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Negotiating identities

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Negotiating identities voices of students in a community college developmental education program
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Brancard, Ruth
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English
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xix, 301 leaves : ; 28 cm.

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Underprepared community college students -- Colorado ( lcsh )
Community college students -- Colorado ( lcsh )
Identity (Philosophical concept) ( lcsh )
Community college students ( fast )
Identity (Philosophical concept) ( fast )
Underprepared community college students ( fast )
Colorado ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Thesis:
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Colorado Denver, 2008.
Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 295-301).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Ruth Brancard.

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University of Colorado Denver
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Full Text
NEGOTIATING IDENTITIES: VOICES OF STUDENTS IN A COMMUNITY
COLLEGE DEVELOPMENTAL EDUCATION PROGRAM
by
Ruth Brancard
B,A., English, Goshen College1971
M,A., Reading, University of Northern Colorado,1900
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation, School ot Education
2008


2008 by Ruth Brancard
All rights reserved.


This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Ruth Brancard
has been approved

Date T


Brancard, Ruth E. Doctor of Philosophy (Educational Leadership and Innovation)
Negotiating Identities: Voices of Community College Students in a Developmental
Education Program
Thesis directed by Dr. Mark A. Clarke
ABSTRACT
More than half of the students who enroll in community colleges leave after one year
without completing degrees or certificates. Framing the problem of low persistence rates as
one of identity development rather than skills development, this study examines the
perceptions of first-semester students in two developmental reading and writing learning
communities at an urban community college that serves a diverse student population. The
researcher conducted interviews with students and teachers at the beginning and end of
the semester, observed class sessions, and analyzed student writing. Three-quarters of
the students in the study were recent high school graduates and more than half of them
immigrated to the U.S. with their families, most of them white they were still in elementary
or secondary school. Almost 80% of the students were bilingual. Emerging from the data is
evidence of students1 negotiations of their identities as college students. The study
describes the teachers beliefs about teaching and learningevidence oheir beliefs in
practice, and the classroom environments the teachers and students create* Using a
theoreticsramework based on constructive developmental psychology and sociocultural
learning theory, the researcher documents connections between shifts in students1
perceptions of themselves as college students and the activities they engage in during their
first semester at college. Contributing to students1 emerging identities as college students
are changes in their ideas about reading, writing, career and education goals, grades and
learning, and relationships with peers and family. The study contributes to an
understanding of connections between learning and identity development and has
iv


implications for classroom practice in first-year courses, design of developmental education
programs, and professional development of community college faculty.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis,
publication.
Signed]
Mark A. Clarke


DEDICATION
This study is dedicated to communy college students, who seek better lives for
themselves and their families, and to community college educators, whose everyday efforts
make a difference in the lives of students*


ACKNOWLEDGMENT
Many people contributed to the successful completion of this study, and I want to
thank some o"hem here. My gratitude goes first to the students who contributed their time
and stories and the teachers who opened their classrooms to me. The long conversations
with my adviser, Mark Cfarke, in coffee shops around the city and his careful reading of
many drafts contributed to the shape and substance of this manuscript. Elaine Baker
encouraged me and provided a sounding board lor my ideas. The study grew from our
work together. My husband, Manfred Brancard, provided the support at home that allowed
me to focus on the study. Thank you all very much.
VII


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Figures..........................................................xviii
Tables.............................................................xjx
CHAPTER
1.INTRODUCTION.......................................................1
earningPersistence. andJdentity............................2
Personal Interest in This Study............................. 3
Study Setting and Method......................................4
Findings Overview.............................................5
Contribution of Study.........................................5
Overview of Chapters..........................................6
2. LITERATURE HEVIEW AND THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK.......................0
Developmental Education and Remedial Education................9
Community Colleges and Access to Higher Education............10
Developmental Education and the Open Door....................13
Remediation and Degree and Certificate Completion............15
Student Engagement and Student Retention.....................19
Tinto's Model of Student Retention.........................19
National Survey of Student Engagement......................20
Community College Survey ot Student Engagement.............20
Student Engagement and Instructional Practice................21
Learning Communities.......................................22
viii


Active Learning.......................................................23
Other Research in Developmental Education................................25
Contribution of This Study...............................................25
Generation 1,5 Research......................................................26
Studies of Developmental Students' Perceptions...............................29
Responsibility and Control...............................................30
Study of Epistemology....................................................32
Study Using a Sociocultural Framework....................................33
Implications for This Study............................................ 34
Theoretical Framework...................................................... 36
Communities of Practice and Figured Worlds...............................37
Proleptic Nature of Identity.............................................39
Imagination and Narrative................................................40
Constructive Developmental Psychology....................................43
Erikson and Identity..................................................43
Perry's Scheme of intellectual Development............................
Women's Ways of Knowing...............................................45
Kegan's Orders of Consciousness and Subject-Object Shifts.............47
Implications for This Study...........................................49
Baxter Magolda and Self-Authorship....................................50
Further Implications for This Study...................................52
Characteistics of earning Environments for Fostering dentity
Development..............................................................53
Baxter Magoldars Three Principles....................................
Metaphors for Teaching Practice.......................................54
ix


3. METHOD..............................................................57
Purpose of Study................................................57
Research Questions..............................................57
Research Design.................................................50
Community College Research Site.................................59
Program Context.................................................61
The Course Sections in the Study................................63
Research Participants...........................................64
The Students..................................................64
The Teachers..................................................66
The Researcher................................................67
Data Collection.................................................69
Student Interviews............................................69
Classroom Observations........................................72
Teacher Interviews and Meetings...............................72
Student Writing...............................................72
Activity Assessment Forms.....................................73
Data Analysis...................................................73
Presentation of Findings ................................... 74
4 00KING BACK AT HIGH SCHOOL.........................................76
High School Graduation: A Proud Moment..........................76
High School Friends.............................................81
anguage, Culture, Ethnicity..................................82
Cross-Language Friendships.................................84
Private School Cultures....................................85
x


Older Students and School Friendships .
87
Peers in an Academic Community....................................87
Friendships as Distractions from Academic Work....................88
Standing Up for Beliefs...........................................91
Social Justice and Political Beliefs...........................92
Standing Up m Interactions with Peers..........................94
Hard Lessons......................................................97
Saying Good-Bye...................................................98
Summary: High School Friendships..................................99
Formative Experiences and Important Adults.........................100
Coming to the UnitGd States and Learning English.................100
Negotiating Emotions and earning English.....................102
Strategies for earning English...............................109
A Language Teacher's Reaction.................................114
Extra-Curricular Activities......................................115
Sports........................................................115
School Leadership Activities..................................117
Memorable Experiences with Teachers and Counselors...............118
Negative Experiences.........................................11B
Positive Experiences with Teachers............................120
Connections to Future Careers.................................125
Experiences with High School Counselors.......................126
Suggestions for Improving High School..............................1/
Summary............................................................130
5, LOOKING FORWARD TO COLLEGE .............................................131
XI


The Decision to Come to College...................................131
Influence of High School Adults..................................131
Family Influence and Support.....................................132
Parental Support..............................................133
Extended Family Influence.....................................134
ack of Family Support........................................135
Peers and the Decision to Go to College..........................136
Difficulty of Getting in to University in Mexico.................137
College as Opportunity.............................................139
Better Jobs .....................................................139
Helping Family...................................................141
Knowledge and Power..............................................142
Becoming Educated................................................144
Summary Comments.................................................145
Fears and Doubts...................................................145
eaving High School Identities Behind............................146
Concerns about Grades and Failing................................149
Worries about Time and Money.....................................150
Summary and Comments...............................................151
6. THE TEACHERS...........................................................152
Introducing the Teachers...........................................152
Sara.............................................................152
Thoughts about Participating in This Study.................. 153
Linda............................................................157
xii


Working Together...............................................158
Collaboration between inda and Sara..............................159
Beliefs about Teaching and earning................................ 161
Community of Learners............................................161
Interactivity and Activity.......................................163
Sara's Beliefs about Activity.................................T65
inda.s Beliefs about Making Meaning..........................166
Authority and Responsibility for Knowledge.......................168
Goal Setting ...............................................169
Critical Thinking.............................................171
Challenge, Comfort, Panic........................................173
Reflection, Self-Assessment, and Feedback........................176
Attention to Each Student........................................178
Adjustment of Teaching Strategies.............................179
Tension between Staled Expectations and Flexibility...........180
Building Relationships with Student...........................185
Summary..........................................................188
THE CLASS..............................................................19
Getting Started....................................................190
Challenge, Safety, and Responsibility............................190
earning with Other Students.....................................191
Attention to Each Student........................................192
Setting Goals....................................................192
Integrating Students' Lives into Activities......................194
Activities and Assignments.........................................195


Routines........................................................196
Extended Writing Assignments....................................198
Feedback on Writing..........................................198
Outside of Class Activities.....................................200
Difficulty Days, Lessons Learned..................................201
8. EMERGING COLLEGE STUDENT IDENTITIES...................................203
Reading...........................................................203
Reading More.................................................. 204
New Ways of Talking about Reading...............................204
Reading to Understand Life......................................206
Gaining Confidence..............................................208
Activities Related to New Perspective on Reading................209
Use of Ope-Ended Questions..................................210
Meaningful, Engaging Readings................................211
Reading of Book-ength iterature............................212
Group and Class Discussion...................................214
anguage for Making Meaning..................................215
Writing...........................................................216
New Ways of Talking About Writing...............................216
New Ways of Doing Writing..................................... 218
Free-Writing.................................................218
Revision and Editing.........................................219
Writing to Communicate.......................................219
Less Unear Process...........................................221
xiv


Less Reliance on Translation.................................221
Gaining Confidence..............................................222
Activities......................................................223
Meaningful, Engaging Assignments.............................223
Opportunities to Share Writing with Peers....................224
Teacher Feedback.............................................227
Opportunities for Teachers to earn about Students...........229
Careers and Majors................................................231
Relating to Past Experience and Values..........................231
Carrying on Interrupted Trajectories.........................231
Economic Independence for Women..............................232
Career as Service to Others..................................233
Past Experiences.............................................234
Family and Career Decisions.....................................235
Clearer Visions at the End of the Semester..................... 238
Imagination and Careers.........................................240
Activities That Influenced New Perspectives.....................242
Career Research Assignment...................................242
Interviews wi1h Professionals................................243
Back to the Future Essay...................................245
ng 3nd ^^iscussion............246
Reading and Discussion of iterative.........................246
Negotiating Systems...............................................247
Asking Questions, Seeking Help....................................248
New Relationships with College Peers..............................249
xv


earning and Grades...............................................251
Taking Responsibility............................................251
Grades as Markers of Success.....................................251
earningNot Grades..............................................253
Student Self-Assessment............................................254
Looking Forward to the Next Semester...............................255
9. DISCUSSION AND SUMMARY..................................................250
KeganJs Subject-Object Distinction and Student's Narratives.......... .259
A Learning as Identity Frame for Educators............................261
Kegann Baxter Magolda, and the Classroom Environment..............261
Sociocultural Theory and the Focus on Activity....................264
Communilies of Practice and Figured Worlds.......................264
Academic Skills and Communities of Practice......................266
Participation in Activity........................................267
Roles of Narrative and Imagination...............................266
Summary...................................................... 269
Implications lor Practice..............................................270
Implications for High Schools......................................270
English anguage earning........................................271
Peers and Academic Engagement.................................. 271
Need (or More Research...........................................272
Implications for the Community College Classroom...................272
Reading Materials and Writing Assignments........................272
Planning for Student Activity....................................273
xvi


Planning for Interactivity.................................274
Opportunities for Reflection and Self-Assessment...........275
Re-Framing Teachers1 Perspectives..........................275
Implications for Program Design..............................275
Developmental Education Programs...........................275
Student Services and Instruction...........................277
Need for Professional Development..........................278
APPENDIX
A- STUDENT INTERVIEW PROTOCOL.......................................201
B. EXCERPT FROM NVIVO CODING........................................283
C. FIRST DAY N SARA.S CLASS........................................284
D. FIRST DAY IN LINDA'S CLASS.......................................291
REFERENCES ..............................................................295
xvii


Figure
C.1 Learning Target Zone
LIST OF FIGURES
285
XVIII


1ST OF TABLES
Table
3.1 Student demographic information ............................................66
3.2 Student interviews..........................................................69
5.1 Teachers' belieis about teaching and learning .............................189
7.1 Habits of good readers and good writers....................................194
7.2 Aspects of learning environment introduced in first week of classes........195
7.3 Extended writing assignments ..............................................199
8.1 New perspectives on reading................................................215
8+2 New perspectives on writing ...............................................230
8.3 Influential factors in career and major choice......................... 235
8*4 New perspectives on careers and majors................................... 247
8,5 Other new perspectives.....................................................254
B,1 Excerpt from the tree o1 codes classified under first-level code
Activities and Assignments'1...........................................283
D.1 Sentence starters .........................................................293
D.2 Concerns about college ....................................................294
xix


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Armando was the self-described class clown in high school, marking his academic
success as getting at least a D and accumulating enough credits to graduate with the rest
of his class, an accomplishment that ran counter to the expectations of many of his friends,
teachers, and family. Confounding the expectations ot others once againf he had decided
to come to college. "I would like everybody to notice me. Notice me, Armando said at the
beginning of his first semester at community college. He explained:
I believe getting an education, like I said, it will get people to notice me. And my
whole family just to really take me serious and not take me that I'm all a big jokeT
that I really want to do something.
Laurence came to community college with a much different high school experience
behind him than Armando had* Active in sports, student government, yearbook, and a
student service club, he had distinguished himself as a leader at hts high school. He was a
bit embarrassed that he had tested into developmental courses at the community college
and woifld have prelerred to attend a private business school, which was too expensive for
his family. Laurence described himself as "confused11 as he began his iirst semester. He
observed:
Like it's starting from scratch again, going from when everybody Knew you, [when]
everybody saw you as a leader to, like, coming as a [college] freshman. Nobody
knows you, so you have to start building up relationships and leadership/1
Rosa had graduated from high school just 2 years after coming to the United
States Irom Mexico. She brought with her a strong academic background trom Mexico, but
she was uncertain that her knowledge of English was strong enough for college. Her tack
of confidence in her spoken English and her shyness made the first day of class torture for
1


her. On the other hand, she was determined. She explained why she wanted to get a
college degree:
I want to be someone in this world. I don't want to be discriminated for not having a
degree, I want to get a good job. I want to have a good e. And thafs why.
Because I see my lather here. In Mexico he had a good job, and here his
education didnJt count, and heJs working [physically hard] right now. And he said to
me, you have to study really hard. You have to finish a career here because I don't
want you to do the same as I right now. That's why.
Learning, Persistence and Identity
These snapshots of three students at the beginning of their first semester provide
a glimpse of the hopes and uncertainty that students bring with them to their first day of
community college classes. Studies show that more than half of the students who start at
community colleges leave after the first year (Tinto, 1993; Bailey, Jenkins & Leinbach,
2005) ancMewer than 14 of low income students at community colleges earn a degree or
certificate (MDRC, 2007).
Further reducing the statistical likelihood that Armando, Laurence, and Rosa will
reach their education goals is the fact that they need 2 levels of developmental coursework
in reading and writing, and in the case of Armando and Laurence, multiple ievels of
developmental coursework in math, before they can begin many of the classes they need
for their degrees and certificates. Students who need to take multiple levels of
developmental coursework are less likely to persist to degrees and certificates (Adelman
199B; Bailey, Jenkins, & Leinbach, 2005; Muraskin & Wilner, 2004; US Department of
Education,1996).
One of the ways of looking at the problem of low persistence rates in community
colleges is as a problem ol students' inadequate academic skills. Developmental studies
programs have been implemented at almost all community colleges to help students build
2


their reading, writing and math skills. Armando, Laurence, and Rosa are beginning their
community college career in a developmental studies class.
The students1 voices hint at questions about identity. Armando wants others to
notice him, to see him differently than he thinks they see him now. Laurence recognizes
that the role he played in high school has not moved with him to the college setting where
no one knows him. Rosa talks about wanting to be somebody in this world. In the
explanation of the theoretical framework for this study, I argue for framing the problem 1
student persistence in community colleges as a problem of identity development- While
students need to improve their reading, writing, and math skills, they also need to see
themselves as college students, people who belong in college argue at classroom
environments like the ones in the study support the emergence o\ college student
identities.
Personal Interest in This Study
This study grew out oi my interests in theoretical, practical, and humanistic
questions- Having explored sociocultural learning theory and constructive developmental
psychology, I am interested in the relationship between learning and identity. As a veteran
community college educator, I am interested in practical approaches to complex problems
oi practice in the community college setting* Because my work in community colleges has
been with immigrant students and with students who have been designated as requiring
preparatory developmental work in reading, writing, and math, I am especially interested in
those students. As a lifelong observer of human beings, I am interested in understanding
how others see their experience and make their way in the world.
This research project developed also in part because of my job assignment.
Beginning about 11/z years before I conducted the study, I had the opportunity with grant
support to form a team to design and implement a new developmental education program
3


option that would allow students to accelerate their movement Ihrough the developmental
course sequence. We hypothesized thal if students could move more quickly through the
developmental courses and still be well-prepared for the reading, writing, and math
required in their college-level classes, they would be more likely to persist and ess [ikely to
drop out because the road to their education goats appeared too bng. The team designed
a program that included practices identied as effective in the research iterature and in our
own experience. Those practices included pro-active advising, learning communities,
active and interactive teaching strategies, and meaningful contexts for teaching academic
skills. Now in its sixth semester, the program has received a national award for innovation
irom a community college organization. Student outcome data show higher course
completion rates and better progress toward college level courses than students in
traditional developmental education classes at the college. The quantitative data can
document student outcomes, but they cannot describe the classrooms behind the
outcomes, Tms qualitative study is an opportunity to lake a frne-grained look at what
happened in two of the classrooms in the program and how the students perceived their
learning.
Study Setting and Method
The study was conducted in an ethnically diverse, urban community college. I
studied the students, teachers, and classroom environments in 2 sections of a reading and
writing developmental course. The course was pari of an accelerated developmental
education program that integrated the teaching of 2 levels of developmental reading and
writing into a one semester-long ntensive course that met 6 hours per week. I interviewed
students and teachers at he beginning and end of the semester, observed many hours of
class sessions, and read students1 essays and self-assessments.
4


