our justice system. 

Your task will be to do the same; you will enter into the current conversation, you will agree and disagree with other scholars, and you will posit your own argument or thesis about how our system of punishment should be changed. In order to begin this discussion, we will read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010). In her book, she informs her readers why this issue deserves attention, “The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.

Across from the college, Panorama Park overlooking the Kerns oil fields is a place to job, walk, bike and work out, especially after the sun sets and all the tiny lights in the pump jacks turn on. (Photo by DMG)

Across from the college, Panorama Park overlooking the Kerns oil fields, is a place to jog, walk, bike and work out, especially after the sun sets and all the tiny lights in the pump jacks turn on. (Photo by DMG)

The compressed version of ENSL B50 Introduction to College Composition is the second and more advanced of the two pre-collegiate courses that students may take to prepare for freshman composition. ENSL parallels EMLS B50 Introduction to College Composition. English as a Second Language (ENSL) is transitioning to the English for Multilingual Students program. The EMLS program’s website states:

English for Multilingual Students program welcomes local bilingual/bicultural students seeking to improve their language skills, as well as English language learners from around the world. The program is designed to equip English learners with language skills required for academic work at the college or university level. The mission of the English for Multilingual Students [EMLS] Department is to help our students develop critical thinking skills as well as become fluent speakers, listeners, readers, and writers of the English language in order to succeed in and contribute to the academic, professional, and social settings of their choosing.

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

The college’s course descriptions document describes the four-units ENSL B50 Introduction to College Composition as follows:

  • Composition course for foreign/bilingual students which provides extensive practice in rhetorical modes of composition and persuasion as well as comprehension and analysis of reading.
  • Stresses both organization and in-depth essay development.
  • Prepares students for ENGL B1a.
  • Prerequisites: ENSL B60 or ENGL B60 with a minimum grade of “C” or ‘CR,’ or placement based on the Bakersfield College English as a Second Language Placement Test.
  • Hours: 72 lecture. Precollegiate-basic skills. Not Transferable: Not degree applicable.
(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

The section of English 1A Expository Composition I observed is being taught by a full-time tenured professor. On the day I observed (during the eighth week of the nine-week spring semester), there were 18 students (out of the 20 registered), all of them seemingly in their late teens, except one Caucasian male who seemed to be in his thirties. Almost all seemed to be Latinos, except three Caucasian men. Desk chairs were arranged in rows; there was a computer and document camera on a portable desk in the corner, and in the front wall a roll-down screen and two speakers. The aim for the class was for students to read their essays (in front of the class) reporting on one article they researched.

Student number one distributed copies of his essay, then stood at the podium and presented on an article titled “Confronting Cognitive ‘Anchoring Effect’ and ‘Blind Spot’ Biases in Federal Sentencing: A Modest Solution for Reforming a Fundamental Flaw” written in 2014 by Mark W. Bennett. Once he finished reading, the professor announced that each student who asked a question would get a point. Students asked questions, requested clarifications, and offered feedback about the content, for example: What did you like about this article? I understand the perpetrator did commit the crime, so what do you think about the defense? Is Pennsylvania the only state with that law? Student number one answered candidly.

Student number two read his essay about “Jones v. City of Philadelphia: Illegal Searches and Causes of Civil Action” written in 2007 by Stephen J. Romeo, an article about “the controversies of Article I, section 8, of the PA constitution and how it may give the police a certain level of impunity when concerning the ability to utilize civil action as well as certain issues pertaining to the nullification of the national constitution.” Again, the professor and students asked questions and offered feedback: What do you think would be a better legal change? I’m kinda fuzzy; can you elaborate on what anchoring means? How did this article help you with your whole research? (Student number two answered that “it explained a lot of guidelines and helped me understand how they affect people who are charged with those crimes.”) The professor read off the names of students who had asked questions and encouraged those who hadn’t to do so.

Student number three read her essay about an article titled “Pregnant Women Inmates: Evaluating their Rights and Identifying Opportunities for Improvement in their Treatment” written in 2004 by Kelly Parker. Lots of questions were about the content of this article, and lots of disapproval was expressed regarding the treatment of pregnant women in prison: Do they give birth in the prison or go to the hospital? Do the prisons offer prenatal care or anything like that? Are there a lot of babies born with birth defects? How long can the mother keep the baby after she gives birth? Does the article say anything about if the baby is born sick if the mother can stay with the baby? How many pregnant women are in prisons in the United States? I read that pregnant mothers get shackled anyway. How many doctor’s visits can they have?

Once the students finished reading, the professor went up to the front of the classroom and began to review MLA formatting. He reviewed how to set up the headings, titles, margins, interlacing quotations, and other issues brought up by the students. Students asked questions and the professor often said, for instance, “look at the third paragraph of [student number one’s] essay”; he brought the concern back to the specific examples in the students’ essays. The professor affirmed that students were asking valuable questions: “I didn’t think about that… that’s good logic… now I see what you’re saying.” Then he asked students to comment on the content in each presenter’s essay. After that, he asked students to turn to page 49 in the Writer’s Reference so they could review how to punctuate the Works Cited page and to confirm information about formatting in-text citations.

The professor instructed students to get into groups of three. Students were to examine one essay and to determine if the quotes and Works cited were formatted correctly: “Turn to page 511 and go through each in-text citation; talk to your neighbor and find out why it’s done that way.” As students worked, the professor returned a graded quiz and stopped by the groups to answer students’ questions. When a question seemed to concern everyone in the class, the professor returned to the front of the room and provided explanations. When class was almost over, he collected their essays; at the end, some students remained and talked to him about their research.

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Once students were gone, I spoke with this professor for twenty minutes. He has master and doctoral degrees in English and has been teaching for six years (all of that time at Bakersfield College). He does not teach online. He teaches a total of eight face-to-face courses per academic year. When I asked him to tell me about his experiences teaching Latinos, he explained that his major goal is to reach every student. He believes that many Latinos are timid, maybe because most are the first generation in their families to be attending college. “They don’t come to my classes with a sense of entitlement,” he said, and thus he has to “draw them out.” Teaching Latinos, he said, is different than teaching non-Latinos; he has to use different pedagogy to “make sure that they feel comfortable, that they participate,” and that they feel that “they too belong in college.”

In this class session, I observed that this professor applies/enacts several pedagogical approaches, including pointed emphasis on process, small group collaboration, whole class interaction, some lecturing, affirming students’ work and responses, asking probing questions, individual conferencing in the classroom, underscoring and repeating instructions in written and oral form. Drawing from his experience teaching writing to Latino students in the community college, this professor identified these as the three most important factors needed in order to improve Latino students’ rates of success:

  • Create a welcoming and safe environment.
  • Require that everyone speak and participate; show them why and how passive learning is not as effective.
  • Create a close interdependent community from day one: get students to interact, connect, work and talk with each other–and maybe even become friends; that way, students may not feel as isolated or separated from the college and writing experience.
(Photo by DMG)

Bakersfield College’s Memorial Statium is double-decked and made of concrete and steel. It was built in 1955 and renovated in 2014; it holds about 20,000 people. (Photo by DMG)

The section of the compressed eight-week long version of ENSL B50 Introduction to College Composition I observed is being taught by a full-time tenured professor. On the day I observed, during the fourth week of the course in the spring semester, there were 11 students (of the 12 registered; the class is capped at 28, but many students, in this case 9, do not pass the first part of the class). There were six Latinos and five Asians (two females from Thailand and three males from Viet Nam). This professor said that usually at least 62 per cent of this course is populated by Latinos, mostly of Mexican ethnicity.

During the first half of the class, students met in the computer lab; the room was set up into compartmentalized/individual stations (arranged in rows) with Gateway computers. At the front of the room there was an instructor’s desk, a Gateway computer and a projector and roll-down screen. During the second half of the class, students met in a regular classroom, with desks and chairs arranged in rows; at the front of the room there was a desk for the instructor, a Gateway desktop computer, a document camera, a projector and roll-down screen.

The class has a Supplemental Instructor (a paid former student who works closely with the professor so that she can hold tutoring sessions outside of class time). Students are given extra credit if they also seek help from the writing and the tutoring centers, but, the professor told me, students don’t go, even after he makes offers such as “I have an incentive for you to go see the SI, or go to the writing center or to the tutoring center: if you go five times in the next two weeks, and spend at least twenty minutes each time, I’ll give you one letter grade higher on the next essay.”

As I waited for class to begin, the professor wrote instructions on the board; the day’s agenda included students taking an intelligence test, looking up articles about kinds of intelligences, and preparing for screening a film on Howard Gardner‘s ideas regarding multiple intelligences–all in preparation for writing an essay on intelligence. When class began, the professor explained that students had to google/find and complete the English version of the Birmingham Grid for Learning test. Once they were finished, they were to email their codes to the professor, so that he could create a profile for the class and share it with them.

The professor too began taking the test; then he projected the results on the screen at the front of the room. As the professor was creating the class profile, students spoke (some in Spanish, two in sign language) in low tones. The professor could not figure out a technical glitch, so students could not see the class profile of their combined tests results. Instead, he asked students to take turns describing the results of their tests. Some students said they have “picture smarts,” others said “musical,” many said “people smart.” The professor asked each to explain “what does that mean?” For example, the student who said he has “people smart” answered that it means “helping” his friends. The professor said that Gardner calls that “interpersonal intelligence.”

Then the professor said that according to Gardner “if you know what kind of learner you are, you can do better at learning.” Then he asked students to identify their strengths, to evaluate if the test results reflect how they see themselves, and to consider the one area in intelligence that they need to improve. One student said: “I don’t know what kinesthetic means,” and the professor explained and gave her an example of a profession she might be good at. Another said in surprise: “I’m smart at logical and people!” and the professor said, “great, you’ll be an engineer who manages people and makes robots; have you thought about the career you might be good at?” The professor reminded them that they would be screening the BBC documentary titled “What Makes Us Smart: IQ and Intelligence” on YouTube.

“Now that you understand yourself a little better, and the kinds of intelligences that Gardner talks about,” the professor said, let’s go to the library.” He clicked on the BC library, talked a little bit about why Wiki is not a credible source, and then showed students how to access articles on the Gale Biography database. He asked that they research two people and create a short biography for each. He showed them how to access the information, how to access additional resources, and how to cite and document the sources. The aim was to have students compose a comparison contrast essay (they had already worked on composing an introduction, with a “purposeful thesis”). They spent the next ten minutes researching the people they wanted to compare and contrast.

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Back in the regular classroom, the professor led a discussion about effective thesis statements: “ask yourself, ‘why am I comparing these two people; what am I trying to point out their differences or similarities?’ And in the conclusion, am I going to make a recommendation? Ask yourself: what is my purpose, my aim?” Students practiced composing theses about the kinds of learners each turned out to be according to the Birmingham Grid for Learning test. Then, they offered their theses to everyone in class and they and the professor discussed how each was effective or ineffective. When the thesis was ineffective, the professor interjected, “okay, I like where you are going with this; how about this… why don’t you… that’s a good start but have you thought about….”

Subsequently, the professor moved the class toward a discussion about organizational patterns, for example, block style and point by point. They discussed which pattern might fit best with each of their aims. He exemplified each pattern by prompting students and writing their responses in outline form on the board. That is, he outlined how students could organize in both the block and point by point styles. Students seemed engaged, relaxed–at times there were gusts of laughter when someone joked about the possibilities.

Next, the professor explained, they would read an essay written by a former student who gave her permission for them to analyze how she composed her comparison/contrast. Hard copies were distributed and students took turns reading paragraphs. The professor interjected explanations and exhortations: “What kind organization did this writer use? Look for a hook. Why is that background information good? Remember to sandwich your quotes. What kind of quote is that? Has this writer woven the quote? Would you use a quote if there is no author? Do you see the opposing view? Do you see the rebuttal? Oh yes, those three dots are called ellipsis. What do you expect from the rest of the essay? What kind of conclusion is this?”

As the class drew to a close, the professor reminded students of what they needed to do before the next class, including bringing popcorn and snacks on the day they were to screen the documentary.

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Once students were gone, I interviewed this professor for twenty minutes. He has master’s degrees in Spanish and applied linguistics. He teaches 12 classes per academic year. He does not teach online but ENSL B50 Introduction to College Composition has an online component and students meet regularly in the computer lab; he requires that students complete grammar lessons online, and that they watch a series of documentaries.

When I asked him to tell me about his experiences teaching Latinos, he explained that he finds it useful to have been born and raised in the same area where the college is located, since that allows him to forge connections with his students. He also finds it useful to be able to speak Spanish, since that allows him to convey ideas, especially in his pronunciation classes. He doesn’t know other languages, and therefore feels that he’s able to service Latinos a little better than he services other English learners in his class. He believes that “students have to learn their own languages, to become fluent in their languages, because that translates into learning English.” That is, he believes that when students are fluent in Spanish they have an easier time learning and writing in English: “students who know their own languages do so much better in my class than the immigrants” who have been born or have been living in the States for a long time and have not had opportunity to learn Spanish well. He said that “immigrant students who come here when they are older and did not have much schooling in their own countries” (those who “are not literate in their own language”) tend to have a very difficult time learning and writing English; they get “stuck in between languages.” That condition, he said, is also evident in the case of international students; they arrive being literate in their own languages and they tend “to do very very well.”

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

In this class session, I observed that this professor applies/enacts several pedagogical approaches, including pointed emphasis on process, small group collaboration, whole class interaction, some lecturing, affirming students’ work and responses, asking probing questions, individual conferencing in the classroom, underscoring and repeating instructions in written and oral form,  requiring that students seek additional support, pacing and changing activities, providing models of effective writing done by previous students, and providing intellectually challenging readings. Drawing from his experience teaching writing to Latino students in the community college, this professor identified these as the three most important factors needed in order to improve Latino students’ rates of success:

  • Provide a lot of peer tutoring, especially a Supplemental Instructor who is trained to work with Latinos.
  • Separate Latinos from other students and teach them as a cohort, so that their specific needs can be better met.
  • If Latinos are mixed with other students, “teach to the middle” of the level of the class, so that you can reach as many students as possible.

Rio Hondo College: Teaching Developmental and First Year Composition to Latin@s in the Community College

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Rio Hondo College serves several communities in southeast Los Angeles County: El Monte, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs, South El Monte, Los Nietos, and Whittier since it was created in 1960. Today it enrolls 20,000 students per semester; their average age is 25: “The student body reflects the diversity of the surrounding communities and is approximately Hispanic 67.2%, White Non-Hispanic 10.2%, Unknown 9.7%, Asian 8.1%, African-American 2.2%, Filipino 1.4%, Multi-Ethnicity 0.8%, American Indian/Alaskan Native 0.2%, Pacific Islander 0.1%.”

Rio Hondo College offers career-technical programs such as nursing, fire and police academies, automotive and alternative fuels, basic skills and a full transfer curriculum in the main campus and two satellite educational centers and one training center. Classes are offered on a 16-week semester schedule, weekend college, online and in hybrid and face-to-face modes. The college has a Puente Program a one-year writing, counseling and mentoring program. The emphasis is on Chicano/Latino writers and authors. The goal of the program is to increase the number of students who transfer to four-year colleges and universities.

The college uses the Blackboard learning management system for online education, hybrid and face-to-face courses.

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

The college’s statements are as follows:

Mission: “Rio Hondo College is committed to the success of its diverse students and communities by providing dynamic educational opportunities and resources that lead to associate degrees, certificates, transfer, career and technical pathways, basic skills proficiency, and lifelong learning.”

Vision: “Rio Hondo College strives to be an exemplary California community college, meeting the learning needs of its changing and growing population and developing a state of the art campus to serve future generations.”

Value: “As a teaching/learning community, we come together and strive to meet the needs, aspirations, and goals of our changing student population and communities. Since what we value forms the core of who and what we are, the college community–trustees, faculty, and staff–recognizes the importance of openly and candidly expressing the College’s values. Rio Hondo College values the following: Quality teaching and learning. Student access and success. Diversity & Equity. Fiscal Responsibility. Integrity & Civility.”

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

The 2015-2016 college catalog states this regarding diversity and equity: “Rio Hondo College remains committed to the diversity of students, faculty, staff, and management. Diversity can be defined in many ways including ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, learning styles, political beliefs, or other ideologies. Appreciation of diversity means the following:

  • Recognizing that each individual is unique and understanding individual differences.
  • Recognizing the things that people have in common despite being members of diverse groups.
  • Creating a safe, positive, and nurturing environment that cultivates respect for what these differences are.
  • Moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity as a way of coming together as a community with a common purpose.The concepts of educational equity and student learning outcomes are central to the values of the College. Access to education and the opportunity for educational success for all students shall be provided, with particular efforts in regard to those who have been historically and currently under-represented. Education should prepare students to adapt to the demands of a multicultural society.”

The college’s institutional goals during 2014-2015 include:

  • The Distance Education Committee will investigate best practices for increasing student success in online courses by Spring 2015.
  • The College will improve success and retention rates in online courses by 1% annually through 2018.
  • By July 2015, the College will require all new students, including online students, to meet with a counselor to identify a specific college goal and complete a comprehensive education plan outlining classes needed to achieve that goal prior to the end of the second semester.
(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

The English Department‘s website says: “in addition to basic skills and transfer-level composition courses, we offer many courses in literature, ranging from introductory courses to survey courses in American, British, and World literature.”

The student learning outcomes for the AA degree in English and literature are:

  • Upon successful completion of this degree, the student will be able to formulate an argument and support it with relevant evidence.
  • Upon successful completion of this degree, the student will be able to communicate ideas in an organized, logical manner.
  • Upon successful completion of this degree, the student will be able to incorporate quoted or paraphrased material from credible outside sources.
  • Upon successful completion of this degree, the student will be able to document sources using a designated citation format.
  • Upon successful completion of this degree, the student will be able to identify the work of significant writers, literary works, and cultural movements from a variety of diverse communities.
  • Upon successful completion of this degree, the student will be able to interpret a selection in light of the significant social and historical factors that inform the text.
  • Upon successful completion of this degree, the student will be able to explicate a selection using rhetorical textual analysis.
  • Upon successful completion of this degree, the student will be able to apply standard English grammar and mechanics in both written and oral communication.
(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

During my visit to Rio Hondo College I observed the teaching of English 35 Intermediate Composition for Developing Writers, the pre-collegiate precursor to the transfer-level English 101 College Composition and Research. After I observed this section of English  Composition, I interviewed the professor.

