Re-inventing Remedial Reading in the 21st Century: A Review of the Benefits and Challenges of a Hybrid Remedial Reading Course
By: Prof. Toni Ann Hernen
Bronx Community College, City University of New York
Toni Ann Hernen is a lecturer in the Department of Education and Reading
Correspondence relating to this Article should be addressed to Toni Ann Hernen Bronx Community College, City University of New York, Colston Hall, Room 429, University Avenue, Bronx, New York 10453.
Remedial courses have been the center of attention over the past decade. More students enter college and take at least one remedial course because they have failed the entrance exams that determine if students have the basic skills to take credit bearing courses. The increase in enrollment for these courses has left administrators to find other sources and programs to accelerate the process. Students who are not accelerated through the remedial courses are sometimes left with taking more than one remedial in a semester. This setback can potentially delay the student’s matriculation and eventually cause the student to drop out of college. This paper examines a first year pilot hybrid remedial reading course offered in the Fall of 2015. Further, this small-scale study illustrates the benefits and effects of a hybrid remedial reading course and provides future recommendations for achievement. Using qualitative and quantitative data, the hybrid remedial reading course was determined to provide positive outcomes when comparing the treated and non-treated groups. It was further observed that the students found the course to be innovative and spark their interests. The promise of a new alternative to remedial reading in the 21st century has the potential to boost student attainment, matriculation, and progress.
The Rapid Increase in Technology and Meeting the Needs of our Students
Meeting the needs of all of our learners has been a topic for educators for years. Beetham and Sharpe (2013) contended that technology should not direct learning, but rather learning should alter what technology has to offer. More so, Betham and Sharpe (2013) affirmed that technology is rapidly moving forward, and to keep abreast of the direction in which digital technology is moving, educators must rethink their pedagogy. Technology is now moving beyond integration in the classroom and more towards a digital online learning environment. According to Allen and Seaman (2010), online learning has increased extensively and traditional college enrollment has decreased. Further, Allen and Seaman (2010) reported that in the Fall of 2008, 4.6 million students were taking, at a minimum, one online course. Since that time, there has been a 17 percent increase. More than one in four students enrolled in a college are taking at least one online course.
Shih and Allen (2007) asserted that 21st century students rely on technology in their everyday and busy lives. With work, school, and family, students are enrolling in more online courses to meet their pressing needs. Due to the accessibility that comes with iPhones and iPads, students expect immediate feedback on assignments (Jackson & Helms, 2008). Students have become accustomed to a disconnect with human contact and do not desire a human connection (Turkle, 2012). Jackson and Helms (2008) stated that students are enrolling in more online courses, but are faced with difficulties in terms of technology, content, and management. However, Ally (2004) noted that online courses are beneficial to the student, and that the curriculum needs to be altered to foster critical thinking, active engagement, and lifelong learning. Further, online courses grant students the opportunity to complete degrees and attend college, where face to face learning may be arduous due to life positions. Similar to Ally (2004), Betham and Sharpe (2013) noted that technology is rapidly developing, and educators will soon re-design curriculum to meet the needs of the 21st century learner.
This paper defines the hybrid approach and highlights the benefits and challenges of hybrid instruction in a remedial reading course in the Fall semester of 2015. Further, it analyzes the effect hybrid learning has on remedial reading students in a community college and ponders whether there is potential for remedial courses in the future to be hybrid. Using end of the semester grade summary data, the Fall 2015 “treated groups” are compared to the “non-treated groups” and final grades were examined to determine if a reading hybrid course had a positive effect on student’s final assessments. Prior to the implementation of the hybrid course, four students were selected to participate in a pre- and post-course survey. These surveys were conducted in an interview format and students were asked questions based on their feelings and experience with technology. Based on the student’s responses and end of term data, evaluation of the hybrid course was determined and suggestions for future implementation were given.
