Academic journal article Research & Teaching in Developmental Education

Crossing the Boundaries: A Case Study of One Remedial Student's Transformation into a College Writer

Academic journal article Research & Teaching in Developmental Education

Crossing the Boundaries: A Case Study of One Remedial Student's Transformation into a College Writer

Article excerpt


The author offers highlights from a semester-long exploratory study of an innovative and intensive double-period composition course for students entering at the remedial level. She focuses on one developmental writer, aiming to capture her successful transition to college level writing. The case is a retrospective account based on the review of authentic classroom data-from essays to conferencing notes, survey responses, and email. These sources document the student's progress, allowing for discussion about learning processes, curriculum, and instructional strategies. This case is the first in a series of reports describing the different performance patterns, successful and unsuccessful, of developmental students' efforts to acquire college-level skills in a new curriculum designed to eliminate the stigma and shortcomings of the non-credit developmental course structures offered previously at the institution.

This case study represents the first in a series of reports on student performance in a new writing curriculum that integrates developmental studies and composition. The author's long-term goal is to examine a number of students involved in the new curriculum, in the manner used here, to depict a variety of outcomes and explore both explanations and solutions in relation to student achievement, curriculum, and instruction. In particular, the author analyzes data about a successful student to capture the process of and factors supporting the transition from the developmental writing level to college level performance. Being the first in a series of studies, this work also functions as a means for understanding classroom-based research of this nature, for exploring data patterns, and for experimenting with ways to organize and report insights.

The Context for the Study

The Curriculum

The new writing curriculum at Kean University was designed to eliminate the stigma and shortcomings associated with the non-credit developmental courses offered since the 1980s. Created to provide an enriched, challenging curriculum for developmental students rather than a reduced curriculum that risked diminished engagement and motivation, the new curriculum offers a seamless, integrated double-period (6 contact hours, 3 towards the degree and 3 institutional, non-degree credit) composition course in a single semester for students identified as developmental writers through placement testing.1 Within this course format, one instructor assumes responsibility for student progress from the developmental level to the satisfactory completion of the University's composition requirement. A single course description governs both the traditional 3 credit format of College Composition for at-level students and the 6-credit version for developmental writers:

Exploratory and persuasive writing for academic purposes. Emphasis upon writing as a reflective and social process; Writing across the curriculum; critical thinking; and the development of a personal intellectual perspective and style of expression.

Expectations for students are consistent across course formats, and they reflect the traditional goals for college composition, as these have evolved over time to reflect insights gained from cognitive research and social theory. All students engage in college level material from the start, but the expanded format for developmental students provides additional class time to develop or review skills and concepts. All composition students, regardless of course format, practice the rhetorical modes. They treat material studied in ways that promote critical thinking, they learn to use tools for writing, they practice writing as a reflective and social process, and they work to develop a personal perspective and style of writing.

Composition students at Kean University also address diversity goals as part of the writing curriculum in both the traditional and expanded formats of College Composition. …

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