The 2015-16 college catalog describes English 35 as follows:  Prerequisite: ENGL 030 or ENLA 034 with a grade of “Pass” or appropriate assessment
Corequisite: ENGL 035W, 1 Unit, 18 lecture hours.

This is a composition course which trains students in the clear and logical communication of ideas and information. Students will learn to relate ideas and information in stan- dard written English that a literate audience can easily understand. To accomplish this, students will learn methods of prewriting, construct and revise a series of original essays, discuss readings, and participate in collaborative activities which increase their ability to articulate ideas. This is a non-degree credit course and is offered on a pass/no pass basis. Each week, three additional hours will be required in an accompanying 35W Writing Workshop offered on a pass/ no pass basis. This class can also be taken in three 6-week modules.

Students will have the opportunity to take one, two, or three modules for one unit of credit each. Module A will cover simple and compound sentences, simple punctuation, and language usage. Students will practice writing to instruct and inform. Module B will cover complex sentences, punctuation such as colons and semicolons, and use of persua- sive language. Further practice will be given in the use of commas and capitalization. Module C will include paragraphs, short essays, punctuation review, and use of sequential and transitional language. Practice will be given in adapting information to different audiences.

In addition to this material, modules A, B, and C will cover material detailed in the appendix to the course outline. To receive credit for ENGL 035 or ENGL 035 A, B, C, students must receive a score of 10 or higher on the common final. Workshop credit will be given upon completion of all three modules. Students may enroll in all modules or individual modules and receive appropriate credit. English 035 A, B, C is offered on an open entry, open exit basis. This is a non-degree credit course and is offered on a pass/no pass basis. (Each week, three additional hours will be required in the ENGL 035W Writing Workshop, offered on a pass/no pass basis.)

(English 101 College Composition and Research, the transferable freshman English course, is described as “a composition course that enables students to generate logical, coherent essays and reports necessary to academic and professional success. Students will become proficient in research techniques, learn critical reading and thinking skills through expository and persuasive reading selections, and apply these skills to creating original essays and a final research paper. The lab component of this course is designed to assist students in improving and refining their writing and language skills. Students will complete lab activities that enhance their ability to compose logical, well-supported arguments that exhibit grammatical fluency and correct documentation form. Students will meet with composition instructors through individual conferences that address students’ specific writing concerns. This course is designed for students who wish to fulfill the General Education requirement for Written Communication. 3.5 units, 54 lecture hours, 27 lab hours. Prerequisite: ENGL 035 with a grade of “Pass” or ENLA 100 with an “A” or “B” or appropriate assessment Transfers to: UC, CSU.”)

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Student Learning Outcome for English 35: as described in the class syllabus, upon completing English 35, the student will be able to

  • write a multi-paragraph essay with clear thesis, insightful analysis, and appropriate examples.
  • demonstrate conventional fluency of Standard English.
  • respond to readings with thoughtful analysis.
  • demonstrate readiness for Freshman English.

The syllabus also described the course requirements:

  • Consistent attendance and participation is vital to passing the course. After four absences, you may be dropped for non-participation.
  • Complete journal assignments based on readings found in the text and handouts.
  • Written exam (midterm).
  • Four formal essays.
  • Portfolio: Two of your best essays are to be submitted at the end of the semester.
  • Final writing assessment (based on an essay question).

“You will be expected to plan, write, and revise four formal essays. There are multiple steps to complete prior to submitting each essay, and you earn points for each component. Points are dispersed as follows: Brainstorming Sheet (10 points) Outline (15 points), First Draft (50 points), Peer Review Notes (50 points), and Final Draft (100 points).”

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

The evening section of English 35 that I observed  (during the eighth week of the sixteen week semester) is being taught by a part time professor and recent graduate of an MA program in English. The previous week, for their midterm, students had made oral presentations that included visual aids (some used computers and Power Point, and some showed videos); the topic focused on a profession of their choice. During our interview, the professor explained that each week during the semester, students were to address a particular issue in following MLA formatting, mechanics and grammar (for instance, sentence structure, coordinating and subordinating conjunctions, transitional phrases, run-on sentences), read an essay, and prepare for composing one of the required modes (for example, cause and effect, comparison contrast).

On the evening I observed, there were 19 (out of 25 registered) students, seemingly, given their common Spanish names, all Latino. At the front of the classroom there was a white board, a scroll-down screen, a speaker, a work station with a desktop computer and document camera, a podium, and the professor’s desk. Desk chairs were arranged in rows. The aim for the class was for students to discuss the assigned reading, the entries they had made in their journals, and to work on their essays with their peer review group members. The required textbook was Samuel Cohen’s 50 Essays: A Portable Anthology, 4th edition. Students had read James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son,” an essay that explores the intertwining of race and familial relationships.

As class began, the professor stood behind the podium; she asked if everyone had brought two copies of their essays and then she explained that her “plan” for the evening was to “discuss the reading” and their journal entries,” give them the assignment for the weekend, and then get them “into peer review groups.” She took attendance, then she opened discussion about the reading: “What are your thoughts? What was the tone like: hostile, maybe, somewhat insulting? What’s the mindset?” Students seemed relaxed and began to offer responses quickly and animatedly, without raising their hands. Most seemed to have read the essay, and to have written about it, since several students provided quotes from their notes. The professor asked a few more generative questions, and after about twenty minutes she requested that they take out their journal responses; she collected them and proceeded to write the next reading assignment on the board.

Next, she asked students to join their peer review groups and move their desks so that the four members could “form a pod facing each other.” They prepared to revise their third formal essay in the semester, based on a topic each of them chose. (Two weeks prior, students presented their top five topics and the professor helped them to choose one.) For their second formal essay they wrote a response to a documentary on juveniles who are sentenced to prison; for their fourth essay the professor planned to provide a “lead” topic.

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

The professor wrote the instructions on the board: students were to take out two copies of their essays, hold on to one, and the other copy was to be read, one at a time, by the other group members. Each reviewer was to provide written feedback on the efficacy of the following: the introduction (the hook, background information, thesis), the body (major point, evidence, examples, transitional phrases, in-text citations), and the conclusion (revisiting/restating the thesis, final statement, reflection).

There were five groups of four in the class; the professor walked from group to group answering questions, listening, interacting, and checking on students. Students talked with each other easily, as if they were used to conducting these sorts of workshops. Readers took turn giving writers feedback; writers took notes on their copy of their own essays.

As the workshop progressed, I heard students say: “You forgot to introduce your quote… when you have more than one author you have to use et al…. what’s the title… you gotta double space… how about putting this idea… I was trying to explain what LGBT means… why did you do it like that… I repeated myself too much… are these your words… shouldn’t they have quotation marks… I’ve been putting commas all over the place… aren’t you supposed to speak in third person, not first person, because it’s more professional… if you’re writing an anecdote, then ‘I’ is okay, but you should use third person… put that in your paragraph so it’s your thesis… take that out… you’re using too many big words; I don’t know what they mean… that font is too big… the thesis is too short… your point of view is your thesis… change the tense.” I heard the professor say quite often: “that’s great… make sure that you draft again.” After each person finished giving feedback to the writer, he/she signed the writer’s essay. This workshop lasted forty minutes.

Ten minutes before the session was to end, the professor reconvened the class and said: “This week is communication week in our department, so we are encouraged to share a photo of our younger selves. While the picture of me is going around the room, I’ll tell you about the path that got me here. My journey was somewhat non-traditional. I had my daughter when I was seventeen. How I got here [to academe, as a professor]… it wasn’t because of luck, or family tradition. I was the first person in my family to attend and graduate from college. I graduated from Rio Hondo College, transferred to Whittier College, then earned my master’s degree. What led me here [to being a professor]… the seed was planted in third grade (when I won a writing contest), but I didn’t water it until after I had my daughter. I thought it’b be really fun if next week you brought a picture of yourself and you shared what brought you here and how you see yourself in ten years.” The picture of the professor circulated among the students. There were no questions or comments.

The professor announced that for the final essay they would have a “lead,” a question, and that they would have to include the rhetorical devices and strategies they would discuss until that date. Then she reminded them that the final draft of formal essay number three would be due the following week, and that they had to make sure to include “every single component: outline, rough draft, final draft, works cited page, MLA formatting, and peer reviews.”

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Once class ended, I interviewed this professor for twenty-five minutes. She explained that she does not teach classes online, and that she does not use a different pedagogy when she teacher Latinos. “I provide a little leeway if there is a language thing,” she said, “but I still hold them to a standard. I treat every one the same.” When I asked her to tell me about there  pedagogical approaches, she said, “I’m familiar with them. I identify. I think that going through what I’ve been through, not to say that my experiences are the same, is a good thing.”

In this class session, I observed that this professor applies/enacts several pedagogical approaches, including pointed emphasis on process, small group collaboration, whole class interaction, some lecturing, affirming students’ work and responses, individual conferencing in the classroom, underscoring and repeating instructions in written and oral form, pacing and changing activities, and providing intellectually challenging readings.

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

I asked this professor to draw from her experiences and to identify the three most important needs that she believes Latinos need in order to improve their rates of success. This was her answer:

  1. Integrate basic skills into all classes; when these students come to college they’re missing fundamentals. I’m a product of this. I know that schools are not challenged, especially in at-risk areas.
  2. Most of these students are first generation. They don’t have a goal or understanding of what this composition class entails, or of what a college education entails. Teach them what it entails.
  3. Provide easy access to counselors and support services.




East Los Angeles College: Teaching Developmental and First Year Composition to Latin@s in the Community College

Main entrance at the main campus. (Image from the ELAC website)

Main entrance at the main campus.
(Image from the ELAC website)

East Los Angeles College is one of the nine public community colleges in the Los Angeles Community College District. It was established in 1945 and now is located on 82 acres in Monterey Park (a suburb that is six miles from the Los Angeles Civic Center) and in satellite campuses in South Gate and Rosemead. The college serves fourteen diverse communities (Alhambra, Bell, Bell Gardens, City of Commerce, Cudahy, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Los Angeles, Maywood, Montebello, Monterey Park, Rosemead, San Gabriel, South Gate and Vernon) and enrolls more than 40,000 students every semester; it offers both academic transfer courses (which prepare students for admission to four-year colleges and universities) and occupational programs (which prepare students for careers).

I observed the teaching of two classes and interviewed professors at the South Gate Educational Center. The South Gate Educational Center opened in 1997 to better serve the students in the Huntington Park area. Historically, the Center has aimed to “reach out to those who are unable to attend the ELAC main campus in Monterey Park for various reasons, including distance and lack of transportation.” The large building on Firestone Boulevard has 24 classrooms, a computer lab, book store, library, and office for student support services. Both academic and career courses are offered at the center. There is a free shuttle that transports students to and from the main campus. Special programs available at the Center include ESL/Citizenship courses, Teach Program, LEAP Program and the new John Delloro Program in Social Justice, a two-year thematic transfer program (which includes the option of spending a winter study abroad in Amsterdam).

ELAC’s Mission Statement: East Los Angeles College empowers students to achieve their educational goals, to expand their individual potential, and to successfully pursue their aspirations for a better future for themselves, their community and the world.

  • Goal 1: Increasing student success and academic excellence through student-centered instruction, student-centered support services, and dynamic technologies.
  • Goal 2: Increasing equity in successful outcomes by analyzing gaps in student achievement and using this to identify and implement effective models and programming to remedy these gaps.
  • Goal 3: Sustaining community-centered access, participation, and preparation that improves the college’s presence in the community, maximizes access to higher education and provides outlets for artistic, civic, cultural, scientific and social expression as well as environmental awareness.
  • Goal 4: Ensuring institutional effectiveness and accountability through data-driven decision-making as well as evaluation and improvement of all college programs and governance structures.

In collaboration with the District’s Mission, ELAC is committed to advancement in student learning and student achievement that prepares students to transfer, successfully complete workforce development programs, earn associate degrees, and pursue opportunities for lifelong learning and civic engagement.

ELAC’s Vision Statement: Through our emerging focus on student-centered instruction, student-centered services, and integrated learning, East Los Angeles College will be an exemplary model for student academic achievement, skill development, and artistic expression.

The college’s written (in the catalog) stance on diversity is conveyed in at least three places:

  • ELAC’s General Education Philosophy statement declares: “Furthermore, we encourage our students to appreciate and value multiple perspectives and backgrounds so that they can participate successfully in an increasingly diverse global community.”
  • The District’s Guiding Principles says the following about access and opportunity: “We are committed to expanding educational opportunity and access to everyone who has the desire to learn, and we welcome all students, including those from communities that have been traditionally underserved.”
  • The Power of Diversity: “We embrace diversity as a central part of our civic and institutional identity and as a powerful element in the education and develop- ment of every individual.”

Students at ELAC are mostly Latinos, but Asians (e.g., Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipinos) make up a large majority. ELAC’s College Profile and Data Book for 2012-2013, its most recent published data, details the student ethnic profile in 2011: African American 1.9%; Asian/Pacific Islander 16.1%; Hispanic/Latino 76.6%; Caucasian 2.2%; multi-ethnic .5%. Data for the 2013-2014 academic year listed in the CA State Chancellor’s website states that 54,613 students were registered at ELAC: of that total, 34,436 were Latin@s (63+%). The second largest group consisted of 6,487 Asians (12%). There were only 2,400 African Americans (.4%). To my knowledge, there is no published analysis or explanation for why there is a seeming decrease in the number of Latin@s.

Courses at ELAC are offered in semester-long, short term, face-to-face, online, television modes, and during weekend college and night schedules. The Etudes and Moodle learning management systems are used to deliver online and hybrid/blended courses and to augment face-to-face classes.

The college has two bridge programs that service Latin@s in their aim to succeed in writing:

  • The Adelante First Year Experience is committed to the educational success of students. Adelante is a comprehensive program involv- ing student services, linked courses, a stimulating learning environ- ment, and committed faculty which together provide all Adelante first-year students with the very best opportunities to succeed in transferring to a four-year university.
  • The Puente Project’s mission is to increase the number of education- ally underserved students who enroll in four-year colleges and uni- versities, earn degrees, and return to the community as leaders and mentors to future generations. Puente provides students with English instruction, academic advising and mentoring.

poppyThe ELAC English Department website states: “Speaking and writing good English are the hallmarks of an educated person. English, whether in traditional essay format or in reports, is used in every field. Researchers, scientists, and even mathematicians need to express their ideas and results in written form. American society and economic vitality is a result of educating people with many different backgrounds communicating using a common language. To understand ourselves and the world around us, reading and interpreting college level books is essential. Mastering spoken and written English is the key to a career, success in college, and essential to transferring to a university.” The English Department offers an Associate in Arts Degree.

The 2015-2016 ELAC catalog lists these objectives for courses in the English Department:

  • To help the student to develop the skills required in such careers as social work, teaching, library science, law, journalism, pub- lishing, advertising, writing, public relations, civil service, sales, management, and any other careers which require facility in writing.
  • To help the student to broaden his or her understanding of self and others through the study of language and literature.
  • To help the student enjoy and appreciate literature.
  • To provide courses which satisfy the needs of the foreign-speak- ing student; of the student desiring developmental work; of the two-year student working for an Associate degree; and of the student planning to transfer to a four-year college or university.

I observed teaching of their pre-collegiate and freshman writing courses.

English 28 Intermediate Reading and Composition is described as follows: 3 units, prerequisite:  Acceptable level of skill as demonstrated in the English placement process or satisfactory completion of English 21 or English as a Second Language 6A. Advisory: Reading 29. Lecture, 3 hours. In this course, students plan, draft, revise, and edit compositions of increasing sophistication and complexity, progressing from multi-paragraph 750-word essays to essays of 1000 words that reference classroom texts as well as personal experience in support of a clearly delineated thesis statement. Writing is based on readings which cover topics that challenge the students’ thinking and provide an intellectual background for the assignments. Readings, discussion, and writing assignments may focus on fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, and/or poetry.

English 101 College Reading and Composition I is described as follows: 3 units, UC:CSU IGETC Area 1A (C-ID ENGL 100), Prerequisite: Acceptable level of skill as demonstrated in the English placement process or satisfactory completion of English 28 or English as a Second Language 8. Advisory: Reading 101. Lecture, 3 hours. This is a college-level freshman composition course which focuses on expository writing and argumentation and requires the writing of a minimum of 6000 words in essays and a research paper. Students study a variety of texts written at the college level, including literature, that re ect current academic concerns relating to issues of language, ethnicity, class, gender, identity, psychology, and cultural studies.

During my visit to the ELAC South Gate Educational Center, I observed the teaching of English 28 Intermediate Reading and Composition, and English 101 College Reading and Composition. After I observed each of the classes, I interviewed the two professors teaching each class.

The entrance. (Photo by DMG)

The entrance at the ELAC South Gate Educational Center. (Photo by DMG)

The section of English 28 Intermediate Reading and Composition I observed is being taught by a full-time tenured Latino professor. On the day I observed (during the ninth week of the sixteen-week spring semester), there were 28 (out of 30 registered in the class) students, all of them (according to the professor) Latino. The classroom was large and light-filled. Desk chairs were arranged in rows; at a corner work station, there was a desk, desktop computer,  and in the center of the room there was a roll-down screen, speakers hanging from the ceiling, and a podium. At the end of the session, I surmised that the aim for the day was to inventory the lessons learned so far; to complete several journal entries; to discuss how to embed quotes; to practice paraphrasing; to discuss how to organize their essay #4; and to talk about “writing for different purposes.”

This professor’s syllabus lists three required texts: The International Story: An Anthology with Guidelines for Reading and Writing about Fiction by Ruth Spack; Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Lives an inspirational short novel by Dan Millman; and Rules for Writers and handbook by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers. It also lists the Course Learning Outcomes:

  • CLO 1: Grammar and Mechanics–Students will apply advanced knowledge of persistent and complex grammar/mechanics (such as fragments, run-ons and parallel structure) to edit and extended essay.
  • CLO 2: Analytical Close Reading–Students will compose an analytical essay that critiques the thesis or central theme or a text based on a close reading of the work’s rhetorical and/or literary techniques.
  • CLO 3: Composition–Students will compose an essay with an effective introduction and a strong positional thesis that is supported by body paragraphs that include textual evidence, and finish with a conclusion that not only summarizes main points but reflects the larger topic raised in the introduction.