Findings Overview
The purpose of the study was to describe shifts in students' perceptions of
themselves and learning during the course of the semester, the teachers' beliefs about
teaching and learning, and the classroom environment the teachers and students created
during the semester. At the beginning of the semester, students looked back at their past
experiences in education and talked about their hopes for college. Findings about students
at the beginning of the semester inctuded their pride in graduating from high school, their
conscious decision to come to college in the face ol forces that worked against that
decision, and the hopes and doubts they brought with them to the first semester
experience. The teachers at the beginning of the semester talked about their beliefs about
teaching and learning. The descriptions of the classroom environments show how they
implemented their beliefs in two classes during the semester of the study. At the end of the
semester, students 00ked back on thr experience in the first semester of college.
Findings at the end of the semester showed that students had changed in ways that
affected their identity as college students. Students also made connections between how
they had changed and some of the activities and conditions of the learning environment.
Contribution of Study
Study findings are interpreted through the lenses of constructive developmental
psychology and sociocultura! learning theory, which shed light on the relationships among
learning, identity, and activity in ways that other studies in community college settings have
not done. The lindings of the study have important implications for classroom practice, for
professional development of full and part-time community college faculty, and for
organizational and fiscal policies of community colleges at the institutional and state levels.
5


Overview of Chapters
In Chapter 2,"iterative Review and Theorecal Framework/ I argue that framing
the problem of student persistence at community colleges as one of student identity
development helps educators to see new approaches to the problem. A review of the
research literature about community coflege completion rates, the elfectiveness or
remediation, and the literature on student engagement, along with a handful ol studies that
examine voices of developmental education students makes up the first hatf of the chapter
In the second ha of the chapter I describe the theoreticaMramework for this study, which
draws from the fields of constructive development psychology and sociocultural learning
theory.
In Chapter 3T Method, Mist research questions and describe the setting for the
study. Data colleclion procedures are outlined and discussed. The process of data analysis
and ways of triangulating findings follow. The rationale for how I chose to present findings
concludes the chapter.
In Chapters 4 through 8,1 present the findings of the study. Chapters 4 and 5
describe students' perceptions of themselves and the relationship of education to their lives
at the beginning of their first semester in college. In Chapter 4, Tooking Back at High
School/' students talk about their accomplishments and people and experiences that
inliuenced their learning and future goals while they were in high school. In Chapter 5,
Tooking Forward to College," students' describe their decision to come to college, their
hopes and goals for the future, and some of their fears and doubts about being college
students. Chapter 6, HThe Teachers/5 introduces the 2 teachers in the study and describes
Iheir beliefs about teaching and learning. Chapter 7 (The Class/1 is a description of the
shared experience of teachers, students, and researchers during the semester of the
study. The description calls attention to the connections between the teachers1 beliefs as
6


described in Chapter 6 and their implementation in Ihe class. Chapter 8P ''Emerging
College Student Identities," documents students1 descriptions of what they have learned
and how they have changed in the course of the semester. Students talk about the effect ot
specific activities and the classroom environment on their learning.
In Chapter 9, "Discussion and Summary/11 return to the theoretical framework to
discuss how a learnirg-as-identity frame relates to study findings. Implications for practice
are described.
7


CHAPTER 2
LITERATURE REVIEW AND THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
Complex problems are seldom, if everT resolved with simple solutions, nor can
researchers find single causes for effects that are manifestations of complex systems.
(Bateson, 1972; Clarke, 2003). The way that people frame a problem influences the
approaches they take to the problem, and using more than one Irame allows people to
imagine multiple approaches (Bolman & Deal, 2003; Clarke, 2003).
The problem of access to higher education can be framed as prospective students'
lack of information about how to negotiate the system, how to apply, register, find classes,
and secure financial aid* Using this frame, people work with high school counsebrs,
college recruiters, college advisers, and college information offices. It the problem is
framed as one of students1 lack of academic skills, we look for other solutions. Many high
school reform elforts focus on preparing more students for college. Developmental
educators in colleges and universities most Irequently respond to students' lack ol
academic skills by offering or mandating instruction in reading, writing, math, and study
skills during students1 first year of college, in this study, I frame the issue of access to
higher education as one of identity development. Using this frame, educators can
understand that what needs to happen with students goes beyond getting better at discrete
reading, writing, and math skills. In order to gain access to degree and certificate
programs, students need to be able to see themselves as college students, I do not argue
that framing the issue as one of identity development excludes other frames. Instead* I
argue that it opens our minds to refining and reforming current practice in developmental
education and community colleges.
6


In this chapter, I situate this research study ol the perceptions of developmental
education students in the context of the ''community college equity agenda" (Bailey &
Morrest, 2006) and the contestedole of developmental education in fulfilling the promise
of the open door to higher education- Reviews of research and theory are organized
around three frames for the problem of improving access and success of underrepresented
groups in higher education. First, I review research that frames the problem as one of
inadequate academic skills of students. Secondly, I review research and theory that frames
the problem as one of student engagement in learning. Finally, I explain the theoretical
perspective I take in this study, which frames the problem of student access and success
in college as identity development.
Developmental and Remedial Education
Before beginning a review of the literature, an explanation of the terms
"developmental and emedial is in order. K. Patricia Cross differentiated between the two
terms in the following way:
If the purpose of the program is to overcome academic deficiencies, I would term
the program remedial, in the standard dictionary sense in which remediation is
concerned with correcting weaknesses. Ift however, the purpose of the program is
to develop the diverse talents of students, whether academic or notT I would term
the program developmental. Its mission is to give attention to the fullest possible
development of talent and to develop strengths as well as to correct weaknesses,
{quoted in Roueche & Roueche,1993, p* 50)
In the 1970s people at community colleges began to question the narrow focus on
remediation for community college students, to draw on the work of theorists like Kohfberg
and Perry (1999/1968), and to pay attention to developing strengths and talents in addition
to correctfng academic weaknesses. Programs began to incorporate counseling, tutoring,
and study skills, and to work beyond remedial coursework to include support for students in
non-remedial courses. Boylan (2002) in his influential literature review of developmental
9


education research ncluded affective as well as cognitive abilities in the following
definitions of developmental education and underprepared students:
Developmental education is defined as courses or services provided for the
purpose of helping underprepared college students attain theif academic goals.
The term underprepared students refers to any students who need 1o develop their
cognitive or affective abilities in order to succeed in a postsecondary educationaf
experience, (p. 3)
Higbee, Arendale, & Lundell (2005) note the historic use of the terms preparatory,
compensatory and remedial. The use of the term developmental, they sayT marked the
influence of student development theory in the work ol Perry (1999/1960), Chickering and
Reisser (1993/1969), and Astin (1984), and a redefinition to "encompass both the
academic and noncognitive factors that influence student success in higher education" (p.
6).
Here I use remedial or developmental, whichever term is used in the report of the
research being reviewed. Usually that means the term remedial is used when the focus of
the research is the strengthening of reading, writing, and math skills deemed to be weaker
than needed ior successlul academic work in college. I use developmental education when
the researcher takes a holistic view of student development. I use developmental
education when I refer to programs at colleges that include services and activities that go
beyond remediation. The theoretical framework that I use in conducting this study posits
that students who persist in college need to develop an identity as a student and is
developmenta iinnature,ratherthanremedial.
Community Colleges and Access to Higher Education
Access 1o higher education is increasingiy important to maintaining and increasing
social and economic equity in U.S. society. As at least some post-secondary education
becomes necessary for earning enough money to support a family (Bailey & Morrest, 2006;
10


McCabe, 2003; Roueche & Roueche,1999), higher education is challenged to increase the
numbers of students from under-represented minority, immigrant, and low income groups.
Some progress has been made in recent decades. Undergraduate enrollment
grew by 11% percent from 1992 to 2002, and degree completion grew at similar rates
(Bailey, Jenkins, & Leinbach, 2005). While progress is being made in degrees awarded to
Alrican-American and Hispanic students, they are still underrepresented in comparison to
their percentage of the college age population (Bailey, Jenkins, et al, 2005). Without
increased access to higher education for under-represented groups, social and economic
disparities are likely to continue to Increase, and the skilled workforce needed for a global
economy will be unavailable (Kazis, 2004). Failure to improve the completion of post-
secondary credentials for low income and minority groups will have negative human,
societal, and economic consequences.
Community colleges, because of their open admissions policies, proximity to low
income neighborhoods, and relatively low tuition costs provide the gateway to post-
secondary education for large numbers of people from under-represented groups (Bailey &
Morresl, 2006: Grubb & Lazerson, 2004). Community colleges are often described as the
open door to higher education, open to all 1£who can profit from instruction" (Roueche &
Roueche,1993, p. 25). They are seen by many as forces for democratization, a second
chance for those who have not done well in schooland a means to socia and economic
advancement (Grubb & Lazerson, 2004; McCabe, 2003; Roueche & Roueche, 1993).
Students are going through the open doors of community colleges in increasing
numbers, and those students are frequenlly poor and minority students. In 2002, 42% of all
undergraduate students in post-secondary institutions were enrolled in community
colleges, more than h any other type of institution of higher educationn the same year,
over half of all Hispanic students, 44% of Atrican-American students, and 46% of Asian
11


students in higher education were enrolled in community colleges (Bailey, Jenkins, et aL,
2005More low-income students attend community colleges than 4-year institutions.
According to data from 1995-96, 55% percent of first-semester community college students
were from families with income in the bottom 2 income quartiles, compared to 38% in
public four-year colleges and universities (Bailey, Jenkins, et aL, 2005) Community
colleges are also the doorway to higher education for a large percentage of students who
are in the lirst generation of their families to attend college. In 1995-1996f almost half ol
first-generation beginning students attended community colleges, while about 20 percent of
first-generation students began their post-secondary education in 4-year public colleges
and universities. (Bailey, Jenkins, et al 2005)
Immigrant students are attending community colleges in large numbers. Crandall
and Sheppard (2004) estimated that about 25% of students enrolled in community colleges
are immigrants. Community College of Denver's Annual Report stated that 23% of its
students spoke a language other than English as a first language (2004). According to data
collected by the U.S, Department ol Education, in the 1999-2000 academic year
approximately 345,000 students with resident alien immigration status were enrolled in
community colleges, while fewer than 245,000 with the same immigration status enrolled in
4-year colleges and universities (Jenkins, 2003). However, reliable counts of the numbers
of immigrant students in community colleges and higher education in general are not
available because colleges do not consistently collect data on immigration status, birth
country, and citizenship (Szelenyi & Chang, 2002).
While more students are coming through the open door at community colleges,
many leave before reaching their academic goals. In 1993, Tinto estimated that over half of
the students who began college in 1993 would not earn a degree. Indeed his analysis
estimated that 54% of first year community college students would leave after their first
12


year Bailey, Jenkins, and Leinbach (2005) corroborated Tinto's estimate, MDRC (2007), a
social policy research organization, estimated that up to 75% of low income students at
commLinity colleges do not earn a degree certificate. Clearly, too many students in
higher education leave before reaching their stated education goals.
Developmental Education and the Open Door
One of the ways of framing the problem of students leaving higher education
before reaching their education goals is as a problem o inadequate academic skills.
Providing instruction in reading, writing, and math skills deemed necessary for success in
college courses is one of the missions of developmental education programs.
At community colleges, the admissions door is open to those who have poor high
school records and low scores on standardized college admissions tests, those who have
been out of schoo for several years, or who have limited English prof idency. However,
once students enter through the open door, they may be surprised and discouraged by the
conditions placed on their admission to degree and certificate programs. Many degree and
certificate programs within community colleges require set scores on tests of reading,
writing, and math or the completion of remedial courses designed to strengthen academic
skills in those areas.
Many students from lamilies at all income levels coming out of high school are not
fully prepared for the reading, writing and math tasks of college coursework, and fewer
children from poorer families are fully prepared (Kazis, 2004; Bailey, 2003). Older students
may need review ol skills they once commanded or instruction in skills they never
mastered. Without programs that effectively prepare students to do the academic work
required for degrees and certificates, open access is an empty promise. The open door
alone is not enough to solve the problem of access to higher education.
13


Demographic data in developmental education research give an idea of the
numbers of students being referred for remediation. Using data from the National Center
for Education Statistics in 2003, Bailey, Jenkins, et al. (2005) found 42/of first year
community college students enrolled in at least 1 remedial reading, writing, or math course,
Roueche and Roueche (1999) wrote that approximately 50% of new community college
students have test scores indicating the need for remediation in reading, writing, or math.
Eighty-five percent of the first 2002 Achieving the Dream1 student cohort needed some
developmental education (Achieving the Dream, 2006}. At Community College ol Denver,
55 % of first-time students in the 2005-2006 academic year enrolled in some
developmental education, including ESL or GED preparation {Wiens & Brancard, 2007).
Students of color are disproportionately represented in community colleges as
compared to 4-year institutions. They are also somewhat disproportionately represented in
remedial courses as compared to all students in community colleges. One study showed
slightly higher remedial enrollments for African-American, Hispanic, and Native American
students than for White students, and significantly lower remediation rates for Asian/Pacific
Islander students (Bailey, Jenkins, el ai.T 2005). In Achieving the Dream colleges, higher
percentages of Native American, Hispanic, African-American, and Asian/Pacific Islander
students needed remediation than did While, non-Hispanic students (Achieving the Dream,
2006),
Achieving the Dream is a nationalinitiative funded by the umina Foundation for
Education and other foundations working in 79 community colleges in 15 states with the
goal of increasing student success in community colleges, with emphasis on groups of
students under-represented in higher education. As part of the initiative, educational
outcomes and demographic data from cohorts of students from the colleges in the initiative
are being tracked longitudinally.
14


Remediation and Degree and Certificate Completion
Some researchers have focused on studying effects of remediation on graduation
rates. However, studying the effect of remediation on the success of under-prepared
students is methodologically difficult (Bailey & Alfonso, 2005) and has provoked, or
perhaps reflected, some disagreement about the effectiveness of remedial coursework
(Attewell, Lavin, Domina, & Levy, 2006).
Some studies are cited to support the elfectiveness of remedial education. Boylan
and Bonham (1992), reporting results from the National Study of Developmental Education
undertaken at Appalachia Stale University, found that 28% of developmental students at 2-
year community colleges who first enrolled in 1984 had either graduated or were still
enrolled three and a ha years later. Boylan and Bonhams report did not make clear
whether the remaining 72/had transferred to other institutions or left higher education.
Their study also showed developmental students1 pass rates in gateway college level
math, composition, and social science courses as comparable to the rates lor students
who were not required to take developmental courses, although their GPAs lagged those
of non-developmental students slightly, A study at the Community College of Denver
following developmental students from 1993-1997 found that 71.6% of the students who
passed the highest level developmental writing course and then attempted Freshman
Composition successfully completed the college-level course (Roueche, Ely, & Roueche,
2001)-Using a large database om the National Educational Longitudinal Study, Attewell
et al. (2006) studied a representative sample of students who were in 8th grade in 1988 to
ascertain the effect of college remedial coursework on graduation rates. Theyiound that in
2-year institutions, students from the sample who took reading remediation were 11% more
likely to earn an associate's or bachelors degree than students with comparable academic
skills who did not have remedial coursework in reading.
15


