Developing the Developmental Instructor

Kozeracki, Carol. (2005).  Preparing faculty to meet the needs of developmental students. New Directions for Community Colleges. 2005 (129), 39-49.

My exploration of developmental education continues as I shift my attention toward instructor preparation and development. Higher education faculty, unlike K-12 instructors, are not required to have any specific education certification in order to teach.  All instructors will have strong content knowledge, as that is the emphasis for being hired (whether in a full-time or part-time role) to teach at a college or university.  But, instructors who teach developmental courses recognize that there is a unique skill set to meeting the needs of this diverse student population.  Unfortunately, many developmental educators do not have adequate preparation to meet student needs.  Carol Kozeracki’s “Preparing Faculty to Meet the Needs of Developmental Students” explores strategies to prepare faculty to better serve developmental students.

Article Summary

This article explores English developmental education faculty members’ attitudes towards professional development.  The study includes interviews with 36 English faculty members who teach developmental courses, representing seven community colleges in two states (one East coast and one West coast).  Each community college has large enrollments, exceeding 15,000 students.  The structure of the developmental programs are varied as well – centralized, decentralized, and mixed models (Kozeracki, p. 39).

The study explored three areas or strategies for faculty preparation: graduate programs, internal professional development opportunities, and professional associations.  For each of these areas, the author interviewed developmental English instructors to gain feedback on their attitudes about each area and solicited recommendations on how to strengthen each.

For graduate programs, this study concluded that “there is a significant gap between what is learned in graduate school and what they need to know to facilitate student learning” (p. 48).  Furthermore, graduate programs for English instructors should include additional training on how to teach grammar, how to properly design a lesson, and strategies for both recognizing and working with students with disabilities (p. 48).

Regarding professional development programs, Kozeracki concluded developmental English faculty are most responsive to departmental level programs that provide strategies for meeting  immediate classroom needs and to informal dialogue about teaching and learning practices (p. 48).

Finally, developmental English faculty are least interested in professional associations that provide information and resources that are solely theoretically based; they desire to have practical applications to the developmental classroom (p. 49).

Strengths and Critiques

The audience for this study is most likely faculty development professionals, leaders of centers for teaching excellence, department chairs, and administrators responsible for hiring and developing faculty.  One strength of the article is that it provides tangible suggestions to improve professional development programs for developmental English faculty at a community college.  Specifically, it recommends that “more time should be made at departmental meetings in which faculty discuss pedagogical issues” (p. 46).  The author recommends only using outside speakers who focus on issues of “genuine concern” to the whole faculty (p. 46).  The faculty responders also indicated that more opportunities to engage with faculty outside their respective discipline would be beneficial (p. 46).  The most radical suggestion is for colleges to set aside one to two-hours per week when classes are not offered for faculty to have more focused departmental meetings (p. 46).  This suggestion aligns more to that of the K-12 model with common planning periods.  I appreciated this section of the study as it provided very concrete recommendations based on the responses of the 37 interviewed English faculty members.  The recommendations are relatively low-cost and simple to implement and may have a positive impact.

Despite the recommendations I found useful, I have many critiques of the article which limit its effectiveness.  First, little is shared regarding the demographics of the interviewed faculty members.  I think their length of service to the institution and their own level of preparation and training to teach developmental education are significant pieces of information that would effect responses as to what professional development and training options are beneficial.  Furthermore, faculty attitudes toward graduate school preparation is completely dependent upon each of his/her personal experiences.  Relating this study to myself, my undergraduate degree is in English and my master’s preparation is in Education.  Consequently, all of the recommendations offered in this article regarding graduate programs would not apply in my case, as my graduate experience provided me with the content to be a successful instructor.  Second, I thought the study was very weak in identifying which of the instructor training programs may have an impact on student learning.  I do not think simply stating that developmental English instructors believe workshops taught by peers are more beneficial is enough evidence to justify replicating that type of professional development opportunity.  Yes, the instructors like it.  But, and most significantly, is there evidence to show that participation in the specific professional development opportunity impacted the classroom and student learning in any manner?  The study was very weak in linking the training to classroom modifications and student success.  Finally, I was very disappointed in the author’s initial description of the current state of developmental education. I recognize the article was penned in 2005; however, I was still surprised that the author included a refernce to C.J. Hardin’s work “Access to Higher Education: Who Belongs?”  Kozeracki quotes Hardin’s work detailing six categories for students who require developmental coursework: “poor choosers, adult learners, foreign students, handicapped students, and ‘users’ who lack clear-cut goals and are attending college more for purposes of avoidance than achievement” (Kozeracki, p. 40).   This categorization is appalling, as it implies that having a disability or being foreign or being an adult learner or not having a defined goal are indicators for needing developmental coursework.  Hardin, who I am not familiar with, is obviously not familiar with the community college mission, as those categories describe any number of high-achieving and excellent students within our system.  Inclusion of this categorization made me question Kozeracki’s understanding of the developmental education mission and core principles.

My Take

As an administrator who oversees a center for teaching and learning at a community college, I found this research helpful as it did provide me with tangible, concrete strategies to enhance our professional development programs within GCC and the Maricopa system.  But, further research is needed to identify which of these strategies may best impact instructional practice and student leaning outcomes.  With limited resources and faculty members’ limited time, those activities with high impact and low cost/effort may be ones to implement first.  So, additional study is needed to determine which of the strategies and recommendations would have the greatest impact.

I also think the study should be expanded beyond English developmental instructors only.  One could explore the attitudes and perceptions of math faculty who teach developmental courses. Their preparation and needs may be different, requiring unique strategies to meet their discipline and classroom needs.

Finally, this article made me question our faculty hiring practices in higher education.  For the most part, faculty members are hired based on discipline expertise, while teaching expertise is desired, but not a must.  This practice has to change regarding our developmental student population.  Collectively, as a college community, we need to be more intentional of who we hire and why we are hiring them.  Potential faculty members with degrees in education or with significant teaching preparation should be moved to the front of the pool for consideration.  Faculty positions should be posted with requirements beyond that of content knowledge only, but best teaching practices should be required and then demonstrated through the process.  We owe it to our students to have the best and brightest instructors with both the content and the teaching expertise to help our students to achieve.

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