Jackson and Helms (2008) proclaimed that college students find internet and digital technology more mundane than in years prior. The majority of college students today have been using technology from an earlier time than students of the past. Even if institutions do not have a large amount of online learning, courses are being delivered through online learning management systems, such as Blackboard. The learning management system provides students with access to course material, virtual discussion boards, and online assignment submission (Jackson & Helms, 2008). The Hybrid approach has been defined as blended learning (Bersin, 2004; Mackay & Stockport, 2006), where students are using technology to complete course work. In a hybrid course, the class is divided into both face to face and online learning. Students still have the connection with their professors in a traditional style and online learning environment (Betham & Sharpe, 2013).
In previous research, the incorporation of online learning into a course has shown that students are more motivated and engaged in a hybrid class (Burgess, 2009). Further, Burgess (2009) contended that students begin to critically think and independently construct their own knowledge when participating in online course structures. However, Noble (2003) proclaimed that there are still arguments regarding student cooperation and engagement of hybrid learning.
Hybrid learning seems to be more successful than online learning alone. This is so, because part of the course is online and allows flexibility for students who have busy work and personal lives, while the other part of the course still allows students to have the face to face instructional traditional classroom.
Remedial Reading Students
Students who do not have the basic skills in reading are placed into remedial reading courses, which often cover areas of comprehension, vocabulary development, and critical thinking (Elder & Paul, 2004). Conley (2010) defined the student who lacks basic reading skills as the “ill prepared college student.” An “ill prepared college student” will likely find other life challenges to be difficult due to inadequate reading skills. Hodara, Jaggers, and Karp (2012) stated that more than half of remedial reading students are English Language Learners (ELL’s) and that this population of students becomes discouraged in remedial courses. Further, Hodara, Jaggars, and Karp (2012) highlighted the importance of providing sufficient and meaningful content to the ELL student to further their language development and progression in remedial course work. Burgess (2009) and Hodara and Jaggars (2014) affirmed that college remedial students show higher success rates when they feel connected to college course work, as opposed to the isolation they may feel in remedial courses.
“Montana” (pseudonym) made the following statement after a semester in the first remedial reading sequence:
“I know I haven’t been in school in a while, but I felt that this course was too elementary for me, it felt like I was taking a course in how to speak English, rather than learn reading skills. I was excited to enroll in college and begin my college courses, but this remedial reading course discouraged me and I wanted to drop out.”
There are many students like “Montana” who are excited about entering college, but are deterred because they fail their placement exams and are consequently placed in remedial courses. Currently, Bronx Community College is taking action on re-developing their remedial reading courses to better meet the needs of entering college freshman.
Researchers predict that students who complete remedial reading courses will find greater success in their college academics, unlike students who did not receive remedial instruction (Burgess, 2009). Remedial courses are non -credit bearing and are prerequisites for future academic courses. For instance, students who are placed in remedial reading are unable to enroll in a credit bearing English course until they pass the reading sequence. The remedial reading student sometimes finds himself or herself repeating the course, eventually becoming discouraged and dropping out of school (Hodara & Jaggars, 2014). The second sequence of the student’s remedial reading sequence at Bronx Community College declares that the student enrolls in three days of course work for a total of six hours per week. Most courses at Bronx Community College only meet twice a week for a total of three hours; if the student is taking another course that requires a lab or is writing intensive, they may meet an extra hour per week. Requiring that the student attend six hours per week of remedial reading affects that student’s schedule for the semester. For example, the student may not be able to take other courses due to the burden of the remedial reading course and the time requirement, which does not allow room for other courses in the schedule.
“Paige” (pseudonym), who is a first year freshman at Bronx Community College, was unable to take an Art course this semester because remedial reading required that she attend three days per week and it did not fit into her schedule. Paige is a full time working mom, who is also pursuing her college degree. Paige stated the following:
“I only failed the placement exam by one point, I was so upset that I still had to take remedial reading. I can’t attend school at night because I have my children to take care of and I also work in the afternoon, so I can only come to school in the morning. I had to also take remedial math, which is also three days per week, so this semester I am only taking remedial courses. I will be in college forever and I can’t do that. I have to graduate as quick as I can, but it doesn’t look that way. I will now have to stay an extra semester or even two extra semesters to finish my degree.”