Other studies showed students who needed remedial coursework to be less likely
to finish degrees and certificates than students who did not need remediation {Adelman,
1996; Bailey, Jenkins, & Leinbach, 2005; Muraskin & Witner, 2004; US Department of
Education, 1996). The possibility exists, of course, that without remediation even fewer
students would have finished degrees. The methodology lor studying the effects of
remediation on degree and certificate completion is complicated by differing policies in
various states and institutions regarding measures used to identify students as needing
remediation and whether or not testing and placement into remedial courses is mandatory-
In addition, programs vary in quality and approach. A study by Bettinger & Long (2005b),
because of a unique data set from the state of Ohio, was able to skirt some of these
methodological problems. Because all students in the state tested on the same instrument
but not all were required to take remediation, researchers were able to compare students
who did take remedial course work with those who did not but had comparable high school
preparation, test scores and socio-economic status, Bettinger & Long found that Ohio
community college students who completed math remediation were 15% more likely to
transfer to a 4-year institution than students with similar test scores who did not complete
math remediation. They could not, however, find positive effects of remediation on degree
completion.
Bailey, Jenkins, et aL (2005) in their analysis of large databases from the
Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study 1996-2001 and the Integrated
Postsecondary Education Data System lound that African-American and Hispanic students
who took remedial coursework were much less likely to earn a degree or transfer within 6
years of enrolling in a community college than were African-American or Hispanic students
who took no remedial coursework. In contrast, White students who took remedial courses
graduated or transferred at almostthe same rate as White students who took no remedial
16


courses. For Hispanic students the difference was especially large. These findings suggest
the probability that factors other than academic skills are nvotved in whether not
students persist to degree completion.
Some of the studies used to make a case for or against the effectiveness of
remediation were undertaken in 4-year institutions* The applicability of results from these
studies to community coHeges s questionable. In a study similar to the Ohio community
college student study described above and working from the same database, Bettinger &
Long (2005a) found that students in 4-year institutions who compteted remedial courses
were 15% more likely to complete a bachelor's degree than students with comparable test
scores, high school records, and socioeconomic status who did not complete remedial
courses. Lavin & Weininger in 199B (as cited in Attewell et al, 2006) studied students in
bachelor's degree programs at the City University ol New York who failed one or more of
the academic skills tests given when they enrolled and who were placed in remedial
courses. They found that more than half of the African-American, Hispanic, and Asian
students who initially failed the academic skills tests and completed remedial coursework
went on to earn bachelor^ degrees, suggesting that the availability of remediation in
colleges is important to increasing the numbers of minority students who earn bachelors
degrees.
The FastStart program in which students in this study were enrolled was designed
for students who need multiple levels, and therefore, multiple semesters, of developmental
coursework. Some studies suggest that students who need multiple levels of remedial
coursework are less likely to graduate than those who need just one level. Morris (1994)
found that of nearly 4,000 students at Miami-Dade Community College who were judged to
need remediation in 3 subject areas, reading, math, and English composition, 42%
completed the remedial coursework in those areas and only 9% ol them had graduated
17


after 3 years. Students who needed remediation in only one area graduated at higher rates
within the three year period. Given the time required to do remedial coursework in reading,
English, and math, that many students did not graduate in 3 years is hardly surprising.
Adelman (1998) and the Achieving the Dream initiative (2006) found that students needing
multiple levels of remediaf coursework were less likely to persist to certicates and degrees
than students who needed only one level of remediation.
The numbers of students who need multiple levels of developmental coursework is
a large percentage of those who need any developmental courses. At Community College
of Denver, of the students who needed developmental courses in the 2005-2006 academic
year* 70% needed two or more levels, meaning 2 semesters before they could begin
academic work for many degree and certificate programs (Wiens & Brancard, 2007),
National data show that 63% of students in community college remediation programs spent
1 year or onger n remediation (Bailey, Jenkins, et al 2005) More time needed for
developmental coursework correlates with less likelihood of persistence to degree and
certificate completion (Adelman, 1998; Morris,1994). FastStart gives students the
opportunity to complete 2 levels ot developmental coursework in one semester instead of
two with the intent of increasing student persistence*
These data have relevance for practitioners at the institutional, programmatic, and
classroom level. At the institutional level, such data may support or undermine arguments
with state legislatures about the lunding of remedial classes. They help administrators at
the state and local level to understand the scope ol the need for developmental education.
They remind us of the diversity of the student population requiring remediation and alert us
to ditferential outcomes for various groups of students. They may serve as benchmarks
against which to measure outcome data for local programs. As a program coordinator of an
16


innovative developmental education program, I want to understand these data in order to
gauge how the outcomes of our program compare with a national database.
Student Engagement and Student Retention
The first frame used to view the problem of student departure from community
colleges was one ot students1 inadequate reading, writing, math, and study skills. Using
that frame, the response of community college educators is remediation of skills- A second
frame represented in the literature is student engagement. Using a frame linking student
engagement and student retention, educators have responded with efforts to improve
academic and social learning environments for students.
Tinted Model of Student Retention
Based on his work of analyzing large databases documenting student
demographic and student retention data, Tinto (1993) developed a reciprocal model of
student retention. In Tinto's model, institutions are committed to creating the best possible
learning environment for all of their students, to giving this goal precedence over other
institutional goals, and to creating an environment that addresses both the social and
intellectual needs of the students. The institution creates an environment that fosters the
students1 engagement in their own learning, Tinto (2006), drawing on his own work and
that of others, identified five conditions that promote student persistence to degrees and
certificates: high expectations, supports, feedback, involvement, and learning. Students'
perceptions of faculty and stafl expectations for their success are important to students'
reciprocal engagement in their own education. Academic, socialand personal supports
must be integrated into the college and are especially important for first year students.
Students are more likely to stay in college if they receive early, frequent feedback about
how they are doing in classes. If students are involved in the life of the institution and
19


perceive that they are valued participants, they are more likely to stay. Finally, students
who perceive that they are learning are more likely to persist to graduation.
National Survey of Student Engagement
Ewell, KuhP and others at Indiana University developed the National Survey of
Student Engagement (NSSE) to measure student engagement. The survey has been
administered since 1997 at hundreds of 4-year colleges and universities each year.
Developers of the survey wrote questions designed 1o measure student behaviors and
perceptions linked to research on student learning. The questions have been validated with
direct measures of student learning _tiona Survey, 2007). A key finding om the
analysis of survey data is a positive relationship between ^educationally purposeful
activities^ and persistence to the second year of college. Moreover, the data show that the
positive effects of student engagement are stronger for students of color and for students
with weaker academic skills (Kuh? Kinzie, Cruce, Shoup, & Gonyeat 2007)*
In order to describe in more detail the institutional and instructional practices that
promote student engagement, Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh1T Whitt, & Associates (2005) conducted
case studies at 20 colleges and universities. They identified 5 effective practices used at
the selected colleges and universities: academic challenge, active and collaborative
learning, student-faculty Interaction, enriching educational experiences, and supportive
campus environment.
Community College Survey of Student Engagement
Questions arose among community college educators about the applicability of
lindings from NSSE to community colleges and their students. What does student
engagement look like for students at non-residential 2-year institutions, students who are
more likely to be older, to work and go to school part-time, to have family responsibilities,
and to demonstrate weaker academic skifls on college entrance tests than students at 4-
20


year institutions? In 2002, community college educators, working from the University of
Texas Austin and with Kuh and his colleagues, implemented a version oi the survey for
community college students titled the Community College Survey of Student Engagement
(CCSSE). In five years, approximately 700,000 students Irom over 500 community colleges
across the U.S have completed the survey (Community College Survey, 2007). Key areas
of student engagement jdentied by CCSSE developers are the same as those for NSSE:
active and collaborative learning, student effort, academic challenge, student-faculty
interaction, and support for learners. Each of these areas is represented in the survey by
questions designed to measure it+ Benchmark scores for each area are available against
which individual colleges can measure their results. The idea is that colleges use their
institutional results to identify institutional weaknesses and devise strategies to support
greater student engagement at their colleges. Recommendations from CCSSE include
strengthening developmental education and concentrating on engaging students during
their first year of enrollment.
In order to engage part-time students, CCSSE evaluators recommend making
some student engagement activities mandatory and integrating others into classroom
activities. The integration of career exploration, education advising and planning, and some
outdoor activities into classroom activities s a guiding principle of the FastStarl program in
this study and grew out of the experience of seeing that activities not closely linked to
classroom activities had low participation rates*
Student Engagement and Instructional Practice
Research and theory in the area of student engagement and persistence provide
rationale for instructional practices that engage students. Learning communities and active
learning are linked to the research on student engagement in undergraduate education.
The literature in developmental education also emphasizes these instructional practices.
21


Variations of these theories are reflected in the beliefs about leaching and learning voiced
by the teachers in this study and in the activities they organize for students in their
classrooms. These instructional practices are part of a shift away from framing problems of
persistence in college as skill deficits n students, a kind of remedial view. The practices
show a shift toward an emphasis on improving learning environments.
Learning Communities
Two or more linked courses, often organized around a theme, in which students
enroll as a cohort, constitute what has come to be called a learning community. For
example, learning communities sometimes link skills-related courses like developmental
reading or writing courses with introductory content courses in sociology or psychology.
Pairing developmental reading and writing has been shown to support improvement in both
skills (Brooch et al., 2007;oylant 2002) Some learning communities are team taught. In
theory, learning communities increase student engagement with content, instructors, and
other students.
Researchers have investigated whether and how learning communities affect
student learning and persistence. Price (2005) reviewed the research on learning
communities and found that lor students in community colleges, participation in learning
communities had a significant positive relatronship to student persistence. NSSE research
in 4-year institutions found that when a learning community made frequent use ol
discussion groups and integrated content and leaching across paired courses, students
reported deeper understanding of content and stronger social networks (National Survey,
2007)+ earning communities that are part of a longitudinal study at Kingsborough
Community college enroll first-year students in one remedial course^ usually in writing, one
academic content course, and a college orientation course (Bloom and Sommo, 2005).
Early results show students in the learning communities had better GPAs and pass rates
22


than students in traditional courses, especially in remedial courses* However, learning
community students did not persist in subsequent semesters at higher rates than other
students. Researchers say that it is still too early to gauge impact of the first-year learning
communities on retention, degree completion and transfer rates.
Tinto (1997) studied students enrolled in cross-disciplinary learning commimities at
Seattle Central Community Col/ege using quantitative and qualitative methods. Students in
the learning communities reported more perceived gains in learning as compared to
students enrolled in traditional sections of the courses. Students a/so persisted to the 2
subsequent semesters at a significantly higher rate than students in traditional dasses.
The qualitative data from Tinto's study is particularly relevant to my study of students in the
FastStart program* Tjnto found that students in the learning communities built supportive
peer groups, formed social networks, and participated in the construction ol knowledge. All
of these results are corroborated in the FastStart study- Tinto attributes students1 reports of
new understandings about learning and the nature of knowledge, at least in part, to the
way instructors from different disciplines modeled academic discussion as they worked to
relate one discipline to the other. The instructors also created a classroom environment in
which students5 knowledge and experience was valued in discussion and assignments.
These findings fit with axter Magolda.s (2001) model for promoting self-development in
college learning environments. (See pages 50-56 for an explication of Baxter Magolda's
work.)
Active Learning
The instructional practice of promoting active learning is another thread in theory,
practice, and research found in both the student engagement literature and the
developmental education literature. Developmental educators draw on learning theorists
from outside developmental education. Boylan <2002)a eader in developmental
23


education, wrote ''active learning methods are characterized by the fact that they are
designed to elicit students1 active participation in the learning process11 (p,102). Boylan
credited Freire with the concept of active learning, but certainly Deweys work on
experiential learning is part of the active learning tradition, Freire (1970) argued against
what he called a banking theory of learning, essentially a transmission model, in which the
teacher narrates and the student listens. He called for problem-posing education which
involves students and teacher together in action and reflection. Dewey (1938) linked
experience and learning n a proleptic relationship, identifying properties of earning he
called continuity and interaction. In DeweyJs theory, all experience results in learning of
some kind. What people have learned from their experience in the past influences how
they perceive new experiences in the present. The teacher, rather than transmitting
information, should organize experiences for students from which they can learn, keeping
in mind the students' past experiences and their interaction with the present experience.
Some would argue that learning by deTinition takes place through acuvity* Clarke (2003)
delined learning as ^change over time through engagement in activity" (p. 54).
Boylan's (2002) description ol active learning also includes the theory of
constructivism. In this theory of learning, the student is engaged in making meaning-
Mezirow (200> explains learning in terms othe process of using a prior interpretation to
construe a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of one's experience as a guide to
future action11(p. 5). Like Dewey, Mezirowrs description is one of a proleptic process in
which the past experiences influence present and future understandings. Constructivist
theory adds the idea that learners make meaning from their experience to Dewey's ideas
of learning from experience.
24


Other Research in Developmental Education
Other threads of research in developmental education include institutional and
organizational practices, program components, and additional instructional practices to
support effective developmental education. Recent comprehensive literature reviews of
research in develmenta education include these three threads, (Boylan, 2002; Brooch
et al.T 2007; Schwartz & Jenkins, 2007). Goidrick-Rab (2007) reviews the literature on
transitions to college, remedial education, and persistence to degree completion and
makes suggestions for improvements in community colleges in those three areas. Most
relevant to this study is theory and research supporting instructiona practices used by the
two teachers in this study: active learning, a holistic view of the student, using a variety of
methods to accommodate student diversity, and the social nature of learning.
Contribution of This Study
The students in this study are co-enrolled as 2 cohorts in learning communities
comprised of bur linked courses, 2 levefs of developmental reading and 2 levels of
developmental writing* Each cohort has one teacher for the linked reading and writing
courses. The teaching of reading and writing is fully integrated One oHhe values of this
study is the data showing how the teachers of the cohorts actualize their beliefs about
teaching and learning in the actrvilres they plan for the students in the cohort. The teachers1
beliefs about the importance of creating a mutually supportive community of learners and
the role of activity and interactivity in learning are crucial in learning communities. Through
the empirical, qualitative data describing how the teachers build communities of learners
and engage students in learning, this study adds to the body of research on how to engage
students.
25


