Transition and Pace

Though only two students told me that the Stretch program helped them make a transition to college life, I highlight it here because those students were demographically very different. Ben came to college right out of high school, and Dan returned after a break of many years. It's significant that the Stretch program is useful to a wide range of students. When asked what was going well, Ben, a nineteen year-old native speaker of English, said, “With my other classes, every semester it’s something different, something different. This one class, even though it’s just the one class, it kind of makes that whole transition into college that much more comfortable. . . . I think throughout this whole transition it’s helped me pretty well. . . . the material she teaches, I got a real good feel for it the first semester, and this semester . . . it gives me a better groove on how I kind of learn.”

Dan, a forty-nine year-old native speaker of English, thought Stretch “was great” when he found out that he would be with the same instructor for the entire year: “I think [Stretch] makes it a lot smoother to go from a high school transition or into a college level, or, like I said, being out of school for many years. . . . The thing I like about going from English 90 to 101 is that it takes a lot of the intimidation out. You don’t feel like you have to be a word wizard, like you have to be a genius. . . . It does make the transition a lot easier, you don’t feel so, oh boy I’m bewildered and intimidated."

Ben makes an explicit reference to faculty-student contact in his statement that he “got a real good feel” for the material his instructor teaches during the first semester; this knowledge eased his transition to the second semester. Dan's reference to faculty-student contact is implied in his statement that the Stretch program alleviates his sense of being “bewildered and intimidated.” For these two students, Stretch eased the transition to college life, even though they were at very different stages of their lives before the came to college.

Four students noted that the slow pace of the class was important to them. As Dan notes, the fact that faculty are able to break down the assignments into manageable pieces is extremely helpful: “It gives people like myself a time to kind of go it a little bit slower pace . . . . It’s kinda like saying ok, we’re not going to go from here to here, we’re going to go from here to there to there, and then we’re going to go to there. And I like that.” Dominique, a young woman who is a fluent speaker of Czech and German, enrolled in the first-semester course because it fit her schedule even though she initially had no intention of remaining with the same professor in the second semester. However, she did enroll in the second semester course and found it beneficial. She also comments on pacing:

“The assignments are great, and her pace is really nice. . . . She explains, then we have the project, then we have a first draft due, then the final draft is due way later.”

Pamela, a native speaker of English who is returning to school after a long absence, expresses a similar viewpoint: “You know what’s going to be expected but then she does little baby steps kinda to help prepare you.” Eiko makes a similar, if less explicit, statement about pacing: “It’s working great actually, because all the students in e90 class already learned the basic knowledge in order to be able to write English papers. Right now since we share the same basic knowledge of writing English papers, we can kind of get into how we can improve this paper or . . . I guess I should’ve said that all the students are on the same track.”

The slow pace might have been especially important to Eiko, a native speaker of Japanese who was returning to the classroom after several years, because of her earlier experiences in e90: “I kinda wanted to have a teacher who’s eager to have students for two semesters; it means that she’s more committed to the students, that she has more responsibility having or knowing students than other teachers who only need to take care of students for one semester, so I was a little more comfortable having one teacher for two semesters.” Eiko had enrolled in e90 once previously, “but the teacher wasn’t eager to have a foreign student in her class. She told me that I know that you failed the Michigan test, and I’m not ESL teacher, and I’m uncomfortable having foreign students in my class. She was really very specific about it.”

These students, then, appreciate an emphasis on the clear, careful presentation of expectations. A careful presentation of expectations is a sign of good composition instruction in any context, so this feature of Stretch might not be unique to it. In their interviews, faculty describe a sense of being much more relaxed about classroom activities because they had the students for an entire semester. The full year allows them the time to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. As Garawyn notes, “That’s why I like the Stretch program, because it does allow the use of personal voice, interview, those things that we all build on in the first, say, three-quarters of a normal e101 class and then we sort of cram research and becoming comfortable with the library.” Here, though she’s referencing her ability to build on material that she’s already presented, she does convey the sense that the extra time with students that Stretch affords is very productive.

Later in the interview, Garawyn notes that she knows students’ “strengths and weakness a lot better. Sometimes, I’m slow to catch on say, somebody’s having a really difficult time integrating research or something along those lines, because I’m overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork usually by the end of the course I realize, oh no, I should have worked more with this person, or I should have pushed this person a little more.” Laura notes that “it’s nice to have that second chance,” and Garawyn continues: “Yeah, and I do have the second chance in that, wow, ok, now I realize this towards the end of the semester, oh, but, now I’ve made myself a little note, next semester I’m going to pay attention to how these things are working for this person and I can give them a little bit more individual attention if they’re still struggling.” While Garawyn isn’t explicit about breaking down assignments, both she and Laura do note how powerful it is to become aware of students’ weaknesses and return to them, even if it’s the next semester. Faculty are able to fine-tune the pace of the class and focus on particular students' needs because they have more time to work with those students.

Dominique, a student, also notes faculty ability to address particular students’ needs: “And you can tell, some students are in the higher standard already, some are not, but the higher standard people didn’t suffer and the students that didn’t have the basics were focused on and it’s kind of nice because you could catch up again on these things. The other classes I have you really gotta know the basics. . . .”