Like Paige, there are many students who are unable to take certain courses because remedial courses engulf their schedule. Taking our student’s needs into consideration, I decided to re-invent remedial reading.
Remedial Reading Goes Hybrid
In the Summer of 2015, Bronx Community College accepted instructors into an online course development program funded by the Center for Technology, Learning and Teaching. Instructors who were enrolled in the program were expected to create a hybrid course for one of the classes they would be teaching in the Fall of 2015. This course was designed to assist professors in developing and implementing either a hybrid or fully online course. Since I was only going to teach remedial reading in the Fall of 2015, I was asked to pilot the first remedial reading hybrid course. Due to the diverse level of students enrolled in remedial reading, a hybrid reading course can be challenging, and was not offered prior to my pilot.
Rivera (2013) stated that offering online remedial classes is becoming increasingly popular in moving students out of basic skills classrooms and placing them in credit bearing courses. Further, Rivera (2013) asserted that the ultimate goal is to get more students to graduate faster as hybrid learning allows students flexibility of studying on their own and to skip lectures containing content with which they are already familiar. Like Rivera (2013), Hodara and Jaggars (2014) asserted that remedial reading students become lost in the process of the remedial sequence, and offering students another option to assist them in completing their course work would be beneficial. Hybrid remedial courses have not been fully utilized in remedial education, but are expected to grow (Johnson, 2008). Reading competency and self -motivation are required for students to be successful within such learning platforms. According to Littleton (2000), remedial students have a tendency to have low self-esteem, are typically not confident and experience high anxiety. These combined factors create significant barriers to students successfully completing hybrid or online courses (Littleton, 2000). Being that remedial students were already identified as struggling learners, I designed the hybrid course with easy navigation and management tools. Students were guided through the learning management system (Blackboard) to learn its features. After two full weeks of guidance, the course was ready to become hybrid.
The remedial reading course was scheduled to meet three days a week, for two hours each session, resulting in a total of six hours per week. Instead, during the hybrid course, students met face to face in the classroom twice a week for two hours each session and once a week was designated as the hybrid time. Students were only required to attend class two times per week, as opposed to three. The online day was scheduled for a Thursday, and the class met on two other days, namely, Monday and Wednesday morning. Assignments and exams were posted on Blackboard on Tuesday evening, and students were expected to complete all work by Thursday evening. Students who did not have access to a computer had the opportunity to use the department’s computer lab or any available lab on campus. Other forms of technology used were iPads and iPhones, which most of the students owned, instead of a desktop computer. Students were expected to complete every online assignment. If a student missed such assignment, it counted as a class absence. Time management skills were needed by the students to successfully complete assignments and exams, as such work was required to be finished within a certain time period.
Students submitted the assignments electronically through the college’s online learning system, Blackboard. Assignments were multiple choice, short answers, or fill in the blanks. Notifications of new assignments were sent through email as announcements were posted on Blackboard to make students mindful that a new assignment was available. Assignments were created based on learning outcomes proposed by the department and the skills learned during the face to face classroom meeting. Miller and Husmann (1996) stressed the importance of maintaining effective instructional implementation when designing an online course. Creating assignments that were motivating and revolved around student participation was the goal.
Quality in Education Using the Hybrid Approach
Miller and Husmann (1996) affirmed that the attainment of the quality of online course instruction depended on the course implementation, active participation of the student, instructional quality, system management and administration, and culture of the learning community. Reading is a struggle for most ELL students, and careful consideration needs to be given when assignments are created in an online course. Doering (2006) stated that hybrid learning opens the pathway for all students to become active learners. More so, Doering (2006) affirmed that students become involved in their learning since they are held accountable for their outcomes in the hybrid course. The following questions arose during the hybrid remedial reading online course development: How would you determine if the student was in fact completing the work? How will assistance be provided to the student who struggles with reading? Will students participate or be driven away from the course due to lack of face to face interaction? How can reading be taught online? Each question was carefully examined and used in creation of assignments and assessments.
