Teaching the CoReq

It was 2015, and I was tired.

I’d been at MACC for eight years, teaching the same classes for most of those eight years, and I’d reinvented myself as somewhat of a developmental education specialist despite having very little formal educational background in the field. I enjoyed teaching the basic, fundamentals of writing and reading classes, even though other colleagues called them “boring” and were uninterested. I rather liked taking the students who didn’t feel as though they belonged in college and directing them toward success and understanding expectations.

Despite my genuine fondness for my students and my work, I was tired. I needed time off. Looking back, I also needed something else to do. I had been working with my colleague Tarasa on designing MACC’s version of a Composition I corequisite course, but I had never actually taught it (or LAL101 at MACC) myself. I was burned out, and I knew it.

Perhaps I got pregnant at the right time.

After teaching online for the fall 2016 semester following giving birth to my first child, I was a bit nervous about returning to the classroom after seven months “off” (whatever) and taking on two sections each of two new courses. I had offered to teach two sections of LAL101 with co-req at our Columbia campus, but I hadn’t considered the workload required to prep two entirely new-to-me courses plus taking care of a newborn and myself. I was nervous, as many people are when they are trying to plan and implement something new.

I had no idea how that first semester was going to go. I visualized a nightmare where it turned out I had no idea what I was doing and all my students flopped. Teaching the co-req, though, wound up really rejuvenating my teaching through its one-on-one workshop environment as well as its emphasis on metacognitive and noncognitive skills. The rapport that develops in this environment is also one that can’t be replicated in other settings and is invaluable to support students.

First, the class structure allows me to play to one of my strengths, which is working one-on-one with students. At MACC, our model is that our corequisite course is capped at 9 students (with 11 of the 20 students in LAL101 being “qualifiers”). This is the model followed by the ALP program at CCBC, which has a high success rate. Because of this low class size, I am able to spend time each class period working one-on-one with students and their individual essays. Multiple studies show that grammar and organizational skills are best addressed in context with work students are already doing, and having the time in class to spend with each student allows them to get the help they need to recognize patterns in their own writing instead of isolated example sentences. I can closely look at paragraphs with them and discuss organizing by key words, pointing out fragments and comma splices and run-on sentences (and the patterns that they can look for), and developing examples.

The class also allows me to address metacognitive learning skills that we all know are truly essential to classroom success. As a textbook, we use Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, which presents scientific principles regarding how people truly learn best. (Spoiler alert: Rereading and highlighting aren’t nearly as effective as people think, despite these being the most widely-taught study strategies.) Through this book, my students learn how to think about and discuss their studying and learning strategies for everything from math problems to history exams to, yes, our LAL101 essays.

The smaller environment also enables me to get to know my students and build a rapport with them as I see them develop in community with each other. In this class, we are able to talk about obstacles that might get in the way of success and then solutions to these obstacles. These are the sorts of noncognitive skills (grit and mindset) that we all know are key to our students’ success, especially the developmental students or the students who lack confidence because of past educational experiences, but which we all too often have to overlook in the classroom environment because of the amount of essays we must assign, learning outcomes we must assess for, and students we have to help. The smaller environment allows us to discuss both obstacles and possible outcomes/solutions.

Perhaps the greatest thing I see with the coreq that rejuvenates me is the rapport that develops between the students, each other, and me. It warms my heart to see students helping each other out, reading over each other’s essays, pointing out connections to each other, and talking about their other classes. I see their faces light up when I am able to point out the positive aspects of their writing or able to say, “Hey, remember when you couldn’t write a sentence that wasn’t a comma splice? Look! Here’s a whole paragraph with no comma splices – awesome!”

It is good for my soul to be able to offer these gifts to my students and to be able to share my story with them and to hear theirs. I hope that, as they go through their college careers, perhaps they will keep the supportive voices that they hear in my classroom in their head so that when the going gets tough – and it always, inevitably, will – they know that they have people in their corner.

I am still perpetually tired – I am an academic mama of a toddler, after all – but it’s a different kind of tired. It’s a meaningful kind of tired. The kind of tired that doesn’t make me want to crawl back under the covers in the morning. It’s a happy exhaustion that makes me still look forward to the summer and a little more rest, yes, but also be satisfied that, for the moment, I’m doing exactly what I might have been meant to do all along.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *