Firm Focus on Affective, Cognitive Needs Prepares Students for Demands of College

Tom Ott The following document, which is a reflection of a number of meetings with program faculty, has been created so that it may serve as a foundation for our work and provide us with a focus for the continuing conversations necessary to the best possible educational experiences for our students.

The College Achievement Partnership (CAP) is a program serving 2000+ students at varying levels of pre-college work. Some 100+ full and part-time faculty teach in the program, exploring various approaches to student-centered learning. Within CAP this is taken to mean that while the purpose of Developmental Education at Community College of Philadelphia is to "prepare" students to enter their college programs (Task Force for Developmental Education, 1996, p.1), our focus of instruction must be on enabling our students to assume the responsibility of attempting college work as well as on the development of college-ready skills; for it seems evident that if a student does not understand his/her purpose for being at our college, if he/she does not know how to engage the work necessary to success, then teaching reading, writing and mathematical skills will be a futile task. Therefore, each of us working in CAP understands that preparation to enter college programs must necessarily include attention to the affective as well as the cognitive side of learning.

For faculty teaching in the College Achievement Partnership, this assumes a responsibility for treating students with respect and adopting an attitude that, as one faculty member wrote, helps students develop positive motivation toward learning and sustain positive affective factors such as tolerance for ambiguity and the willingness to accept failure as an opportunity to learn rather than as an expected end. It assumes also that our classrooms and labs will be welcoming, safe environments where disruption will not be tolerated and students can feel secure that the trust they place in us will be unconditionally valued, and that our desire for them to succeed will match their own.

We are also committed to the programmatic nature of our work. That is, in an enterprise as large as CAP various academic/administrative services must be provided our students. At present the administrative support for our program is a Director for Developmental Education, an Academic Coordinator, three counselors dedicated part-time to CAP, limited resources for extended/released time projects, and one secretary. Thus, the decision to teach in CAP must be based on a willingness to assist program staff with academic/support service tasks such as orientation, academic advising, academic probation counseling, and professional development projects as well as to provide quality instruction for "at risk" students.

During 1995 and 1996 the Task Force for Developmental Education responded to a charge from then Academic Vice President Ron Williams that resulted in a series of recommendations that were subsequently accepted by him for implementation. As part of that document, twelve programmatic principles were described. Six of those twelve (reprinted below, from Recommendations of the Developmental Education Task Force, 10/15/96, pp. 12-16) seem particularly apt for inclusion in this document.

1. Focus on Student-Centered Learning

Fundamental to a revision of developmental education at CCP is the assertion that the student is the main focus of our efforts. While academic rigor and skills acquisition are a given in the DE enterprise, the purpose of the program is to assist students to become full participating members of our academic community and beyond that members in the community of lifelong learners. The goal is to create a climate in which students problem-solve, discover knowledge for themselves, and make decisions about their own learning.

A major point here is to move the classroom setting from lecture to dialogue by using a combination of traditional seminars, writing groups, small discussion groups, and/or lecture-discussions that has a central text and a faculty-facilitated conversation with regards to the text. Norms of academic discourse appropriate to particular discipliens are the central guide to the flow of classroom conversation. At the beginning of the semester, the faculty put in place these norms and encourage students to abide by them; but as the process proceeds, faculty become facilitators of the conversation and students become central to it as they begin to listen to one another and not look to the faculty for the answers. "The evidence is very strong that these social forms of learning are very effective in encouraging much more complex thinking ..." (Gamson, cited in J. Rhem, 1996).

2. Holistic Approach: Cognitive and Affective

As reflected in the mission statement, both "...cognitive and behavioral changes are important to academic success. The DE program integrates the components of curricular content and basic competencies, counseling/mentoring, and career exploration to allow students to engage in issues of personal/intellectual growth and academic enculturation while pursuing the collegiate goal." The commitment is to developmental education as a process of ongoing transformation, both personal and academic.

Incorporating Counseling and Job/Career Exploration:3. A Simultaneous Focus on Academics and Careers

A key component of the revised program will put the aforementioned activities on a par with the other academic activities in the curriculum. Seminars and texts will be central to the approach in getting students to confront the protocols and activities appropriate to success in academic and occupational/professional life. These activities will often have to be deployed by collaborating faculty rather than by specialists. This component should greatly accelerate the process by which students clarify career goals and should assist them in making more informed academic decisions.

4. Mentoring: Peer and Faculty/Professional

Central to student success is the ability of the student to see herself or himself participating in the activities of academe and the work world. Mentoring by faculty, former students, and members of business and industry should be a significant part of a student's totalexperience. Peer-group interaction, faculty seminars and invited specialists in a particular field will be a continuing part of the curriculum rather than something that is periodically added on.

5. A Commitment to Faculty Development College-wide

In order to facilitate the programmatic changes being recommended, faculty will be encouraged to design and participate in workshops, seminars, and other staff development activities which address issues central to the DE efforts. One major issue is the recommended change from an individual transfer of information model to a tight collaborative group processes model which requires that faculty be invited to participate in professional planning and growth seminars long before the actual teaching is done. A key issue is how to infuse the programmatic principles across the various applications of the developmental education experience, particularly the experiences beyond the cluster model.

Staff development activities will be ongoing throughout the year and will be the principal instrument through which the evolution of DE at this college is effected. This may require some internal/external funding so that faculty have continuing meetings for dialogue on such things as student-centeredlearning, curriculum, pedagogy, text selection, appropriate assignments, scheduling, and grading/evaluation.

6. Experimentation to Foster Innovation and to Improve Learning

Because no one curriculum or pedagogy can be implemented uniformly across the disciplines of a community college, it is important to experiment with a variety of curricula and pedagogical approaches so that student learning is facilitated in a variety of contexts. Though group processes - seminars, writing groups, small group discussions, lecture-discussions - are seen as the preferred pedagogical approaches, there will be situations where the traditional approaches, legitimately so, facilitate learning. Determining the success and limitations of these pedagogies across disciplines and curricula is important from the first semester forward so that modifications regarding pedagogical emphasis can be made. To that end, faculty will be encouraged to engage with their students in the active pursuit of both methodology and pedagogical practices that will test and retest our fundamental beliefs.

These six principles clearly delineate for faculty teaching in CAP the expectedapproach and attitudes necessary to teaching in developmental education and serve as reasonable guidelines for the commitment we expect of each other and for allowing faculty to decide if teaching in CAP is compatible with individual method and pedagogy.

Again, teaching in the College Achievement Partnership must be a decision made with the understanding that participation in the program carries with it responsibilities beyond the transmission of one's discipline and includes a commitment to student centered learning and active collaboration with colleagues to provide academic experiences for our students that will increase their chances of access to desired college programs. It is through this commitment that the strong, professionally committed faculty such as this college enjoys can continue to ensure the best possible academic/support services to our students as well as maintain the integrity of a program as large as the College Achievement Partnership.

List of Articles
Return to Journal home page