Pre-Survey for Hybrid Instruction
To gain a better understanding of student’ attitudes towards a hybrid course, a small focus group was developed prior to the implementation, to gain a better understanding of the various needs and concerns students may have in a hybrid course and their comfort with technology. The group was selected by the instructor based on individual needs. Table 2 gives a brief overview on the participants and their backgrounds. To create a course that better meets the needs of the students, analysis of student backgrounds, placement scores, and first language spoken were prudently examined. Table 2 illustrates student responses to the pre-survey interview. Students’ identities were concealed for examination.
Table 3 provides student responses on the post-survey interview. The students were interviewed individually to better understand each student’s needs and to optimize confidentiality.
The last chart is a final grade analysis sheet where end of the semester grade results were compared to the non-treated group. This chart further displays student achievement in the hybrid pilot course and an increase in percentage from the semester prior where hybrid learning was not implemented.
12. What grade do you think you will receive in this class
Student Background, Demographics and Pre-Course Survey Responses:
Student A: African American male student. 19 years of age. First year college freshman. English is the primary language spoken at home.
Student B: Hispanic female student. 25 years of age. Second semester in college. Mother of young child. From Puerto Rico, Spanish is the primary language spoken at home.
1. I’m not good with computers, I’m scared to use them
4. I don’t speak English good or read English good, I am afraid
5. I don’t know if I will have a computer to do the work
6. I have a little boy at home and no husband it will be easier to come to reading class only two days a week instead of three.
9. I don’t read English very good and I failed the ACT
10. Help me with my reading
11. I can’t read good in English
Student C: Hispanic Male student. 22years of age, second semester in college. From Dominican Republic and Spanish is the primary language spoken at home.
Student D: African American Female, 18 years of age, first semester at college. English is the primary language spoken.
Course Design and Methodology
A quasi-experimental design was used and data was collected from the remedial reading final examination given at the end of the semester. Students who were enrolled in remedial reading course for the Fall of 2015 semester for the hybrid pilot were told in detail how the course would work. Students who participated in the focus group were asked to complete a pre- and post-course survey. The treated group was compared to the non-treated group’s using course grade summary sheets distributed to instructors at the end of each semester. I then analyzed results to determine if the hybrid course had any effect on students’ learning using the calculated data collection. The focus group was also interviewed before and after the course to gain a better understanding of the effects hybrid learning had on students for future recommendations.
For this remedial reading course, best pedagogical practices were drawn from the ideology of constructivism, where students are critically evaluating their own learning, and building on learning experiences from a student centered model (Bailey & Card, 2009). The course was designed to enhance the students’ critical thinking skills and help them become active in their own learning. Online assessments with direct feedback were provided to allow students to individually evaluate their learning and discover where their strengths and weaknesses were in terms of reading skills. More so, students were given online projects where research was needed to organize and develop ideas. The ELL student, who may encounter difficulty with online research, was compelled to seek the assistance needed to develop these skills. Oxford (1994) asserted that ELL students were more likely to achieve success when motivated in the task. Specifically for the hybrid course, the ELL students were able to navigate through strategies that worked for them at their own pace. ELL students did not feel overwhelmed with time and were able to complete tasks at their own measures. Bailey and Card (2009) discussed the importance of accountability in learning; the hybrid remedial course was designed to shift from teacher centered to learner centered practice.
The Effect of Hybrid Learning on the Remedial Student
The question, whether hybrid learning would be beneficial to the remedial student, was the focal point of this pilot course. The initial response by instructors, who already taught remedial reading, was that it could not be done. Based on Hodara and Jaggars (2014) and Conley (2010), remedial students succeed more when accelerated throughout this process. Hybrid learning is one step to ensure that remedial students are engaged and are completing college course work in a sufficient time manner. Further, hybrid learning allows the student to work at their own pace, during the time that is best for them (Yang, 2012). ELL’s who may find it difficult to keep up with the stride of the class can complete assignments independently and at their own speed to ensure accuracy and proficiency.
