Posted in Basic Writing Projects & Initiatives, CBW 2012, CCCC 2012, Fun!, Scholarship of Basic Writing, What's New in Basic Writing, Who is Basic Writing?

W7 The Accelerated Learning Program as an Evidence-Based Success Model

Peter Adams, Community College of Baltimore County; Heidi Johnsen, LaGuardia Community College; Michelle Zollars, Patrick Henry Community College; Jan Allen, Community College of Baltimore County

Jan Allen discussed some context for Developmental Education, including disappointing outcomes for students enrolled in developmental courses. There is significant pressure for students to earn degrees, and the overall financial crisis of our time. This is leading to threats to providing developmental education classes, reductions in the numbers of seats available.

Why do so many students drop out of developmental courses or fail to progress? Survey data at CCBC shows that the problem is NOT learning, but rather that “life happens” – legal, financial, transportation, health issues – and that students lose confidence because of these life issues.

At CCBC, the ALP gives students a choice at placement. Either they can take developmental writing separately, or they can take an “ALP section” in which they take developmental and 101 at the same time. They are in a 101 section of 20 students – 8 are  developmental, the rest are not. The 8 students take the developmental course with the same instructor in the period immediately following. In the second period, they have a workshop that supports the 101 class – answering questions, reviewing drafts, scaffolding the assignments. In addition, affective issues are addressed – how to succeed as a college student, solve problems that interfere with their progress. Because of the combination of classes, there is more time to address these additional issues and more ability to address individual needs.

Students have a much better attitude about being in ALP than in the regular developmental course. They are in a supportive community, they are getting credit for their 101 course and are engaging with students at the next higher level, their “pipeline” is shorter, and they are more likely to try the same model in their math classes if they succeed in the writing course.

Peter Adams mentioned that ALP is a combination of several other approaches including “stretch,” the studio model, and learning communities. Adams presented data showing that ALP has doubled pass rates in English 101, from 27% to over 60%. In English 102, pass rates increased even more. In credits earned after two years, twice as many ALP students had accumulated 30 credits. Adams commented that he does not think ALP creates better writers, but keeps them in college.

There has been a deliberate effort to scale up the size of ALP. It has grown dramatically at CCBC and also been instigated at 46 other campuses.

Michelle Zollars represents one of those other campuses. At Patrick Henry College in Virginia, she had to “tweak” ALP to get the program to fit the campus culture and gain acceptance from administrators, including alterations in class size and room arrangements, as well as credit hours. Several faculty attended the ALP Institute in order to allow ALP to scale up. Data show significant improvements in pass rates and retention. It’s cost-effective for the college even offering the small ALP section since students don’t drop out.

Zollars also described how ALP will be the model across the state of Virginia in the redesign of developmental English, in which reading and writing will be combined statewide.

Heidi Johnsen described implementation at LaGuardia, a large urban campus, where ALP students are also showing impressive gains in a context driven by placement and exit testing on CATW.

Peter Adams listed what seems to really make the difference with ALP – no matter what type of campus:

  1. Students are mainstreamed into comp – rather than being held back and demoralized by the stigma of developmental placement.
  2. Pipeline is shortened by one semester.
  3. Exposure to stronger students.
  4. Cohort spends more hours per week together.
  5. Meaningful context for the developmental course, since it’s concurrent.
  6. Small class size – should not be more than half of the 101 class.
  7. Attention to affective and life issues.
  8. Same instructor teaches ALP and comp.

Adams also commented on pedagogy for an accelerated classroom, advocating a “backward design” for curriculum development. In other words, what is the target course, and what happens there? This is what should happen in developmental writing. If developmental writing course looks like the fourth grade, it’s demoralizing. He also advocated for active learning and thinking skills in the developmental classroom. Adams commented about the integration of reading and writing as another significant goal he hopes to see taking more shape in ALP.

Faculty development is key to the success of ALP. Elements include workshops each semester, a 20-hour institute for new faculty, and ALPIN, the ALP Inquiry Network. ALPIN is an online community that supports conversations among faculty (using Drupal), structured around weekly posts by instructors, with comments following.

(Note: I put this presentation in the Fun! category, along with all the usual ones, because it was fun to hear these enthusiastic presenters talking about these magnificent successes. Plus, Michelle was hilarious.)


Professor of English at College of DuPage. I teach writing: currently first-semester composition, developmental writing, and ALP co-req courses. Grateful for my union, the COD Faculty Association. My husband and I might be out riding our tandem bicycle right now... chances are good we're also going to a craft brewery. Having fun, getting older, and noticing that slowing down a little seems like a fine idea.

2 thoughts on “W7 The Accelerated Learning Program as an Evidence-Based Success Model

  1. Hi, Karin

    Thanks for doing these blog summaries.

    “…the problem is NOT learning, but rather that ‘life happens.’” We see the same at COD, don’t we? It’s not so much the demands of any one course that knocks a student out–it’s rather the discouraging convergence of many upsetting and challenging life events.


    I remember a fine visit to LaGuardia where I learned about the college’s highly developed Learning Communities program. Now, it’s interesting to hear about the success of their ALP program.

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