His syllabus also clarifies that students in this class are expected to consistently compose journal entries (which may include drawings) in response to specific prompts, to listen to lectures, participate in panel presentations, and contribute to small group discussion. Everyone is to take notes using only pencil/pen and paper (no laptops, mobile phones or iPods are allowed). Students are expected to read every week (e.g., “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin, “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant, “Araby” by James Joyce, “Judge’s Wife” by Isabel Allende, “No Face” by Junot Diaz, and during the week I visited, “Dead Men’s Path” by Chinua Achebe).

When I entered the classroom, students were talking easily; each had his/her name written on a piece of paper and propped on his/her desk chair. The professor stood at the front and greeted everyone. He asked that they take out their journals and begin composing entry #30-1; “Let’s title it ‘Things I Learned,'” he said. Students were to jot the three strategies they learned in the class that took their writing “to the next level.” While students wrote, the professor took attendance and requested that those who had been absent previously come up to his desk so that he could give each the handouts he had distributed then. (Four students went up.)

Next, he called on students and asked that they recite what they’d written in their journals. Fernando said, “better understanding of grammar, like apostrophe.” Celeste said, “the quotation integration assignment,” and the professor answered, “that’s right; don’t walk away from the quote, and use little phrases like ‘by this act, this passage indicates, this statement confirms. Ask a neighbor if they knew an expression like that before this class.” Students talked for a minute, and the professor called on Eduardo who said, “I learned why it is important to learn to use the apostrophe correctly.” The professor said, “remember, I tried to shame you into understanding that they teach that in second grade.” Some people laughed. Then Cesar said, “difference between minor words and major words.” The professor added, “prepositions, coordinators, paraphrasing… how to get rid of wordiness, and how to be clear.” Carmen said, “how to vary my sentence openings.”

Then the professor said, “now, do journal entry #30-2 for today; call it ‘Helen Keller Quotation.'” He asked a student to read the quotation (which he had given them during the previous meeting) and he wrote it on the board: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.” Next, the professor walked around the room and asked students to turn to journal entry #20 and to review their notes about paraphrasing. He asked: “how long should a paraphrase be? The same length as the quote?” Students gave different answers. The professor asked that they take out their highlighters and that they underline four or five expressions in the Helen Keller quote, and then to find synonyms for those expressions. Students were to write the answers and subsequently share them with their neighbors. As they worked, the professor walked around to “feel [their] energy,” he said. Five minutes later, he turned to the board and underlined the worlds students called out: “suffering, soul be strengthened, success, achieved, character.”

He asked students to write synonyms for the underlined words, and to share with their neighbors. As they worked, the professor walked around and checked on them. Back at the front of the classroom, he used one side of the white board to write the words students called out: synonym for “suffering” = “adversity”; “painful experiences” = “struggle”; “soul be strengthened” = “inner strength”; “success” = “accomplishment”; “achieved” = “reached or attained.” When they got to the word “character”  students were not answering, thus the professor said, “ask a neighbor,” and when there were still no answers, he said, “personal virtues, honesty; how does that make you feel; ask your neighbor.” When he had filled that side of the board with synonyms, he smiled and said, “that lesson is worth $375; it’s part of your tuition fees.” Students laughed.

He said, “this is a big moment; you get to assemble; let me help you out.” He wrote on the board: “In other words, Keller believes that…” Students were to paraphrase the rest of the quote. As they wrote in their journals, the professor walked around. When the students stopped writing, the professor offered his own paraphrase and requested that they “ask a neighbor how that sounds.”

The professor asked that students take out their journals again and compose entry #31: “Call it ‘Paragraph Arrangement,'” he said. He wrote “paragraph arrangement” on the white board and said: “I want to give you strategies for organizing paragraphs in your essay number four.” He continued to write on the board, reviewing how they had arranged their previous essay comparing and contrasting short stories by James Joyce (“Araby”) and Anton Chekov (“A Trifle from Real Life”). He drew boxes representing the foundational five paragraph essay organization and then reminded students of how they had laid out their comments about the stories’ main theme, “adolescents and change.” Then, on one side of the board he drew a caterpillar, and on the other side a butterfly: “Ask a neighbor if she’s lost [in this lesson],” he said. Students murmured.

“Now,” the professor said, “with essay number four, on suffering, I’m going to suggest a different way to organize. [Essay four was based on Guy de Maupassant’s short story “The Necklace.”) You know what to do in the first paragraph, the introduction. In the second paragraph you’ll write about losing face; in the third paragraph you’ll write about Mathilde and how she feels about the necklace; in the fourth paragraph, and here’s the new way, talk about if the characters suffer; prove that the characters suffer; prove it in every paragraph of your essay; prove it with evidence, with examples from the story. Then write about which one suffers more. Ask a neighbor if this makes sense. Next week I’ll give you a presentation on classification.”

Then he said, “take out your journal notes about the reading you did last week. You need your highlighter. Start journal #32; title it ‘Effective F2F communication.'” He drew two people on the board: “What makes it [communication] happen? We use words and what else? Confer with a neighbor. These are called paralinguistic cues.” He proceeded to talk about facial expressions, tone, attitude as “conveyed by voice volume,” eye contact, proximity, and body language. He said: “What a repository of strategies–a good word for college!–to emphasize the importance of what we’re saying. Ask a neighbor if they’re lost. What does this have to do with writing?” Students murmured. He continued: “If you use this for F2F [conversation], what strategies do you use when you write? How do you shout or whisper in writing?” A student answers: “sentence variety” and he says, “no.”

“Let’s take it to the next level,” he said; “[write] Roman numeral two.” He wrote on the board: “II. Emphasis.” He said: “I’m going to give you two sentences: ‘Britney Spears is a lousy mother. She is a brilliant self-promoter.’ These sentences are shouting because they’re independent sentences? They’ve been trying to teach you that since middle school.” Then the professor began to talk about writing for different purposes: “Do you remember the lesson on superman? Clark Kent, kryptonite weakens Superman. Ask a neighbor if they understand this.” He waited a moment then said: “There are words in the English language that are kryptonite. If you put them next to other words they weaken, they whisper. Do you know what they are?” He joked that he would tell them the next week, but students laughed and said they wanted to know then. “They are called subordinators. They will whisper an idea. There are only thirteen of them. Here are the words,” but then he remained silent. One student said: “damn you’re a tease.” Everyone laughed and he said, “find them in your manual [Hacker’s Rules for Writers] on page 144, [they are] ‘after, although, before, because’; do you get this? Ask a neighbor.” One student said in a low voice, “no, I don’t get it.”

It was almost time for the class to end. The professor began to return their graded essay #2. He said: “I want to give a shout out to a couple of students; in essay one twenty-five people out of thirty-five failed. I give a shout out to people who failed or got a D in the first essay and now they did better, about eleven names. Give them a round of applause. Is it because they’re smart? Everyone here is smart. It’s because they worked hard.” He distributed the rest of the essays (as students left) reminding them that if they failed or earned a D they would have a chance to revise.

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Once students were gone, I spoke with this professor briefly, but since he had to teach another class, he kindly agreed to answer the questions in my survey and email them to me. This professor is very familiar with East LA; he began his journey in higher education by attending ELAC. Today he holds a Master’s degree in English and socio-linguistics and has been teaching writing at ELAC for 15 years (with the exception of one year he spent teaching writing at UCLA). Consequently, he feels free to tell his story as a way to motivate his students; he wants them to know that academic success depends on learning strategies (how to study and be prepared, for instance) and on being flexible enough to survive in and adjust to different worlds (the streets, academe, professional, familial). He teaches at least eight courses per year, but often times he teaches nine. He teaches half of those courses in face-to-face(F2F) mode and the other half online. He says that on a yearly basis 90% of students in his F2F classes are Latin@s; in his online classes 60% are Latin@s.

This professor is aware that students at ELAC, especially in the South Gate center, are among the most impoverished in the region, and that almost half of them speak English as a second language. Most don’t have family members who have attended college; and most have never read an entire novel. Almost half of the students at ELAC drop out after the first year; less than 10% transfer to four-year colleges. He said that he has “noticed that within the Latino student population there are more women enrolled compared to men.”

When I asked this professor to tell me about his experiences teaching writing to Latin@s in the community college, he said: “They desire to improve their academic writing skills, but this desire does not necessarily translate into specific productive study habits or classroom practices, unless the instructor uses innovative strategies coupled with connections to the real world. Immediate and constant feedback (and it can be constructive criticism) is most effective if the students feel and believe that the instructor cares about them and connects with them.” Then he compared his experiences teaching less underprepared students: “I taught for the UCLA writing program for a year as a lecturer in residence and I found no need to incorporate innovative strategies to achieve results; students there were sufficiently motivated and came equipped with the habits of mind essential for academic success.”

I asked him to tell me about his experiences teaching both pre-collegiate and freshman writing to Latin@s online, and he said that at ELAC he teaches in the same ways despite the level or mode of delivery: “I use the same approach with all students including in the online classroom.” He said that, of course, “the objectives of the courses are different,” and that “the students’ academic proficiency” is different too.

Student Services at the ELAC Educational Center. (Photo by DMG)

Student Services at the ELAC Educational Center. (Photo by DMG)

In this class session I observed that this professor applies/enacts several pedagogical approaches, including sharing his academic history (and identifying the factors that allowed him to succeed) as a source of continual motivation; repetition of concepts and strategies; requiring that students talk to their peers; requiring that they compose organized journal entries/class notes; calling on students to affirm and echo the lessons being taught; asking rhetorical questions; moving about the classroom and getting close to students; lecturing; prescribing organization; and pacing activities briskly.

When I asked this professor to draw from his experience (teaching writing in the community college) to identify the three most important needs that must be met in order to improve Latino students’ rate of success, he said: “The following applies to Latino students in the developmental writing courses:

  • High expectations.
  • Constant feedback.
  • Clarity of instruction.

The following applies to Latino students in the transfer writing courses:

  • Instructors that have the empathy and the charisma to help students overcome the suspicion that Latino community college students have towards teachers.
  • Instructors that have the empathy and the charisma to help students overcome the self-doubt they many have about academic success.
  • Innovative strategies that engage students to see old material in different and meaningful ways.”
(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

The section of English 101 College Reading and Composition that I observed is being taught by a part-time adjunct professor who has been teaching writing at ELAC for 20 years; in the last 22 years he has also been teaching ESL in the adult division of a high school in Los Angeles. On the day I observed (during the ninth week of the sixteen-week spring semester), there were 28 (out of 35 registered in the class) students, most of them seemingly Latino, three of them (I assumed from appearance and when the professor called their names) Vietnamese. The classroom was filled with about 40 desk chairs arranged in tight rows; at the front of the room there was a large wood desk, and behind it a roll-down screen and a large television. At the end of the session, I surmised that the aim for the day was to return graded essays and to discuss “Everyday Use,” a short story by Alice Walker.

This professor’s syllabus lists two required texts: The Story and its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction edited by Ann Charters and Short Shorts: An Anthology of the Shortest Stories edited by Irving Howe and Ilana Wiener Howe. Additionally, students are to read “topical, relevant international and domestic current events articles from major news media, as photocopied hand-outs. Critical thinking and reading skills, plus vocabulary, are honed and enhanced through these articles.” The syllabus also underscores that “major emphases are on reading and writing; grammar and structure are NOT regularly stressed.” The Course Learning Outcomes are listed as follows:

  • Students will demonstrate mastery of the college essay by composing an in-class final examination characterized by:
    • a clear thesis,
    • integration and analysis of evidence (sources),
    • coherent and adequate support (sources),
    • appropriate organization,
    • focused paragraphs with clear topic sentences,
    • MLA style strongly suggested.
    • Length: 900 to 1,200 words. Five to ten double-spaced pages in a blue/green book supplied by the student.

The professor and I entered the classroom together. I sat in the back and he walked to the front of the classroom and sat behind his desk. He announced that he was going to return graded essays: “There were three Fs but the people are not with us anymore, so that’s irrelevant.” He reminded students that he can’t accept late papers and then he wrote “Everyday Use” on the board. He talked about how he lived in Tennessee in 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King was there and “the black and white world started changing. Since then, other minorities came, and you’re part of this. In 1972 [a year before Walker published “Everyday Use”] there was no place like this; Southgate [Educational Center] is 3,000 people now; you are part of that changing world.”

He continued by explaining Walker’s story: “Her daughter [Maggie] is like many of you ladies. She didn’t go to college. Her other daughter [Dee] changed her name to Wangero. She sees the value of adapting–I don’t know how to say this–to the white culture, to the majority culture. Her mother was a poor black sharecropper. Dee is a hero to me. You don’t have to agree with me, but if you don’t agree, you’ll have to prove it to me. Maggie was not much.”

A student walked in the room and the professor said: “Try to get here on time. I get distracted very easily.” He stopped and said he would be giving back the graded essays, then he called out two students with Vietnamese names and asked “how is it that you say your names?” The students said their names and walked up to his desk to pick up their essays. The professor called a Spanish name; a young Latina went up to his desk, but the professor could not find her essay in his pile. After a minute of looking, he handed her the essay and said: “Take this to your seat; they’re all looking at your bottom, not at me.” She walked back in silence.

The professor then looked up from his pile of graded essays and said: “I noticed that around the ninth week people stop coming. Not a good idea. Remember that until May 8th we are married. I can’t drop you and you can’t drop, but I can flunk you.” As he started to return the essays again, he began to also talk about “Everyday Use”: “She [Alice Walker] is famous for The Color Purple. How does she term her feminism? Do you understand the question? Remember we read a one page introduction about her feminism?” There was silence and then the professor said: “I fancy her a feminist, but how does she term, how does she feel about her feminism? Look at the paragraph we read, the one in the middle. She is more concerned about women’s rights, not black lives matter. I’m not qualified to speak on that. I’m not a sociologist.”

There was silence and the professor spoke again: “My wife has a large Mexican American family and they’re coming home with black boyfriends and kids are mixed. They’re not marrying Mexicans. Two of my nephews married Latinas. I remember when I married a Latina–a lot of chisme in the family. My first wife was Protestant. Then I dated a Jew. My mother was upset. My second wife is Catholic but was a Methodist over in Arizona. This is multicultural: different colors, tastes, music, languages. That’s what you’re in, this duality, two cultures. I date in English but I cook in Spanish. It’s a mixed bag in Los Angeles in 2015.” There was silence.

Next the professor told students to look at page two of a handout (a photocopy of the summary of “Everyday Use” from Wikipedia) that he had distributed during the previous class). “Look at the descriptions of each character,” he said. He looked for his roster and when he found it he called the name of a female student: “Will you dance with me?” [meaning for the student to read the descriptions of Maggie and Dee]. There was silence. Then he said: “I’m 78 years old. I’m an old fart. She, Dee, is a young girl adapting in Augusta, Georgia. She has many friends, many of whom are white, some black. She brings home a guy and introduces him as Hakim. And the mother says ‘what kind of name is that? Then she [Dee] announces that her name is not Dee any more. I was in Tennessee back then and some people changed their names (and that was hard for me; Muhammad Ali changed his name) to get rid of their white names and adopt more black–African American to you–names.”

The professor paused to look through his pile of essays, then he said: “Asalamalakim [As-salamu alaykum]. I don’t know what that means. I’m not black. There’s a Spanish version of that. Do spend some time on ‘Everyday Use.’ I will show you a 22 minute movie of it on Monday. I haven’t made up my mind about when I’ll give you a quiz.” Then he called another female student: “Are you ready? If you don’t know what a quilt is you’re missing the point. Read the part about the quilt.” The student looked for her photocopy of the Wiki summary and started to read the section on the quilt being a symbol in the story. Halfway through the blurb, the professor interrupted and told her not use her finger to follow along as she read: “It slows you down terribly. You’ll have four or five hundred pages to read in college. If that terrifies you, it should. It did me.”

Then the professor said: “We will do three stories: “Everyday Use, [Gabriel Garcia] Marquez[‘s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”], he is the best in the world in Spanish; he just died.” Then he picked up a packet and said to a student seated in front of him: “Can you give those out [faculty evaluation forms]? I have to leave the room. And the third story, my favorite, James Joyce’s “The Dead.” He whistled and then said: “Gentlemen, it’s a good idea to stop talking. My favorite short story is Hemingway’s “A Clean Well-Lighted Place.” Joyce’s story is heavily skewed toward Catholics. But Marquez is skewed too. You Catholic Latinas know that. The exams are on May 31. No, the first week of June.”

At about twenty minutes before class was to end, an Asian female student came in and sat in the back of the room. He looked at her and began to shuffle for her graded essay. He could not find it and said to her: “Sorry hon, I’ll have to bring it to you.” The professor explained how the students were to fill out the scantron card for the faculty evaluation form. He stood up, walked out from behind his desk, and left the classroom (and his pile of papers on the desk). The student distributed the faculty evaluations forms and scantrons. Most students completed them; some students left. The student in charge of the forms waited ten minutes until the last person finished completing the evaluation. I stayed until the class was officially over and every student was out of the classroom. The professor returned and gathered his papers. We walked out and sat in a quiet place to talk.

elac_1This professor kindly talked with me for about half an hour. He has a master’s degree in Secondary Education and he was a “member of the now defunct federal War on Poverty program, the Teacher Corps.” He does not teach classes online but he attempts to “incorporate overheads and short movies,” even though, he said, it’s a hassle because he has to schedule a projector too far in advance and he has to pay for the movies he wants to show. In addition to writing and ESL, he jokes that he also teaches Spanglish. When I asked him to tell me about his experiences teaching writing to Latin@s, he said: “I have absolutely no problems relating to Latinos. I’m having problems relating to Asians. I have serious problems because they are not operating at the 101 level. I like getting Latinos to multi-paragraph essays.” He said he tries to “prepare students for the real world.” That’s why he doesn’t accept late papers. He said: “I’m trying to get them conscious, to raise their sensitivity. So many Latinos, Mexican in particular, are used to the patron system and I tell them no, you have to fight.” Then he went on to tell me stories about his youth in Tennessee, specially what he saw of “the birth of the Civil Rights Movement.”

The Vicent Price Art Museum at ELAC's new Performing and Fine Arts Complex. (Photo from ELAC's website)

The Vicent Price Art Museum at ELAC’s new Performing and Fine Arts Complex. (Photo from ELAC’s website)

In this class session I observed that this professor applies/enacts several pedagogical approaches, including sharing stories from his past, offering his interpretations of the plot and development in the readings, and requiring that students read aloud.

