This article proposes that the methods and philosophies informing corequisite teaching could be generalized throughout English studies to support students at all levels who are undergoing and recovering from pandemic‐related traumas. Corequisite courses, which promote equity among first‐year students, are designed with attention to trauma‐informed approaches and a focus on process‐driven writing. Instructors address noncognitive skills with students, such as time management and note‐taking, and consider the cultural relevance of their reading and writing assignments. By describing specific activities and methods used at Hostos Community College, the article considers how strategies that are central to corequisite pedagogy might be widely adopted or adapted in this moment of reorientation for English studies. Additionally, the article suggests that mission‐driven practices of community colleges serve as a model for higher education more broadly.
Back in 2015, I published an article on Daniel Defoe's historical novel A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) where I argued that his illustration of the 1665 plague's effect on London life casts into relief the disparities among social classes, which could be tracked through their movements in and out of the city. For instance, affluent Londoners fled the city on receiving news of the plague, whereas working Londoners were expected to remain and continue their usual routes between work and home despite threats of disease. What felt like an argument specific to my field of research became uncannily relevant in March–April 2020 when many affluent New Yorkers fled the city and essential workers (many of whom received low wages and little to no safety net), remained to keep the city running in multiple capacities.
In March 2020, I switched to emergency remote teaching at Hostos Community College, City University of New York (CUNY), with the knowledge that students, many of whom were deemed essential workers, would be undergoing various hardships that would make it more difficult for them to prioritize their coursework. The Bronx, where Hostos Community College is located, was identified as an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic within the larger epicenter of New York (Cha, Mulholland, and Brave NoiseCat 2020). The CUNY system as a whole suffered more deaths than any other higher education system (Valbrun 2020). With the traumatic effects of the pandemic bearing down on the local and university-wide communities and the constant distinctions being made nationwide between essential and nonessential work (with all of their economic and social connotations), I felt compelled to ask: what feels essential right now about my courses and the discipline of English more broadly?
While English courses can lead students to explore ideas and produce connections between the curriculum and their own social contexts, such as the link I found between the literary world of A Journal of the Plague Year and the lived experience of New York City residents in spring 2020, what seems crucial right now in English studies is a pedagogical approach that acknowledges trauma and treats writing as a process-driven endeavor. When we switched to emergency remote teaching, I was teaching a corequisite composition course that had met face-to-face for a total of six hours per week. Corequisite courses offer supplementary instruction so that students earn college credit while fulfilling the developmental requirement that college placement systems indicate they need. These courses are designed with the philosophy that instructors should go beyond helping students develop academic skills. They also have a responsibility to help students navigate the complex (and often confusing) systems of college, whether that means integrating such information into the curriculum or informing students about on-campus support services. During the pandemic, trauma-informed pedagogy proved especially valuable, and this experience has led me to think more about how the methods and philosophies informing corequisite teaching could be generalized throughout English studies to support students throughout all levels who are undergoing and recovering from pandemic-related traumas.
Trauma-informed pedagogy considers all the dimensions of experiences that students bring to bear in their learning (Shevrin Venet 2021; Jennings 2018). It accepts lived experience as knowledge and values the different positions from which people can contribute. Yet it also respects the privacy of students and gives students the space and agency to decide for themselves what they wish to disclose (Tayles 2020; Gutierrez and Gutierrez 2019). Cathy Davidson (2020) argues that “trauma is not an add-on. From everything we know about learning, if the trauma is not accounted for (even tacitly), and built into the course design, we fail.” In an English class, a trauma-informed approach can emphasize process-driven learning and assign material that is culturally relevant so as to allow students to process and articulate their experiences in the moment, something that Melissa Tayles (2021) explores in her treatment of trauma-informed writing pedagogy in the two-year college classroom.
