Teaching in the Fast Lane: One CoP’s Experience Accelerating Basic WritingSubmitted by Judi Nitsch, English

At Harper, we can be a bit obsessed with speed. Most of us have been in a meeting or invited to work on an initiative wherein we “accelerate” something, be it time to degree, selection of a pathway, or completion of a course sequence.

In the English Department, we began to accelerate our developmental sequence six years ago, adopting a now-famous model from the Community College of Baltimore County: the Accelerated Learning Program, or ALP. Students who almost earned the Compass score for direct placement into credit-level English were mainstreamed into ENG 101 and given a supplemental hour of supportive instruction from their English instructor. The program was, as you might expect, put into place very quickly.

However, English faculty weren’t terribly speedy in determining who these ALP students were and what support they needed. As a result, few students were placed in these sections, and few sections were offered. Only after a Department-led shift to multiple-methods placement and a state-sponsored push to expand Harper’s ALP program did faculty really begin to move.

Quickly, of course, a group of full-time and adjunct faculty created an ALP-focused Community of Practice to answer those important questions of who and what. In just several semesters, we reviewed demographic data, we trained ourselves in writing studio pedagogy, we focused our instruction on metacognition, and we gathered qualitative data on student experiences in the ALP. The work was challenging, as any foray into new pedagogical territory would be, and not without its bumps, given the speed with which we were moving. At the year’s end, however, we discovered that the ALP could be a transformative experience for students and faculty alike. Students described their experiences in the ALP as positive and helpful, and faculty signed on for another year to continue aligning our sections and studying the program.

When a small group of CoP members attended the national conference on accelerating developmental education (CADE), we expected to bring back new theories and approaches to strengthen Harper’s program, which we did. I think we were surprised to learn, though, that our hurried, homegrown efforts were in line with, or even surpassed, the efforts at celebrated institutions. We even found ourselves in positions to ask critical questions of the presenters about, for example, the need to bring intersectional lenses to ALP pedagogy. We engaged in difficult dialogues about students’ non-academic barriers: What are they? How do we know? What do we do with that knowledge? We considered how our pedagogical assumptions should be recognized and interrogated: How might our academic practices in writing instruction itself be perpetuating white supremacy, thus further marginalizing vulnerable populations? What other types of student languaging and labor might we be ignoring or discounting?

In the end, we welcomed the conference as an opportunity to slow down and see our hard work in comparison with other acceleration efforts. It was a rejuvenating experience – much needed before we jump back into the rush of the fall semester and our own acceleration program.