Generation 1.5 Research
Because over half oMhe students in this study were bom outside the United
States, a glimpse into the literature about immigrant students in community colleges is
relevant. Only a very small amount of research has been done about the transition to
higher education of students, who like about half of the students in this study came to the
United States with their parents during their elementary or secondary school years. The
term Generation 1.5 is used by some researchers and educators to refer to students who
are first generation immigrants to the U,S.T but who have spent some of their K-12 school
years in U.S. schools, and who share characteristics of both first and second generation
immigrants (Crandall & Sheppard, 2004; Harklau, Losey, & Siegal, 1999), Harklau (2001)
also refers to the same group of students as language minority students.
When these students come to community colleges, they often have some English
language development needs, and olten test into either developmental English and reading
or English as a Second Language classes, depending on the student's language
proficiency and the college's testing and placement procedures. Either placement poses
some problems. In addition, tests used for placement may fail to difterentiate between
widely disparate learners. For example, the foreign-born students in my study, along with
the U.S.-bom students, had all placed into the same levels of developmental reading and
composition on the basis of their scores on a nationaHy-normed, widely-used,
computerized test of reading comprehension and sentence-level word choice and sentence
structure. While students had test scores on these tests in common, the;r oral proficiency in
English in the interviews and in class discussions varied widely.
Very often, students resent placement into community college English as a Second
language classes. They may have already exited English anguage programs in high
school and may view ESL classes as moving backwards. When they get to the ESL
26


classes at the community college, they find newcomer adult students who may be much
less proficient orally than they. Students1 language development needs may be different
from the needs of students in developmental reading and composition classes, and
teachers in developmental reading and writing classes may not have the expertise to work
with language minority students. Research about this population in community colleges is
sparse (Harklau, Losey, & Siegal, 1999). A small body of research deals with college level
composition for Generation 1,5 students. Research about reading development for this
group of students in the community college is very scarce.
Harklau (2000) reported a study of 3 immigrant students in their Iasi semester in a
U.S. high school and first semester in a community college. She found the students were
asked to use textbooks in their community college ESL classes that represented U.S.
culture in superficial ways that contradicted their knowledge of the culture of U.S. urban
high schools. Further, Harklau found that the institutional representation of the students in
her study was markedly different in community college than it had been high school. While
the immigrant students were viewed in a mainly positive light in the high school, as high
school graduates in ESL classes in a community college, they were viewed more
negatively and in a way that prompted resistance. On the basis of her findings, Harklau
calls on ESL educators to be more conscious of how institutional representations of ESL
students shape students' perceptions of themselves and their attitudes toward school.
Like Harklau, I am interested in student identities. Her work explores "identity in
movement11 as students negotiate the high school to college transition and the changing
representations of student dentrties across institutions (Harklau, 2001,pT 41)* Harklau in a
2001 research report noted a dearth of studies that span the secondary and post-
secondary worlds. In her 2001 study, she investigated differences in literacy practices in
high school and college from the perspective of the student, following 4 language minority
27


students in their last year of high school and first year in college, 3 at a community college,
1 at a state university. The students found the following literacy expectations in college as
different irom high school: the high importance of note-taking, less emphasis on essay
writing except in remedial courses, and the explicitness of course requirements in course
syllabi. Similarities included the centrality of textbooks and the widespread use of multiple
choice tests. Students noted that in college the quantity of reading was greater than in high
school. Counter to their high school experience, the students found the expectation that
textbook reading assignments were to be done outside of class and might or might not be
reviewed in class. Harklau noted that high school teachers relatediiteracy activities to
students' lives more than their college teachers did. According to Harklau, the four students
in the study were more likely to view high school teachers as mentors and college teachers
as adversaries. The students were more likely to see teachers as responsible for their
learning in high school and themselves are responsible for their learning in college. The
study I have conducted substantiates some of the learners1 perceptions recorded in
Harklau's study, especially regarding student responsibility, and provides more detail on
the nature of students' shifts in perceptions of literacy practices after a semester in the
developmenta reading/writng classrooms described
Crandall and Sheppard (2004) mention one other group of community college
students, who may be placed in English as a Second language or developmental reading
and writing classes: World English students* These students already speak English tluently
when they come to Ihe U.S. and may have had some of their elementary or secondary
schooling in English. Depending on their education level and their country of origin, the
dillerences Irom standard American English may be minor or substantial. Their language
development needs differ widely. Two of the students in this study, one from Ghana and
one from the Philippines, fell into this category.
28


Studies of Developmental Students1 Perceptions
Several researchers in developmental education have called for more research
that pays attention to student perceptions (Bailey & Alfonso, 2005; Grubb & Cox, 2005;
Harklau, 2001;Hlgbee et al., 2005). Bailey and Allonso (2005) believe that interviews with
students are necessary to understand the reasons behind the trends that quantitative
studies document. Harklau (2001),who has researched the transition of language minority,
or Generation 1.5 students, from high school to higher education laments the absence of
student perceptions of the transition:
[In the current literature], absent are the voices and perceptions of the principal
stakeholders in the high school to college transition, the students themselves. The
main value of qualitative case studies such as these lies in providing fine-grained
analyses of the perceptions of individual learners about literacy, (p* 65)
Higbee et al. (2005) gave the following rationale for paying attention to student
perceptions:
[A]n educator might know quantitatively how a student is performing in a course
based on traditional measures such as grade point average, speciTic exam grades,
and other achievement markers. However, when a student arrives underprepared
for college or is underperforming in a first-year course, learning more about the
nature of this student's experience, including the influence of cultural background
or peer and family communities, may produce further insights into improving
performance. Because students' experiences are richly ayered and complex,
researching underlying causes and perceptions through listening to student voices
can strengthen the work of developmental educators, (pp. 8-9)
In this study, students1 perceptions of family and peers and their influences on students1
perceptions of learning emerged as major themes.
Reviews of studies that feature student perceptions follow. All of the studies are
qualitative, but they employ a variety of theoretical frameworks. Each has something in
common with my study*
29


Responsibility and Control
The first two studies are similar to mine in that they inquire into students'
perceptions of responsibility and control. Smith and Price (1996) explored motivation and
elforl in a study of students at a university commuter campus who were placed into
developmental education courses. The ethnically mixed group of students responded to
multiple choice and open-ended questions to elicit their perceptions of their high school
experience. Researchers sought to understand how students perceived the locus of control
for their academic achievement. Their responses were then analyzed using attribution
theory, a theory of motivation from social psychology* Although the majority of the students
said either that they ^enjoyed11 high school, or utoleratecT it and a large majority of them
said they had good relationships with their teachers, over half of them also rated their high
schools as average or below. A common criticism from the students of their high schools
was that the environment did not push students harder, in other words, many students
placed the locus of control for their academic achievement outside their personal control. A
students perception of locus of control might be external or internal. Smith and Price
(1996) conclude:
If the analysis is valid, according to the attributional theory of motivation, that these
developmental students have external locus of control for academic outcomes,
then it is logical to conclude that they may also lack the ability to invest more of
their ^selves11 in academic success. They may continue to attribute poor
performances to external causes in order to maintain a positive self-perception, (p
Smith and Price go on to suggest that how an instructor phrases responses to students'
performance can help them shift locus of control Etby helping them analyze the causes of
failure and understand the role of [their own] effort in their successes and failure (p. 4).,J
Valeri-GoldT Callahan, Deming, Mangram, and Errico (1997) collected written
responses 124 developmental education students in a commuter university to 10
30


prompts administered over a 10-week period during an academic quarter in an entry-level
composition class. Students were prompted to write about academic, social, family and
personal issues. Responses were coded and classified by 5 raters. Results showed that
while many students wanted to be involved in campus activities with peers, they were often
not involved because of the demands of the multiple roles of worker, family member,
student, parent, and friend. Students worried about financial aid availability and making
ends meet. Students tended to identify an "external locus of control" ior their successes. In
other words, their successes were credited to friends, teachers, relatives, or God*
Like Smith and Price (1996), Vaieri-Gold et al,, identified an external locus of
control as common among developmental learners. Smith and Price's work about locus of
control is somewhat similar to Keganps (1902,1994} theory of subject and object
perspectives on experience, which forms pari of the theoretical framework of this study*
Part of the analysis in my study involved examining student interview transcripts and
student writing to hypothesize the extent to which students believed they had control over
and lelt responsible for their responses to situations. The results of my study show that
students differed in their perceptions of responsibility and control, and that some students
took responsibility in some contexts, but not in others. I would question whether it can be
said that having an external locus of control is more characteristic of developmental
students than of other same-age, same-culture peers. I think that the interview method in
my study gives a more differentiated and complex picture of students' perceptions of
control than the questionnaire method used by Smith and Price and that Kegan's subject-
object theory allows for a somewhat dilferent lens than locus of control. In addition, my
study supports Smith and Price's suggestion that teachers1 responses to students can help
them increase their perception of control.
31


Study of Epistemology
The theoretical framework of my study links students1 perceptions of epistemology,
identity, and interpersonal relationships. ColeT Goetz, & Wilson (2000) investigated the
epistemological beliefs of students they described as underprepared. The students had
been admitted provisionally to the university because of relatively low standardized test
scores and their high school academic records. The students were required to take a 5-
week study skills course* The researchers analyzed the results of the answers 1101 of
these freshman students to a questionnaire administered at the beginning and the end of
the five week study skills session. The questionnaire was designed to measure the
students1 epistemological beliels. Students were classified along a continuum from naive to
sophisticated on five constructs: certain knowledge* rigid learning, innate ability, omniscient
authority, and quick process. After Jive weeks, students generally continued to score on the
naive end of the spectrum on all of the constructs. However, they showed a statistically
significant shift toward more sophistication on Quick Process, the naive version of which rs
that learning is immediatethe learner either gets it the first time, or he does not. So alter
instruction in study skills, students showed more of a tendency to believe that their
prolonged efforts could increase their learning. Interestingly,Ihe student data showed
statistically significant shifts to more naivete on the constructs of omniscient authority and
rigid learning* After 5 weeks in college, this group of students was more likely to believe
that knowledge is held by all-knowing individuals like prolessors or available in
comprehensive textbooks. They were also more likeiy to believe that learning occurs when
knowledge is carefully organized and explained. Cole et aL suggest the shifts reflect the
prevalence of lecture as a mode of instruction in firstyear university courses and the
relative absence of student activity designed to help students acquire knowledge. Further,
32


they believe that students need instruction in more than study skills and reading strategies
in order to be academically successful.
I find the study by Cole et aL interesting and relevant to my study, even though the
students in the studies are quite different. The students in their study were almost all White
and were enrolled in a university. The community college students in my study were
ethnically diverse and had ]wer college entrance scores than the students in ColeJs study.
What I find interesting is the connection Cole et aL make between instructional practice
and students1 epistemological beliefs. When students were taught study and reading
strategies designed to help them understand or learn better, they were more likely to
believe that their effort could influence their learning. On the other hand, when they were
taught by lecture and tested on multiple choice tests, they were more likely to believe that
knowledge is something created by experts and transmitted to them. I argue that if
students are going to be taught primarily by lecture, then naive epistemological beliefs may
be entirely adequate. If the professors want their students to develop more sophisticated
epistemological beliefs, then their instructional practices have to include activities that allow
for those beliefs to develop. In addition to students5 perceptions, my study examines
teachers' epistemological beliefs and the coherence between those beliefs and their
instructional practice.
Study Using a Sociocultural Framework
Another study is especially relevant to my study because the theoretical
frameworks both draw on sodocultura!earning theory and practice theory* Beach,undelf,
and Jung (2002) studied 14 students in a developmental education program at a university
over 2 years. Students participated in 5 nterviews over the 2-year-period in which they
talked about their social worlds. Their academic writing was also analyzed. Instead of
describing the students as deficient in reading, writing, or math skills, the authors looked at
33


students and their experiences through the lens of the social negotiation of tensions
between their peerfamily, work, and university worlds ike my study, the study by Beach
et al. draws connections between participation in activity and developing identities as
college students:
Developmental college students, like all first-year students, attempt to define
tbemsefves as "college students" based on their imagined and actual experiences
of the academic world when iirst entering higher education. This activity is
especially pronounced when they are externally placed in a separate program or
perceive themselves as taking basic courses. In doing so, they are attempting to
legitimize their social practices and identities as having some significance related
to prior expectations they formulated about college. This suggests the need to
examine these students1 perspectives of newly acquired social practices involved
in their transition from high school to college, along with their levels of engagement
with their college worlds* (Beach et aLT 2002, p* 84)
Beach et aL (2002) use Wenger's (1998) concept of learning trajectories in
relationship to communities of practiceperipheral, inbound, insider, boundary,
outboundto explain developmental students negotiations of their peerfamily, work and
university worlds. They describe students' social worlds as congruent or incongruent with
the college world. An effective developmental program assists students in acquiring new
practices that help them in moving among their social worlds. The value of the study, say
the researchers, is in helping college educators understand developmental students'
negotiation of movement among their worlds.
Implications for This Study
The element of intellectual challenge for students emerged in the Beach et aL
(2000) study as it did in mine. Several students in my study mentioned that they liked the
challenging content and pace of the developmental class in the study. Beach et al., wrote:
In stating their opposition to courses they did not perceive as challenging, students
also began to recognize their own deeper, intrinsic motivation for learning, as
opposed to being motivated simply to obtain grades. In some cases, they
recognized that getting good grades did not necessarily mean that they were
learning* Students placed a higher value on courses that asked them to take direct
34


responsibility for their learning and that stimulated them to think critically and
creatively, (p.102)
Shifts in some students' perceptions of the importance of grades as a measure of learning
and the desire to read and think critically are evident in my study as well.
Beach et al. (2002) discussed their concerns about the university culture as whole,
not just the culture pertaining to developmental students. As they followed the students
after they completed their developmental coursework, they found relatively low retention
rates, not only for the former developmental students, but across the university. They
suggested that these low retention rates
pointed not only to student underpeilormance, but also, lor some, to an emerging
disenchantment with the larger University's culture. This suggests the need to
understand the aspects of the University culture that may be leading to such
disenchantment, in addition to problems with advising, scheduling, or time
management, (p.102)
During research interviews for my study* s\af1 voiced similar concerns about FastSlarl
students. Would the culture of the college and its classrooms support students adequately
i future cIsssgs?
Two of these studies (Beach et al.5 2002, Valeri-Gold et alM 1997) reported
observations that students in developmental programs felt stigmatized by their placement
in the developmental programs. Interestingly, the feeling of stigmatization about being
placed in developmental education at the community college in my study was quite muted.
There are several possible explanations. First of all, larger percentages of students at the
community college are required to enroll in developmental education classes. Al the
Community College of Denver, more than half of beginning students start in at least one
developmental course. Secondly, conversations with administrators and staff at the
Community College of Denver and college documents, like the catalog and annual reports,
showed that providing developmental education is a central pari of the college's mission
35


(Community College of Denver, 2004, 2005). Finally, students in the FastStart program
were part of an accelerated developmental education program. Students reported feeling
pride that they were in the program and expected to complete the sequence of
developmental courses in half the time of other students.
Except for Harklau's (2000, 2001) studies of language minority students, allot the
studies of developmental student perspectives reviewed here were done in 4-year colleges
or universities, not in community colleges. Studies of the perceptions of community college
students in developmental education are needed to inform our practice. The primary
purpose of this study is to inform the practice at the institution where the study took place,
but it offers insight into students at other community colleges, especially those in diverse,
urban settings with substantial immigrant populations.
Theoretical Framework
In this study I suggest a third frame for viewing the problem of students1 leaving
college before reaching their goalsruef many first-year community college students need
to improve their reading, writing, and math skills in order to learn n college classes. Yes,
classrooms and colleges need to be places that engage students in learning and the life of
the institution. In addition, students need to develop identities as college students.
Students need to beieve they belong in the college world in order to decide to stay. As with
the other two frames, the identity frame is one of reciprocal responsibility. The student has
a responsibility to engage in the activities of the college community, and the college has
the responsibility of building supportive learning environments that foster students1 identity
development.
Identity is conceptualized in this study as a learner's socially negotiated sense of
self in relationship to his or her environment. The study uses a theoretical framework that
draws on aspects of sociocultural learning theory, practice theory, and constructive
36


developmental psychology. The theoretical formulations derive from observable
connecons among dentity, learning, participation n activity, and relationships with others*
Understanding these connections in a particular context can help in program design,
orientation of teachers, and pedagogical and curricular approaches. In this section, I
outline the work of theorists in sociocultural learning theory and cognitive developmental
psychology and show how they relate to the study.
The research questions are questions about the students, the teachers, and the
classroom environment:
How do students in two developmental education learning community classes
perceive themselves in relationship to coHege, learning, and career goals at the
beginning and end of the semester?
What beliefs about the nature of teaching and learning do the teachers of the two
sections espouse?
How do the teachers implement those beliefs in the classroom?
Communities of Practice and Mgured Worlds
In social theories of learning, identity and learning are inextricably connected.
Identity and learning are "inseparable from issues of practice, community and meaningr
{Wenger,1998, p.145), Learning changes what people can do. It allows them entry into
and increasing participation in communities of practice and therefore transiorms their
identity. Wenger calls identity lived experience of participation in specific communities, a
way of being in the worldp.151}, Students in this study participate in a developmental
education learning community. Data from interviews, student writing, and classroom
observations document students5 participation in the learning community and shifts in the
ways they view learning and themselves,
Practice theory provides another way of conceptualizing the community college
and the course in which the students in the study take part. The community college in this
study can be seen as a figured world in which students, faculty, staff, and administrators
37


