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President’s Class Size Initiative—Composition Elizabeth Wardle Director of Writing Outreach Programs Department of writing & rhetoric University of central florida
Problems Addressed First-year composition courses were • too large (27 when the NCTE recommendation is 15); • not producing desired outcomes; • taught largely by part-time instructors (half of the 80 teachers were part time), making training and consistency difficult.
President’s Solutions • Lower all class sizes from 27 to 25; • Hire four (then six) full-time, permanent, non-tenure track Instructors; • Conduct a study comparing classes of 19 to classes of 25; • Pilot a new curriculum (Writing about writing—WAW) and provide ongoing professional development; • Double writing support through the University Writing Center.
Cost/Benefit Analysis of Replacing PT with FT Cost comparison per year: • $312,480 (including benefits) for 60 sections taught by 6 12-month, full-time, permanent Instructors ($5,208/course) • $120,000 (no benefits possible) for 60 sections taught by 20-25 part-time, temporary adjunct instructors ($2,000/course) Benefits: • Training: 6 vs 25 teachers; stable staffing allows training to build over semesters • Investment: Permanent, benefitted teachers are invested in the students and the institution • Availability: Full-time teachers are on campus more often, and more available to students, in both short and long term (office hours now, recommendations and assistance in later semesters) • Results: Student portfolios are better on multiple measures.
Initial Results of Portfolio Assessment • The WAW curriculum, in both sections of 19 and 25, showed significantly higher median scores on items related to reflection, feedback, and revision. • Findings on two items related to higher order thinking skills suggest that a teacher’s ability to help students engage more deeply in thinking about a topic is significantly aided by a smaller class size. However, the item measuring rhetorical analysis found that the new curriculum outperformed the old one, though the smaller class size performed even better. • There were no significant differences between any of the groups on formatting of works cited pages. However, there were differences between groups on both correct in-text citation and careful integration of outside sources into the students’ own text, with WAW sections of 19 outperforming both other groups.
What is the take-home point? Permanent instructors participating in professional development and teaching a rigorous, research-based curriculum are worth the monetary investment. Smaller class size has an across the board impact, but especially affects higher order thinking skills. Lower class size + rigorous curriculum + permanent, trained teachers = a good investment in student writing
Future at UCF Replace all composition adjuncts with permanent instructors over four years (18 hires) Continue class size study to gain better sense of cost/benefit when lowering class size (portfolios, retention, and grades) Create a writing-across-the-curriculum program to build on foundation laid in composition (one or two writing courses cannot serve as an inoculation)