April 2, 2014
Dev-Ed

Raising the Bar: Redesigning Developmental Education

A funny thing happens when you raise the bar. People find a way to get over it, once they realize it’s expected. Human beings can do amazing things – if they’re asked to.

~John Powers, author, playwright, actor, teacher

Statewide Redesign

This quote describes the philosophy behind the newly redesigned Developmental Education English and Math curricula. A statewide group of community college faculty and administrators took on the challenge of helping developmental students become prepared for college-level courses in less time.

The result: Students who test into developmental-level English need to take only one course before the college-level English course.

Developmental-level Math students have a similarly streamlined curriculum, which is further fine-tuned for those pursuing a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) or non-STEM degree or certificate. These streamlined curricula save students time and money while improving their success in college courses. They are now fully implemented at FRCC.

Learning with Support

A climber doesn’t scale Mount Everest alone but has a support team. Without that team, the climber will not succeed. Research in student persistence shows that developmental students succeed in a team-based, learner-centered curriculum. Students are expected to complete difficult assignments, but with tailored instructional support and as part of a learning team with their fellow students. In essence, students learn how to learn, and then they apply those skills in the developmental course. This prepares them for the expectations of college-level courses.

The best feature is us getting to work together and asking each other’s help…combining our opinions on how to do assignments and getting things turned in quickly.

– FRCC student in Studio 121 course [Developmental English course taken alongside ENG 121 college-level course], Spring 2013

Research also shows that many developmental students have complex lives that interfere with education more often than actual learning challenges. The student services team helps students with issues such as time management, tutoring, personal counseling, and community resource referrals.

One of the most beneficial part of studio, in my opinion, is that I did not have to meet with my teacher outside of class and have it conflict with my other schedule. Being able to have this time to meet with my teacher individually without disrupting any other time was a great help with writing my papers.

– FRCC student in Studio 121 course, Spring 2013

On the Team from Day One

In the old model, developmental students were often viewed as “hopefuls” to join the team of “real” college students. In the new model, developmental students are on the team from the first day of class.

Learning Communities or Paired Courses

A cohort of students takes a developmental course along with a college-level course. The developmental course provides reading and writing instruction directly related to the college-level course.

The most beneficial part about Studio was the individualized feedback and help I received with my [ENG] 121 assignments. It helped me be less overwhelmed and more prepared for the challenges of 121.

– FRCC student in Studio 121 course, Spring 2013

Tutoring/Learning Labs

One-on-one tutoring and small-group learning labs are provided for all students, and in the same environment. Removing the stigma from tutoring goes a long way to helping developmental students get the most from their studies.

While doing my Argument Essay, I did not know how to organize it and the way each part should be written. In the Studio class I asked my teacher and the Writing Center instructor. After that, I got a clearer idea of what I was going to do, so both instructors helped me a lot!

– FRCC student in Studio 121 course, Spring 2013

Leadership Development

Getting involved in the college community helps students gain leadership skills and increases persistence in college. From Day One, developmental students are actively recruited to a variety of student groups, clubs, and community organizations.

Moving Forward

The intensive, supportive learning environments of the new developmental math and English courses have already helped many FRCC students. It is exciting to see students enjoying this accomplishment and moving forward toward their educational goals.

About the author:

Kathy Mennen is the writing program coordinator at Front Range Community College's Boulder County Campus.

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