When I asked this professor to draw from his experience (teaching writing in the community college) to identify the three most important needs that must be met in order to improve Latino students’ rate of success, he said: “I am white and I live in… It’s a whole different world there… I like talking Spanglish; it helps me. I talk to them in Spanglish before class. They feel comfortable and see that I’m not coming at them from a lily white world.” I understood his response to mean:

  • Find ways to connect to Latin@ students on a human level.
  • Speak to students in cultural ways that they recognize and therefore help them feel at ease.

Pasadena City College: Teaching Developmental and First Year Composition to Latin@s in the Community College

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Pasadena City College, a compact 53 acres campus nestled in the West San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles County, was founded in 1924 and today serves over 30,000 students, including international students from over 90 different countries. The college’s mission is “to provide a high quality, academically robust learning environment that encourages, supports and facilitates student learning and success. The College provides an academically rigorous and comprehensive curriculum for students pursuing educational and career goals as well as learning opportunities designed for individual development. The College is committed to providing access to higher education for members of the diverse communities within the District service area and to offering courses, programs, and other activities to enhance the economic conditions and the quality of life in these communities.”

PCC offers more than 60 academic and 70 Career and Technical Education programs in both face-to-face and online modes. Classes are scheduled during fall, spring and summer semesters, as well as short-term and evening sessions. PCC is recognized for its emphasis and success in transferring students to local universities. Arguably, its most famous alum is Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play Major League Baseball; he attended PCC in 1937 and 1938 (and his brother Mack, a member of the 1936 Olympic team and silver medal winner of the 200 meters sprint,  attended PCC in 1936 and 1937). Today, the ethnic profile includes: 36.9% Hispanic; 25.3% Asian or Pacific Islander; 12.0% White; 4.7% Black; 3.9% Filipino; 0.4% Native American; 0.3% Other; 6.3% Decline to state.

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

The PCC English Department‘s mission is “to provide a core curriculum for students to be successful in attaining their educational goals… The department is also committed to providing equity for all student populations by addressing the many learning styles of students through various pedagogical approaches.” It offers an Associate in Arts degree for transfer. The Student Learning Outcomes are as follows:

  1. Demonstrate sensitivity to and an analytical grasp of the nuances of literary language.
  2. Demonstrate critical thinking skills, specifically in relation to poetry, drama, fiction, or other types of literature.
  3. Demonstrate an understanding of the ways that literature helps to illuminate the human condition.
  4. Demonstrate reading skills relevant to literary study.
  5. Demonstrate writing skills relevant to literary study.

English (or in some cases the ESL) assessment is required of all new first-time college students attending Pasadena City College. PCC administers the ACCUPLACER exam to assess students’ skills in reading, grammar, and writing. There are two parts: Reading Comprehension and Sentence Skills. The computerized test adapts to the individual student’s skills. That means that the test first provides a basic question (not too easy, not too difficult.) If the student answers that question correctly, then the test provides an item of greater difficulty which is valued with more points. If the student gets the basic question wrong, then the test provides an item of lesser difficulty, which is valued with fewer points. The ACCUPLACER English assessment test measures a variety of skills, including Reading Comprehension (20 questions related to long and short reading passages, sentence relationships) and Sentence Skills (20 questions on sentence structure).

Students enter the composition sequence based on their assessment and placement exam.

But PCC also offers the Stretch Accelerated Composition (STACC) Program which places reading, writing, thinking, and scholarship as the core content of English Composition courses. By compressing the English Composition courses and sequence and allowing students to self-select their courses, the STACC program aims to increase access to and success in transfer-level English Composition courses.

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

The PCC 2014-2015 college catalog describes the pre-collegiate and freshman composition courses as follows:

ENGL 100 Reading and Writing Skills, 4 units
Prerequisite: One of the following: (1) Engl 400 or Bus 112; (2) placement based on the English assessment process. Corequisite: Engl 901.

Writing expository, analytical, and argumentative essays; developing critical reading research skills. Review of sentence structure and grammar. Required concurrent enrollment in Engl 901 Writing Center Lab. Recommended enrollment in Engl 130. No credit if taken after Engl 001A. Total of 72 hours lecture.

ENGL 001A Reading and Composition, 4 units
Prerequisite: One of the following: (1) Engl 100; (2) ESL 033B; (3) placement based on the English assess- ment process. Recommended Preparation: Engl 014.

Development of expository and argumentative essays. Instruction in writing annotated papers. Analysis of various forms of writing with emphasis on expository and argumentative essays. Total of 72 hours lecture. Transfer Credit: CSU; UC. *C-ID: ENGL 100

I observed the teaching of two sections of pre-collegiate English 100 Reading and Writing Skills, and I interviewed the two professors teaching each class.

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

The first section of English 100 Reading and Writing Skills that I observed is being taught by an adjunct professor. On the day I observed (during the eighth week of the spring semester), there were 27 students (out of the 29 registered), all of them seemingly in their late teens and early twenties (except one woman who seemed to be in her thirties). The majority (70 per cent have Hispanic last names, according to the professor), were Latinos; two males African American; two females Asian; one male Caucasian. Desk chairs were arranged in rows; there was a computer and document camera on a portable desk in the corner, and in the front wall a roll-down screen and two speakers.

As I waited for class to begin, students chatted easily; the professor sat at his desk in front of the classroom and talked with different students. Class began officially with the professor’s greeting and instructions for the day’s work. The professor collected the first and second drafts of their essay #2, and, since students were scheduled to take their midterm exam on grammar, he distributed the exam and the Scantron sheet for the answers. Then he gave instructions: this was an open-book/open-notes exam covering everything taught up to that date; they had forty minutes to answer questions one through fifty. He wrote the beginning time, the end time, and while students worked (keeping count on his smart phone), he wrote (every ten minutes) the time left. Open-book exams “improve your confidence level, and who is going to be foolish enough to cheat on an open book exam,” he said; students laughed. He walked around the room and answered, in low voice, students’ questions, then he worked at his desk.

When all students had submitted their exams, he asked students to take a 15 minute break, and he took all of the Scantrons to the department office and graded them. Upon his return, students seemed very pleased to have their grades back so soon. He announced the general results (e.g., 90 percent earned 45; one person earned 3.80 percent). Then the professor said, “let’s talk about these grammar items; ask questions, if you got it right or wrong, ask questions.” Students began to ask questions (e.g., “I thought #5 is a fragment”). They discussed #5 (“I love to eat and cook Italian food, especially lasagna and ravioli. I make everything from scratch”), the function of nouns and verbs, and why #5 is not a fragment. Students also asked about the use of pronouns, pronoun agreement, dangling modifiers, faulty parallelism, additives, adverbs, subject-verb agreement, and misplaced modifiers. Students had a great laugh with the dangling modifier sentence: “Jamal test-drove a car at a dealership with power windows and a sunroof.”

Next, the professor reminded students that including the results of that day’s test, 25 percent of the final grade had been determined. He told them to pay attention to upcoming deadlines: for dropping the class, for submitting their next draft of essay #2, for reading T.C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain, and for reading chapter 9 in Flachmann’s 10th edition of The Prose Reader: Essays for Thinking, Reading and Writing. He wrote these dates on the board and underlined the specific date for when the final draft of essay #2 would be due–and reminded them that it is important for them to include a Works Cited page.

Then they discussed essay #1 (a researched piece about three character traits of a successful entrepreneur), which, he said, he would be returning after the next week’s spring break: “Some of you did very well… after three drafts and a month working on this essay, I expected them to be quite polished.” Students were more interested in discussing the weaknesses, and the professor identified the major ones: lack of evidence that research was done, underdevelopment, lack of substantiating information to prove the main point, lack of textual evidence and a Works Cited page that follows MLA formatting, and too many recurrent errors.

Class ended and some students remained and talked with him: some wanted to check on their progress and grades; he consulted his grade book. One student was worried that he’d been absent too many times, and the professor assured him that if he continued to attend regularly he would have opportunities to improve his grade. Another student worried that he’d missed points in the midterm exam, and the professor assured him that if he did really well in the next exam, his grades would even out. He reminded each student that he is available for conferencing and that there are many other sources of support for them (e.g., Writing Center Lab).

In this class session, I observed that this professor applies/enacts several pedagogical approaches, providing clear and detailed oral and written instructions, including pointed emphasis on process, a little bit of lecturing, small group and whole class interaction, repeating a pattern of activities (reading, writing, revising), affirming students’ responses, asking probing questions, administering Scantron exams, and incorporating work in the Writing Center. In reading his syllabus I noted that he also incorporates reading and writing content that is relevant to Latino students, class discussions/writing activities/presentations, journal entries, and recurrent reminders of due dates and requirements.

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Once students were gone, I spoke with this professor for ten minutes, and since I had to observe another class, he very graciously agreed to talk with me later that day. Subsequently, we met in his classroom and he spoke with me for a generous hour. This professor is also teaching writing at two other community colleges, and he has taught Spanish online. In an academic year he may teach nine or more courses in four or more community colleges. He has been teaching writing in the community college for fifteen years, since earning a master’s degree (from a university in California) in comparative literature (of Spain and Latin America). He does not teach pre-collegiate composition online “ever,” and does not include technology, but “occasionally” he shows “a YouTube video.” He believes that his students need and want the interpersonal exchanges of the face-to-face classroom.

When I asked him to tell me about his experiences teaching writing to Latinos in the community college, his response was enthusiastic: “Latinos are the most sincere genuine students, especially at these colleges [where there is a high concentration of Latinos]. They are the ones of all the ethnicities who value education. I feel strong about this, but if I say it, it’ll sound like I have a preference for Latinos students. It’s that my background is from Spain. I feel closer to Latinos, especially those students over the age of 25 who work very hard. But in the classroom I treat all my students the same.” This professor said that he has noticed patterns of Latino student behavior: in community colleges where White students are in the majority, Latino students seem to believe that they’re getting “a better education,” but at the same time they believe that “they are out of their element”; in community colleges where there is a high concentration of Latinos, Latino students seem to be more “hungry for knowledge” [perhaps because they are newer immigrants, or striving harder to get out of low socio-economic conditions]; he finds that there is a combination of these patterns at PCC.

When I asked this professor to tell me about his pedagogical approaches for teaching writing in the community college, he said that he applies the same pedagogical approach to all students no matter their ethnicity or race or gender, but that he does give “more attention” to students who “stand out,” that is, students who seek extra help and who show that they need and want more support. “I ask students a lot of questions [about their needs], the same questions to everyone, no matter their ethnicity,” he said, “but their answers are different,” and thus, he said, he tries to respond accordingly to each student’s individual needs. He aims to be pointedly clear with students, so that, he said, they always know what and why they are learning, and what he expects of them.

His syllabus details the Student Learning Outcomes for English 100 Reading and Writing Skills:

Students will be assessed on their ability to:

  • write coherent, developed, and clearly constructed thesis-driven in-class and out-of-class essays using a variety of rhetorical approaches;
  • use effective strategies for pre-writing, composing, and revising of essays, both in and out of class;
  • read, summarize, analyze, and evaluate a variety of texts;
  • compose credible academic resources from the library to research a topic; and
  • document sources (print, electronic, and other) in MLA format;

His syllabus also details the Student Performance Outcomes:

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

  • Read critically as demonstrated by
    • identifying the main and supporting ideas in works of fiction and non-fiction.
    • recognizing the assumptions, stated and implied, in an argument.
  • Write clearly as demonstrated by
    • writing coherent, developed and clearly constructed expository, analytical and argumentative essays of 500-700 words that support thesis statements adequately. This should include the ability to write complete essays in class.
    • forming grammatical sentences free from major errors in mechanics, punctuation, and spelling.
(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Drawing from his experience teaching writing to Latino students in the community college, this professor identified these as the three most important factors needed in order to improve Latino students’ rates of success:

  1. “Teach them time management, planning their lives, and organizing. That’s important.”
  2. “Plant seeds and curiosity” in students, especially because “so many things are handed to them, for example, spellcheck, so they don’t work as hard as they should.” But if you “plant seeds and encourage curiosity, students can be motivated.”
  3. Create opportunities for students to practice writing consistently. They have to write and read inside and outside of class; they have to be “encouraged to want to write, write every day, in a journal for example—write and read consistently.”
(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

The second section of English 100 Reading and Writing Skills that I observed is being taught by an adjunct professor. On the day I observed (during the eighth week of the spring semester), there were 22 students (out of the 30 registered), all of them seemingly in their late teens and early twenties. Most seemed to be Latinos; two African American; two Asian; one Caucasian. Desk chairs were arranged in rows; there was a large television in front, a computer and document camera on a portable desk in the corner, a white board, and in the front wall a roll-down screen and two speakers.

As I waited for class to begin, students chatted easily. I noticed the agenda for the day written on the board: Tonight

  • freewriting
  • peer review
  • collecting journals/freewriting on Thursday 3/19

Class started officially with the professor’s greeting, taking roll and noting that a few students were absent (perhaps because they left early for spring break). She announced that she was reading/grading their essays #1, and that although she had “a lot to do over the break,” she was “really enjoying” the process. Then she explained that they were going to start class by spending 15 minutes freewriting about their out-of-class essay #2, and that this freewriting was “a little more focused than usual.” She wrote on the board: “Two things I want you to address. Please answer both: 1) What do you like most about your essay? 2) What do you need to work on?” Most students wrote non-stop; at the end, she collected their hand-written freewrites.

Next, she asked students to form groups of three or four, and to welcome any student who arrived late. Their task was to do guided peer review on their in-progress essay #2 about raising children. She distributed a handout with the following instructions:

  • Everyone must take a turn to read their work out loud to the group. After an essay has been read, the group should have a conversation about the essay and then answer the questions in this form. (All authors must complete a “peer review” for their own work as well.) Repeat this process until each group member has been peer reviewed.
  • Each reviewer is encouraged to write comments and make corrections on the author’s manuscrip in addition to answering each peer review question. Reviewers should write their names at the top of each manuscript.
  • When you are finished reviewing the author’s paper, give all materials back to the author. All peer review sheets must be put into the author’s final folder along with other required materials.
  1. Is the thesis statement underlined in the introductory paragraph? Is it clearly written? Does it make sense? If not, where does the author need help?
  2. Examine the body of the essay. Does each paragraph relate to the thesis? Is the paper clear and focused? If not, where does the author need help?
  3. Consider the level of detail in the manuscript. Where could the author use more specific details?
  4. Examine the introduction and conclusion of the essay. Does the essay begin in an interesting way? Does it move smoothly into the body of the essay? Also consider the conclusion. Does it feel like a part of the essay or does it feel tacked on? Is there a clear enough point to the essay that others can relate to?
  5. Examine the author’s use of sources from Flackmann’s The Prose Reader: Essays for Thinking, Reading and Writing (if any): does the author introduce each source to the readers before citing the information? Does the author provide page numbers (parenthetical citation) after direct quotes? (See page 441 in Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference.) Do you always know when the author is using information from The Prose Reader? Where does the author need help?
  6. Proofread the author’s essay. Circle and/or underline as many sentence-level and technical errors as you can.
(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

(Sidenote: Later, I read the professor’s handout with instructions for completing Out of Class Essay #2. Students could choose from two modes: compose an argument or compose a comparison/contrast. In each of those modes there were two options for themes: students could choose to argue for or against Richard Rodriguez’s point in “Public and Private Language,” or, for or against Amy Chua’s point in “How Chinese Mothers are Superior.” Or, students could compare and contrast the way they were raised with the style of parenting they plan to use for raising their own children, or they could compare and contrast the gender roles and expectations for men and women in their own family and/or a specific culture.)

Writers distributed hard copies of their essays, so that every student in the group had everyone else’s essays. They started by reading aloud to the members of their small groups, and (I admit my enjoyment of this…) the room filled with euphony. (Listen to a two minute clip here.) The professor encouraged everyone to read “as loud as you can.” Students in each group followed the reader in their own copy of the author’s essay. “Reading aloud to one another,” the professor explained, “teaches you a lot about your voice and not to ignore mistakes.” She reminded students that before working on the peer review sheet, they had to describe what they wrote about in their freewrites that night, “circle errors” in the author’s essay, and explain what they liked and did not like about the essay read. It took each reader about four minutes to finish reading, then the groups started working on the peer review worksheet. The professor walked around the room listening and talking with students. I heard students say the following:

  • “What you say in the first paragraph… I don’t get it.”
  • “Why don’t you say this instead…”
  • “It sounded good, honestly. Your thesis is clear and to the point.”
  • “Write that down so you don’t forget.”
  • “Oh, I was supposed to use italics there.”
  • “I feel like these two sentences should be united. You should find a way to combine them. How about…”
  • “So what kind of parenting do you think your parents did? How was it like Amy Chua’s?” [That comment was a reference to an piece students read, in The Prose Reader, titled “How Chinese Mothers are Superior,”  which is an excerpt from Amy Chua’s The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.]
  • “Your ideas are there but the organization… look… here…”
  • “I wrote like twenty paragraphs. I think mine’s too long. Can it be longer than three pages?”
  • Peer: “The first two sentences are getting to me, in the first paragraph. You’re saying something out of the blue.”
  • Writer: “Take that out?”
  • Peer: “Yeah. Make sure you put in supporting concrete details.”
  • “I would suggest that you don’t write in third person; this essay is about how you were raised.”
  • “My mother never really pushed me to have better morals and I should have. Morals are important to me. If my kids don’t have anything, they’ll have that. If a child does not respect, they don’t respect what they have and will lose what they have.” [This came from a student responding to his peer’s question about how he planned to provide more details and examples in a section of his essay.]
  • “I’m going to write a little about me. Luckily, I have two sisters I grew up with. My dad had six kids, three boys and three girls. My dad was a good person but he wasn’t around a lot. He died when I was so young.” (This came from a student responding to her peer’s question about how she was going to include evidence.]
  • “I believe children have to be heard more; I was told to go to my room and shut up. I will raise my children better than how I was raised.” [This came from a student responding to his peer’s question about clarifying his thesis.]
(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

The professor walked around the classroom and talked with students until the second person started reading, then she sat at her desk and talked with students she either called or came up to her. Most students had brief questions. Here are sample exchanges:

Student 1: “Can a thesis be more than one sentence?”

Professor: “Do you want me to look at it… Revise this one and then take it to the Writing Center so that some one else can work with you too.”

Student 2: “Can you look at my conclusion?”

Professor: Reads… “This is good. Great details. What about this paragraph here? What do you want to say?”

