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.

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