Promising Practices in Developmental Education: The TX DEPCO Monograph


Funded by the Higher Education Coordinating Board and under the management of The Education Institute at Texas State University, the Texas Developmental Education Professional Community Online (TX DEPCO) is proud to release to the public Promising Practices in Developmental Education.

This scholarly monograph is a selection from the TX DEPCO featured practitioners, who expanded their promising practices in terms of content and scholarly rigor for peer review. The printed version of Promising Practices debuted at CASP 2017 in Galveston this past October, but the archived version is available for free from the TEI website or here for immediate download: Promising Practices_TX DEPCO Monograph_2017.

Thank you again for all of the authors and readers involved in the TX DEPCO’s publishing cycle.




The Many Legacies of Dr. Claire Ellen Weinstein, Part 2 Tribute: Strategic Learning Assessment


Dr. Claire Ellen Weinstein

“If you see a student who finds it as hard as iron to study, it is because his studies are without system.” ~ Talmud, Ta’anit

In Part 1 of our tribute to Dr. Claire Ellen Weinstein, we discussed her pioneering work on learning frameworks courses (Hodges & Acee, 2017). In Part 2, we examine Weinstein’s contributions to the development of strategic learning assessments.

Weinstein, senior author of the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI), assesses students’ use of learning strategies related to developing knowledge and skills, generating and sustaining motivation, and intentionally self-regulating thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to reach learning goals. Weinstein’s groundbreaking dissertation research on cognitive learning strategies (Weinstein, 1975), and her subsequent work with the U.S. Army and Department of Defense (Weinstein, 1978), helped to show that students’ could be taught to intentionally use learning strategies, and that learning strategies instruction could help students to create more meaningful and retrievable memories about the information they are trying to learn. This line of research led to the development of Weinstein’s Model of Strategic Learning (MSL; see Weinstein & Acee, 2013), which serves as the theoretical foundation of the LASSI.

The MSL highlights many of the factors that research has shown to be causally related to students’ academic success and amendable to change through educational intervention. The MSL organizes these factors under three major components: skill (knowing what to do and how to do it), will (wanting to do it), and self-regulation (actively monitoring and managing the learning process). The MSL emphasizes that students can intentionally use learning strategies related to their skill, will, and self-regulation to increase their chances of success in college and other postsecondary settings. The MSL also includes a fourth component, the academic environment. Although the academic environment is typically not under students’ direct control, it is important for them to develop knowledge about the academic environment (e.g., learning about available resources on campus and their teachers’ expectations) so they can be more strategic.

The LASSI measures students’ use of learning strategies related to their skill, will, and self-regulation, and it is intended for use with students in postsecondary educational and training environments (although other versions of the LASSI have been developed for use with students in high school and online learning environments). The LASSI is widely used across the United States and around the globe by over 3,000 institutions and is published in over 30 languages. The LASSI 3rd Edition has 10 scales and 60 items, 6 items per scale (Weinstein, Acee, & Palmer, 2016a). The LASSI scales include the following: Anxiety, Attitude, Concentration, Information Processing, Motivation, Selecting Main Ideas, Self-Testing, Test Strategies, Time Management, and Using Academic Resources (see Appendix for scale descriptions and example items). The LASSI 3rd Edition Manual (Weinstein, Palmer, & Acee, 2016b) provides information about the extensive development work that helped to establish the reliability and validity of the LASSI, and the procedures used to construct national norms.

Weinstein published the first edition of the LASSI in 1987 to help address increasing enrollments of students in postsecondary educational settings who were underprepared or at-risk of low performance. At that time, there were no strategic learning assessments that measured cognitive, metacognitive, motivation, and affective learning strategies. Weinstein needed such a measurement tool in order to provide students with feedback about their use of learning strategies and to measure their growth over time in response to strategic learning interventions, such as learning frameworks courses. Accordingly, the LASSI can be used to provide informative feedback to students, practitioners, and researchers about (a) students’ baseline status as a strategic learner, (b) which areas related to strategic learning to address in instruction for individual students and the class, or cohort, as a whole, (c) how students’ use of learning strategies changes over time, and (d) the effectiveness of interventions for students.

Dr. Claire Ellen Weinstein’s significant contributions to learning strategies research, learning frameworks courses, and strategic learning assessments helped to shape research, policy, and practice in many disciplines, but especially in postsecondary developmental education and learning assistance. Her lasting legacy of student-centered support lives on through the work of her students and colleagues.


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Taylor Acee, Ph.D.

Dr. Taylor W. Acee is Associate Professor in the Graduate Program in Developmental Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas State University. He earned his Ph.D. and M.A. in educational psychology at The University of Texas and his B.S. in psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. His program of research is focused on cognitive, metacognitive, motivational, and affective factors that contribute to and detract from student success in postsecondary education. In his research, Dr. Acee targets variables that are causative, account for a meaningful amount of the variation in student success, and are amendable to change through educational intervention. He is internationally known for his collaborative work on personal relevance interventions, academic boredom, and strategic learning assessments and interventions. His research activities have resulted in over 30 refereed publications, 5 funded research grants totaling over $800,000, and various other scholarly activities.


