Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Toward a Developmental Theory for Developmental Educators

Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Toward a Developmental Theory for Developmental Educators

Article excerpt

Recent Research and Theory in Developmental Education

Lundell and Collins (1999) reviewed the research literature contained in the National Center for Developmental Education's recent Annotated Research Bibliographies in Developmental Education, Volumes 1 and 2 (1997, 1998 ). They concluded that this body of accumulated inquiry into the practices of developmental education emphasized primarily practical approaches to assessing and remediating individual student "deficits." They also concluded that there was a lack of models emanating from developmental education programs and identified the need for additional models.

There have been several recent attempts to apply theory to developmental education. The most organized recent compendium was the 1996 National Association of Developmental Education (NADE) monograph on defining developmental education (Higbee & Dwinell, 1996). The articles in that volume ranged widely across the field. For example, Payne and Lyman (1996) provided a historical perspective, pointing out that others have provided definitions of the field and that research in developmental education continues to progress from its early, less rigorous beginnings. Darby (1996) asked us to stretch our imaginations and make connections to the dynamic science of complexity to account for the complexity of our field.

The other five monograph chapters do what most "theoretical" developmental education papers have done: They apply various existing theories to practice. Among the theories mentioned as relevant to developmental education are cooperative learning (Myers, 1996), mastery learning (Stratton, 1996), and constructivism (Caverly & Peterson, 1996). Higbee ( 1996) has concluded the volume by suggesting that Chickering's ( 1969) seven vectors of college student development show the way to what we might accomplish with our students.

Other articles in other places have also applied theory and research to what we do in developmental education. Casazza (1998) constructed "a theoretical framework for the component of developmental education related to how students learn by making connections across disciplines" (p.14). In this ambitious article she asks us to consider alternative views of intelligence (multiple intelligences, emotional intelligence, triarchic theory), collaboration and constructivism, field dependence/independence, meaning systems and schemata, and stages of cognitive development as they inform developmental education. Her case study approach elucidated the relationship of these theoretical constructs to our practice. Although Casazza's exploration of students' individual differences is helpful and stimulating for thinking about practice, we argue in this paper that a comprehensive theory should focus primarily on the structure and function of the environment.

Even a cursory look at the research in psychology, educational psychology, and education tells us that many individual difference variables have been identified and studied. Some of these, such as intelligence and achievement motivation, have generated decades of research on individuals' behavior in school. Knowledge of the ways in which traits affect behavior in educational settings is certainly useful for developmental educators. However, rather than cataloging all of these effects, we need a theory that accommodates individual differences and provides a structure for addressing them. Our goal should be to maximize our ability to serve the greatest number of very different types of students by focusing on what constitutes an ef fective educational environment.

Lundell and Collins (1999) critiqued what they described as the "deficit model" of developmental education as they applied the notion of "discourse" (Gee, 1996) to the field. They argued that because "discourses reflect and value the practices and world-views of specialized communities, such as science or law" (p.18), we should not view developmental students as suffering from some sort of deficit but rather as possessed of alternate "ways of being in the world" (Gee). …

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