Can They Work? Remedial Classes

Students in remedial courses are deemed under prepared for college. I’ve taught ENG100 7 or 8 times, and it has always been mostly made up of African-American males, maybe 75% I would guess. The Washington Post states that 1 in 4 college students end up taking at least one remedial class, and that this usually extends their graduation for a year, increasing tuition payments. And then those who take remedial classes are 74% more likely to drop out of college. Also, most remedial instructors/professors don’t get any extra training on how to best teach these students. I haven’t had any. I’ve been figuring it out as I go along, and I don’t know that I’ve found much that works.

Our remedial class meets every day, unlike other course that meet 2-3 times a week, so we see each other day in and day out. This course takes dedication. And I find that the majority of these students want to work hard. They are trying their best. Unlike the stereotypical entitled millennials that I can find in my other courses, these students often come from low income households and single parent households. They don’t have any expectations that this course will be easy or that they should get an A. Quite the opposite. They are scared. They feel uncomfortable. But they sit and take notes. I have to push them to ask questions.

They are paying attention. Their cellphones are put away. They seem to know this class is important, yet they can’t seem to absorb the information.

And I really don’t think it’s a lack of trying or motivation.

So what is it? Why don’t remedial classes work? Can they work?

Some would argue that these students must be prepared in elementary school-high school prior to college, that teaching this information isn’t the university’s responsibility. Maybe so.

Some would argue that we need to put all students in ENG101, the first college composition class, and it would be more helpful to put these students among their other peers and motivate them to rise to that level. Maybe so.

Some argue we need additional programs around remedial courses, like tutoring, one-on-one mentoring, study skills classes, etc. Maybe so. (Although we do this in our summer program and see little improvement in student learning outcomes).

I don’t know what the right or better answer is, but I know that I try my hardest, that I’ve adjusted my class again and again to fit their needs, that I stop and explain when there is a question, that I try not to leave anyone behind, that I require them to come by my office, that I spend more time on this course than any other, BUT it’s not working, for the most part. I have a few students who make it all the way to graduation, but it is a few. The vast majority leave this place. Where they go, I don’t know. What I do know is that they leave with student loans.

I want more training. I want to learn how to help them learn best. I really don’t want to accept that they are just too far behind to catch up.




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