De Anza College, a well-established two-year institution of 24,000 students, faces the challenge of meeting the needs of a diverse, culturally and linguistic rich, student body: 40% Asian, 38% White, 15% Latino, 5% African-American. In the context of a well-developed literacy program, in the Winter of 1999, at a Language Arts Division meeting, faculty identified the need to improve the range of developmental programs in reading and writing and in the extensive program in English as a Second Language. These discussions led to a series of three meetings (April, May, June, 2000) which allowed faculty, together with key support faculty, staff and administration to formulate the concept of the Developmental Task Force and identify a team of leaders: Judith Hubbard, co-chair, English; Ulysses Pichon, Chair, Veronica Avila, Counselor liaison to Language Arts. The leadership group organized a series of one-day retreats, engaging both full and part-time teaching faculty and faculty and staff from the full range of the college’s student support programs. These retreats led to the creation of a series of focus groups, each of them acting on an initiative identified through the collaborative work of staff committed to student success.
At its first retreat, the DTF used a collaborative writing process to produce this working statement of purpose: A successful student in a developmental program attains autonomy through development of skills, confidence and critical understanding in a flexible program whose focus is active learning and the lifelong pursuit of personal and professional goals.
The DTF focuses on recognition of the knowledge, understanding, and experience that community college teachers, administrators, and staff develop in their day to day contacts with students, building programs around the strengths that De Anza students bring with them. The English department, working closely with, ESL and Speech departments, offers a rich, complex literacy program, with multiple placement measures, course work geared to student levels of preparation, and a Readiness lab program that provides a system of achievement assessment. In this context, the DTF identified over 20 strengths, including 10-unit combined reading/writing courses, collaboration for students and teachers, alternate delivery systems, multiple teaching strategies in response to student needs, joy of witnessing students’ increasing awareness of abilities, Instructional Support Programs, such as the Readiness Lab, Skills and Tutorial Center, the Educational Diagnostic Clinic for special education needs, broad college support for innovative technology training through staff development, and a comprehensive ESL program. In addition to theses, instructors collaborate with a variety of multicultural services programs that support underrepresented students by providing mentoring, educational, financial, counseling support.
In the context of an already strong program, the DTF identified these areas for improvement or development:
• a need for reliable research data in order to track programs and improve them
• a need for more cross-talk with other disciplines and programs
• a need for teaching faculty to find out about available services for students
• a need for continuous funding to keep support programs and staff in place
• a need to improve advising, testing, and coordination so students have flexible access
• a lack of knowledge of community resources
With this agenda, the DTF formed several Focus Groups, designed to develop specific strategies that would address the identified needs and take action. The current working Focus Groups are:
• Counseling, advisement, and placement of new and ongoing students
• Working with departments and divisions in other disciplines
• Revising programs and curricula
• Staff development, including Best Teaching Practices
• Institutional and individual research
• A faculty resource guide of all programs and services for students in developmental programs
83% of entering students at De Anza place into developmental reading and writing classes. An informal survey by the Chair of the ESL department has identified over 60 different languages spoken by De Anza students.
The staff development group has already created, and is continuing to add to a resource of Best Practices, providing faculty with a set of categories and a format for reporting their practice. An ongoing project for this group is the compilation of a reference bank of materials for English, and ESL instructors, especially new faculty, to utilize.
The research group created a sociolingistic language survey administered in classrooms to over 2000 students Fall, 2001. The data is currently being compiled and analyzed and will provide information about the language and cultural background of students never before available.
The faculty resource guide, a 50-page resource handbook that gives helpful specific information about 28 student services on and off campus, has been completed and is being prepared for publication to faculty.
The DTF has instituted faculty in-service presentations and trainings, such as Educational Diagnostic Services and Disabled Student Services, to help instructors recognize a variety of learning styles and learn appropriate instructional techniques to include affected students.
Links with colleagues in support services have been established, including with two other college instructional initiatives: the Learning Communities program and the Communicating across the Curriculum program.
The emphasis has been on getting resources and surveys in place. Evaluation of the initiatives will be part of this year’s retreats. In the past two years, the English, and ESL departments have hired 11 new faculty, all of whom teach developmental courses. One measure of success has been the hiring of instructors who are knowledgeable and sensitive to the needs of students in developmental programs. Another measure of success will be effective integration of these new faculty into the developmental program.
Student evaluations and student surveys indicate the overwhelming success of increased understanding of the student population and more effective methods of teaching reading and writing in terms of student retention and greater levels of student success.
The Developmental Task Force was initiated by teaching faculty and key colleagues in counseling and instructional services programs. College administration has been strongly supportive of the DTF providing support for regular retreats off-campus and meeting the costs of publications. Based on this first round of accomplishments, the DTF will now seek grant funding to support more extensive training for faculty, including part-time faculty.
Faculty have begun the process of observing each other in the classroom in a non-evaluative and information-sharing environment. The enthusiasm of over extended faculty for this activity has been remarkable. The members of DTF plan to continue observations and compile information learned from each other with the larger group.
All processes that are in place will continue and will be evaluated for its effectiveness at regular meetings and retreats.