Russ Hodges, Ed.D.

Dr. Russ Hodges is Associate Professor in the Graduate Program in Developmental Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas State University. He earned his Ed.D. in developmental education from Grambling State University and his M.Ed. from University of Louisiana in Monroe. Dr. Hodges’ research focuses on postsecondary student success, postsecondary student success courses, interventions for students diagnosed with AD/HD, and demographic changes in higher education. The learning framework model that he co-developed serves as a curriculum model for many postsecondary learning framework courses throughout Texas and the nation. Dr. Hodges has held state and national leadership positions including president of the College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA) and chair of the Council of Learning Assistance and Developmental Education Associations (CLADEA). He is an active scholar, having published three books, many journal articles, book chapters, and conference papers along with four research grants totaling just over 1 million dollars. He is also a frequent invited speaker for conferences for postsecondary faculty and staff development.  Dr. Hodges has received many awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the College Academic Support Programs conference, and outstanding service awards from both CRLA and the National Association for Developmental Education (NADE).  In 2009, Dr. Hodges was named National Fellow for CLADEA—his field’s most prestigious honor. 


Hodges, R. & Acee, T. W. (2017, April 26). The many legacies of Dr. Claire Ellen Weinstein, part 1 tribute: Learning frameworks courses [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Weinstein, C. E. (1975). Learning of elaboration strategies (Unpublished doctoral dissertation) University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.

Weinstein, C. E. (1978). Elaboration skills as a learning strategy. In H. F. O’Neil, Jr. (Ed.), Learning strategies (pp. 31-55). New York, NY: Academic Press.

Weinstein, C. E. & Acee, T. W. (2013). Helping college students become more strategic and self-regulated learners. In H. Bembenutty, T. J. Cleary, & A. Kitsantas (Eds.), Applications of self-regulated learning across diverse disciplines: A tribute to Barry J. Zimmerman (pp. 197-236). Charlotte, NC: Information Age.

Weinstein, C. E., Palmer, D. R., & Acee, T. W. (2016a). Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (3rd ed.). Clearwater, FL: H&H.

Weinstein, C. E., Palmer, D. R., & Acee, T. W. (2016b). LASSI User’s Manual: Learning and Study Strategies Third Edition. Clearwater, FL: H&H.


LASSI 3rd Edition Scale Descriptions and Example Items

LASSI Scale Description of Scale Example Item
Anxiety Worry and nervousness about school and academic performance. “I feel very panicky when I take an important test.”
Attitude Attitudes and interest in college and succeeding academically. “I only study the subjects I like.”
Concentration Ability to direct and maintain attention on academic tasks. “My mind wanders a lot when I study.”


Use of rehearsal, elaboration, and organizational strategies to learn new information. “I try to find relationships between what I am learning and what I already know.”
Motivation Self-discipline and willingness to exert effort and persist in college. “When work is difficult I either give up or study only the easy parts.”
Selecting Main


Skill at identifying important information for further study. “I have difficulty identifying the important points in my reading.”
Self-Testing Use of reviewing and comprehension monitoring techniques to assess understanding. “I stop periodically while reading and mentally go over or review what was said.”
Test Strategies Use of strategies to prepare for and take examinations. “I have difficulty adapting my studying to different types of courses.”


Use of time management principles for academic tasks. “I find it hard to stick to a study schedule.”
Using Academic Resources Strategic use of academic resources commonly available at postsecondary institutions. “I am not comfortable asking for help from instructors in my courses.”

Note. The scale descriptions were adapted from Weinstein, Palmer, & Acee (2016b), with permission.


Analyzing Students’ Errors in Solving Fractions in Developmental Mathematics Courses


Jonah Mutua

Jonah Mutua is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Developmental Education program at Texas State University with a specialization in developmental math.  He earned his M.S. from the University of Texas at Dallas and taught mathematics for Dallas Community Colleges (2011-2012) and Huston-Tillotson University in Austin (2012-present). His research interests involve finding better and practical ways to teach fractions and quadratic equations to college algebra students.


Students enrolled in developmental mathematic courses experience various challenges in learning mathematics in general, and, in particular, they struggle in solving fractions problems.  The American National Mathematics Advisory report (2008) states that “difficulty with the learning of fractions is pervasive and is a major obstacle to further progress in mathematics and other domains dependent on mathematics, including algebra” (p. 28).

Seigler and Pyke (2012) state that some of the properties of positive whole numbers arithmetic operations–which are taught before fractions are introduced to students–are not transferable in solving fraction problems, which is a major source of confusion among students. For example, positive whole numbers never increase with division, never decrease with multiplication, and they have unique successors.  None of these properties are applicable when solving fraction problems. Students often find it difficult to learn and apply new properties required to handle fractions.  Instead, they apply positive whole number properties in dealing with fractions and vice versa (Ni & Zhuo, 2005; Vamvakoussi & Vosniadou, 2010).

