On Thursday, January 9, City College of San Francisco held its first official professional development day of 2014. Amid our trepidations over accreditation, the excitement about teaching another group of students permeated everything. With the New Year ahead of us, it’s only fitting that we start to look at the many ways to innovate and remain relevant. There’s no question that the English Department’s Accelerated Learning Program, ALP, is a clear way to accomplish institutional, state and educational goals where everybody wins, students, teachers and the college, included.
In an informative Flex Day Workshop, the English department’s Michelle Simotas and Caroline Minkowski presented an overview of accelerated classes, revealing just why ALP course are so popular. From the driving question of the course, which is printed in the schedule, to project-based, research-driven and inquiry-based learning, these courses are enticing and attractive prospects for most students; accelerated classes are empowering from the starting block. Furthermore, from the perspective of a teacher, it’s clearly one of the best ways to teach, engage and promote critical thinking. Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) are addressed in the backward design, making sure that the courses are providing students with required course content. Reading materials remain relevant throughout the semester since the entire curriculum is connected to the driving question. Students think about the real purpose of rhetoric, giving life to the concept of audience when they publish blogs and present to their classmates. Minkowski’s pride was evident when she showed off her students’ projects. She beamed with good reason. The numbers don’t lie. Student pass rates are 2.2 times higher than in the regular sequence. African American students are fairing even better. Acceleration is working.
With all this good news, why aren’t we implementing this model in all English classes? After seven semesters of experience with an extremely popular and successful program, it’s clearly time to hit the gas on the Accelerated Learning Program. We need to train more teachers and grow the pool of eligible and qualified teachers so that we can offer more of them each year. In a conversation with one of the ALP leads, she explained that the cohort is looking at creating a mentorship program. New teachers can shadow experienced teachers and current ALP instructors in the lower sequence can get the training they need to teach the transfer-level course. With success rates in accelerated classes doubled and tripled in some student populations, there is no question that we should grow the program now.
ALP is just what our college needs to meet the new state mandates for repeatability because it can eliminate that factor altogether. The rare student who doesn’t complete both levels can still take the subsequent course in a following semester. Students will move quickly through the sequence with the potential of finishing their English requirements in two semesters or less, depending on where they enter the sequence. The California Acceleration Project has trained a cohort of over 20 City College teachers. We should now take the next step in getting the entire department on board. We’re the only community college that has acceleration in a transfer-level course. If we can double the number of classes offered and train more teachers to teach in the ALP, we’ll be meeting the future with the progressive and innovative pedagogy that great institutions should aspire to.