Community colleges often face the unique challenge of preparing academically underprepared students. These students must acquire needed academic skills to perform successfully in transfer-level courses. Nationally, developmental education has been under pressure to help these students accelerate coursework and skills. Developmental educators face a tough climb as these students are often seeking to “accelerate” to transfer courses in only one or two semesters. Teresa Carrillo, professor and reading coordinator at Joliet Junior College (JJC) in Joliet, Illinois, has been working to find the right tools and pace for students.
In the interview below, Carrillo talks about issues related to student retention and assessment. Some of these issues include: pacing, uniformity among sections, co-requisite courses, and finding online learning resources like MyReadingLab to help challenge and track the student’s reading achievement. Like most educators, she tracks effective and ineffective trends to get a clear picture of both program and student results. Last year, Carrillo participated in JJC’s very first educator study to assess statistical results of the JJC program. She fielded a number of questions below.
Q: What progress do you expect from students in developmental reading courses?
Carrillo: The stakes are high, and we know that we do not have much time. At Joliet Junior College, we offer two levels of developmental reading—English 020 and English 021/022. In our 020 course, I like to see the student end their semester with an “A” or “B” in the course and a Lexile level of 900–1000. (Students are required to get at least a “C” in all developmental education courses). Students who are performing at a 900–1000 Lexile level are usually able to improve their Lexile in the next course to 1100–1300 or even higher. 1300 is considered college level, and this is what we are striving for by the end of the English 021 or 022 course. We have begun focusing heavily on Lexile scores since we overhauled our program last year.
Q: What is the difference between the English 021 and 022 courses?
Carrillo: The 021 course is a stand-alone reading course with its own reading textbook, MyReadingLab, and a novel. The 022 course is designed to attach to a transfer level course as a co-requisite. We pair this course with Psychology 101, Art 109, or Personal Finance 100. The reading instructor uses the discipline-specific textbook for reading instruction, and then we use MyReadingLab to work on overall reading ability with the Lexile program. Whether the student is in English 021 or 022, we—the instructors—try to conference with the students on MyReadingLab days. I call each student up, show him/her where their respective Lexile level was at the beginning of the semester and what level he/she is at on that particular day. I show them how to click the “view progress” button in MyReadingLab so that they can easily see their progress on a line graph.
Q: How does visually showing each student his or her Lexile level during conferencing change a student’s perspective of his or her learning journey?
Carrillo: Sometimes the change is immediate! I find that many students do not realize that a college-level Lexile is 1300. It is enlightening for a student to realize that s/he is only at 920! I remind students that they are walking around the campus with a large “gap” in their reading ability, yet, they are attempting to read materials—textbooks, research articles, websites—that are way above their ability to comprehend. Some of them will nod in agreement. Some of them will get a surprised look on their faces and then they literally have an “aha” moment. Unfortunately, there are some who still struggle. It may be lack of intrinsic motivation or outside pressures that affect them.
Q: Often developmental students have other issues to overcome, such as improving study habits and time management. How do you help them with these “soft skills”?
Carrillo: Hopefully, we are helping them with these kind of skills in our general expectations of our class—good attendance, a “netiquette” grade (if they are on their phones during class, I deduct points), timely grading, and by inviting some special speakers such as our TRIO program, tutors, and our retention specialists. We work heavily with our retention specialists on one of our lab days so that each student can meet with an advisor. This “intentional advising” gives the students a chance to meet one-on-one and really look at things like GPA, financial aid, and academic progression.
Q: How do you ensure adjunct instructors are sufficiently trained to use MyReadingLab?
Carrillo: This is one of my biggest challenges as the reading coordinator. I offer two workshops each semester, and I also offer one-on-one sessions with adjuncts. Ironically, the campus has used MyReadingLab for many years, but we never required any data! This led to some bad habits. It wasn’t until we finally began collecting data last year that it was discovered some adjuncts did not know how to use MyReadingLab! I remember doing an “emergency” tutorial. I think my reading team is coming along. Some of the challenge is just encouraging them to get into the program and start clicking. My heart goes out to adjunct instructors since I used to be one. It is difficult since many of them have more than one teaching job at a variety of schools. I did have a few adjuncts who had lost confidence and asked, “Will this really work digitally?” Again, it is a challenge to provide the time for them; we don’t have a budget to offer stipends, so it is difficult.
Q: What insights would you share to help other developmental reading instructors?
Carrillo: I would tell reading instructors to remember that good reading instruction is going to include both reading and writing. It will also have direct instruction and authentic practice. We have chosen a textbook that incorporates the reading instruction with certain disciplines, and we use a high interest novel. I tell my reading team to feel encouraged as they see students’ Lexile levels improving. I often tell my students that they should be able to “feel” the reading difference in their other classes as they improve. When I say these statements, it is a great day to see a smile of accomplishment on the students’ faces.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Carrillo: I don’t know if there are any coordinators reading this, but one activity that I have done, and would recommend, is to implement a weekly email to the adjunct team. I call it “Friday Feedback,” and I send out an email that lets them know where I am that week in my classes and how it is going. If I had a bad week, I let them know. I try to be very transparent! The adjunct team has loved it—they tell me that they don’t feel like an orphan or all alone. Too bad there wasn’t something for me as the coordinator, since often I feel like I am alone!