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.

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