Corequisite courses use trauma-informed approaches and promote equity. In corequisite courses, students are simultaneously enrolled in both a credit-bearing course and a supplementary developmental course. Based on placement scores that use multiple measures, students at Hostos who fall below the cut-off score for English proficiency are enrolled in one of the two corequisite models: a six-hour, three-credit integrated reading and writing course for those who fall within fifteen points below the cut-off score, and a zero-credit support course that is linked to a traditional three-credit composition course for those who score lower than the fifteen points below. The latter follows the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) model developed by Peter Adams and first implemented at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) (Adams et al. 2009; Adams 2020). The same instructor teaches both the traditional composition course and the supplementary support course, and students in ALP practice the skills taught in the traditional comp course in a workshop-like setting. As Adams (2021) and others discuss, corequisite models work best when they are designed as process-driven learning experiences, in which assignments are scaffolded, opportunities to revise are ample, assignments are culturally relevant and trauma informed, and “non-cogs,” such as time management, goal setting, and note-taking, for example, are embedded in the curriculum. Additionally, professional development and other collaborative efforts with both full-time and part-time faculty lead to a strengthened curriculum in which assignments are shared and co-created (Jaggars et al. 2015). Corequisite writing courses have been lauded as a “powerful equity level” in the introduction to a special issue of Composition Studies called “Corequisite Writing Classes: Equity and Access” (Shepherd, Sturman, and Estrem 2020: 9). Overall, the replacement of stand-alone zero-credit developmental courses with corequisite courses, as well as the use of multiple measures over high-stakes testing to determine placement, have been found to promote equity and access (Shepherd, Sturman, and Estrem 2020; Ratledge 2020).
The argument I want to make in my contribution to this special issue is that the elements of the course design of corequisite English courses might serve as a model for the field at large. Some of the standard features of corequisite pedagogy, such as flexibility to respond to student needs, scaffolded writing assignments, and attention to non-cogs, are now being addressed more widely due to the urgent need to rethink pedagogical choices during the ongoing pandemic. I will describe specific activities used in corequisite courses as well as professional development at my institution. I hope some of these strategies can be applicable across English course levels and programs as we consider how to reorient our field in this moment in response to the crises exacerbated and cast into relief by the global pandemic. Additionally, I want to suggest that the mission-driven practices at community colleges could serve as a model during this reorientation.
The Role and Mission of Community Colleges
Often, community colleges get excluded from broad discussions of the role of higher education in the United States (Robin 2020; Griffiths and Jensen 2019). This exclusion gets perpetuated in the field when programs training graduate students in English departments do not directly address community college teaching (Sullivan 2021; Calhoon-Dillahunt et al. 2017). Considering that 41 percent of American undergraduates currently attend a community college, this is a major oversight (AACC 2021). Since the 1947 Truman Commission created the modern community college to democratize higher education, community colleges have served as institutions of social justice (Sullivan 2021). At Hostos Community College, the mission statement ties its educational goals directly to the community where the campus is located and the lived experience of the student body. As excerpted from the mission statement, “Eugenio María de Hostos Community College was established in the South Bronx to meet the higher educational needs of people from this and similar communities who historically have been excluded from higher education” (Hostos Community College 2022). Schools like Hostos were created for the express purpose of serving minoritized populations to redress the inequities embedded in higher education. In response to the overlapping crises wrought by the pandemic, threats to democracy, and state-sanctioned racial violence, community college leaders reiterate how the work of two-year institutions can support students and communities (Padron 2021). Two-year institutions might offer a blueprint for higher education at large, especially as more schools formally address their practices with regard to diversity, equity, and inclusion on their campuses and in curricula.
At the same time, community colleges have historically relied on assessment methods and placement procedures that might appear to complicate their mission as open-access institutions. My Hostos colleague Alexandra L. Milsom (2021: 6) has written about the ways that the “phantom” known as Standard English can reproduce racist modes of assessment and create punitive educational environments for students of color (Inoue 2015). Lisa Nienkark (2021: 170) critiques the sorting mechanisms at community colleges that can divide students into “college-ready/not college-ready levels,” as do Holly Hassell and Joanne Baird Giordano (2015) in their assessment of the “blurry borders” of placement procedures at open-access institutions. In contrast, Tia McNair and colleagues (2016) propose that colleges should take steps on the curricular and institutional levels to become student ready. To my mind, corequisite courses offer a path toward achieving this call to action by helping orient students to college and by creating entry points for students to develop as writers and thinkers.