Student 2: Looks it over… “I want to say that…”

Professor: “Then say that at the beginning of the paragraph; it’s compelling. Go back and do that in each paragraph” [meaning to create topic sentences].

Student 3: “I don’t know about my introduction.”

Professor: Looks it over, points to a section… “Yes, that’s a good start, but think about the words that are necessary in your thesis. And, can you make these clear, these three points?”

Student 4: “I felt good when I was writing it, and then I started reading it aloud… hmmm, hmmmm, dang. Barnes and Noble’s not waiting for me. That is not going to be a best seller.”

Professor: Looks it over, then they discuss clarifying his thesis and the supporting points, plus some of the punctuation (e.g., semicolons and commas).

About five minutes before class was to end officially, the professor made a couple of reminders and encouraged students to revise during spring break, and then to take their drafts to the Writing Center Lab. Students who had not finished editing their peer’s draft remained in the room about ten more minutes;  the professor and I stayed too.

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

In this class session, I observed that this professor applies/enacts several pedagogical approaches, including pointed emphasis on process, small group collaboration, whole class interaction, some lecturing, affirming students’ work and responses, journaling/ freewriting inside and outside the classroom, repeating a pattern of activities (reading, discussing, writing, revising) inside and outside of the classroom, asking probing questions, individual conferencing in the classroom, reminding students that English 901 Writing Center Lab work is (required and) useful, distributing electronic and hard copies (of handouts, notes and assignments), underscoring and repeating instructions in written and oral form. In reading this professor’s syllabus, I noted that she also incorporates reading comprehension quizzes and that she grades participation/attendance/Writing Center work.

Her syllabus notes the Student Learning Outcomes for English 100 Reading and Writing Skills:

Students will be assessed on their ability to:

  • write coherent, developed, and clearly constructed thesis-driven in-class and out-of-class essays using a variety of rhetorical approaches;
  • use effective strategies for pre-writing, composing, and revising of essays, both in and out of class;
  • read, summarize, analyze, and evaluate a variety of texts;
  • compose credible academic resources from the library to research a topic; and
  • document sources (print, electronic, and other) in MLA format;

Her syllabus also details the Student Performance Outcomes:

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

  • Read critically as demonstrated by
    • identifying the main and supporting ideas in works of fiction and non-fiction.
    • recognizing the assumptions, stated and implied, in an argument.
  • Write clearly as demonstrated by
    • writing coherent, developed and clearly constructed expository, analytical and argumentative essays of 500-700 words that support thesis statements adequately. This should include the ability to write complete essays in class.
    • forming grammatical sentences free from major errors in mechanics, punctuation, and spelling.
(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Once students were gone, I spoke with this professor, in the classroom, for half an hour. On a yearly basis, this professor also teaches about nine writing courses, at two or more community colleges. She earned a master’s degree in English at a university in California and has been teaching writing in the community college for eight and a half years. She does not teach pre-collegiate composition online, but she incorporates technology (e.g., handouts, lessons and other material are archived in CANVAS, the college’s learning management system; although she keeps “a more detailed” hard copy of her grade book, in order to make it easier for students to access their grades, she uses CANVAS’ grade book as a second option; all students must save their work in a thumb drive; they screen a documentary). (When she teaches English 1A freshman composition, she incorporates more technology; for instance, students do reader response activities online. She also incorporates culturally responsive texts, such as The Distance Between Us, a memoir by Reyna Grande, a Mexican American graduate of PCC–though she worries about how to teach and talk to Latino students from her perspective as a White woman.)

This professor said that she does not use a different pedagogy with Latino students, partly because PCC controls/guides curriculum and pedagogy more closely than other colleges where she teaches, but that she’s aware and informed about Latinos. She noted that it’s important to remember students’ names, to read their stories/what they write and get to know them as individuals, “not to put them in one group” (because “Latinos” are not a monolith), to pay attention to the women (especially, because they tend to be quiet and “less likely to talk”), to “find ways to make Latinos feel comfortable and welcomed” in her classroom.

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Drawing from her experience teaching writing to Latino students in the community college, this professor identified these as the three most important factors needed in order to improve Latino students’ rates of success:

  1. Focus on the “human level, on human interaction” (that is, “the attitude that everybody brings to the table”): “make them feel like they belong here; make them feel like they have a voice; use the reading assignments and the writing to say ‘you belong, you have a right to be here’.”
  2. Provide “something outside of the classroom, some sort of place where they can go to connect with other first generation college students. Most Latino students here are first generation and it’s very intimidating for them to be in college; they need not just a first year program.”
  3. “I feel like there needs to be more outreach, especially for older students. I have some students that are older than me.”

Evergreen Valley College: Teaching Developmental and First Year Composition to Latin@s in the Community College

Evergreen Valley College, located on 175 acres in the eastern foothills of San José, was opened in 1975 and today educates about 15,000 students from over 70 countries. Its mission statement says: “With equity, opportunity and social justice as our guiding principles, Evergreen Valley College’s mission is to empower and prepare students from diverse backgrounds to succeed academically and to be civically responsible global citizens.” EVC is part of the San José Evergreen Community College District, along with San José City College and its partner, the Workforce Institute. Classes are offered during fall, spring, summer, short-term and evening sessions. The ethnic profile at EVC includes: 30% Latinos; 15% Vietnamese American; 20% otherAsian/Pacific Islander; 15% Anglo; 4% African American; 1% Native American; 15% unknown.


(Photo by DMG)

The English Department offers an Associate in Arts degree. The Program Learning Outcomes for the AA degree in English are as follows:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of and familiarity with the methods of interpreting literature across genres.
  • Assess, evaluate, and analyze ideas expressed in text or in spoken language.
  • Express orally and in writing coherent arguments that evidence clear prose and synthesize diverse bodies of knowledge.

I observed the teaching of freshman English 1A English Composition and pre-collegiate English 104 Fundamentals of Composition. Descriptions of each class are in the 2014-2015 college catalogue:

ENGL-001A– English Composition 

English 001A is the first course in a transfer level sequence (English 001A, 001B) designed to equip students with the skills necessary for writing college level compositions. The course emphasizes expository writing, critical reading, and research techniques. Students are required to produce a series of academic essays including a documented research paper in conventional format. Analysis of readings and the practice of writing processes create the bases for student essays.

All English 001A students will take a Department Final which will be holistically scored by at least two faculty members and will represent 20% of their course grade. Units: 3. Lecture Hours: 3. Lab Hours: None. Repeatable: No.

Prerequisite: Continuing students must complete ((ENGL 104 or ENGL 092) and (ENGL 102 or READ 101)) or ESL 091; all with C or better. New students will be placed based on the results of assessment.

ENGL-104 – Fundamentals of Composition

English 104 is an introduction to academic discourse and to writing short essays. The course develops competence in analytic reading and expository writing. The course stresses paragraph and essay structure through the use of pre-writing, revision, editing, and peer review strategies. Competence in English usage and syntactic variety will also be developed. Students will respond to culturally relevant model writings for general, academic, and special audiences. English 104 includes a three-hour weekly writing lab, which determines 25% of each student’s final course grade. Twenty percent of each student’s grade will be based on a department final essay exam. The course meets the pre-requisite for ENGL-001A. Units: 4.

Prerequisite: ESL 302 or ENGL 322 or READ 301 and (ENGL 330 or 335); all with C or placement based on assessment. Corequisite: XENGLS-104L.


(Photo by DMG)

The section of English 1A Composition that I observed is part of the Enlace academic program. The mission of the Enlace Program is “to help Chican@/Latin@ students successfully complete the academic core (English, Math, and Science) and to guide Chican@/Latin@ students effectively through transfer and occupational courses in a timely manner.” The professor teaching the section I observed explained that the Enlace classes “triangulate” because students are guided, supported and mentored by a counselor, a program coordinator, the chairs of the gateway classes (in English, math, science), peer tutors, and of course the instructors. The Enlace academic program began in 1983 and is supported by counseling, tutoring, community mentoring, and student organizations. Student eligibility is determined by academic assessment and placement scores. About 90 percent of the approximately 700 students enrolled in Enlace classes are Latino/as. The program has six primary goals:

  1. To successfully matriculate and retain Latino/a students.
  2. To enable Latino/a students to successfully complete the Enlace English, Math, Science, and Guidance courses.
  3. To mainstream Latino/a students into the general education and transfer curricula.
  4. To increase the number of Latino/a students who graduate with an Associate of Arts or Associate of Sciences degree.
  5. To increase the number of Latino/a students who transfer to four-year colleges and universities.
  6. To create a cadre of student leaders.

(Photo by DMG)

The latest Enlace Program Review (2010-2011) states that since 2000 the Latino population at EVC has ranged from 27 to 33 percent, and that its strategic plan has included expanding the program by offering more sections, specially those that are developmental and transfer gateway courses. Up to 2009, the success rate of Latinos students enrolled in the program was 80 percent; the success rate for other Enlace students was 79 percent. Latinas in the program overwhelming outnumbered Latinos; they constituted 61 percent of all participants. This program review also describes that Enlace professors enact pedagogy founded on culturally responsive teaching (CRT), which, they believe, is a tool for creating an environment where students have equitable access to success.

The Enlace Program Review asserts that CRT includes the following elements:

  • Communication of high expectations
  • Active teaching methods that promote student engagement
  • Teacher as facilitator
  • Positive perspectives on families and communities of culturally and linguistically diverse students
  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Reshaping the curriculum so it is culturally responsive to the background of students
  • Culturally mediated instruction, characterized by the use of culturally mediated cognition, culturally appropriate social situations for learning, and culturally valued knowledge in curriculum content.
  • Student controlled classroom discourse
  • Small group instruction and academically-related discourse

This professor’s multipage syllabus details the Learning Outcomes for the class. “Upon completion of this course, you will be able to:

  1. Critically analyze primarily academic non-fiction readings with consideration of principles of coherence, tone, purpose, and social, political, historical, and economic context.
  2. Organize information from readings, experiences, and class discussions into an argument with a clear thesis.
  3. Organize paragraphs into logical effective, sequence, developing the central idea of the essay towards a logical, satisfying conclusion.
  4. Write and revise essays at the thesis, paragraph, and sentence levels, including a research essay using MLA citation style.
  5. Find, analyze, interpret, and properly cite print, non-print, and electronic sources using MLA style. You will understand and avoid plagiarism.

Students are required to attend individual conferences with the professor and to pass an essay exam administered to all English 1A students; those essays are read by two other English professors.

Photo by DMG

(Photo by DMG)

The section of English 1A Composition that I observed is being taught by an adjunct Latina professor trained in culturally responsive teaching and critical theory and pedagogy. On the day I observed (during the sixth week of the spring semester), there were 17 students (out of the 25 registered), all of them seemingly in their late teens and early twenties (except for a woman who seemed to be in her mid-thirties). They were all Latino. Desks and chairs were arranged in rows, but later (when students engaged whole-class discussion) the professor asked that students reconfigure the chairs into a large circle.

As I waited for class to begin, I noted that students talked easily with one another; the professor walked around and chatted with individuals, at one point speaking Spanish, at another point reminding everyone to submit their student profile forms to her. The professor started class by saying hello and taking attendance. This week they were working on revising essay #2. She asked that they get into the groups that they had already formed during a previous classroom activity, and that they discuss Donald Murray’s The Craft of Revision (excerpted in their required book, Bartholomae and Petrosky’s Ways of Reading), and then report to the class.

Most students started talking with their group members right away; they had hardcopies of the reading and often referred to parts of the reading. Five minutes later, the professor reminded them of the protocol for reporting to the entire class: “Remember, first introduce yourself and your group; talk about how this piece made you feel about writing.” The professor walked around, listening, answering questions, and chatting briefly with groups and individuals. I heard the following:

  • “Murray says to relax before writing” and the professor affirmed: “Yes, Murray gives you concrete strategies.”
  • “In the first draft don’t worry about grammar, just write it out” and the professor offered: “Sometimes what you write surprises you.”
  • “It’s important to know your writing habits,” and the professor offered: “That’s an important one! There’s not one writing process; we are all different. What kind of writer are you? Are you a planner? Yes, know your habits. Is it better to go home or to stay in the library? What are your habits? Be self aware. Do you write in the morning, in 15 minute increments, all in one shot, what?”
  • “Big words don’t make the essay good. It’s more about getting your message across… Writing good is about practicing, so you have to expect more from yourself… Talent is nothing,” and the professor offered: “I don’t get that last part; find the page.”
  • “Don’t put so much burden on yourself for the first draft. Lower the standard ’cause you know the first draft is not gonna be good. Then you put your own twist to it to make it unique,” and the professor offered: “You don’t have to give up your voice.”
  • “Revision is trial and error. Not all drafts are mistakes. You take what’s good and start again. Don’t be so critical of your own work.”

Fifteen minutes later, the professor asked the entire class: “Was this a useful piece for you?” Students answered affirmatively, and she said: “If you want to learn more, look at Murray’s book Write to Learn; it’s in the library.” And then she asked: “Are you ready to move forward? How many signed up to follow our class blog?” She distributed a quiz (which, she pointed out, she had also posted on the blog). She gave students instructions for completing the quiz: “Pick one of the terms and define it. Take five minutes. It’s not graded, it’s a plus or minus.” Almost all students wrote; two minutes into the assignment, the professor saw one student staring into space; she went to him and they spoke in low voices, then he smiled and started writing. The professor announced when there was a minute left, and collected the quiz.

Then she said: “We’re moving toward our discussion of our next essay about the English that we use; we’re gonna use Anzaldúa [“How to Tame a Wild Tongue”] and Tan [“Mother Tongue”] to think about that. I want to turn the discussion to you; get into groups of five people; make sure everyone has read; pick one or two of the questions and the terms, and you will lead the class discussion. These questions are meant to guide you; if you think of something else, bring it up. We will start today and we will finish discussion in the next class. I’ll walk around and see what questions you chose.” She distributed a hard copy of the “guided reading of Tan and Anzaldúa; questions included:

  • What do Anzaldúa and Tan say about the relationship between language and identity?
  • What ways of thinking about language and English do you think Anzaldúa and Tan are responding to?

Key terms and phrases included:

  • Mother tongue
  • Identity
  • Bilingualism
  • Biculturalism
  • The “Englishes” we speak
  • Linguistic terrorism
  • Border tongue
  • Deslenguadas

In her syllabus, the professor gives instructions for completing essay #2, “The ‘Englishes’ You Speak and Write: Summary and Response”: “Amy Tan and Gloria Anzaldúa write about the different languages they speak… Write a two-part essay. In part one summarize the argument of one of the two essays… In part two… respond to their discussion about language communities and language use.”

The professor walked from group to group, consulting, affirming, and asking how the terms they chose “go along with the question you chose.” She requested that the groups think about the questions they would ask the rest of the class in order to “get the conversation going.” When students took out their hard copies of the articles, I saw that many of them were marked up, highlighted and scribbled on the margins. When a student sat alone seemingly hesitating, the professor walked over to the group next to him and asked: “How can we get him to participate in this group?” A few minutes later she sat with a group and joined their conversation, asking questions, giving suggestions, and adding ideas.

In their groups, students talked animatedly. They told each other stories about their experiences speaking Spanish, visiting their home countries and while there being laughed at for not talking Spanish well, or for not understanding fully. I heard stories about their parents attempting to speak English, and their parents requiring that they only speak English because, the student said, “English is the universal language; look, look at soccer teams across the world, they speak English.” As the professor stopped by each group, she asked students to find evidence to support their understandings: “Take us to the text, to the passage that makes the point; think about that as you prepare your discussion for the whole class.”

At half an hour before class was to end, in preparation for the whole class discussion, the professor requested that everyone move chairs into a large circle. She explained that they would only have time for one presentation, and that if any group was not completely prepared, to exchange contact information and get ready on their own time before the next class meeting. The leader of the first group introduced herself and the members of her group, and then explained that she wanted to start the conversation by asking everyone how they identify themselves: “I say I’m Mexican; what do you say?” The professor interjected: “Remember that this is about the English that you use and the relationship between language and culture.” Students began to share their responses:

  • I see myself as Salvadoran.
  • I identify with the language that I speak, Chicano Spanish.
  • This quote says “dime como hablas, dime quien eres.”
  • I consider myself American, but when I talk to Mexicans I say I’m Mexican.
  • If you’re American you have a better chance.
  • So you’re embarrassed to be Mexican?
  • No, I’m just trying to get ahead, to, like, have an edge.
  • But can’t you just be both?
  • Saying you’re Mexican won’t let you get ahead?
  • You were born here, so that’s what you say, American.
  • What do you mean by an edge?
  • You just gotta play it strategic.
  • Yeah but in some jobs if you’re bilingual you get more of an edge. It can be an advantage to be Mexican, like in getting scholarships.
  • I identify as Mexican because I was born in Mexico. I first spoke English when I was nine.
  • I left my Mexican identity behind. I’m different now than when I lived over there.
  • My father is going to school to learn English. At home we speak Spanish only.
  • My dad is Portuguese; my mom is Portuguese and Mexican, and I only speak English. I say I’m American, because I was born here, raised here. If I go to Mexico or Portugal, they chew me alive.
  • I always say Mexican. I don’t know why. I was born here.
  • I feel like I’m both a Chicano and American. I speak Chicano.
  • I’m not from there or from here. I’m in the middle. I speak both.
  • I’m Hispanic, El Salvadoran, but I was born in America. I speak very broken Spanish.

Five minutes before class was to end, the professor said: “This is a really good discussion; we will talk about the readings next class.” Then she projected the instructions for essay 2 and talked for a few minutes. Once class was dismissed, some students lined up to ask her questions.

In this class session, I observed that this professor applies/enacts several pedagogical approaches, including pointed emphasis on process, a little bit of lecturing/providing context, incorporating reading and writing content that is relevant to Latino students, small group and whole class interaction, repeating a pattern of activities (reading, discussing, writing), affirming students’ responses and prodding toward further insights by asking probing questions, administering short in-class quizzes, requiring that students collaborate and take turns leading class discussions and activities, and scaffolding assignments and activities.

The grounds of the college are park-like. (Photo by DMG)

The grounds of the college campus are park-like. (Photo by DMG)

Once students were gone, I interviewed this professor, right in the classroom, for over half an hour. She earned a Master’s degree (in English Composition), an MFA (in creative nonfiction), and a PhD (in ethnic studies), at universities in California; she has been teaching writing for 16 years. This professor teaches about nine courses per year, most of them capped at 35, all of them in face-to-face mode, in various institutions. She says that she is “passionate” about teaching writing, and that the “challenge” for her as a teacher is to decrease attrition, and the attitude that if English were not required, students would not sign up for the classes.