participate* Figured worlds (Holland, Skinner, Lachiotte, & CainT 1990) are
conceptualizations of the contexts in which people learn and form identities.
Figured worlds, like communities of practice, are characterized by their social and
historical nature, activity, and participation, and serve as a contex"or identity formation.
Figured worlds are ''socially produced, culturally constructed activitiesr, (Holland et al.P
1998, p. 40). Further, they are
historical phenomena, to which we are recruited or into which we enter, which
themselves develop through the works of their participants. Figured worlds, like
acuvities, are not so much things or objects 1o be apprehended, as processes or
traditions of apprehension which gather us up and give us form as oulives
intersect them. (Holland et al.t 1998, p, 41)
The significance of figured worlds in our lives adoes not derive from holding them *in mind,
,,.T but from re-creating them by work with others1' (Holland et aL,1998, p. 41).Identity in
this theory is situated in collectively formed activities of figured worlds. Using Holland's
theoretical Iramework,! examine how students engage in activity with others in the figured
world oi their learning community and the community coilege. Through observation of the
classroom, listening to student voices in interviews, and reading their written work,
connections emerge between activity and shifts in students' perceptions of themselves and
learning. The connections between activity and shifts in students1 perceptions can inform
teacher practice.
Paying attention to the activities in which students participate and how they
participate is an important part of understanding how they see themselves because identity
and participation in activity are linked. Identity is constituted through participation, through
engagement in activity (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Rogoff, 1995; Wenger,1998)- Rogoff
(1995) wrote about participatory appropriation and links it to both learning and identity.
Participatory appropriation "refers to how individuals change through their involvement in
one or another activity, in the process becoming prepared for subsequent involvement in
38


related activities'1(p,142). I lake this as Rogolf's definition of learning. She goes on to say
that participatory appropriation is not acquisition, but instead 1£a process of becoming" (p,
142), I see the concept of participatory appropriation as linking learning, participation,
activity, and identity. Examples from student interviews and written self-assessments of
learning demonstrate connections between shifts in students' perceptions of themselves as
learners and college students and the activities in which they participate during the
semester.
Proleptic Nature of identity
This study traces changes rn students' perceptions of themselves and learning
across the course of a semester. If we conceive of fdenlity as a fixed or stowly changing
human characteristic, then finding observable changes in the course of one semester
would be unlikely* However, in this theoretical framework, identity formation is ongoing.
Identity is not fixed in time. It is "a constant becoming" (Wenger,1998, p.153). People are
1£always engaged in forming identities, in producing objectifications of self-underslandings
that may guide subsequent behavior11 (Holland et al.5 1998, p. 4), Identity is also proleptic in
nature; that is, a person's past, present, and luture are simultaneously at work in identity
formation. Wenger (1998) wrote, As trajectories, our identities incorporate the past and the
future in the very process of negotiating the present" (p,155), Rogoff (1995) also sees lime
as part of an understanding of learning. From her perspective,
time is an inherent aspect of events and is not divided into separate units of past,
present, and luture. Any event in the present is an extension of previous events
and is directed toward goals that have not yet been accomplished. As such, the
present extends through the past and luture and cannot be separated from them
(Rogoff, 1995t p.155),
Sfard and Prusak (2005) imply a connection between present and future when
they write about actual and designated identities. For example, Melissa, one of the
students in this study, described an actual identity when she wrote about herself as the
39


mother of four, very unsure of her decision to come to college after having been out of
school for 13 years. She believed her reading and writing sks were weak, and she felt
intimidated by the younger students in the class* However, when she wrote about her goals
of getting an associate's degree in business and opening her own restaurant, she
described a designated identity. Learning, and a goal of developmental education, is
''closing the gap between actual and designated identities'' (Sfard & Prusak, 2005, p.19).
The results in this study are presented in an order that reflects the proleptic nature
of identity development. In Chapter 4, "Looking Back at High School/' the students look
back at their experiences in high school. In Chapter 5,Looking Forward to College:
students describe their reasons for coming college and look forward to the coming
semester in college. In Chapter 6, 'The Teachers/' the beliefs about teaching and learning
held by the teachers as they look lorward to the coming semester are described* In
Chapter 7, 'The Class/1 the students experience the present, the first semester of college,
drawing on their experience in the past and articulating their goals for the tuture. In Chapter
6, ^Emerging College Student Identities/1 the students look back at the first semester and
forward once again to next semester of college with new perspectives on their past
experiences, their selves in the present, and their plans for the future,
imagination and Narrative
Imagination is an important element in identity development and agency.
Imagination is "a process ol expanding our self by transcending our time and space and
creating new images of the wortd and ourselves" (Wenger,1998, p.176)* Holland el aL
(1990) theorize connections between participation in activity and thought. They wrote, *The
social practices of 'acting otherwise5 become the grounds for our 'thinking otherwise"1 (p.
236). In turn, what people are able to think about or imagine can become part of their
identity and contribute to agency. As Holland et al.(1998) maintain, uwithout the capacity to
40


formulate other social scenes in imagination, there can be little force to sense of self, little
agency15 (p. 236)- The students in the study participate in teacher-organized activities
research, writing, and interview assignmentsthat invite students to imagine themselves in
new roles. The teachers provide contexts in which students can £iact otherwise51as
competent readers, writers, and thinkers.
Narrative s both a tool for understanding the identity of others and a toolfor the
understanding and forming of ouown identities. Holland et al.(1998) wrote:
People tell others who they are, but even more important, they tell themselves and
thentrytoactasthoughtheyarewhotheysaytheyare.Theseself-
Linderstandings, especially those with strong emotional resonance for the teller,
are what we refer to as identities, {p. 3)
Drawing on Vygotsky's (1978) work on inner speech and Bakhtin's (1981)work on the
authoring of selves, Holland et al.(1998) make a case for the importance of narrative in
identity formation.
According to Vygotsky (1978), a child uses spGech socially to talk about an activity
as he or she engages in them. The child also directs the speech toward himsell or herself,
and eventually the speech takes place only in the child's head. This inner speech functions
to direct the actions of the child. Vygotsky saw inner speech as a tool the child uses to
begin behaving differently,
Bakhtin's (1981)work focused on the writing ot literature. The writing of a single
author is not, in fact, the writing of just that author, he argues* It is heteroglossic; that is, it
includes the voices of many other authors and speakers. He wrote, ^Within the arena of
almost every utterance an intense interaction and struggle between one's own and
another's words is being waged, a process in which they oppose or dialogicahy
interanimate each other" (p. 354). Bakhtin believed that people escape the situation of
having their words be solely those of others by "orchestrating11 the voices and taking a
41


stance in relationship to the voices in the authoring ol their own texts (Holland et al.,1998).
Within historical and cultural constraints, individuals may find a space of authoring to make
meaning of their lives (Holland et al,, 1990.) tsln the making of meaning ,,. we 'author5 the
world and ourselves in that world" (Holland & Lave, 2001,p.10).
In describing our identities or the identity of another, we tend to sayt il\ am a
teacher" or "He is an immigrant/F as if these identities exist separately from the words we
use to talk about them. Sfard and Prusak (2005) hold that identity is a discursive construct
rather than a thing in ihe world. By appropriating tlie discourse of a particular community,
people form identities that make themselves part of the community.
Several researchers have used Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) (Bateson, 1972;
Holland et a!+11996; Lave & Wenger, 1991) to illustrate the connection between the
discourse of a community and becoming a member of it. The task facing the novice
members of AA is reshaping their identities to a non-drinking alcoholic. One of the ways in
which this is accomplished for many novices is through legitimate peripheral participation
{Lave & Wenger, 1991).The novices listen to the stories of old-timers and learn over time
to fit their stories into the same pattern. In the process of narrating their own personal lile
stories, the novices move toward more central paaicipation. The stories reconstruct their
identity, help to constitute the tellers' current and future actions (ave & Wenger1991),
and help the tellers to understand why and how they are alcoholics (Holland et aLr 1990).
People use narratives to establish their own identities. As a researcher paying
attention to the narratives of the students in the study, I gained a window on how they
understood their identities during the semester of the study. I used the narratives of
students in the studytheir essays, the stories they told in interviews, the assertions they
made in classto answer the central question of the study: How do students understand
42


themselves in relationship to college, education and the futures they imagine for
themselves?
Constructive Developmental Psychology
In addition to sociocultural learning theory and practice theory, the work of
constructive developmental psychologists contributes to the theoretical framework
underlying this study. In this section I review the work of Perry (1999/1968), Belenkey,
Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule (1997/1986), Kegan (1982,1994), and Baxter Magolda
(1992,1999, 2001). All of these scholars are concerned with how adults develop ways of
knowing. All of them developed categories of epistemological development. They found
identity and relationships with others to be integral to epistemological development.
This section begins with a review of EriksonJs conceptualization of identity.
Summaries of the theories of constructive developmental psychology follow. The
implications of these theories for data analysis in this study are included.
Erikson and Identity
Erikson (1968) oflered no concise definition of identity. On the question of
definition, he wrote,
Identity and identity crisishave in popular and scientific usage become terms
which alternatively circumscribe something so large and so seemingly self-evident
that to demand a definition would almost seem petty, while at other times the
meaning is lost, and it could just as well be called something else. (p.15)
Erikson^ conceptualization of identity includes recognition ol the social and developmental
nature of identity formationdentity.making is a process located' /n core o"he
individual and yet also in the core of the communal culture'' (Erikson,1968, p. 22).
Erikson's further description of identity formation emphasizes the social aspect of the self:
Identity formation employs a process of simultaneous reflection and observation, a
process taking place on all levels of mental lunctioning, by which the individual
judges himself in the light of what he perceives to be the way in which others judge
him in comparison to themselves and to a typology significant 1o them; while he
43


judges their way of judging him in the light of how he perceives himself in
comparison to them and the types that have become relevant to him. {pp. 22-23)
In other words, Erikson saw identity as how people see themselves reflected in the eyes of
others and how they position themselves in respect to those perceptions.
Erikson (1968) expanded the dea of the social contextuaiization of identity
formation to include historical contexts. £The youth of today is not the youth of 20 years
agoT" he wrote (p.26). The historical context in which an individual lives and the personal
history of the individual play important roles in identity development (Erlkson, 1968; Tatum,
1997).
Erikson with ms "Eight Stages of ManT, (1959) theorized the development of the
self from birth to late adulthood. He placed identity formation in adolescence, the tifth
stage. Adolescence is the time for the 1£final assembly of all the converging identity
elements'1 {p.163), The "final identity .., at the end of adolescence ,,, includes all
significant identifications, but it also alters them in order to make a unique and reasonable
coherent whole of themp.162). Erikson (1975) defined three stages of development
after adolescence and attributed to those stages important tasks for the preservation and
renewal of identity.
Erikson's placement of identity lormation in late adolescence contrasts with
sociocultural views of identity formation as on-going in adulthood. Cognitive developmental
psychologists, while building on Erikson's work on the development of self, have explored
and theorized the development of identity, or sense of self, in the years after adolescence.
Perry's Scheme of Intellectual Development
Perry (1999/1968) studied the intellectual development of college students. The
other constructive developmental psychologists described below build on his pioneering
work. During the late 1950s and the early 1960s, Perry and his team interviewed 170
44


students from Ivy eague schools one time during each of the four years of their
undergraduate study. AH but 4 of the students were male. Based on the interview data,
Perry developed his Scheme of Intellectual Development, which identified 9 positions along
a continuum. The positions describe epistemological stances* College students at positions
1 to 3 view knowledge dualistically, as right or wrong, good or bad. At the higher end of
these positions, students begin to question their ideas about the certainty of knowledge but
attribute uncertainty to authorities not yet having enough information. A1 positions 4 and 5,
students move to seeing knowledge as uncertain and dependent on context. Students in
posions 6 to 9 gradualy develop their persona commitments to viewpoints and
responsibilities in a world they understand to be uncertain. Perry connected the movement
toward commitment with identity development. s1dentrtyT, he wrote, "derives from both the
content and forms, or stylistic aspects, of commitmentsH (p.152).
Evidence of students^ dualistic views of knowledge can be found in the data from
my study. The stated philosophy of the teachers in the study was to help students move
beyond a view of knowledge as right and wrong answers- In the classroom, the teachers
responded to some manifestations of students1 dualistic views by using strategies to nudge
students toward an expanded view of knowledge*
Women's Ways of Knowing
Belenkey, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule (1997/1986) were dissatisfied with the
way women were represented in Perry's study. While acknowledging the importance of his
ground-breaking workf they did not believe the study's method allowed ways of knowing to
emerge that might be more prevalent lor women, Belenkey et aL interviewed 135 women
from different kinds of educational institutions. Ninety of these women attended 9 diilerent
academic institutions, including an adult education program in a poor, rurai area, an urban
community college, private and public colleges and one Ivy League school. The other 45
45


women in the study were recruited from programs offered by service agencies for people
seeking information about or assistance with parenting. This ethnically, socio^economically,
and educationally diverse population is more like the students in my study than is Perry's
population of students.
Beenkey et al.(1997/1986) praised Gilligan (1982or her work on moral
development in women as an alternative to work with male subjects by male psychologists.
Belenkey et aL elaborated on the need tor research and theory that highlight the
perspectives of women:
With the Western tradition of dividing human nature into dual but parallel streams,
attributes traditionally associated with the masculine are valued, studied, and
articulated, while those associated with the feminine tend to be gnored Thus, we
have learned a great deal about the development of autonomy and independence,
abstract critical thought, and the unfolding of a morality of rights and justice in both
men and women. We have learned less about the development ol
interdependence, intimacy, nuturance, and contextual thought (pp. 6-7)
I was interested in the work on women's ways of knowing because just over one
half of the students in my study are women and because I wanted to avoid forcing
students1 stories into a framework based on perspectives and experiences very diff.erent
from their own. One category of knowing emerged in Belenkey, ClinchyGoldberger, and
Tarule's work that had no parallel in Perry's work with men in presugrous colleges. They
described a group of women as silenced (Belenkey & Stanton, 2000), Women in this group
tended to be socially isolated and to have grown up in violent contexts. They believed
themselves unable 1o learn through language- They were voiceless. I think that a small
group oi students at community colleges may fit into this category, I think particularly of
women who are involved in or working their way out of abusive relationships with men.
One of the students in my study showed some evidence of having felt silenced In the past
and was beginning to distance herself from her husband who was obstructing her
attendance in college in concrete ways like taking away her car keys.
46


For Belenkey and her co-researchers, the understanding of se and the
negotiation oi relationships with others are important elements in transforming women's
ways of knowing. They wrote:
The quest for self and voice plays a central role in transformations in womerVs
ways of knowing. In a sense, each new perspective we have described can be
thought of as providing a new, unique training ground in which problems of self
and other, inner and outer authority, voice and silence can be worked through.
Within each perspective, although partial solutions are possible, new problems
arise. (Beienkeyet aL,1997/1986, p.133-134)
Drawing on their interviews, they described three women who helped them define the fifth
epistemological position, that of Constructivist Knowing. Caring for others, understanding
their selves^ and finding their voices are integral 1o Constructivist Knowing. They described
the Constructivist Knowers:
These women were all articulate and reflective people. They noticed what was
going on with others and cared about the fives of people about them. They were
intensely self-conscious, in the best sense of the wordaware of their own
thought, their judgments, their moods and desires. Each concerned herself with
issues of inclusion and exclusion, separation and connection; each struggled to
find her own voiceher own way of expressing what she knew and cared about.
Each wanted her voice and actions to make a difference to other people and in the
world. Although none of the three might jump so high as Freud or Darwin to invent
new theories that "change everything for everyone/5 all three had learned the
profound lesson that even the most ordinary human being is engaged in the
construction of knowledge. {Belenkey et al.,199771986, p,133)
Kegan's Orders of Consciousness and Subject-ODject Shifts
Kegan's (1982,1994) work focuses on the evolving nature of the self at
adolescence and beyond. In his examinations of 1£the mental demands of modern litetf
(1994), Kegan outlines ways in which the adults are called upon to develop new ways of
understanding their experience and new ways of viewing the self and their relationships to
others. He theorizes five orders of consciousness and makes a distinction between sell as
subject and self as object. The concepts of subject and object are key to understanding
how a person moves from one order of consciousness to another. One of the lenses have
47


used with the data in my study is the subject-object distinction, 100king for ways in which
students show evidence of regarding their experience as either subject or object-
George Herbert Mead (1934) described the self as reflexive, or tbthat which can be
both subject and objecf (pp. 136-137). The person can be both the subject, the agent of
the experience, and the object, the observer of the self. In Kegan's (1994) theory, the
concepts of subject and object serve to mark important differences between the orders of
consciousness. In other words, shifting from direct experience of an aspect of the selfto
being able to reflect on that aspect of the self is part of a transition to a new order of
consciousness. For example, very young children live in the moment and experience self
as defined by momentary needs and desires, in other words, as subject. Very young
children are embedded in their needs and desires. Older children can see needs and
desires as object, as things separate from themselves, things which they can look at
consciously. Older children also develops a ^durable category1 (Kegant 1994, p. 25) of self,
consisting of their preferences, habits, and abilities, all aspects that they can regard as
object. Part of the work ot the adolescent, or the hidden curriculum of the culture, as Kegan
calls itT is to move toward seeing the durable category of self as object and in mutual
relationship to the selves ot others.
Unfortunately, the words subject and object can be confusing because the words
are used differently in other contexts. Some people I have talked to about these concepts
have assumed that I was using them as Freire (1970) did. For Freire, ''subjects" are "those
who know and act" while objects1 are "those which are known and acted uponp. 20),
The goal of Freires pedagogy is to move people from being objects* those oppressed by
societal forces, to subjects, those who act to influence their worlds, Freire's use of the
words is related to their use in the language of grammar, with subject meaning agent and
48


