October 2008 Archives

I just attended the College Reading and Learning Association national conference in Cleveland, Ohio.  It's part of my effort to educate myself about developmental reading and writing.  Since I've mostly attended creative writing conferences for the past few years, I was curious to see how a social-science conference differed. 

Obviously, everyone was much more focused on research.  If someone presented a method of teaching reading, others would always ask if it was backed up by research.  Which, of course, is good.  We in the humanities tend to resist research and assessment, but I could certainly see the value of insisting on data.  Before dumping one teaching method and adopting another, it would be useful to know if students actually read and wrote better under the new technique. 

However, the field of developmental studies as an academic discipline is in its infancy, according to several of the scholars I met, so research is a hazy thing.  Some speakers had assessed their techniques via student surveys about how much they learned; others used standardardized tests to measure student progress, but lacked a control group with similar characteristics who hadn't taken the class in question.  In an odd way, the haziness was reassuring.  Sometimes when I hear social scientists talking about the need for assessment, I get the impression they have it all figured out, but these developmental educators were open about feeling their way. 

I found everyone eager to share their techniques and strategies with me, a newbie to the field.  There wasn't the kind of grandstanding you occasionally see at MLA or creative writing conferences, but a real service ethic.  Which makes sense, considering that most attendees teach developmental reading, writing, and math, or work in learning centers.  These are not the high-status areas at most colleges and universities, and indeed, it was apparent that a lot of these instructors and tutors struggle to have their voices heard on their campuses. 

I'll be sharing more of what I learned in upcoming entries.   

September 2009

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