She wants to “show students that English classes are actually about thinking, reading, and writing.” She wants to “shift students’ ideas about English classes, to shift them from a place of apprehension, to thinking, wow, this is useful.” She wants students to “understand the inner and outer works” of their places in higher education, and to grasp that in “being critical readers and writers, they engage their lives; they understand that there’s more to education than getting a better paying job than their parents.” She wants “students to understand that education is empowering and gives you the ability to advocate for yourself,” and therefore she works arduously to “demystify what one does in college and what higher education is all about.”

This professor believes that it is easier for students to engage in the classroom when content is relevant to them, and thus she incorporates Dave Bartholomew’s theories on the social cultural construction of meaning. She said: “Your job as an educator is to help all of your students to become literate, even if this matters to different students differently.” She said that her pedagogy is the same despite the ethnicity of her students.

This professor incorporates technology in her teaching. In this class, students must have access to a computer, a school email account, a working printer, and a flash drive for when they work in the lab; all of the course materials, including the syllabus and handouts, are included in the course website, and students follow the course blog.

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Drawing from her experiences, this professor identified these three most important needs in order to improve the rates of success of Latinos in college writing classes:

  1. We need more Latino teachers who are sensitive to Latinos’ needs and who can do culturally relevant teaching–“not that non-Latinos can’t teach as well, but Latinos teach from a different place; they offer something different.” That place and difference is important: “they share, with Latino students, basic experiences and ways of understanding; their pedagogy is grounded in that place, in that specific Latino social and cultural experience.”
  2. We need to have smaller classes, a cap of 25: “that would be huge.” That would make it easier for students to be “supported with services like tutoring and counseling.”
  3. We have to address Latino students’ financial needs. We have to understand why students leave writing classes and college. For the most part, they leave because “they have to choose between their work schedule/financial needs and studying. We have to identify “ways of dealing with this need, like they did at UC Santa Cruz; after studying the situation, they created ‘retention services’ and hired as many Latinos as possible right on campus; they created peer mentoring; and now all that is having a huge impact on Latinos who can now work and live on campus.”
Students working in the library. (Photo by DMG)

Students working in the library. (Photo by DMG)

The section of English 104 Fundamentals of Composition that I observed is being taught by a full-time tenured professor. On the day I observed (during the sixth week of the spring semester), there were 27 students (out of the 30 registered), all of them seemingly in their late teens and early twenties. The professor said that between 30 percent and 40 percent of his students are Latino; he also teaches a lot of Filipino and Asian students. This time, they were meeting in the computer lab, each student seated in front of a desktop computer, and all desks arranged in rows.

Before class started, I noticed that the agenda for the day, written on the board, included this information: “pg 118 for CC,” conferences for “groups SMR,” and below that the names of three students. Subsequently I realized that students had scheduled themselves to meet with him one-on-one, in order to discuss the progress of their essays. Class began with greetings and comments about the singer Ariana Grande’s performance on television just the night before. The professor took attendance and asked if everyone had received the email message he had sent the previous day, on Sunday, about the scheduled quiz (on “the order of ideas”).  He had given students the quiz question: “I gave you the hardest question on the quiz,” he said, “why would I do that?” Students offered answers, for instance, “because you want us to study and pass the quiz.” They proceeded to discuss two organizational patterns for composing a comparison contrast essay:  point by point, and subject by subject. Also, an essay was due that day.

Next, the professor led a discussion about  “writing from sources/research writing.” On the screen in front of the classroom, he projected a list of resources posted on the course’s learning management system (Moodle) page, including the required readings (which means students don’t have to pay to purchase additional reading materials). They talked a bit about formatting, and an assignment requiring that they compose a summary (number of pages, spacing, MLA); he reminded students that their aim in the summary is primarily to identify the main point in the reading, Richard E. Meyer’s “A Suicide at Twelve: Why Steve?” This reading narrates the story of a boy named Steven Dailey from the moment he is born until the last day of his life.

As the professor and the class discussed this article and the assignment, the professor walked around the classroom. He geared the conversation toward describing the process of composing, “step by step” (including length/number of paragraphs, inserting and documenting quotes, paraphrasing–“the hard part of this assignment”–avoiding plagiarism and opinions). Most students also viewed the notes on their own computer screens. He reminded students that there would be a quiz on that process. After confirming that there were no more questions, the professor walked around the classroom chatting briefly with some students. Students began to work on their summaries, and the professor moved to a conner of the room where he conferenced with the students scheduled to meet with him on that day.

The professor met with student “Maria” (not her real name). (I observed from a close distance.) Maria, sitting to his right, showed him her handwritten draft, and he read it, stopping to affirm what was working and to ask questions when something needed clarification: “I thought your first paragraph sets up things very nicely… structure is good.” He diagnosed her essay as he read it, and when she seemed confused about an issue, he elaborated with a personal example. Again and again, he affirmed what was working in her essay (“nice transition… this looks good”) and where she could improve (“those are places where you can give examples”). He pointed out a few grammatical errors: “let’s see the difference between possessives and apostrophes.” Toward the end, he wrote an assignment for her, a “to do” list: give more examples, look at possessives. He spent about ten minutes with Maria. At the end of the session, he jotted something in his grade book.

Next, the professor met with student “Ana” (not her real name). They looked at the assignment she had completed in the workbook, and at one point he said something humorous and they both laughed easily. He affirmed that she’d done the work well, then they looked at her typed essay. “Nice description,” he said; “this paragraph needs more descriptions, and here you started going off into something new”; “organization is good”; “here are two grammar errors, but I didn’t correct them; I want you to do it in the workbook.” He told her to make a follow-up appointment with him. He gave her homework, a “to do” list. He spent about ten minutes with Ana. At the end of the session, he jotted something in his grade book.

Next, the professor met with student “Stephanie” (not her real name). “How did it go,” he asked as she sat to his right. He looked at her essay and said, “nice start, you set up the first paragraph with a nice thesis,” then joked that there’d be a one dollar charge for every missing capital letter. When there was uncertainty about some specific fact, he said, “let’s look it up on our phones.” He guided her further: “you started a new topic here… should this be a new paragraph… I would have been appreciative if you’d put in more details here”). He gives her homework, a “to do” list (reconsider her use of apostrophes, add details). He spent about ten minutes with Ana. At the end of the session, he jotted something in his grade book.

Fifteen minutes before the class was to end, the professor walked around the classroom and chatted briefly with individual students. Right before class was to end, he reconvened the class and asked if there were any questions.

(Photo from EVC website)

(Photo from EVC website)

In this class session, I observed that this professor applies/enacts several pedagogical approaches, including whole class interaction, repeating a pattern of activities (workbook exercises, reading, drafting essays, conferencing with him), affirming students’ responses and prodding toward further insights by asking probing questions, administering short in-class quizzes, and most of all requiring that students conference with him. His syllabus notes the following:

  • There are six writing assignments in the course.
  • There is a rough draft, a final draft, and an optional revised draft for each assignment, but only the final draft is used for grading purposes.
  • Students meet in the computer labs from time to time, which helps them improve word processing capabilities.
  • A major portion of class time is devoted to individual teacher-student conferencing. The purpose of these informal conferences is to discuss essays, to make assignments in the textbook, and to determine the specific needs for additional revision.
  • Emphasis is placed on the process of writing and on individual assignments based on students’ “areas of strength and weakness.”
  • There is an answer key for the work done in the textbook; it is listed online.
  • There is a required Writing Lab component in the class; that lab helps students to practice the skills learned in the class, and to prepare for the departmental final exam.

The “purpose” of the course is to “develop competence in writing short (5+ paragraph) essays.” His syllabus also notes that there are these Learning Outcomes:

  1. Demonstrate the ability to comprehend beginning college level reading materials and to use them as a springboard for their own writing.
  2. State a thesis and support it with sufficient and appropriate evidence drawn from personal experience, observations, and readings.
  3. Develop an organized essay reflecting sentence variety, syntactic complexity, and paragraph efficiency.
  4. Write in clear, precise, effective English, using vocabulary appropriate to beginning college level English, showing mastery of basic mechanical skills, and demonstrating a basic knowledge of sentence structures.
  5. Analyze the logical requirements of expository writing and complete all tasks set forth by an assignment.
  6. Select, narrow, refine, and control a topic using multiple prewriting techniques such as clustering, brainstorming, listing, and free writing.
  7. Revise in order to achieve a more effective order of ideas, clear transitions, and stronger paragraphs.
  8. Edit compositions in order to remove mechanical errors in punctuation, spelling, and capitalization.
  9. Plan and write timed impromptu compositions including department final exam.
  10. Demonstrate critical thinking skills and writing skills leading to an expressive or analytical response at the beginning level of college writing.
(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Once students were gone, I interviewed this professor, right in the classroom, for about five minutes, but he had to teach the next class, thus he agreed to finish the interview later in the day when he generously spoke with me for an hour. This professor earned two MA degrees (in English and creative writing) from universities in California and abroad. He has been teaching for 36 years, and has also served EVC as an administrator. He explained that he uses humor to help set a relaxed environment where students can feel at ease. He believes that like all students, some Latinos are very well prepared to succeed in his writing classes, that some are definitely underprepared, and that some are just “biding time.” For instance, he said, there are some Latinas who are “highly prepared/ motivated/ successful (perhaps more than any other group) and, another, relatively unmotivated, perhaps because they are not seeking to complete degrees. Instead they probably see college classes as a social environment en route to family life.”

This professor explained that with male Latinos it is important to be “sensitive” so as not to make them feel “affronted,” and that when needed he always provides ways for them to “save face.” That is important generally, he said, because as a professor he is “criticizing their writing,” and that can feel “threatening to students.” He affirms that he does not use different pedagogy for Latinos, but that he is aware of cultural uniquenesses: “I use sound pedagogy focused on a lot of individual work.” That works well, he believes, especially when students arrive in his classrooms with a “high school attitude” (that is, requiring a lot of hand-holding and prodding), and when they need to be “motivated.” Requiring that students conference with him regularly helps him to “supervise,” especially, students who have a “high school attitude.” He said that he is particularly conscious of how he handles comments on students’ essays, since those comments can be misconstrued as easily as they can serve to motivate.

This professor says he “balks” at teaching writing completely online, “especially with English learners,” because “you miss the interpersonal.” But his classrooms are “flipped,” so that students complete work online and arrive in the face-to-face classroom prepared to build on what they learned. That, he says, helps him to emphasize conferencing and to provide the “highly individualized tutoring approach” and attention that his students need. Flipping the classroom also allows him to create opportunities for students to  practice word processing. He uses Moodle (the learning management system) for storing helpful and required information, and in his own webpage students can find the syllabus, essay due dates, assignment progression, essay assignments, and grading worksheet.

This professor chooses not to lecture much, or include specifically culturally relevant reading material, since, he said, topics focusing on “harnessing the social dimension” (the every day needs of functioning in society) are more relevant and needed for the students he teaches. For instance, students complete reading and writing tasks that lead to a “mini research essay on class action lawsuits”; those tasks include material on gender and race discrimination lawsuits. When it comes to teaching grammar, he prefers to follow Mina Shaughnessy’s pedagogical approach (as described in Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing).

He helps students to remain focused and on task by providing digital and hard copies of a “grade worksheet” where each assignment’s points worth is listed, and where they can record the grades they earn for each assignment. Likewise, he also provides students with a “progressions with reading textbook assignment sheet” where students can check off, from the list of required assignments, what they have completed satisfactorily, and where they can log the dates and work done during conferences. And, he provides a document with “step-by-step directions” for completing each of the required six essays; those directions include these same steps (and information that is specific to each of the particular six essays):

  • orientation (what to do before starting the essay),
  • preliminary textbook work,
  • choosing an essay topic,
  • completing background reading and interviews,
  • pre-writing activities,
  • writing a rough draft of the essay,
  • racing and revising the rough draft,
  • writing a final draft
  • editing the final draft
  • conferencing with the professor
  • follow-up textbook assignments and revisions
(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Drawing from his experiences, this professor identified these three most important needs in order to improve the rates of success of Latinos in college writing classes:

  1. Teach students by incorporating conferences, which allows for one-on-one personal attention.
  2. Create a relaxed non-threatening and welcoming environment.
  3. Set up the class and provide the guidance required so that students work with their peers.

Hartnell College: Teaching Developmental and First Year Composition to Latin@s in the Community College


Wall relief at the entrance of Hartnell College by John Cerney, 2009, is an interpretation based on paintings of Maria Teresa de la Guerra and William Edward Petty Hartnell from around 1853 (and of live models). (Photo by DMG.)

Hartnell College, located in Salinas (an agricultural region), was founded in 1920; it is one of the oldest educational institutions in California and serves about 10,000 students. The ethnic profile includes: 56%  Latinos (mostly linked to Mexico and Central American countries); 19% white; 4% Asian; 3% Filipino; 2% black; and 1% Native American students. Hartnell College is designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution. The college offers the first two years of transferable general education courses, basic skills courses in English and math, and various workplace and career training, particularly in nursing and allied health programs. The college offers courses during spring and fall 16-week, and shorter summer, semesters. The English Department at Hartnell College aims primarily to prepare students for transfer to universities. The program’s learning outcomes: Upon successful completion of the English program, a student should be able to:

  • Apply appropriate interpretive strategies to read, discuss, and analyze a variety of works of literature within any given genre and expository texts.
  • Analyze and evaluate major themes and techniques found in literature and expository texts by applying appropriate writing strategies and skills.
  • Demonstrate an appreciation for the aesthetic value of literature and expository texts from a diversity of cultural, historical, and ethnic perspectives.

Library and Learning Resource Center. Photo by DMG.

I observed the teaching of a pre-collegiate level and a freshman level course, and I interviewed each of the professors teaching the courses.

ENG 101 Intermediate Composition and Reading Prerequisite: ENG 253 or ESL 265 with a grade of “C” or better or placement by Hartnell’s assessment. Lecture hours 3. Development of reading and writing skills including critical analysis of texts with emphasis on sentence, paragraph, and essay elements. Students will write a minimum of 6,000 words in graded assignments.

As listed in the course syllabus (of the section I observed), these are the student learning outcomes and course objectives for English 101 Intermediate Composition and Reading. Upon satisfactory completion of the course, students will be able to:

  1. Describe, paraphrase, and summarize college-level material accurately. Students should be able to summarize an article from their textbook or the popular press; identify, and evaluate main ideas, audience, purpose, organization, strength of evidence, and critical thinking strategies.
  2. Write focused coherent, well-developed largely text-based essays appropriate to the developmental level.
  3. These essays should be organized into effective paragraphs with major and minor supporting details, which support a clear thesis statement, and demonstrate competence in standard English grammar and usage.
  4. Demonstrate understanding of the recursive nature of the writing process.

Upon satisfactory completion of the course, students will be able to:

  1. analyze and discuss college-level texts in order to write papers that reflect critical processing and evaluation.
  2. identify the organizing principles of selected readings.
  3. demonstrate prereading and notetaking skills.
  4. analyze vocabulary in context.
  5. demonstrate an awareness of composition principles, such as audience, purpose, tone.
  6. utilize the writing process.
  7. generate and develop a thesis statement for a variety of thinking and writing strategies, such as classification, illustration, comparison/contrast, cause and effect, and argumentation.
  8. use different techniques to introduce and conclude effective essays.
  9. write unified and coherent paragraphs that use transitions appropriately.
  10. integrate material from sources into their own writing by summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting.
  11. develop syntactic awareness through the use of sentence focus, coordination, subordination, appositives, verbal phrases, adjective clauses, and parallelism.
  12. apply proofreading techniques to revise sentence level errors, such as comma splices, run-ons, and fragments.
  13. use MLA style of documentation.

As listed in the course syllabus (of the section I observed), this is the course content, that is, the specific skills students develop:

  • Reading Skills
  • Comprehension: Prereading, Notetaking, Vocabulary building, Identification of modes of exposition
  • Interpretation
  • Questioning of ideas
  • Making connections to other ideas and texts
  • Writing Skills
  • Sentence Structure: composition, grammar, spelling and punctuation
  • Paragraph
  • Topic sentences
  • Unity and Coherence: pronoun references, transitions, relevant details and development
  • Essay
  • Introduction, body, and conclusion
  • Thesis statement
  • Plan, draft, and revise / edit
  • Integrating sources
  • Summarizing
  • Paraphrasing
  • Quotation
  • MLA format
  • Thinking strategies, such as
  • Classification
  • Illustration
  • Comparison
  • Cause/Effect
  • Argument

ENG 1A College Composition and Reading

Prerequisite: ENG 101 or ESL 101 with a grade of “C” or better or placement by Hartnell’s assessment. Lecture hours 3. Introduction to composition with emphasis on writing of exposition, and reading of selected works from a variety of academic and cultural contexts, and writing from research. Students will write a minimum of 6,500 words in graded assignments. Students can also place in English 1A through a qualifying score on the STAAR test.

The catalog describes the English Composition Placement:

Enrollment in any English composition course at Hartnell College will be determined on the basis of: An evaluation of the Hartnell College English Placement Essay or the Hartnell College English for Speakers of Other Languages Placement Examination.

A qualifying grade (C or better) from a previous English composition course at Hartnell College, or an equivalent course and grade (C or better) from another college.

The student has the option of taking a course at a level lower than the one designated by The English Placement Essay evaluation of the examination scores; however, the student will not be allowed to enroll at another level once this option is exercised.

A new building for science is being constructed. (Photo by DMG)

A new building for science is being constructed. (Photo by DMG)

On the day I observed the teaching of pre-collegiate English 101 Intermediate Composition and Reading (during the seventh week of the spring semester), there were 19 students (of the 25 registered in the class). All of them seemed to be in their late teens and early twenties, and all seemed to be Latino. The desk chairs were arranged in rows, and a the front of the room there was a computer and document camera workstation, and a screen.