Non-cogs: Support beyond Academics
Embedded in the corequisite curriculum are a focus on culturally relevant assignments that are thoughtfully sequenced and attention to what Adams (2021) calls “non-cogs.” Noncognitive skills include planning, time management, and the knowledge of college procedures and norms. Activities can be built into the English curriculum to help students navigate college life and coursework in ways that align with the practices of close reading, analytical writing, and critical thinking. For instance, students might compile a glossary of terms that are unfamiliar to them in the course syllabus or introductory materials. Another low-stakes assignment that students can complete during the first week of class is to send the professor a brief email from their institutional address to show that they can access their email and feel comfortable with digital communication. Integrating such tasks into the curriculum signals to students that their instructors do not assume that they automatically know how to navigate the systems that are part of the college experience. Making the often-complicated procedures of college life more transparent can help retain students and increase their sense of belonging (Adams et al. 2009). It makes the classroom student ready, instead of expecting that students arrive “college ready” (McNair et al. 2016). For students dealing with the fallout from the pandemic, this kind of support shows them that their instructors care about their well-being and want them to feel a sense of belonging and a connection to the resources and systems undergirding the academic experience.
Process-Driven Writing and Inclusive Teaching
It is a best practice in composition courses, and especially in corequisite sections, to include scaffolding in course design, so that students can receive feedback as they work toward completing an assignment (Bean and Melzer 2021). Also useful is to have students complete multiple writing assignments in relation to one specific text so that they can think deeply about the material and practice writing in different genres. This exercise demonstrates to students that reading, writing, and thinking are recursive processes. Through a process-oriented reflective assignment that asks students to articulate what and how they learned during the reading and writing processes, I draw from Ellen C. Carillo's (2017) metacognitive practice of mindful reading. Metacognitive activities allow students to reflect on their learning and identify areas of interest. Stretching out a learning unit to give students multiple opportunities to write about a text also aligns with the theory behind The Slow Professor (Berg and Seeber 2016), which argues that humanists should actively resist the culture of speed that is often promoted in the academy.
Resisting rigid schedules and building a flexible course are also part of universal design for learning (UDL). As UDL theorists and practitioners tell us, all learners benefit from options and flexibility in course design (Tobin and Behling 2018; Womack 2017). An inclusive course design supports the needs of every student, not just those with documented disabilities, as Elizabeth Tomlinson and Sara Newman (2017: 92) convey when they ask instructors to consider “human bodies on a physical/mental spectra,” as opposed to a purely medical model. For students with disabilities, the burden of repeatedly negotiating the accommodations process each semester can produce what Annika Konrad (2021) calls “access fatigue” in the title of her article on the topic.
Corequisite courses at my institution were not originally designed to be taught online, but like many of my colleagues during the period of emergency remote instruction, I discovered online tools and digital pedagogies that would support my students and promote UDL. While corequisite English courses at my institution are not recommended to be taught asynchronously, embedding asynchronous online elements into a course is a good UDL practice. An online tool called Hypothesis allows for collaborative annotation of websites and PDFs. I model the process of annotation by including my own comments to demonstrate the different ways students might approach the activity, such as defining an unfamiliar term, identifying a theme, or commenting on tone. Students get invested in providing their own comments and building on the work of their classmates. For students who are balancing competing obligations and enduring many stressors, this asynchronous activity allows students to participate at a time that is convenient for them and offers a low-stakes way to enter the conversation. Digital collaborative annotation will remain part of my course design regardless of teaching modality, for I see it promoting equity and accessibility in the classroom. Many questions about modalities and methods are still up in the air as we enter new phases of the pandemic, but the primary takeaway for me has been that instructors of corequisite composition courses are especially primed to be thoughtful about adapting to students’ needs and adjusting their pedagogy to meet students where they are. The pedagogies used for corequisite composition instruction can be applied to other course levels as we consider the field of English during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Culturally Relevant Assignments
Many students at my institution, as well as at other open-access colleges, enter the corequisite classroom with expertise in a variety of areas, such as knowledge of multiple languages, experiences living in more than one country, and ideas on how to improve conditions for members of their communities. Culturally relevant assignments allow students to practice the writing skills they are learning from a position of knowledge and interest. The stance of celebrating and situating all the different sources of knowledge students bring to the classroom helps combat deficit-based thinking. Maxine T. Roberts (2021), director of Strong Start to Finish, a grantmaking organization that promotes equity in higher education, advocates for a “culturally relevant and social-justice-focused curriculum” when considering reforms to developmental education. Roberts also calls for the use of “validating practices” in the classroom to honor the intersecting positionalities and identities of students. Culturally relevant assignments are important in the corequisite curriculum, but they are also necessary across levels. Eugenia Zuroski's (2020) “Where Do You Know From?” exercise for her graduate students invites all learners to reflect on the varied knowledge communities that inform their thinking and practices. There is energy in the intellectual activity of thinking through the geographic, linguistic, and disciplinary locations that bring students to the classroom. Successful corequisite classrooms operate from this strengths-based stance, and English studies as a field can only be enriched by embracing this student-centered view.