Based on the post survey questionnaires and informal observations during class time, it was obvious that students became more motivated to attend class and the attendance rate increased. Students were able to take an extra credit bearing course in place of the extra day of remedial reading, which gave them confidence that they were not being kept behind because of the remedial course. The ELL students found themselves improving their vocabulary because they did not feel obligated to finish assignments at an accelerated speed. Accuracy on exams improved because the tests on Blackboard were offered multiple times to improve test taking skills and comprehension development. Part of being a college student requires efficient time management skills and accountability for individual work (Conley, 2010). This course assisted students with developing time management as they had to balance the demands of their personal schedules with the demands of completing their assignments on time. More so, because assignments had no time limit, students were held accountable for completing their work. If an assignment was incomplete, the student was unable to blame lack of time for not submitting the work. One feature on Blackboard that was beneficial to students was the grade center. This feature grants students the opportunity to self-assess their development in the course by viewing their grades online. The grade center provides students with grading history and their area of weakness. It was an accurate determination of how the student was progressing and if intervention was needed. Based on area of weaknesses and low grades on assessments, tutoring was provided for the student who was deemed as “not meeting course standards.” Immediate feedback was given to the student to better assist in reading development.
Prior to and during implementation of hybrid learning, students faced obstacles and were slightly discouraged. For a first time freshman, Blackboard is a new system and in depth training is needed to navigate through the tools and resources. I only provided students with two weeks of guided work before putting the course in complete hybrid learning. At the beginning, students who registered late or had difficulties logging onto Blackboard found themselves behind in course work and exams. Intervention was immediately provided; however, students became frustrated to continue. For future courses, it is imperative to guide students at a moderate pace and ensure that everyone is acclimated to the system prior to beginning the complete hybrid learning.
Using end of the semester grade analysis, the treated group was compared to the non-treated group using basic Excel spreadsheet calculations. Based on this data, there was a 10.4% marginal difference in course outcomes. The treated group, where hybrid learning was used, saw an increase in final averages when compared to the non-treated groups. Further, grade data was provided from the Spring of 2014 where hybrid learning was not implemented for the same instructor. Based on end of the year data analysis, there was a 3.7% marginal difference between the hybrid and non-hybrid remedial reading course. The hybrid courses seemingly produced higher end of the year results based on grade summary analysis.
Can Remedial Reading be Re-invented and What Does the Future Hold?
Research has asserted that remedial courses aid success when students are accelerated and motivated throughout these courses (Conley, 2010; Hodara & Jaggars 2014; Hodara, Jaggars & Karp, 2012). Although students in this hybrid remedial reading course were not accelerated through the program, students were seemingly motivated throughout the course. Attendance rates increased, test scores were elevated, and there were higher passing rates for the semester. Students were able to complete course work at their own convenience. Also, replacing the hybrid class time with a credit bearing course provided them with the opportunity to begin college with courses other than remedial. Doering (2006) asserted that remedial courses can in some ways hinder the student’s progression through college. Hybrid learning can become the gap between remedial reading and student proficiency (Yang, 2012). Whether or not motivation plays a major factor in determining the success of the remedial student is left for future examination. The purpose of this review was to examine if remedial reading lends itself to becoming hybrid in the future. The study was minimal due to time constraints, and further research is suggested using more student participants and close observations on the development of the Blackboard course. Further, incorporating the Blackboard grade center in the data is essential to determine the success of a hybrid remedial reading course.
This was the first semester at Bronx Community College that remedial reading went hybrid. Due to the population and the large amount of ELL’s enrolled in the course, it seemed unimaginable for students to succeed in a hybrid reading course. Based on observational, qualitative, and quantitative data, hybrid remedial reading is hopeful. There were significant setbacks that occurred at the beginning of the course, but once students were accommodated and guided, the rest of the semester flowed efficiently. If we want to re-invent remedial reading, instructors will need to understand that our students are discouraged in this course, and teaching our students to become college ready is one step in the reinvention. Hybrid learning is our future, and motivating our remedial students to complete this sequence will positively encourage matriculation.
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