The professor started class by greeting students and distributing a model script. He asked students to compare the script and the handout with instructions for composing introductions; he asked them to identify what their own introduction scripts were missing, and then to take ten minutes to improve their own introduction scripts. The handout describing what should be included in their introductions included this:

  • Your name and identifying remarks–Hartnell College student
  • Your purpose–writing a research paper for English 101 class
  • Your topic–media and its effects on children
  • Your focus for your study–whether and how children’s use of media, like television and advertising, affect children’s attitudes, behavior, learning, attention spans, gender roles, ethnic identity, self-esteem, etc.
  • Your process–how you will conduct observations of children using electronic media (TV, video games, smartphones, pads or computers) and conduct your interviews of children or parents
  • Your interview
    • how it will begin with simple questions to obtain background information,
    • then it will move on to more complicated questions about what he or she learns from what he or she sees on media
  • Your note taking–add that you will be taking notes or recording what he or she tells you during the interview
  • Who will see the research–that you will organize and write it; your teacher will read it; and that you will provide a copy for him or her if desired
  • Ask–“Have you any questions about what we are doing before we start? Be prepared to answer
  • Request–permission to use the information observed by you during your observations and shared with you during interview as part of your research
  • Interview questions must be appropriately written for a child or an adult.

The same handout also included a list of “basic” and “complex” questions and “conclusions (e.g., what specific media is most used, the amount of time spent using that medium, attitudes toward the medium, behaviors, what is being learned, what ethnic representation is being seen, thank the interviewee). The professor affirmed students’ work so far: “Many of you already have those elements in your introductions; make sure that it includes the features” [listed in the model script]. Students began to write; he walked around the classroom, answered students’ questions, and checked on them as they worked on composing their scrips. He noted when there were two minutes left, and then projected “The Research Interview,” a document detailing the ten characteristics of an effective interviewer and of conducting an effective ethnography-based research interview:

  • knowledgable,
  • structured,
  • clear (simple, easy short questions),
  • gentle (give interviewee time to think and answer),
  • sensitive (listen, empathize),
  • open (respond to interviewee),
  • steering (know exactly what you aim to find out),
  • critical (don’t agree or disagree, but be able to challenge inconsistencies),
  • remember (what has already been said),
  • interpret,
  • balanced (don’t talk too much or too little),
  • ethically sensitive (describe what will happen with answers and assure that they will be confidential; when interviewing children, especially, get written permission).

By then, I understood that the aim for the day’s class was to engage students in activities that would help them to formulate effective interview questions for their research, and to engage them in practicing how to conduct those interviews. They had already done some reading on the topic: how media affects children. Students were to interview both parents and their children. Then they were to consider their findings and compose their next essay. Later, I read the handout with instructions for assignment 2:

Our next writing assignment involves both primary and secondary research on the issue of media effects on children. You will be asked to read and summarize research done on this issue in the past and compare it to what has been done recently. Then you will conduct your own observational research and derive inferences from your observations on how children in your families are affected by media today. You will reflect on the research, observations and inferences to come to your own judgments about the issue and what it means to you and your own family. The essay will include parenthetical citations and a works cited that includes at least four articles from our textbook, two videos, two additional articles fro the Hartnell Discover Service databases, and your own observational research and interviews.

Students had already or were in the process of reading, summarizing, reflecting and making inferences (and understanding how inferences differ from observations) on two articles: Fowles’ “Advertising’s Fifteen Basic Appeals” and Dudash’s “We’ve Come a Long Way, but Magazines Stayed Behind” (both in the required textbook, William S. Robinson and Stephanie Tucker’s Text and Contexts: A Contemporary Approach to College Writing, 7th ed.). “Observations,” the professor noted in his instructions, “are what you actually see, facts, not what you think they mean. Inferences are conclusions about what we think is going on based on what we see.” To underscore the lesson and illustrate the difference, he referred students to a video on YouTube.

The homework was to help students practice being able to separate observation from inference, and it also included a reference to another video, Dimitri Christakis‘ TED Talk (on YouTube) on media and children. Christakis’ ideas, the professor explained in his notes to the students, related to articles by O’Conner and Riffe et al. that they had already or were about to read (also in the textbook). Students would also be finding two current articles on the subject of media’s effect on children; they would be using the Discovery Service databases accessible from the Hartnell College Learning Resources Center website. The professor’s notes to the students clarified the assignment for me:

  • Your primary research is to observe children watching television or using other media on at least three different occasions. You will observe what they do with and how they interact with their choices of media or TV shows. Record your specific observations first. Include names, dates, program titles, etc. Then write your inferences about what you have seen.
  • Write a set of questions based on your research in order to discover more detailed information about how media is affecting the children you observed. You can interview the children and their caregiver or parents. Include the names, dates, questions and answers to your questions.
  • Reflect on your observations, inferences, and interviews to come to conclusions that will form the basis for your thesis and findings for your essay.
  • After all this work, you will be ready to write your essay. The essay will be due on March 17 with MLA style format and documentation, a works cited, and your notes from your sources.

Next, in order to guide the students on how to conduct their research interviews, and to help develop their confidence, as he said, the professor began to role play with one student who volunteered. The professor asked introduction-type questions following a script. He repeated the process with another student who volunteered. While role playing as an interviewee, the professor asked questions to help the interviewer/student clarify and narrow his intent, and to include all of the features listed in the model script. The professor modeled how the interviewer/student needed to reveal how the content of the interview would be handled (“it will be seen by the teacher in the class, but it will be confidential, no real names will be used… and if the interview was recorded no one outside the class would listen/view that recording”).

The professor role played a third time with a third student volunteer, and reminded everyone that they needed to start the interviews–and their introductions–with three important pieces of information: “Who you are, what you want, getting permission from the interviewee.” A student asked: “When we turn in this assignment, are we to turn in all of our notes?” The professor said “yes, everything; it’s going to be like a little book.” Another student wanted to know how old the kids (being interviewed) should be; the professor said, “if they can talk to you… four to fifteen.”

Then they discussed how to “give context and background,” and how to “maintain confidentiality” (e.g., making up names for the interviewees), and they moved on to watching a video (made by the American Psychological Association) about the sexualization of girls. The professor stopped the video in several places so they could all discuss the kinds of questions being asked (open-ended, close, follow-ups).

The professor showed another APA video on the definitions of sexualizing girls and asked that students “pay attention to how this is put together,” and how, specifically, the conclusion was composed. That led to a brief explanation about MLA formatting style, inclusion of parenthetical citations, and the importance of citing sources even if they’re images and videos. Then the professor moved the conversation to ways of narrowing the focus of their research: “You’ve been reading about ethnic representation and gender roles in the 1980s, so you can ask if the same is true today.” For the next seven minutes, students practiced composing questions that would allow them to focus their research on the effect of media on children. As students talked with one another, the professor walked around, answered questions and offered information. While students worked, he wrote on the board:

  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Process or methodology
  • Findings of your research
  • Interpretations (inferences) and conclusions
  • Limitations of your research
  • Your reflections
  • Fowles
  • Dudash
  • O’Connor
  • Riffe et al.
  • Chrystakis
  • Articles from Hartnell databases
  • Observations (3)
  • Interviews (3)

Next, the professor once again role played with a volunteer student, the aim being to help that student formulate effective research questions. Sometimes the professor answered questions humorously, and the entire class laughed easily. The professor concluded that activity by affirming that students “got the picture”; he reminded them “to be careful about how you phrase the questions, and to have back-up questions, about 25 of them, that’s a nice round number.” Then the professor pointed to what he wrote on the board and asked: “How is this related to your research paper?” A student responded and the professor affirmed: “Yes, this is an outline of how you could organize your research paper. This is not the only way to do it, but this way is a start.” Then he asked students what they wanted to discuss at their next class meeting. Once that conversation ended, he dismissed the class; a few students remained and asked him questions about the assignment.


In 1834 William Edward Petty Hartnell founded El Collegio de San José on the Alisal Rancho in the Gabilan foothills of the Salinas Valley. Each student paid a fee of 200 pesos for a year’s study. 84 years later, The Board of Trustees of the Salinas Union High School District founded Salinas Junior College. (Photo and text from the Hartnell website.)

In this class session, I observed that this professor applies/enacts several pedagogical approaches, including pointed emphasis on the process approach, providing study guides and lots of notes (electronically and in hard copy), presenting content through virtual and F2F modes, presenting content visually and audibly, incorporating reading content that is relevant to students, providing detailed instructions in handouts, and modeling what students should be doing in the assignment. He incorporates short in-class writing assignments, small group interaction, affirming students’ responses, and engaging/requiring that students participate in class activities. His syllabus notes the following about his “instructional philosophy”:

  • English courses such as this one are designed to develop these reasoning, communicative, and creative abilities in students through logical, well-written argumentation so that they can exercise these skills in solving the problems of life in a modern society, to maintain and improve society, and to realize their individual goals and dreams. Fulfilling these purposes will require frequent written reflection and discussion of assigned readings in preparation for formal essays. To write well requires that you:
  • manage your time well in order to complete assignments on time,
  • read, annotate, analyze and interpret assigned readings for in class discussion,
  • develop your reading skills by reflecting deeply and critically about the ideas you read and discuss,
  • critically examine and reflect on your writing as well as that of others to improve your own,
  • write in a detailed and organized manner, attributing and identifying your sources and references
  • apply MLA formatting to research in support of your arguments
  • proofread and edit your writing to improve your composition.

Students gather in the campus center. (Photo by DMG)

Once students were gone, I interviewed this professor. He talked with me for a generous 30 minutes, right outside the classroom. This full-time tenured professor is in his 12th year of teaching at Hartnell College. He is Latino and has a Master of Arts degrees in Education from a university in California. He teaches 10 face-to-face courses (in the English department) per year, most of them pre-collegiate courses, and some more advanced writing courses. Each course is capped at 31 students.

He said that he does not use different pedagogy when teaching Latinos, but that he understands his students, who are overwhelmingly Latino; many of them work over 40 hours weekly, in addition to attending college. Therefore, he does not “penalize” students for submitting assignments late: “I make accommodations for that; it’s tough… When I started teaching, I expected them to know how to annotate, write coherently, ask questions, turn in their papers on time. Those were my expectations. Those are the things they are supposed to do in college. But the reality is quite different. And that’s not culturally based. We see it more in Latinos, but that’s because there are more Latinos in this college.”

This professor said that part of his job entails convincing his students that college is important: “I bring in people who are successful, people who grew up here, from the community, to motivate them. I use more Spanish when I’m with my students. I’ve become much more physical [meaning that he incorporates activities that require that students be engaged and move about the classroom], just to shake them out of their passivity. The other thing I do is constantly remind them that they can be better than what they’ve been, because I’ve learned that many of them come from backgrounds that discourage them away from education and from moving forward.”

This professor said that while teaching Latinos he shares a bit of himself: “I do another thing in class with Hispanic students in mind–I share aspects of my life and upbringing that I believe they can relate to, like my own academic struggles, culturally relevant experiences involving family, and learning to navigate through communities outside the ones I grew up with. And, as you noticed, I also do a lot of direct, guided instruction.” This professor does not teach online, but he includes technology in his teaching (e.g., videos, audio files, use of the college’s learning management system, word-processing, electronic researching and use of the college’s electronic databases.)

The new Athletics building and the Pool are under construction and were completed in 1973. (Photo from the Hartnell College website.)

The athletics building and the pool were completed in 1973. (Photo from the Hartnell College website.)

Drawing from his experiences, this professor identified these three most important needs in order to improve the rates of success of all students, not just Latinos, in college writing classes:

  1. Supplement the habits that students bring (like being passive, not asking questions/being curious, not participating in class, feeling unsure of themselves) so that they learn to be active learners.
  2. Teach them time management because they procrastinate a lot.
  3. Teach them that college is different than high school, that they can’t act the same as they did in high school. There are not as many chances given in college, and not as many passes.

The bookstore at Hartnell. (Photo by DMG)

I observed the teaching of a hybrid English 1A freshman College Composition and Reading, and I interviewed the professor teaching the course. Following is a redacted description of the professor’s syllabus, and the notes I took during and after observing and interviewing her. The schedule of classes includes this explanation right below the listing of this specific course section: “This section is a hybrid. Some of the teacher-student contact hours are conducted at a distance. If you have any questions, please contact the instructor via email at [name and email of specific instructor is provided] for further information. Students can login for the Distance Ed portion starting Tuesday, January 20, at and follow instructions.”

The college catalog describes the following about hybrid courses: “Advisory for Web-Based and Hybrid Courses: Students taking web-based and hybrid courses must have basic computer skills for operating Microsoft Word and e-mail, including sending attachments and files. Students also need access to the Internet and must have adequate hardware and software capabilities. Access to computers is also available at the Hartnell College Library/LRC.” Additionally, this professor’s multipage syllabus clarifies the following: Purpose of Course: It is a standard college introductory course that focuses on developing the writing, reading, and critical thinking skills that will enable you to be a more effective writer in your academic, professional, and personal lives. Course Objectives: Upon completing English 1A, students will be able to:

  • Experience and develop an awareness of the importance of writing as a process.
  • Demonstrate mature style in writing.
  • Critically read, synthesize, analyze, interpret, and evaluate texts from a variety of rhetorical styles and cultural contexts.
  • Develop a focused thesis and select relevant evidence to present in an argumentative or persuasive paper.
  • Demonstrate basic research skills utilizing diverse resources from a variety of media.
  • Gather, evaluate, and incorporate outside sources into a purposeful and coherent research paper.
  • Apply MLA stylesheet conventions to research writing.
  • Apply appropriate diction, style, and tone in relation to the subject and audience of the student’s writing.

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Write longer and more complex essays compared to English 101, built from a combination of several rhetorical patterns that pursue answers to challenging questions or advance substantial arguments that are supported with relevant, thoughtful, and sufficient evidence drawn (as appropriate) from written texts and the writer’s own experience and knowledge.
  • Recognize that writing is a process requiring multiple drafts to create and complete an effective piece of writing.
  • Gather, evaluate, and incorporate diverse resources into purposeful and coherent research paper with sources documented in MLA format.

Course Requirements:

  • 3 graded essays which include a word count
  • An 8-10 page research paper
  • A final exam
  • 10 one-page Source Reports that summarize and analyze the articles, web sites, and other sources you will collect for your final Research Paper
  • Numerous shorter assignments and exercises to be completed in class and online–handouts, paragraphs, notes, prewriting strategies, drafts, revisions, reports
  • Attendance (in-class and online)
  • Regular reading of e-mail, private messages, and Course Announcements in Etudes (at least 4-5 times a week and definitely before class!). Check to see if there are any private messages as well.
  • Thoughtful, attentive participation in class discussions and all online discussion forums.
  • Regular reading of Course Schedule (Updated schedules can be found in the Announcements page in Etudes).
  • A account (information in Etudes on this)
  • An Exercise Central account (information in Etudes on this)


  • Assignments will be graded “A” through “F.”
  • All essay assignments, research paper, and the final must be completed with passing grades in order to be eligible to pass the course.
  • Do not “recycle” essays or work written from another class. Chances are the requirements of the assignment are different. Be original.  🙂
  • The failure to bring a draft to class for Peer Review or conferences on the designated days will result in a grade deduction of one step (i.e., B- to C+).
  • Daily homework assignments may not be submitted late. If by chance you have to miss class, you must get the homework to the instructor BEFORE class starts for full credit. This may be done through an e-mail or private message.
  • An essay will not be accepted if it is over one week late. Acceptance of late essays is entirely at the discretion of the instructor and will not be accepted if prior arrangements have not been made. Under special circumstances if an essay is pre-approved for late submission, for every day that an essay is late, your grade for the assignment will be lowered by one full grade (i.e., A to B).
  • No makeup quizzes or tests. If you have to be absent on the day a quiz or test is given, then you must make arrangements with the instructor to take the quiz or test beforehand. All others who enter the classroom passed this time will not be allowed to take the quiz or test. Note: Time will be kept on the instructor’s computer. Do not consult your cell phone for time since it should be off!
  • The grade book will be kept in Etudes. Check grade book section in Etudes for the point breakdown of all assignments.

The new Student Services building. (Photo by DMG)

On the day I observed this section of English 1A (during the third week of the spring semester), there were 23 students present (out of 30 registered). Most seemed to be Latino, a few were Caucasian, a couple Filipino; there were slightly more male than female students. Almost all seemed to be in their late teens and early twenties. Desks and chairs were arranged in a two-row square (the outer row lining the walls of the room and accommodating desktop computers). On the walls there were large pieces of paper with handwritten notes/reminders about following MLA. As I waited for class to begin, I noticed that the agenda for the day was written in green, red and black on the whiteboard by the classroom door:

  • Turkle/Dunbar
  • main ideas
  • quotes
  • Bookmarks
  • Thesis statements
  • Module 6.2
  • Forum
  • Post in discussion
  • Get feedback from instructor
  • Hybrid homework

The professor started class on time by asking students to take out the hard copies of the two articles assigned as homework: Robin Dunbar’s “You’ve Got to Have (150) Friends” and Sherry Turkle’s “The Flight from Conversation.” (The professor had provided links to each article, and students were able to access them straight from a database in the Hartnell College library.) Students were to assign numbers to each paragraph in the articles. As students numbered the paragraphs in the articles, the professor walked around the square, checking on their progress and answering questions.

I learned from the syllabus that during week 2 students worked on identifying possible writing topics for essay 1. They printed, read and annotated two articles: Nicholas Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and Alan Greenblatt’s “Impact of the Internet on Thinking.” They posted comments on each of the articles online, responded to classmates in the Discussion Forum, watched a video (Growing up Online), and in preparation for class discussion, they noted which arguments in the texts they agreed or disagreed with, and completed and submitted the essay 1 Reading Handout. During week 3, students followed the same basic format: print, read and annotate two articles; post comments online; respond to classmates in the Discussion Forum, and in addition,

  • determine writing topic for essay 1,
  • consider evidence from the readings,
  • and from the video,
  • read information posted on composing thesis statements,
  • post thesis for essay 1 in the Discussion Forum.

These activities aimed to scaffold the work due during week 4 and subsequently:

  • read and annotate “Prewriting Strategies,”
  • brainstorm and free write,
  • complete activity in Etudes,
  • register for Exercise Central,
  • watch Growing up Online video,
  • list two arguments that you agree with and two that you disagree with in video.

As students worked, the professor pulled out cards with each of their names and took attendance. Then, she reminded them to identify the main idea in each article, to identify supporting quotes, and decide if they agree or disagree with the ideas in the quote. They were to work in groups of three, talk to each other in low tones, start with the Dunbar article, and create a list of two columns (agree/disagree). As they worked, the professor walked around and checked on their progress and answered their questions. After approximately eight minutes, the professor began to call the student names on each of her cards once again. Each time, she asked the student to state the name of the article, the author of the article, to describe the authority of the author, to identify the paragraph number, read the quote expressing the main idea of the article, and the supporting point for the main idea.