For one of the writing assignments in my corequisite English class, I ask students to craft original statements or declarations, which invites them to communicate something about their personal, professional, or social commitments while refining their writerly voice. Part of the inspiration for this particular assignment, which asks students to submit an original statement along with a separate document describing their rhetorical choices, came from the abundance of statements from a variety of institutions and corporations in the wake of George Floyd's murder on 25 May 2020. While some statements were affirming and action oriented, others contained mere bromides without any call to action or clear position. As English faculty, we are in a position to help students develop rhetorical awareness of subjects about which they feel deeply, and this is part of culturally responsive teaching (Gay 2010). To center student voices, I selected an example of an effective statement from the Hostos Student Government Association (Agbaje and Pineda 2020) regarding “racial injustice amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic across the nation and New York City.” Specific appeals to CUNY, to Hostos faculty and administration, and to fellow students offered concrete steps toward demonstrating a commitment to racial justice. It was empowering for students to study a document composed by their peers that they could use for inspiration to complete their own responses.
Instructors of corequisite compositions are encouraged to create culturally relevant assignments that allow for flexibility and creativity. There should be opportunities to experiment throughout the writing process and respond to the interests that students communicate as they process readings and work with one another. I have found that students appreciate experimenting with format when crafting their original statements or declarations, sometimes writing them in verse or using an acrostic format. Formal experimentation, or the “unessay” (Denial 2019), seems especially useful during times of crisis. Ricia Anne Chansky (2019: 20) uses the term disaster pedagogy to describe a reflective narrative project she assigned after Hurricane Maria that helped students “reenvision themselves as citizens (and humans) after disaster and its partnering trauma.” Douglas Dowland (2019: 549) encourages exploring an “alternative pedagogy” that centers the anxiety that is already pervasive in society to foster an “emotionally aware interpretive community.” My writing assignment invites in the anxiety that students are already feeling and, hopefully, gives them some sense of agency in channeling these emotions through their writing. Of course, I convey in the language of the prompt that students should not feel obligated to discuss traumatic events that they wish not to explore. They are not being graded on the content of their examples but rather on the way they write about them. Rubrics are tied to specific composition skills, not the content of what they write. Some students use the writing opportunity as a form of professional development by writing a personal statement that could be used in transfer or graduate school applications. The assignment allows students to apply the writing skills they learned in my course to create something that might have broader use and significance beyond the course and the semester.