object meaning receiver, or that which is acted uponKegans use of the words is very
different.
Keganss use of subject and object is related to the common meanings of
subjectivity and objectivity. In Kegan's theory (1994), when a person is subject to an
experience, she lives it, experiences it, but does not see it as something over which she
has control or for which she has responsibility- When a person can see an experience as
object, she can examine it, look at it trom multiple perspectives, reflect on itT decide what
meaning it has for her, and understand to what extent she has control over or responsibility
for it.
The association ofKegans use of the terms subject and object with subjectivity
and objectivity gave me pause as I grappled with his theory. Subjectivity is often
associated with women's ways of interacting with the world and devalued, while objectivity
is more often associated with male perspectives and privileged over subjectivity. As I
understand his work, Kegan does not mean that emotions are interior to objective stances;
rather, he says that in order to meet the demands of modern life, people develop more
effective stances in which they move back and forth between feeling the emotions an
experience engenders (subject) and making meaning of that experience in their lives
(object).
Implications for This Study
What I have looked for in the data is how students make meaning of the
experiences of their lives. Some of them were still feeling the emotion of some of the
experiences of their lives, but were unable to articulate the meaning of those experiences.
They remained perplexed and at the mercy of the emotions. Others students, or the same
students in relationship to other experiences, recalled the emotions and had reflected on
the meaning that experience held for them at the time of the study. I have also looked for
49


instances when students attribute their ability to make new meaning to their first-semester
college experience.
In this study, I did not use KeganJs theory to label students as being at a particular
stage. I did not have enough data from each student. I knew it would be unlikely that I
could observe or document full shifts from one stage to another within one semester.
However, with the lens of subject-object theory, I was able to observe and document shifts
in some students' thinking on some aspects of their lives and learning. What is more, \ was
able to link those shilts to course activities or characteristics of the classroom environment.
Baxter Magolda and Seif-Authorship
Baxter Magolda (1992,1999, 2001) builds on the work of Kegan (1982,1994) to
describe another framework for understanding the epistemological, identity, and social
development of young adults. She also draws on the work of Belenkey et aL (1997/1986)
as she differentiates what she calls gender-related patterns of knowing* Baxter MagoldaJs
theories are based on a longitudinal study of the self-reported experiences of young adults
from age 18 to their early 30s* Starting with 101 college freshman in 1986, she interviewed
the students yearly. She continued the interviews after college with 39 participants.
Baxter Magolda's first book reporting the study (1992) detailed her framework of
epistemological development in college students. Her framework adds to our
understanding of the transition in the college years from a dualistic view of knowledge to
what she calls self-authorship. She identifies Absolute Knowing, Transitional Knowing,
Independent Knowing, and Contextual Knowing as markers along the path of intellectual
development She makes the additional contribution of identifying 2 patterns of knowing,
relational and impersonal, the preference for which was gender-related. People who used
the relational pattern, more often female than male, tended to learn through "connection
and getting inside the object of knowing,> (2001,p,18). People who used the impersonal
50


pattern, more often male than female, tended to learn through ^separation or detachmenf
(2001,p.18}.
In her later work, Baxter Magolda (2001)reported understanding that she had
focused too exclusively on the epistemological development of students and had neglected
the intrapersonal and interpersonal dimensions of the path to self^authorship. Belenkey et
al+ (1997/1986) said academic institutions, with their emphasis on objectivity, often teach a
''weeding out of self11 (p.136}. In her work on supportive educational environments, Baxter
Magolda (1999, 2001) argues for fostering student growth in all three dimensions and
makes explicit connections between epistemology, identity, and relationships. She
describes how the dimensions are interrelated Identy is formed and reformed by
challenges from the externa! environment. Relationships with others are influenced by a
persons internal sense of self, and relationships with others can inftuence the sense of
self. An altered sense of self can affect belief about oneJs capability of questioning
authority and creating knowledge. And a belief in one's capability to question authority and
create knowledge brings with it an altered sense of self and new perspectives on
interpersonal relationships.
The focus of Baxter Magolda^ work is how higher education can support young
adults, or borrowing a metaphor from Kegant ''provide good company" (Baxter Magolda,
2001,p. xvi) for them on their path toward self-authorship. The concept of self-authorship
comes from Kegan's (1994) work* Baxter MagoJda (2001),using Perry's concept of
dualism, Kegan's framework, and her interviews with college students, depicted college
students on a path toward self-authorship. The college students in her studies moved from
a dualistic view ol knowledge to a recognition that knowledge is uncertain. Using Kegan's
orders of consciousness, she described most college students as being dependent on
external influences_for example, the ideas and needs of othersto construct their beliefs,
51


identity, and interpersonal relationships. She described a few of the college students in her
study as making the transition to selNaulhorship during the coltege years.
The capacity for self-authorship is £1the ability to collect, interpret, and analyze
information and reflect on one's own beliefs in order to iorm judgments'1 (Baxter Magolda,
1998, p.143), Baxter Magolda explained that self-authorship does not mean self-centered
In the sense of ignoring the needs of others* Instead it means the capability of using
inlernaT self-definition to make decisions about beliefs and relationships with others, Kegan
(1994) used self-authorship as a descriptor of his fourth order ol consciousness:
This new whole is an ideology, an internal identity, a self-authorship \ha\ can
coordinate, integrate, act upon, or invent values, beliefs, convictions,
generalizations, ideals, abstractionsinterpersonaMoyalties, and intrapersonal
states. It is no longer authored by them, it authors them and thereby achieves a
personal authority, (p-185)
Three questions emerged from Baxter Magolda's (2001) interviews with young
adults in the post-college years as the "'driving questions of the twenties": How do I know?
Who am I? What kinds of relationships do I want to construct with others? (p. 4): The three
questions map to the areas of development identified by constructive developmental
psychology: epistemology, identity, and relationship. Baxter Magolda (2001) calls them the
three dimensions of self^authorship: the epistemological, the intrapersonal, and the
interpersonal.
Further Implications for This Study
The goal of this study is not to place students at a position on any of the
frameworks developed by Perry, Belenkey et alM Kegan, or Baxter Magolda. Students do
not show unambiguous progress from one position to another within the course of a
semester. The data do, however, provide evidence of students' ways of knowing, their
descriptions of their selves, and their relationships with others, and sometimes changes in
those areas. The teachers describe ways in which they want to see their students develop
52


in these three areas. They implement classroom environments and activities that support
learning and change in these three areas. The data show some students do shift the way
they view learning and themselves in some waysT These shis can be linked at least in part
to experiences in the classroom environment during their frrst semester in college. The
frameworks developed by the constructive developmental psychologists inform data
analysis. This study adds to the body of research by describing an example of how
teaching and classroom environments support first-year developments studies students as
they begin to define themselves as college students.
Whal is most helplul for this study about Baxter Magolda's work is that she
examines what happens in educational contexts and describes educational environments
that support and promote students' development in these three dimensions. In the next
section, I summarize her ideas about supportive educational contexts, along with ideas
from KeganT and relate them to my study.
Characteristics of Learning Environments for Fostering identity Development
This study describes the learning environment created by 2 teachers working with
lirst-semester community college students in 2 developmental reading and wrmng
classrooms. In the analysis I look for ways in which the teachers support the
epistemological, identity, and interpersonal development of the students. In this section, I
summarize Baxter MagoldaTs (2001) description of learning environments for fostering
identity development. Possible metaphors for describing the learning environment and the
teacher's role lollow.
Baxter Magotda's Three Principles
Baxter Magolda (2001) outlined the educational assumptions implicit in an
educational goal of promoting self-authorship:
Knowledge is complex and socially constructed.
53


* Self is central to knowledge construction.
* Expertise is shared mutually in knowfedge construction, (p.188)
She then identified three principles to connect these assumptions to teaching practice. In
the interviews with teachers in my study, classroom observations, and analysis of
assignments, evidence emerges of adherence to these three principles:
* Validate learners as knowers.
* Situate learning in learners1 experience.
* Define learning as mutually constructing meaning, (p.168)
Baxter Magolda's research (2001)lound that most students had not made their
way to self-authorship during their cohege years* that not until finishing college, beginning
Iheir professional lives, and making decisions about important interpersonal relationships
did they find their ways to self-authorship. However, she asserts that their complex post-
graduate lives would have been easier if they had experienced environments more
supportive of their epistemological, intrapersonal, and interpersonal growth during their
college years.
Metaphors for Teaching Practice
Grubb & Cox (2005) discussed the problems that arise when teachers hold views
of the nature of learning and knowledge different from those their students hold. They
believe that community college teachers know a lot about the stresses students experience
in their lives outside of the college, but that they know little about how their students view
learning+ They found that the majority of community college students viewed learning as a
means to a degree or certificate, which eads to better paying jobs than their parents had,
and which offers a way out of poverty. Student interviews for my study strongly support
Grubb and Cox on this point. Cox (2004) found that students wanted to learn what they
couid use. If they could not see the application of learning to their lives, then they might be
willing to learn just enough to pass a course in order to earn the degree or certificate that
54


will get them a better jcb. Many instructorshowever, want learners to be engaged and
interested in knowledge for its own sake. Many want students to go beyond the
regurgitation of facts, to think critically and to engage in discussion (Grubb & Cox, 2005).
Cox (2004) found that many students in her study preferred lecture to more innovative
instruction, possibly because it fit their instrumenta view of learning.
Simply exhorting students to view learning differently is not very effective. As
Baxter Magolda (1999) saidT it is not enough for the teacher to shout across the border (p.
61), Grubb and Cox (2005) suggest that effective teachers ^socialize" students to another
view of learning (p, I have searched for metaphors for the teachers role in creating a
learning environment for community college students in developmental education that
fosters the development of an identity as a college student. I have not found any
metaphors that are completefy satisfying, but several have been suggested by theorists
who use the theoretical frameworks described above.
Kegan (1994) wrote about coaching the curriculum ohe next order of
consciousness. As an example of coaching tlie cultural curriculum of adolescence, Kegan
described a teacher who "engages students where they aref> by asking them for their
personal opinions about a topic, but then also (,invite[s] them to step beyond the limit'1 ol
their current order of consciousness by asking them to restate the opinions of their
classmates until the classmates agree that their opinions have been reflected accurately
(p. 55). In this wayT the adolescent may begin to learn to see his own opinions in mutual
relationship to the opinions of others. In addition, Kegan (1982) wrote about a culture of
embeddedness, which at any order of consciousness acts as a holding environment,
simultaneously holding the person safely and providing the chance for movement to the
next order of consciousness. Kegan (1994) also used a bridge metaphor:
55


[Teachers should create] a holding environment that provides welcoming
acknowledgment to exactly who thre person is right now as he or she is, and
fosters the person's psychoiogical evolution. As such, a holding environment is a
tricky, transitional culture, an evolutionary bridge, a context for crossing over. (p.
With an understanding of students1 current epistemological stances, teachers can work to
create a learning environment in which students are both supported where they are and
challenged to expand their views oi how they know about the world around them.
In more recent work applied to adults in work environments, Kegan and ahey
(2001)proposed a mode of development in which adults examine and test assumptions
about the world that are holding them back. When learners experience enough
counterrnstances of their assumptions, they can let go of them and begin to see the world
in new ways.
Baxter Magolda suggested two metaphors. From Giroux (1992), she borrowed the
idea of crossing borders (Baxter Magolda,1999), Students and teachers live in different
worlds in terms of their perceptions of learning. The teacher's task is to start with the
students on their sde o\ the border and cross into the other world along with the student.
Baxter Magolda (2001) and Kegan (1994) also compared students' progress to self-
aulhorship to a journey. The educators1 role is to travel along on the journey and provide
good company.
Finding adequate metaphors may be difficult, but implementing the supportive role
they attempt to describe is much harder This study describes in some detail how 2
teachers interacted with the students in their developmental reading and writing classes
and built an env/konmentthat supported change in studentsWiews of the nature of learning
and knowledge and their developing identities as college students.
56


CHAPTER 3
METHOD
Purpose of the Study
This study has purposes related to both theory and practice. On the ttieoretical
plane, it explores connections between learning and identity. On the practical plane, it
describes in detail the practice of 2 teachers working with 2 groups of students for 1
semester, teachers5 beliefs about teaching and learning, observed classroom practices,
and students1 perceptions of learning and change. The purpose of the study is not to
measure student learning, or to make a judgment about the effectiveness of a particular
approach, but to describe students1 perceptions of what they learned and their perceptions
of themselves in relationship to college and learning. As a program coordinator, I was
looking tor implications for program design to support the work and learning of teachers
and students.
Research Questions
The research questions address 3 areas: students' perceptions of their experience,
teachers' beliefs about teaching and learning, and the classroom environments they
created with students. The research questions are as lolbws
* How do students in two developmental education learning community classes
perceive themselves in relationship to college, learning, and career goals at the
beginning and end of the semester?
What beliefs about the nature of teaching and learning do the teachers of the two
sections espouse?
How do the teachers implement those beliefs in the classroom?
57


Research Design
The design of this qualitative study includes aspects of phenomenology,
ethnography, and action research. Because two of the research questions in the study
concern the perceptions of students and teachers, this is a phenomenological study, that
ist one which ''describes the meaning of the lived experiences for several individuals about
a concept or the phenomenon'1 (Creswell,1990, p. 51). The concepts of interest in this
study are learning and identity, and the phenomenon of interest is the first-semester
community college experiences of students enrolled in an accelerated developmental
education learning community and their teachers- Phenomenological studies come from
the scholarly traditions of psychology, philosophy, and sociology (Creswell, 1998). In line
with the phenomenological aspect of the study, in-depth interviews with students and
teachers are important sources of data. The theoretical framework of the study includes the
work of developmental psychologists {Kegan, 1994; Kegan & Lahey, 2001), An interview
method (aheySouvaine, Kegan, Goodman, & Felix (1988) designed for their work fits the
goals of this study.
While this study does not fit the definition of an ethnographic study in all of its
aspects, I used methods from ethnography to triangulate the data om in-depth interviews.
Cresswell (1998) defines ethnography as tla description and interpretation of a cultural or
social group or system15 (p, 58). The social group in this study is a relatively short-lived one,
existing in this particular configuratron for just one semester. The social group consists of
the fjrst-semester students in the accelerated developmental education reading and writing
courses, along with the teachers of their courses, the program coordinator, and the adviser
assigned to the program. The social group is nested within the community college, which is
part of a state system of community colleges. Ethnographic methods employed in the study
include participant observation of class sessions, teachers' meetings, and out-of-class
58


activities, as well as the recording of field notes from these observations. I also collected
and analyzed artacts, including student writing, teachers esson plans and assignment
sheets, readings, textbooks, and diagrams and charts used in the classroom.
This study was, in some respects, also an action research study, i was the
coordinator of the accelerated developmental education program of which the classes in
the study were a part and looking for ways to improve my practice as a program
administrator An action research model allows the researcher to try out strategies, pay
attention to their effects and then modify program approaches based on observations
(Edge, 2001).I was interested in improving my practice, as mentor end coach for the 6
teachers and adviser in the program. I was thinking about how what I observed in the
classroom and learned from students might influence my work with other teachers and
administrators, and how what I learned might be used to affect program design for
developmental education. I discussed beliefs about teaching and learning with the teachers
in the study, and shared with students some advice about learning and negotiating college
systems, so that my beliefs and my research interests had some influence on the teachers
and students in the study.
Community College Research Site
The community college where the study was conducted is located on the same
urban campus as a 4-year college and a university. According to the college's annual
report, in the 2004-2005 academic year,14,553 full and part-time students were enrolled at
the community college. The college prides Itself on serving a diverse student body.
According to the same annual report, 56% oi students were minority, making it the most
diverse institution of higher education in the slate. Student ethnicity distribution was 43%
White, 27% Latino/Hispanic,15% African-American, 7% international students, and 5%
Asian/Pacific Islander. For more than 23% of students, a language other than English is
59