She used the document camera to project the section of the article that the student identified. She called on every student, and if the student didn’t have an answer, she returned to him/her after a few others had taken their turns. Sometimes, she asked the student to describe if and how she agreed or disagreed with the ideas in her chosen quote (and, “is that true in your life?”), or to explain why she chose the particular quote. She also asked students to elaborate on “what makes this person an ‘expert'”? A few times, she referred to similar ideas in the other articles students have read and requested that students jot the connection in their notes. Often, she paraphrased the student’s chosen quote/main idea and affirmed, by repeating, the student’s words. They followed the same pattern for the Turkle article.

Next, she reminded students to register for Excersize Central (a tool in Etudes), and asked them to move to a computer and log on to the Discussion Forum and type their theses. (About 4 students had their own laptops.) As they began to set up, the professor addressed administrative issues: answer your private messages; look at the comments I’ve made. Once students were all seated in front of the computers, the professor went to her computer and projected some of the Etude pages (e.g., Discussion Forum) to remind them of how the class is set up. Then, she gave students about five minutes to read her comments and scroll through the class pages. She walked around and answered students’ questions.

Following that, she asked students to click on Module #7, the assignment for essay 1 (which she had distributed in hard copy the previous week). She showed students how to “bookmark” pages so that “it’s easier for you to follow the assignments, grade book, and activity meter.” “Remember,” she said, “I know when you haven’t read something; I can see it on my page.” At fifteen minutes before the one hour class was to end, the professor told students to take a few minutes to “catch up” on whatever they had not done online (e.g., review Module 6.2, Discussion Forum, posting thesis, reviewing instructions for the essay assignment). She walked around and talked with students.

I walked around and peered at the students engaged in their work. Five minutes before class was to end, the professor reminded students to review the next assignment (“look at Module 9, post on Brainstorming and Freewrite by Sunday”), to look at the schedule “so there is no confusion about what to do,” and she projected the “to do” list through the document camera. When students left, a couple remained and talked with her. (I perused the syllabus and noted that among the extensive guidelines and college/classroom policies, students are reminded not to “recycle” essays or work written in other classes, that every assignment must include a word count, that essays must follow MLA formatting, and that all essays, the research paper, and the final must be submitted to


Looking toward the campus center. (Photo by DMG)

In this class session, I observed that this professor applies/enacts several pedagogical approaches, including pointed emphasis on the process approach, a little bit of lecturing, providing study guides and lots of notes (electronically and in hard copy), presenting content through virtual and F2F modes, presenting content visually and audibly, incorporating reading content that is culturally relevant to students, frequent repetition of her instructions orally, electronically, and in handouts. She incorporates short writing assignments, including those done during class time, small group interaction, scaffolding the online and face-to-face activities, affirming students’ responses by paraphrasing their ideas, revealing and linking the aims in scaffolding, and engaging/requiring that students participate in class activities.

Her syllabus notes the following about class participation: “Good participation involves both active listening and speaking. This includes paying attention in class, being prepared for class discussions, sharing your ideas in class, having your cell phone off, and giving thoughtful comments to your classmates during peer review days.” “Your in-class notes will serve as evidence of attendance.” “This classroom is intended to create a safe environment for students to take intellectual risks, such as sharing thoughts and opinions in an open dialogue with other students and instructors. A safe environment is free from offensive language, verbal attacks on other students, and rude behavior, such as interrupting when someone else is talking.”


The other side of the campus center. (Photo by DMG)

Once students were gone, I interviewed this professor, for a generous 25 minutes, right in the classroom. This professor is full-time, tenured, and in her 13th year of teaching at Hartnell College. She is from the surrounding area, a Latina, and has earned two Master of Arts degrees in English at nearby universities. Like most of her students, she said, she is a first generation college graduate. She enjoys teaching in this setting especially because she believes she can be a model and mentor to other Latinos. Her teaching load is 5 courses per semester; each course is capped at 31 students. She is also in a leadership position in the English Department, and teaches all the courses in the department, mostly in face-to-face and hybrid deliver modes, but she also teaches at least two online courses per year (including English 1B, writing about literature).

When she teaches hybrid and online courses, she makes it very clear (in her syllabus, for example) that students must be able to use Hartnell’s Google email, that they must have basic knowledge/user skills in word processing (e.g., cutting and pasting, attaching documents, sending files, downloading attachments and software). They must have access to the Internet, basic computer literacy/competency, be familiar with computer hardware and software (e.g., MS Powerpoint, MS Word, and Adobe Acrobat Reader), and “effective electronic communication strategies” (i.e., students must know “how to construct a professional sounding message appropriate for the academic environment”).

This professor said that students in this and other English classes need strong support services, such as a Writing Center, where they can benefit from, for example, student-to-student tutoring. (Five years prior, the institution closed the Writing Center, but currently there is talk about addressing this lack of support for students in writing classes.) She said that teaching online (and to a lesser degree teaching hybrid courses) requires greater emphasis on providing examples, lots of information, and plenty of repetition for students. She said that usually her classroom is 100 percent Latinos, that she does not apply a different pedagogy when teaching Latinos, and that she “can relate” to her students because she is “a local person,” a Latina, and because it wasn’t “so long ago” that she was in their position.


Students in the campus center. (Photo by DMG)

Drawing from her experiences, this professor identified these three most important needs in order to improve the rates of success of Latinos in college writing classes:

  1. Teach them academic and life skills such as how to organize, how to plan, how to manage their time, how to reach out to professors and other sources of support.
  2. Require that students (especially those in developmental courses) visit the professor’s office and that they connect on an individual level.
  3. Consider and understand Latino students’ life circumstances and how it affects what the academy defines as “retention” and “success” (since those two markers may not mean the same to students).

The National Hispanic University: Teaching Developmental and First Year Composition to Latin@s in the Community College


Photo by DMG.

The National Hispanic University is a private for-profit institution in San José, California, that grants AA, BA/BS, MA, MBA and certificates in teacher credentials; it is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). The 2014-2015 catalog explains their vision (“that every student at The National Hispanic University will graduate”) and their mission (to provide “a post-secondary education for Hispanics and others grounded in cultural respect, biliteracy, and diversity for engaged students who will become local, national, and global community leaders”).


Photo by DMG.

The university was established in 1981 in Oakland, California, and a satellite campus was opened in San José in 1990. San José was chosen because it is home to the third largest Hispanic population in California and the 10th largest in the United States. By 1995 the university had consolidated its campuses and moved to an 11-acre campus in east San José, a part of the city with the highest concentration of Hispanics.

According to the catalog, the university exists:

to serve the needs of Hispanics and other underserved groups. As our founding president and academic visionary for 22 years, Dr. B. Roberto Cruz believed that a small, private independent college could make a difference in the graduation rate of Hispanics and other minorities. NHU fosters Familia, a caring learning environment in which students feel valued and supported at every step in their academic journey. Our guiding principles embrace diversity and multiple perspectives, and as a result of the groundbreaking work of Dr. Cruz, we have shaped a framework for supporting the success of Hispanic learners and those active in the Hispanic community. It is within this context that we developed our initial mission: To enable Hispanics, other minorities, women, and others to acquire an undergraduate degree or certificate using a multicultural educational experience to obtain a professional career in business, education, or technology.


Photo by DMG.

I aimed to observe classes and to interview writing professors at The NHU, because it was created specifically to meet the needs of Latinos, and thus it is logical to surmise that they would have a wealth of information about teaching Latinos. But on March 2014 The NHU announced that it would cease operating and that it would begin transferring students to other institutions. Only students identified as being able to graduate by August 2015 would remain on campus.

Early in winter of 2015, I visited the university and learned that the few remaining students were completing courses online and that no composition courses were being offered, but I was able to contact a former adjunct faculty member who taught at The NHU for five years. He is a bilingual Latino, published poet, trained at the Master of Arts degree level (especially in poetry and creative writing) at a university outside of California. He has taught various levels of writing, critical thinking, American and world literatures, and Chicano-Latino culture at The NHU and at a private university in California. This professor is also a Latino student retention specialist, a writing tutor, and an academic mentor who has led a first-year experience program, and has taught at bridge programs, a juvenile detention center, and several Latino youth development programs; he also served as “Reading Series Coordinator” to bring in writers of color to The NHU campus. He generously talked with me for over two hours.

As a full-time faculty member at The NHU, this professor taught four face-to-face classes per quarter (none online); other than his own use of technology, and the students’ personal use of their own devices, he did not use a learning management system or any other major assistive technology in the classroom. In the early morning classes his students were traditional age (18 years old or so); in the evening classes his students were non-traditional adults (30+ years old or so). Early in his teaching experience at The NHU there were about ten students per class; toward the end, closer to when the university went out of business, there were 25 to 30 students per class. Over 95 per cent of all students at the university and in his classes were Latino, mostly Mexican American and Central American; about a quarter of those students were recent immigrants dealing with more obvious acculturation and language challenges.


Photo by DMG.

I spoke with this professor pointedly about teaching the required general education freshman writing course (described in The NHU catalog):

ENG 100 English Composition and Reading, 3 units

This course emphasizes reading-based academic writing in a multicultural milieu. Students critically respond to a variety of writers on various topics and themes. In addition, English 100 covers the rhetorical modes and culminates in an argumentative research paper. Prerequisites: English Placement Test or ENG 45 or ENG 45W ENG.

Although we discussed some specific practices and types of assignments (for example, emphasizing the process approach, focusing intently on the revision process, incorporating portfolios, making sure that students compose a writing sample at the beginning of the semester, returning it to them at the end, and requesting that they compose a reflective analysis of their progress), here I want to highlight the factors that he describes as being impactful for Latino students in the writing class (and often in all other classes); these are the major factors that he believes help to increase Latino students’ retention and success in the writing (and many other) classrooms:

  • Understand that there is no “separate different pedagogy” for teaching writing to Latinos, but that professors must be willing to be acutely aware of students’ lives outside of the classroom, particularly the impediments to learning in their individual environments.
  • This professor says: “You need good teachers who are trained to teach writing.”
  • Faculty need to consistently clarify and emphasize the value and relevance of writing in Latino students’ lives.
  • More work/scholarship has to be done in order “to understand how Latinos are treated, especially in high school”–to understand how stereotypes affect Latinos and their attitudes about college in general and about writing specifically.
  • More work/scholarship has to be done/applied on the role of motivation: all those involved in educating Latinos need to better understand how and why some students are more self-motivated than others, and how motivation impacts their performance in the classroom.
    • This professor said: “In my opinion, the more successful students come to my class already motivated. Those students have family support, a good community, and like-minded friends.”
    • This professor stressed that motivation matters in many ways: “Many AB 540 students ask ‘why should I get an education if I won’t be able to get a job?'”
  • Faculty need to be more aware of cultural issues related to gender.
    • This professor said: “Latina students are often told that there’s no point in them going to college,” and
    • “guys are told that they have to work hard and support the family,” and for poor Latinos facing daily struggles with financial survival, that may not leave energy to include working hard at college and the writing classroom.
  • Understand that remedial courses cost students money, often demoralize them and even prevent them from pursuing higher education.
  • When students are underprepared for freshman English, incorporate extra tutoring and other help into the class.
    • Make remediation a graded and integral part of the class.
    • And/or, create a summer bridge program and pay students to attend; present the bridge program as a job, and students’ involvement as a remunerated responsibility to become competent writers; (such a program is probably easy to implement because many Latino students have dire financial need and strong work ethic).
  • “Intervention” (from the professor, counselors, mentors, and the institution) needs to “start on day one.”
  • Professors need to incorporate bi-weekly reports and updates for students, and to send those reports to the students’ counselors and mentors.
  • Faculty, counselors and mentors need to follow-up on those bi-weekly reports.
  • Counseling and mentoring has to be systemic and holistic; that is, the services have to reach beyond academic needs and address personal, financial, and cultural issues in Latino students’ lives.
  • The institution/counselors need to meet more often with Latino students, and to set and consistently review individualized educational plans.
    • Those educational plans need to include classes in study skills, life skills, time management, personal counseling and mentoring (particularly for students whose parents and family have not attended college, or who may not speak English).
    • Those educational plans need to include carefully chosen classes and professors, so that students are set up to succeed.
    • And, this professor says, “if a student is failing, don’t assume that it’s because he’s lazy; find out what’s going on in the student’s life.”
  • The institution, especially if it’s looking to increase its Latino student population, needs to recruit the Latino adult population (because they may be more seriously ready to benefit from writing [and college], and because they can serve as examples for their children, since usually education is a family affair).
  • The institution has to offer invigorating co-currilucar activities that excite and engage students and prompt them to broaden their world views and critical thinking skills. This professor says:
    • “My point is that it’s also important to expose Latina/o students to Latino/a professionals beyond teachers and civic vocations.”
    • Many Latino students can’t imagine themselves as poets, writers, and artists; they can’t “fathom such a thing!” Therefore, it is crucial to expose students to those possibilities. This professor found that such co-curricular activities resulted in students being “surprised, excited, and motivated… to see Brown people working as professional writers.”
  • The institution has to prioritize a concerted effort (discussions, learning opportunities for faculty, actions) to meet the needs of Latino students.
    • For example, both students and faculty need flexible access to counseling services.

Drawing from his experiences, this professor identified these three most important needs in order to improve the rates of retention and success of Latinos in college writing classes:

  • Provide consistent and easily accessible writing tutoring and general mentoring and counseling.
  • Professors must be trained rigorously in writing pedagogy, Latino culture and the specific condition of their Latino student population.
  • Latinos have to be taught and served in a holistic manner, and to do so, professors must align themselves with and use the services provided by counselors. Those services must include:
    • Financial, personal, and oftentimes mental health counseling.
    • Legal counseling for students facing criminal issues and or immigration issues (particularly for AB 540 students)

infographicsSubsequently, a retired professor who taught a related discipline at NHU, and who has taught “many second language learners as an elementary school teacher and a university professor,” very kindly provided, via email, the following suggestions for teaching college writing to Latinos. Dr. Rosenberg asked that I use his name. (Here I leave out some of his more specific details and examples, for instance, on teaching the use of hyphens):

  1. Ask students to write about what they know, or at least include such a choice within the larger curriculum… Not only do most students find it easiest to write about personal experiences, thoughts, and feelings but it also gives the teacher a chance to get to know his students (as individuals and as writers).
  2. Most teachers and professors want to deal with the content but I found you cannot separate sentence structure and correct use of grammar from good writing. I think teachers are fooling themselves who say all that matters is that students should write; when and how do they learn to recognize and correct their mistakes within such an approach? Sometimes such free writing may be called for but it certainly does not suffice to teach (and improve) good writing, in my opinion.
  3. Vocabulary: teachers need to keep building it up every which way they can. I introduced new words and gave them bonus points if they used them in their writing. Not simple vocabulary but longer multi-syllabic words. I picked out vocabulary from each chapter and gave students construction paper and markers. They worked in groups and used both sides of the paper to first give a definition; then the sentence in which the term appeared followed by an original sentence of their own; and drawing if they wished (optional). I used Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” so one of his terms might be “imperialism.” Each group was responsible for a different set of terms; they came to the front of the class and presented. The rest of the class liked it (students learning from students = best practices) and could ask questions. Student success on exams, especially correct identifying terms (and better use of same in their writing) improved dramatically!
  4. I share stories from my own life to help create bonds of understanding and to make them aware that others, including older adults (like their professors, who now appear very successful in their eyes) also had challenges to overcome. It is particularly helpful if one has stories to share [that are related to succeeding] within an educational context.
  5. I like to deal directly with culture and language and history and all the subtle (and not so subtle) interplay thereof.
  6. I present mini-lessons on comparing Spanish and English with a historical explanation as well as a structural analysis.
  7. I talk about Latin/Italian and the Roman soldiers taking the language with them to France and Spain (from Spain to Mexico!) and how languages evolve and change over time… [I talk with students about how] languages are a living breathing medium and are still changing [and I ask them to consider how they speak Spanish as compared to their] parents and grandparents.
  8. I also try to build up pride: I tell my students Spanish is considered one of the world’s great languages, famous for its literature: short stories, novels, and the brilliant imagery of its poetry. I ask students to bring in examples. I remind them which authors have won awards, including the Nobel Prize for Literature (e.g., Pablo Neruda)
  9. I like using poetry because it’s easier than chapters or passages from novels.
  10. I give students choices in group presentations; one semester we did famous Hispanic-American writers on three-waled poster boards with oral presentation (could include web video) and it was a smashing success. The students were energized! Their culture, their heroes! (this helps motivate them to want to become writers at the same time).
  11. I also include brief mini-lessons on the Uto-Aztecan language, which includes Native American languages of the southwest and also Nahuat and Nahuatl of Mexico. Students may not know that words like tomato and coyote come from Nahuatl. This shows clearly how demographic movement across the border was common, which can lead to a discussion of the border today, undocumented workers, state and national policies, and all the rest.
  12. I frequently use Hot Topics—current controversial issues in the news. I vary strategies but one way is to put a prompt on the board; they write a reflective response. Then they discuss in pairs or small groups. Homework: type up reflections to add what you learned from discussion.
  13. Students are free to say whatever they want and I encourage respect for a diversity of views; if I needed to express my own opinion, I let them know that beforehand. My expectation is that they need to support their point of view with evidence and facts.

Culling his extensive feedback and emphases in several areas, I identified that Dr. Rosenberg considers these to be the three most important needs in order to improve the rates of retention and success of Latinos in college writing classes:

  1. Affirm Latino students’ identities, languages and cultural backgrounds.
  2. Provide challenging yet motivating opportunities for Latino students to write about what they know and to be prodded to learn more about what they know.
  3. Teachers must truly care about Latino students; they must know, even a little, about their cultures.

Seeing what I culled, Dr. Rosenberg added the following:

  1. Read carefully for content and establish ongoing dialogue of ideas through appropriate use of thought-provoking comments and questions.
  2. Correct basic grammatical mistakes and errors of syntax in a helpful, friendly, yet purposeful manner, the degree of detail of which should be pegged to the individual student’s existing level of achievement and need.
  3. Encourage students to develop a personal writing style and guide this “writer’s voice” to improve clarity of expression and mastering of the English language.