Assignments that include a creative element along with an analytical piece of writing allow for formal experimentation and might even encourage multilingual writers to combine English with other languages in their writing (Lovejoy, Fox, and Wills 2009). An effective practice, as well as a tenet of universal design for learning, is to allow for multiple methods of communication. Students can benefit by writing in multiple genres over the course of the semester, and they can benefit from multimedia texts like podcasts. Jacob Greene (2018: 139) writes about the effectiveness of using podcasts to teach expository writing techniques, calling the digital form an “emerging genre ecology encompassing a range of topics, styles, and formats.” Multilingual students in corequisite classes have shared that it is especially beneficial to listen to content while they read the transcript so that they can practice their English pronunciation. Doing so also gives students experience with a form that has become mainstream in academic and professional settings. National Public Radio has some podcast series that students find relevant and enjoyable, such as Code Switch (2016–present) and Latino USA (2014–present). Students appreciate that the material is relevant to their contemporary moment and allows them to process and respond to issues they care about, such as structural racism, xenophobia, and voting rights. Regardless of the course level, content area, or period in which instructors are teaching, many might find it useful to integrate podcasts or other multimedia sources into the curriculum for all the reasons explored in this section.
Culture of Collaboration
A culture of collaboration among full-time and part-time faculty teaching corequisites is important, and it has been especially so during the pandemic when professional life has felt more isolating. Shanna Smith Jaggars and colleagues (2015: 22) recommend “a durable and collaborative faculty professional development infrastructure” to “increase rigor while attending to students’ affective needs” in corequisite classes. At my institution, we organize professional development events where faculty can share resources and strategies. Whenever possible, stipends are provided for participation, especially for adjunct instructors. One initiative during my time as corequisite course coordinator (2020–22) was to order a set of common texts that full-time and part-time faculty could access and discuss in order to ground our teaching and learning during this time of flux and reflection. The books under study include James Lang's Small Teaching (2016), Kevin M. Gannon's Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto (2020), and Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education by Thomas J. Tobin and Kirsten T. Behling (2018). These recent publications were selected because they focus on small changes instructors can make to their courses to support student learning, promote universal design for learning, and frame our ethical and intellectual commitments as educators and colleagues. Departments that can offer professional development opportunities across levels or ground their discussions by reading a common text in whatever part of the field they find themselves might find renewed purpose or discover new directions for teaching and learning in this moment of crossroads.
When I first wrote this essay, the delta variant was threatening the United States. As I revise the piece, more contagious subvariants of the omicron variant continue to cause infections, reinfections, and hospitalizations in New York City, where I am located. The virus is not contained, yet most public activities have resumed, often without any policies requiring masks or proof of vaccination. The cognitive dissonance can be frustrating, and the shifting guidelines make our academic and personal lives feel precarious and uncertain. The Project for Mental Health and Optimal Development at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education (Nakkula and Danilchick 2020: 6) advises educators to cultivate an “uncertainty mindset” in which they learn to accept the unknown in order to adapt to changing conditions. This is not meant to be a state of indifference but rather of “intentional inquiry.” While understandably this stance can be frustrating to adopt, I suggest that our courses in the field of English, and especially corequisite courses, already tend to promote a kind of openness to the process of change through constant inquiry and revision. Of course, I do not mean to conflate the lived experience of trauma and uncertainty with theoretical ideas of process-driven learning. Rather, I am proposing that the pedagogical stances that can be found throughout our field can support students and sustain our colleagues during a time when uncertainty and trauma are especially prevalent.
The design of corequisite courses and their goal of promoting equity and access serve as a model for inclusive pedagogy across the discipline. The specific skills taught in our discipline, such as close reading, rhetorical reading and writing, and the study of narratives in specific literary contexts, might help students process their own cultural moment as they develop their own writerly voice. Finally, as I have demonstrated, the missions of community colleges might serve as a blueprint for higher education during a moment when gaps in equity and access are being acknowledged across institutions and education levels. Just as corequisite courses have helped reform the landscape of developmental education, the pedagogies informing corequisite education might be a step toward reforming—or at least reframing—English studies at large to be adaptive to student needs and attuned to the traumas that students across levels may present, due to the pandemic and other ills of our contemporary moment.
I wish to thank my colleagues in the English Department at Hostos for sharing their expertise in corequisite pedagogy with me, especially Andrea Fabrizio, Heidi Bollinger, Jason Buchanan, and Ann Genzale. I am also grateful to my CUNY colleague, Mira M. Zaman, for providing feedback on this article. Thank you as well to the peer reviewers and Pedagogy editorial team.