the first language. The college received national recognition for its improvement of
minority student graduation rates over the last 15 years. According to the 2003-2004
Annual Report, while in 1991 people of color made up just 20 per cent of the college's
graduates, by 2003 that percentage increased to 53 percent, approximately equal to the
percentage of people of color in the student population.
Statistics reflecting educational background, economic status, and academic
preparedness are relevant for this study. Fifty-seven percent of the college's students are
among the first generation of their families to attend college, and nearly 50 percent qualify
for federal financial aid awards based on need. (Community College of Denver, 2004) Of
all students who enrolled for the first time at the college in the 2005-2006 academic year,
55% of the students were required to enroll in developmental math, reading, English,
English as a Second Language (ESL)f orGED preparation (Wiens & Brancard, 2007). Of
those who needed developmental coursework, in math, reading or English, as determined
by scores on the Accuplacer test, 78% needed 2 or more evels of coursework, meaning 2
or more semesters of work in developmental education courses*
A student who is required to take developmental courses at community colleges in
this state is one who tests below pre-determined cut-off scores on 4 subtests of the
Accuplacertest, a computer-adaptive, multiple-choice test developed by the College Board
to lest college readiness of students in reading, math, and English composition. The test is
used at most community colleges in this state and at hundreds of institutions across the
country. All degree-seeking students in the state's community coNeges are required to test
on the Accuplacer or a similar test if they score below prescribed scores on the ACT test
Students who test below prescribed test scores on the tests of reading, writing, and math
skills are required by state law to complete developmental course work in math and
English before taking College Algebra and Freshman Composition. At the community
60


college in the study, many programs and courses have set Acciiplacer scores or
developmental course completion pre-requisites. For the most pad, college personne talk
about the test as a placement test and do not use the words pass or fail in relerring to
students' test results.
Program Context
The students in the study were enrolled in a grant-supported special program
called FastStart in its third semester oi operation* FastStart students are enrolled in two
levels of developmental coursework, either two levels of math or two levels of
reading/English, as well as a 1-credit-hour college orientation course. FastStart, is
designed to address the instructional needs of young, working adults who test into
developmental courses in reading, math, and English. The program is organized to provide
students with the opportunity to move more quickly toward their education goals in a
supportive and challenging environment and in doing so to increase the likelihood that
students will complete a degree or vocational certificate. The program makes it possible for
students to accelerate their movement through the developmental course sequence,
completing 2 levels of developmental coursework in 1 semester instead of 2, In addition,
the program strives to reduce the social isolation often characteristic of commuter
campuses and orient first-year students to the college environment on a schedule that is
compatible with their job and family obligations-
The FastStart team includes a program coordinator, course instructors, a program
adviser, and student ambassadors. I serve as program coordinator Sara and Linda are the
two Reading/English instructors. The principal investigator for one f the grants plays an
important advisory role. At the time ol the study, 4 math instructors and 1 student services
staff person made up the rest of the instructional team* Courses in the program are taught
by expehenced part-time faculty who are interested h the challenge of working in an
61


experimental program. In addition to compensation for teaching the classes, part-time
faculty are paid for participation in staff meetings and professional development activities,
and for curriculum development work* These benefits and responsibilities are not pari of
most part-time faculty assignments at the college, FastStart staff meetings are held once a
month. Topics at staff meetings include concerns about individual students, logistical
issues, curricLilar and pedagogical concerns and adjustments, and discussion of student
feedback and outcome data,
The program adviser, whose official title is educational specialist, is responsible for
recruiting and advising students in the program* The educational specialist takes a
proactive approach to advising instead of a reactive one. She does not wait for students to
contact her with questions. She contacts students to give information and assistance
regarding tutoring, registration, financial aid, educational planning, and college events. She
observes classes Irequently, participating in some class activities, and plans a small
number of social events for students. She maintains close contact with instructors so that if
problems arise with students' academic work, class participation, or attendance, she can
talk with students to help them identify ways of coping with the problems. She also
coordinates a small group of 3 student ambassadors, university undergraduate work study
students who act as her assistants. They assist the educational specialist, maintain contact
with students, and sometimes attend classes with the students and tutor students.
Building on research that shows first-year students who participate in learning
communities are retained in subsequent semesters at higher rates than other students
(Price, 2005; Tinto,1993,1997), cohort learning is an important element of FastStart.
Students spend more extended time with each other and their nstructor than they would if
they look the developmental course sequences in the traditional program, allowing them
the opportunity to develop closer relationships. Instructors are encouraged to use
62


instructional strategies that incorporate community building, active learning, and
opportunities for collaboration and cooperation* Instructors are working to teach reading,
writing, and math skills in contexts that are meaningful to students.
The Course Sections rn the Study
The study included the only two sections of combined reading and English
composition in the FastStart program in the semester of the study, but no math sections.
The decision to concentrate on reading and writing classes had to do with my personal
expertise as a reading and writing teacher and limitations of time. The reading and writing
instructors had also been better able to incorporate community building, interactive
learning, and meaningful contexts for sks application than hacMhe math instructors+1 was
especially interested in observing the influence o"hose practices on students' perceptions
of themselves and of earning*
Instruction in developmental reading and English composition, taught in separate
courses in the traditional developmental education program, is integrated into 1 class with
1 instructor in FastStart The college offers 3 levels of developmental reading and 3 levels
of developmental composition. All of the students in the study courses tested into the
intermediate levels of both reading and writing on the basis of Accuplacer scores. Upon
successful compielion of course requirements with a grade of C or better during the
semester of the study, students had completed all of the developmental sequence in both
reading and composition. In passing the FastStart course, students could register for the
freshman composition course required for most degrees and for other reading-intensive
courses in the semester following the study. Some students still needed to take some
developmenta math courses, but they would be able to start courses that counted toward
degree completion.
63


The two FastStart reading and writing sections in the semester of the study were
taught by Sara and Linda. Sara taught the 16 students enrolled in the Monday-Wednesday
morning section of the course, and Linda taught 15 students in the Tuesday-Thursday
section. The students had chosen to enroll in the accelerated program after discussion with
the program adviser about whether the workload allowed them to meet other commitments
in their lives. The classes met for 3-hour periods 2 mornings per week for 15 weeks. In
addition to the full-class sessions, about half of the students were enrolled in a 1-credit-
hour college orientation course. A few of the students were enrolled in an additional
developmental math course outside of the FastStart program. Students could take
advantage of multiple opportunities for instructional support outside of class time. Teachers
In each section also planned small group, whole class, or individual conferences for an
additional hour per week. Four workshops on the subject of career exploration were offered
outside of class hours, and some of the students attended those sessions. Students spent
between 6 to 8 hours together each week in program-organized sessions.
Research Participants
The Students
Of the 31 students enrolled in the two course sections, 27 consented to participate
in the study by being included in class observation data, 26 consented to the inclusion of
their written work In the study, and 23 agreed to participate in one-on-one interviews with
me.
In several waysT the students did not represent a cross-section of the community
colleger enrollment. The study group was more balanced in gender, younger, more
heavily Hispanic and had a higher percentage of foreign-born students than the general
population of students at this community college. Thirteen of the students in the study were
male and 14 were female. Twenty of the 27 students were recent high school graduates,
64


18 having graduated in spring of the same year tn which the study took place, 2 having
finished high school the previous spring. These 20 students were between 18 and 20 years
old. The other 7 students ranged in age from 21 to 34, Of this older group of students, 2 of
the students finished high school in another country, 3 graduated from a U.S. high school,
and 2 had earned GEDs. Seventeen of the 27 students were Hispanic, 3 were African-
Americans, 3 were immigrants from Asia, 2 were White-Anglo, and 2 were immigrants from
Africa. (See Table 3.1 on the next page.)
While all but 2 students in the study graduated from a high school or earned a
GED in the U,S.P over half of the group was born in another country and moved to the U,S.
as young children or adolescents. Fifteen of the students were foreign born:10 students in
Mexico, 2 students in Vietnam, one each in the Philippines, Somalia, and Ghana. The
other 12 students were born in the U.S. Nineteen of the students reported being bilingual,
or, in the case of the African students, fluent in 3 languages. Seven of the students had
been living in the U.S for 4 or fewer years, 3 of them for lewer than 2 years.
A large percentage of the students had work and family responsibilities outside of
school. Most of the students were single. However, 5 of the women in the classes were
mothers. One of the 5 was a single mother; another's husband was stationed In Iraq* An
additional single student was pregnant and expecting her first child in February. Many of
the single students lived with their parents and contributed to the family income. At the
beginning of the study, 2 students reported working fuH-time,15 had part-time jobsT and 10
were unemployed. Table 3.1 on the next page links student names to key demographic
information.
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Table 3.1 Student demographic infomiation
Student Name Country of birth/Ethnicity Time in the U.S. Gender Age Graduated U.S. High School?
Adrienne U.S./A -Am. f 19 yes
Alex Mexico m 19 yes
Angela Philippines 4. 5 yrs. f 23 no
Anh Vietnam 3 yrs. f 19 yes
Armando Mexico 11 yrs. m 18 yes
Carlos Mexico 11 yrs. m 16 yes
Carmen U.S./Hispanic f 19 yes
Charlayne U.S,/Afr,-Am. f 34 yes
Chilese U.STWhite f 19 yes
Cristina U.S./Hispanic elementary school yrs. split bel. U.S. & Mexico f 10 yes
Dave U.STWhite m 19 yes
Eddie Mexico 4 vs. m 1B yes
Elena U.SVWhite f 23 yes
Isabel Mexico 13 vrs+ f 16 yes
Javier Mexico 18 mo. m 19 yes
Jimmy U.S./Hispanic m 34 GED
Jose U.S7Hispanic m 19 yes
Laura U.S./Hispanic f 16 yes
Laurence Mexico 16 yrs. m 10 yes
Lvdia Mexico 2 yrs. f 19 ves
Melissa U.S Hispanic f 32 GED
Michael U.S./Afr.-Am. m 22 ves
Omar Somalia 4 yrs. m 19 ves
Roberto Mexico 7 yrs. m 19 ves
Rosa Mexico 2 yrs. 18 ves
Ruby Ghana 5 mo. f 21 no
Tam Vietnam 2.75 yrs. m 19 yes
The Teachers
Sara and Linda, the two teachers in the study, had been adjunct faculty members
in the developmental reading program for several semesters before being asked and
deciding to teach in the FastStart program* Linda had taught foe 2 semesters in FastStarl
prior to the study. For Sara, the study semester was the first semester teaching in the
FastStart program. Both are part-time faculty members in the developmental reading
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programFor more detailed descriptions of Sara and inda and their thoughts about being
involved in the study, see Chapter 5.
The Researcher
My role in the study was a dual onethat of researcher and coordinator of the
program that included the classes in the study. Herr and Anderson (2005) describe this
positionality as that of an insider with the collaboration of other insiders. The teachers were
both subjects of the research and partners in it.
I was the immediate supervisor "he teachers in the study, a fact that had the
potential for conflict. While I supervised the teachers during the time of the study, their
employment was not contingent on participation in the study. Had they decided not to
pamcipate, they could have taught other classes outside my supervision.
The nature of the study helped 1o reduce teachers1 fears and the potential for
conflict. hG research quGStions for the study not comp&rativG. Pmctic0s not being
compared as more effective than others, the teachers were not compared for their
effectiveness, and students' learning was not evaluated against a particular benchmark.
Instead, the study describes students1 learning and teacher's beliefs and practices, as wetl
as the classroom environment. My on-going discussions with the teachers about their
participation in the study and the studyJs parameters are described in some detail in
Chapter 5-
My role as program coordinator was to provide leadership to the team, act as
liaison between the FastStart classes and the developmental education program chairs
and dean, facilitate scheduling and recruitment, write grant reports, attend meetings with
the funding agency, and participate rn the quantitative research project that was part of the
grant project. All of the program teachers often discussed ideas for teaching, problems with
students, and successes in their teaching with me* I observed all of the classes al least
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once during the semester The work with Linda and Sara was a more Intensive version of
the work I did with all of the teachers in the program
In my role as program coordinator, I had only a little direct contact with students.
Occasionally, I met with students if there were problems that could not be resolved by the
program adviser or teachers* I gave a short presentation at the orientation for students
before the semester began. Because my work was mainly invisible to students, they did
not seem to regard me as an authority figure during my classroom observations. I think
they saw me in my role as researcher more than in the role as coordinator. As the
semester progressed, students seemed to accept me as a part of the group, someone who
could sometimes help out with their writing or who might have something to offer to the
discussiori After the first round of nlerviewsT a few students who had not agreed to
interviews at the beginning said they would like to participate in interviews, indicating,)
think, more comfort with my presence and the idea of being interviewed.
Jn the interviews, a few students commented that had offered words of
encouragement or that they enjoyed talking with me. Having the chance to participate in
the interview provided the students with another chance to narrate and reflect on their own
experience and did perhaps influence their learning in a small way. However, when
students talked about what they thought brought about changes in themselves and their
learning, they never talked about the interviews with me. One of the teachers thought that
my presence in the classroom, the interviews, and the fact that students were participating
in a research study may have had a positive influence on the students1 sense that they
were important and being taken seriously.
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Data Collection
Data were collected from student and teacher interviews, classroom observations,
meetings with teachers, Informal conversations with teachers and students, student writing,
and an activity assessment instrument designed by the researcher and teachers.
Student Interviews
Twenty-three students agreed to participate in one-on-one interviews. In the end,
because of time limitations, both mine and the students1, was able to interview 21
students,10 of them twice and the other 11 once. I conducted a total ol 31 student
interviews, (See Table 3.2 below.) The interviews ranged in length from 40 minutes to 1 V2
hours, with the average time about 1 hour. I recorded the interviews using a digital
recorder. All ol the interviews were transcribed and imported into NVIVO for coding.
Table 3.2 Student interviews
Students from Lindas Class Beginning of Semester Interview End of Semester Interview Students from Sara's Class Beginning of Semester Interview End of Semester Interview
Alex X Angela X
Armando X Anh X X
Carmen X Carlos X X
Charlayne X X Cristina X
Jimmy X X Dave X
Laura X X Eddie X
Laurence X Javier X X
Michael X X Lydia X X
Omar X Roberto X X
Rosa X X Tam X
Ruby X
Totals e e 8 7
Total beginning of semester Interviews 16
Total end of semester nterviews 15
Total student interviews conducted 31
Total number of students interviewed 21
I used a variation of the subject-object interview devised by Lahey, Souvaine,
Kegan, Goodman, & Felix (1988) to elicit narrative data from interviewees. (See Appendix
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A for the full Student Interview Protocol.) In the first interview at the beginning of the
semester, I asked students to think of experiences they had in the past related to education
and learning, inside or outside ot school. I gave the interviewee 10 5-inch by 7-inch cards
with the one of the following prompts written on each card: angry, anxious/nervous,
successful/proud, standing up for your beliefs, sadf confused, moved/touched by heart, fost
something, change, important to me^ For the second interview at the end of the semester, I
asked students to use the same prompts to reflect on their experience during the semester
I added 1 card for the second interview with the prompt surprising/unexpectecf because I
had found in previous work with students that this prompt often elicited reports of changes
in students1 perceptions.
I told the interviewees that they had 15 to 20 minutes to think about each card and
make notes about an experience the card made them think about, that the cards were
theirs to keep, and that I would not be reading them* Students usually spent 5 to 10
minutes thinking and making notes on the cards. When students were ready to talk, they
chose the card they wanted to talk about first. They chose which cards to talk about and
which not to talk about
During the interview, I tried to balance two rolesthat of active, sympathetic
listener and that ol active inquirer. As an active listener, I let the student know that I
understood and sympathized. As an inquirer, I used questions intended to lead the student
to articulate what sort of meaning the student had made of that experience in his or her life.
In the first interview most students talked about their high school experience, their
families' roles in their education, and why they wanted to go to college. In the second
interview, students talked about the experience of the first semester in college, how they
thought they had changed, their career and education plans, and how they felt as they
looked forward to the next semester.
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Using this protocol for student interviews had some advantages over using direct
questions* Themes emerged from the students instead of from me. For example, the
theme of family members1 influence on education plans came from students* I never asked
students directly what role their families played in their education plans. Students directed
my attention to aspects of their experience, instead of my directing theirs, as would have
been the case with direct questions. Because of this, I have more confidence that the
themes that emerged are truly the students^
Using this protocol also encouraged students to ground their generalizations in
experience. Some of the students had a tendency to jump to generalization. For example,
with the important to me card, students often started with a list of whal was important to
them, like their families and getting an education. I reminded them to give me an example
of an experience that helped them to realize those things were important to them. Asking
for the experience yielded richer narratives.
A disadvantage of the protocol was that not every student talked about all of the
themes. The fact that students did not talk about a particular theme does not mean they
had no experience with it or nothing to say about it. For example, 3 of the students n the
end-of-semester interviews talked about changes in their ideas about the importance of
asking questions. Because I did not ask all of the students about the importance of asking
questions, I cannot say that more of the students did or did not learn about asking
questions. What I do know from the classroom observations is that far more than the three
students who brought up the topic of asking questions asked many questions in ciass, so I
can reasonably conclude that the classroom environment encouraged most students to ask
questions- I used other data sourcesthe classroom observations, teachers' observations,
and student writingto tnangulate and augment the interview data. HoweverI cannot
describe learning and change quantitatively. In most cases, I cannot say what percentage
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of students changed in a particular way because I did not use a method that asked all
students to respond to the same questions.
Classroom Observations
I spent approximately 48 hours as a participant observer in the two classrooms.
Each class met for 2 3/i hours a day, two days a week for 15 weeks* I was in Unda's class
on 11 days and in Sara's class on 14 days, spending between 1 Vs hours and 21/2 hours
each day. On some days I was a silent observer, but also participated in some
discussions, helped conduct writer's workshops, substituted for Linda for one class period,
and worked with individuals and small groups of students, I took extensive field notes
during class. Upon reviewing the field notes, I prepared coversheets for each session's
field notes with summary headings and comments.
Teacher Interviews and Meetings
I conducted 3 recorded interviews with the achers. In the first interview, at the
beginning of the semester, the three of us talked about our beliefs about teaching and
learning and our hopes, fears, and expectations about the upcoming semester and
research project. After the semester ended, I conducted separate interviews with each of
the teachers using the LaheyT el al.(1988) protocol and asking the teachers to reflect on
their experience during the semester In addition to the recorded interviews, have field
notes from 10 1-hour discussions conducted nearly weekly during which the three of us
discussed our work with the 2 classes. Other field notes documented informal discussions
with each of the teachers. I also archived e-mails and hand-written notes from and to the
teachers- Recorded interviews were transcribed for coding.
Student Writing
For each of the students who agreed to have their writing be part of the study, I
have multiple pieces of writing. From the students in Sara's class, I read students1 finished
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f,My LifeT, essays or early drafts of the essays and the final career exploration report. In
addition, I collected students' weekly reading response homework, bookstore visit
responsesthe rubrics for their essays, and a midterm test. For the students in indas
class, had 8 pieces of writing inciuding a career exploration essay, a rehective piece
about the process of completing the career exploration project, a piece about their personal
schedule and use of time, an essay titted "Back to the Future/5 and other pieces assessing
their own learning. The final assessment letter, which they addressed to Linda, was
especially helpful in documenting how students articulated their perceptions of learning and
change.
Activity Assessment Forms
Students in both classes filled out a Learning Activity Assessment at the end of the
semester. Sara and Linda listed the activities from each of their classes on the form.
Students assessed each activity on Likert scales in 5 domains: helpful in preparing me for
college classes, interesting and engaging, helped me understand myself better, helped me
understand and respect other students, and helped me gain confidence. Students rated the
activities in each domain on a Likert scale with 1 being not helpful at all and 5 being
extremely helpful. Students could choose 0 if they did not know how the activity helped
them of if they did not participate.
Data Analysis
As I transcribed student interviews, I wrote memos about each interview,
describing the student's physical appearance, demeanor and other affective aspects of the
student during the interview and summarizing content on topics the student decided to talk
about.
AH interview transcripts including the teacher interviews were imported into NVIVO.
I coded the interview transcripts inductively, assigning codes based on content of sections
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of the interviews, using a process sometimes called constant comparison (Glaser &
Strauss, 1967) or open coding (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). If a section from a subsequent
interview fit ary code that I had already created, I coded it according to that code. If not, I
created a new code for it. Coded chunks ranged in length from 1 or 2 sentences to several
sentences- The same piece of a transcnpted interview was often coded in 2 or more ways.
As codes accumulated, began to group them in categories and sub-categories, using the
Tree Nodes tool in NVIVO. (See Appendix B Excerpt from NVIVO Tree Nodes.)
Some coded material did not fit into the emergent tree structure of categorized
codes. This material was coded In Free Nodes in NVIVO- I also read the interview
transcripts with an eye to whether the student took a subject or object stance to a particular
experience. I classified those pieces of the interviews under a £1Subject" or ^Object" code
using the Free Nodes tool in NVIVO.
I used the Tree Nodes codes to identify themes and patterns in the interview data.
As I identiiied codes and themes, I read through the interview transcripts several times to
see how I might code the interviews dilferently and how portions or interviews might
support or provide counter-examples 1o identified themes.
Student writing and lield notes were used to provide additional evidence and
description of identified themes, additional themes, and counter evidence of themes. The
student writing, \\e\d notes from observations and informal conversations, as well as the
activity assessment forms served to triangulate the identification of themes and
subsequent findings,
Presentation of Findings
I was inlluenced in the writing of this study by Wolcott (1990) to include detailed
description in the findings and numerous quotations from students and teachers. Wolcott
suggests thinking of descriptive sections of the qualitative dissertation as "subtle analysis"
74


