Focus on Pedagogy: Developmental Courses and CRAs

Mon, 06/30/2014 - 10:24 -- Hillary Procknow

This week continues our four-post series on pedagogy with a look at Developmental Education and the ways in which CRAs can be used to support remedial instruction.  Hillary Procknow is part of the CRAfT team and teaches Developmental Integrated Reading and Writing at The University of Texas at Austin.


As you may be aware, entering college students in Texas who do not demonstrate college readiness in reading & writing and/or mathematics via the STAAR, SAT, or ACT must enroll in developmental (or remedial) education courses during their first semester. These courses are designed to help students improve their skills in these areas so they will be prepared to take credit-bearing courses in the following semesters.

Developmental education at institutions of higher education in Texas has been undergoing many changes recently.  If you happen to teach developmental reading and writing, you know that those two areas are being integrated; if you teach developmental math, there are enormous concerns about the numbers of students who enter a developmental math sequence and fail to complete it or earn any credits in math.  In addition, all areas of developmental education are implementing the new Texas Success Initiative Assessment (TSIA) and are developing Non-course Competency Based Options (NCBOs).

In the midst of this sea of changes, the CRAfT team would like to offer you a few extra oars to navigate choppy waters.  As we have discussed a number of times in our blog, College Readiness Assignments (CRAs) were developed by both high school and college faculty to address the misalignment between what we ask our high school students to know and be able to do and what is expected of them when they start college or their careers. CRAs are designed to improve the precise skills that many of our developmental education students need to succeed in college. Next we will walkt hrough the learning outcomes of the two developmental courses and offer some CRA resources to support these outcomes.


Using CRAs with Integrated Reading and Writing

THECB has set forth these Learning Outcomes (LOs) for Integrated Reading and Writing (IRW) courses:

  1. Locate explicit textual information, draw complex inferences, and describe, analyze, and 
evaluate the information within and across multiple texts of varying lengths.
  2. Comprehend and use vocabulary effectively in oral communication, reading, and writing.
  3. Identify and analyze the audience, purpose, and message across a variety of texts.
  4. Describe and apply insights gained from reading and writing a variety of texts.
  5. Compose a variety of texts that demonstrate reading comprehension, clear focus, logical development of ideas, and use of appropriate language that advance the writer’s purpose.
  6. Determine and use effective approaches and rhetorical strategies for given reading and writing situations.
  7. Generate ideas and gather information relevant to the topic and purpose, incorporating the ideas and words of other writers in student writing using established strategies.
  8. Evaluate relevance and quality of ideas and information in recognizing, formulating, and developing a claim.
  9. Develop and use effective reading and revision strategies to strengthen the writer’s ability to compose college-level writing assignments.
  10. Recognize and apply the conventions of standard English in reading and writing.

If you or your institution has been searching for additional materials to meet the goals of this new course, many of the English/Language Arts CRAs specifically address these outcomes.  For instance, in the IRW course at The University of Texas at Austin, we frequently use the CRA “Words, Words, Words: Learning and Using New Vocabulary” to introduce strategies for developing vocabulary (LO 2) and “Interrogating the Text: Reading Closely, Reading Critically” to help students develop their annotation and critical reading skills (LOs 8 and 9).

Perhaps you would like to work on LO 3 to develop your students’ abilities to analyze texts.  “Readerʼs Analysis: Author, Purpose, Audience, and Meaning” was intended for just that purpose.  The assignment has students practice with an analysis of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail;” then students apply what they learned by analyzing a second text of your or the student’s choice.  Remember that CRAs can be adapted to any content, so you do not have to start with “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”  If you are working on a thematic unit with your class, you might choose to begin with an essay about the environment or one on human rights.

CRAs were designed to be flexible and accommodate the content you already use with your classes, but in a way that gets students to interact with that content so that they are prepared to do the work and thinking required of them in their other courses.

One of the more challenging CRAs, “Rhetorical Analysis II: Understanding Editorials” addresses a number of the LOs (1, 4, 6, and 7), with the added benefit of engaging students in an iterative writing process, which allows them to practice the art of a rhetorical analysis four times with four different pieces.

In addition to the ELA CRAs, IRW instructors can also look to the Social Studies CRAs, many of which ask students to work with primary sources and a variety of texts.  The Social Studies CRAs can be particularly helpful if you are considering developing thematic units for your IRW course. Presidential Speech Analysis, Music: A Sign of the Times, and Are You Getting the Whole Truth are three great examples of Social Studies CRAs that work well in ELA courses and build IRW skills.


Using CRAs with Intermediate Algebra

These are the Learning Outcomes (LOs) THECB has established for Intermediate Algebra:

  1. Define, represent, and perform operations on real and complex numbers.
  2. Recognize, understand, and analyze features of a function.
  3. Recognize and use algebraic (field) properties, concepts, procedures (including factoring), and algorithms to combine, transform, and evaluate absolute value, polynomial, radical, and rational expressions.
  4. Identify and solve absolute value, polynomial, radical, and rational equations.
  5. Identify and solve absolute value and linear inequalities.
  6. Model, interpret and justify mathematical ideas and concepts using multiple representations.
  7. Connect and use multiple strands of mathematics in situations and problems, as well as in the study of other disciplines.

One of the reasons the Mathematics CRAs are so helpful in developmental courses is because they are hands-on and project-based assignments.  The most recent research from the Charles A. Dana Center at UT-Austin suggests that developmental math courses should include “active learning, constructive perseverance, and problem solving,” which is precisely what the Math CRAs do.

Students are more engaged in the learning process if there is a real-world context provided along with the challenging material of the course.  For instance, several of the CRAs tackle LO 1, working with real and complex numbers, and they do so in a way that helps students develop persistence and problem solving skills.  One example is “Area Exploration” which tasks students with calculating the cost of swimming pools of different shapes per square foot.

Functions (LO 2) are addressed in both “Exponential and Logarithmic Functions,” an activity in which students consider functions graphically and algebraically in their connection to investment, and “Function Families,” where students apply functions to a real-world scenario.  Both of these CRAs also tackle radical expressions (LOs 3 and 4).

If you’re looking to have students work with mathematical modeling (LO 6), “Let the Games Begin,” “All in a Day’s Work,” and “Data Driven” will keep students engaged in the topic by asking them to figure out how to make fair games based on probability, which summer job scenario will help them pay for college, and how to analyze sales data from two businesses.


Technology and Independent Study CRAs

As the push to include technology in developmental education classes continues, you may be searching for online activities that do more than simply move reading or multiple choice questions from paper to screen.  A number of CRAs have been transformed into independent study assignments that your students can complete outside of class time.  All of resources, including videos, images, and documents are included, and students can work through them at their own pace.  Check out these Independent Study CRAs as a way of putting the responsibility of learning in the hands of the students:


Texas College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS)

In addition to the Learning Outcomes set forth by THECB, they have also stated, “Developmental educators should consider the application of Cross-Disciplinary Standards, as appropriate, in their courses and interventions” (Academic Course Guide Manual [ACGM]; Developmental Education; Approved Additions and Revisions; October 2012).  Fortunately, the CRAs were developed to specifically address the Cross-Disciplinary Standards listed in the Texas College and Career Readiness Standards. As an example, we encourage teachers in any course to consider using the CRA Choosing the Best Websites to Support Your Argument, for the ability to locate, evaluate, synthesize, and present information is critical to success in every college course.

We encourage you to explore the rest of this site and find CRAs and other resources that work for you in your developmental courses. Stay tuned for our next post on July 14 in which we’ll discuss what college ready writing really looks like.