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.
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(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.”)

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(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.





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