and the more heavily interpretive and analytical sections as ttintrusive,' analysis {p, 29)*
Wolcott comments that the descriptive account of a qualitative study is 'likely to constitute
the most important contribution11 the researcher can make {p. 27). I have chosen to weave
description and analysis together in order to let the students and teachers speak for
themselves. IVIy analysis is evident in the identification of themes, the selection and
interpretation of studenls' and teachers' stories and actions^ in the final chapter,
^Discussion and Summary."
The themes identified through coding are woven rnto a narrative that reflects the
proleptic nature (Rogott, 1995; Wenger, 1998) of learning and identity negotiation. The
past, present, and future are intertwined in the telling of the stories of these students and
teachers. In Chapters 4 and 5, students look back al their experience in htgh school and
forward to the unfolding first semester in college. In Chapter 6T £,The Teachers," Sara and
inda talk about the beliefs about teaching and learning that they bring to the semester. In
Chapter 7, The Class/11 describe the shared experience of teachers, students, and
researcher during the semester. In Chapter 7, "Emerging College Student Identities/1 the
students once again look back at their experience during the semester and forward to the
next.
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CHAPTER 4
LOOKING BACK AT HIGH SCHOOL
From the vantage point of the beginning of the semester of their first year in
college, students looked backward at their previous educational experiences and forward
to a future that held both hopes and fears, in this chapter drawing mainly on students1
beginning of the semester interviews, I describe students1 reports of their high school
experience. While high school was not the focus of the study, these stories provide insight
into who these students are as they arrive in the college classroom on the first day of class.
High school graduation marked an accomplishment in which many students looked back
with pride. Students recounted formative experiences. For the students who came to the
LLS. during thefr high schoo years,earning English and a new culture were salient
accomplishments. Family, adults in the high school, and peers played important roles in
the stories students told of their high school years.
High School Graduation: A Proud Moment
When I interviewed students at the beginning of the semester, I asked them to
recount experiences related 1o learning and education from their past that they associated
with the emotions or reactions written on 10 cards. In response to the proud/successful
card, 8 of the 16 students who talked to me about their experiences in high school,
recounted the pride they felt on graduating from high school. Angela recalted graduation
night when she was named a ^Soaring Eagle/1 her schools designation for honor students:
My graduation was one of the most happiest days of my life because we were all
sittingour graduation was in the coliseum, so we were sitting and the principal was
like/_Hs time to call the Soaring Eagles. I wasnt the top, top girl; I was like in the
20s. They called my name and I was so proud of myself. The day before that, they
gave us some other awards we got So those two days were so happy and I was
so proud of myself.
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Angela, Lydia, and Michael all noted that they had been the first in their families to
finish high school and that was a source of pride for them. Lydia, who had immigrated with
her family from Mexico just 2 years before, recounted:
It makes me feel proud because my parentsthey couldn't go to coilege, even to
middle school. My mom didn't finish elementary school and my dad he didn't finish
the middle school, and then when my brothers and me were growing upT my older
sister didrTt finish middle school, and fee like sad because sine got mariedt and.
I don't know, her life is so difficult.
ydia saw finishing high school as a step toward college, a step toward independence and
self-sufficiency:
\ feel proud of me because I could do itT graduate from high school. And another
thing is that I start college. It makes me feel so so proud because it means to me
that I can do whatever I want. Those are the two things that make me feel so
proud. . J want to go to college because what about if I have a husband and he
treats me bad? WelL Tm not gonna depend on him anymore. So if I got a bad
situation with my husband or something like that, I can depend on me.
Michael, whose relationship with his parents was a troubled one, was defiantly
proud of his graduation from high school 5 years before the study began. He was proud
despite his belief that graduating meant that members of his family perceived him as a
(,geek,J or "nerd." When I asked him to explain what it was about finishing high school that
made him proud, he elaborated:
Just actually finishing school, just being able to say, I have a diploma, I mean if
you look at most of my family, like, how many have graduated? Who has a
diploma? And they're all just like, uhhhh, uhhh. I mean it's like a blank stare.
Nobody knows anything. Yeah, I mean, you can call me a geek, you can call me a
protessor, you can call me whatever you want to call me, but at the end of the day,
I know that l finished school, and when somebody asks me for my diploma, I have
a piece of paper to show them.... [People say,] well, youJre geeky. You know
that, you're a geek, you're a nerd. Well, call me what you want to.
Michael, who graduated from a small, rural high school in a southern state, saw a high
school diploma as necessary for getting a job and as superior to a GED:
And it was job-related, too. Because you know, you can1t really, mean as far as
getting a job down there, there's nothing, hauling hay, whatever. I mean anybody
can do that, but as far as an actual job, you have to have paperwork for itT and l1m
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likeT a diploma, not a GED, because everyone^ like, you can quit school and go
get your GED. Thafs not the same thing as a diploma.....Peopled saywell what
you mean? I thought it was the same thing. I said, no, if you have a diploma, that
means you never quit, you never stopped, you went continuously, and finished
what you had started. A GED means you had to stop at some point in time and
drop oul of high school, and try over. So thafs the difference.
Some students noted that the fact that they had finished high school ran counter to
the expectations of others, increasing their sense of pride. Learning English was the big
task of high schooUor some of the students, those who arrived most recently to the LIS.
Lydia and Rosa, 2 of the 4 most recently arrived immigrant students were especially proud
that they had learned English well enough to graduate from high school* For Rosa, the
pride in graduation from high schoo was increased because counselors had told her in her
junior and again in her senior year that she would need more time to learn English and that
there was no way that she could accomplish the goal of high school graduation in the 2
years during which she intended to do It. Rosa explained:
Because I start[ed] studying here 2 years ago and I was in Mexico before, so I
came here and [the high school counselor] said I need to stay like 3 or 4 years to
graduate and that was going to be too much for me and I didn't want to waste my
time.
Rosa, who had been an excellent student in Mexico and nearly finished at the university
preparatory high school, was angry when she got the counselor's verdict:
My counselor told me that I was not going to graduate in time and that I couldn't do
it and that wasnt able to take the classes need, so Melt very angry because I
thought I could do it and that's when I felt really anger.
Rosa first brought in her parents to talk with the counselor. When that did not work, she
went to another counselorwho allowed her to enroll in the classes she would need to
graduate* She studied hard, got A's and B's and graduated after 2 years in the UTS* Thai
she had proven her abilities despite the counselor's advice made graduation even sweeter
in Rosa's eyes:
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And that's why when f graduated, I feel success because l showed to her that l
could do it and I was u(3h, my GodI did and she was OK, congratulations/1
There were obstacles, but could overcome these.
She saw her success in graduating from high school as her personal accomplishment, one
that she celebrated with her parents, extended family, and friends.
Armando, like Rosa, reported that he graduated counter to the expectations of
some high school staff and, in addition, counter to the expectations of many of his friends.
Unlike Rosa, Armando in his own estimation was not a good student in high school. But
although he did not get good grades, he really enjoyed high school and did not consider
dropping out* When I asked Armando if he had thought about dropping out of high school,
he replied:
No, I never did. I liked high school. It was something fun.,. J never reahy got
good grades through like my whole lile, I never really got good grades so I was
satisfied always with a D, no matter what. I always thought a D was a passing
grade no matter what, so I just wanted to make the grade to graduate and that's all
f did in high school.
During his first year in high school, Armando had his education interrupted when his father
was deported to Mexico. The whole family went to Mexico for about 3 months. When at the
end of his freshman year Armando returned to the same high school he had eft, he was
behind his classmates in earning credits. Some high school staff told him that he probably
would not be able to graduate with his classmates. Armando thought they were right at
first, but then changed his mind;
Well alter [the time in Mexico], I didn't think I was gonna graduate with my class
because even the teachers told me. I went to the counselors, and they told me I
wasn't gonna graduate with my class. But then after awhile, well, I started
counting my credits, and aUhe end I realized that I could graduate, but they still
would tell me like you're nol gonna graduate. Like, they put me down, saying that I
wasn't gonna graduate, that W was like too much for me, I had to pass every class
tenth, eleventh and twelfth to graduate, so like it was a hard thing to doT but 1 did it.
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Some of Armando's friends did not graduate, though they had been at the school for a full
four years- Armando was proud of the fact that he graduated with his class when so many
people told him that he would not.
Laurence was also proud of his high school graduation, parlfy because it was
counter to the expectations of some in his extended family. Laurence told me about an
incident that happened when he was 16 years old, an incident that made him angry. He
had taken a summer job working for his uncle in construction. During a break in work, his
uncle asked him about his plans for the future. Laurence replied that he planned to
graduate trom high school and then go to college 1o pursue his goal of getting an
Associate's degree in business. His cousins, who were working the same job, reacted with
laughter:
These two cousins, they were laughing at me because they didnJt graduate [from
high school]., . They told me that Mexicans, us Mexicans, the only thing we can
do is work in construction, and that made me like feel so bad. Like, it gave me
anger inside of me. They didn't believe in me even though they were my cousins
and they were related to me. They didn't have faith that I was going to go on to
higher education and pursue that. TheyJre like, no youJre going to end up like us or
blah, blah, blah. They always tell me that andevery time that I see them, feel
angry of what they said. Probably they were speaking in ignorance, but I don't like
really judge them.., + The sentence he said, the only thing that [Mexicans] are
good at is working construction. I mean I feel so angry that they didn't believe in
me, and they don't have faith in me like achieving, getting my major.
aurence recalled the graduation ceremony:
It made me feel proud because, how I was telling you about my cousins, because
they didn't believe in meT that I was even going to graduate from high school
because they didn't graduate. So just me being up there on that stageeverything
just paused. I achieved something that they thought l wasn't going to. So it made
me stand so proud and feel successfuL
Dave graduated from his high school with feelings of pride and relief. The only
White Anglo male student in the study, Dave differed from his classmates in other ways
than ethnicity. He was from outside the state and had graduated from a private boarding
school. '"Passing high school'1 was Dave's nomination tor the experience in his life related
80


to education that made him feel successful. Although "some subjects51 were hard for him,
and he ilcame really close to failing high school/1 dropping out of high school was l£not an
option.11 Finishing, said Dave, feirYeally relieving
Three of the students, all males, said that they had come close to dropping out of
high school. Roberto said that he wanted to drop out of school when he was in the 10ih
grade, but his mother told him 1o stay in school. When he graduated, something that, until
his senior year, he did not believe was really going to happen, his mother was happy.
Michael reported that he had nearly quit school with just a few weeks teft in his senior year
when he threw down his books and told school oflrcials he was leaving, Michael had
complaints about what he saw as low quality leaching and being told that he needed to
dress diflerently for school because the clothing he wore to school was £igang-related.J1
Recalling that his mother had quit school in her senior year, an action Michael called I£really
stupid/1 he said that he bought himself a new wardrobe of T-shirts and pants that would
keep school officials from "harassing" him and stayed in school until graduation. Carlos
said that the intervention of a favorite teacher stopped him from dropping out oi school. He
was in the school office filling out the paperwork for dropping out when his art teacher
came into the office. The teacher talked him into staying in school,
Over half of the students mentioned taking great pride in their graduation from high
school. In several cases, the students' parents had not graduated from high school. For
some of the students, the accomplishment came counter to the expectations of friends and
family. For others, the pride was shared with family. College educators often forget the
significance that this accomplishment has for many students and their families.
High School Friends
Friendships surfaced as memorable in several students1 recollections of their high
school experience,anguage, cultureand ethnicity influenced some studentsr
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