Another hurdle witnessed among children and adults as they struggle to master fraction concepts and procedures is the realization that the numerator and denominator should be handled together as a single unit and not as two separate and unrelated whole numbers. A study found that “students process the natural number parts of the fractions separately” (Kallai & Tzelgov, 2012).  For example, when students solve this problem  2/3 + 4/5 , they often add 2+4=6 and 3+5=8, and they obtain 6/8 (which is wrong) as their final answer. According to Siegler & Lortie-Forgues (2015), there is a positive and significant relation between students’ ability to accurately place a fraction or decimal on the number line and their general arithmetic ability.

Theoretical Framework

Procedural and conceptual knowledge theories guided this study. According to Lin (2010), procedural knowledge can be defined as the necessary steps required to solve problems. The use of procedures helps students to solve fractions without necessarily understanding the concepts behind the procedures. Siegler & Lortie-Forgues (2015) found that procedures are easy to memorize and apply, but they are not as flexible as conceptual understanding.

Fazioand, Lisa & Siegler (2011) defined conceptual knowledge as knowing why–showing understanding and the ability to sequentially explain why rules or procedures applied in solving fractions result to correct solutions.  Conceptual knowledge can be generalized to a class of problems and is not tied to a specific problem, (Fazioand, Lisa, & Siegler, 2011).

Research Questions

  1. What are the common errors committed by developmental mathematics students when solving fractions?
  2. Which fractions concepts do developmental mathematics students struggling with the most?

Importance of the study

Learning fractions has remained a challenging domain for students in developmental mathematics. This study seek to identify specific area in which students struggle while solving fractions. The study findings can be used to inform lesson planning so that “problematic” can be allotted more emphasis in terms of time and resources.

Research Method

Participant and Procedures

Three students were identified for this study based on the averages of their pretest and examination one scores, willingness to participate in the study and their availability. Benson is struggling with the basics of solving fractions. His pretest score was below 50%. Mary is an average student compared with students Benson and Loice. Her pretest score was between 50-60 %. Loice is the best of the three students in the study. His pretest score was 65-75 %. Each student solve three problems. All students in the study are freshmen, and they had never enrolled in this course before. This requirement was necessary to ensure a fair comparison among students at the end of the study.

 Research Findings

QUESTION 1: Which is greater: 5/12 or 9/16?

Benson: He converted both fractions into decimal and then compared the two before choosing is final answer. Benson was able to solve this problem and explain his solution logically.

Photograph 1

Mary: She compared 5 with 9; 9 was greater, then she compared 12 with 16; 16 was greater.  Therefore,  9/16 was greater than. Mary got the correct answer, but her explanation was wrong.

Photograph 2_group1

Loice: She cited her previous instructor: “fractions are the reverse, the bigger the denominator, the smaller the fraction.” She compared 12 with 16 and decided that 5/12 was greater than 9/16 because 12 is smaller than 16. Loice’s answer was wrong.

Photograph 3_group1

QUESTION 2: Solve x+ 1/6 = 5/8.

Benson: He isolated x by subtracting on both fractions. Benson converted the fractions on the right side into decimal numbers, and then he subtracted 0.167 from 0.625 to get his answer (0.458). Benson struggled in converting his final answer (0.458) into a fraction, but he did great work.


Mary: She isolated x by subtracting on both fractions. Mary calculated the Least Common Multiple (LCM) of 6 and 8, then performed the subtraction on the fractions. Why find LCM? We find the LCM because I thought we needed to have it, but I don’t know why.”

Photograph 2_group1

Loice: She isolated x by subtracting 1/6 on both fractions. Mary calculated the Least Common Multiple (LCM) of 6 and 8, then performed the subtraction on the fractions. Why find LCM? “We find LCM because you can’t solve a problem without the denominators being the same. It’s like comparing apples to apples.”


QUESTION 3: Divide 5-1/8 by 2-1/6 , write your answer as a mixed number.

Benson: He was not able to proceed beyond changing the mixed fractions into improper fractions. “I have to stop because I do not know. I have forgotten how to divide mixed numbers.”


Mary: She converted the mixed fractions into improper fractions she verbalized this acronym “keep change flip, (KCF),” which meant keeping the first fraction unchanged, change the division sign to multiplication, and find the reciprocal of the second fraction. Why do we find the reciprocal of the right side fraction? “I do the KCF because it’s what I was taught; it’s the rule when you divide fractions.”


Loice: She identified fractions which were divisible by a common factor.  Loice simplified the fractions and she obtained her answer. She used fewer steps.Why do we find the reciprocal of the right side fraction? “I’m not sure why we get the reciprocal because I’ve just always done it this way.”


Conclusions & Discussion

This study found that participants were struggling with both the procedural methods and conceptual understanding of solving fractions.  Participants committed errors in multiplying and simplifying fractions. This study found that students’ procedural skills in solving fractions were better than their conceptual skills.  Participants fared relatively well in addition and subtraction of fractions problems, but experienced challenges in dividing and comparing the magnitudes of two or more fractions.  Participants who were not proficient with fraction concepts were unable to solve problems when they could not recall the associated acronym or rules.  For example, students who could not recall how to find the least common multiple (LCM) of two fractions failed to answer question one. Division of fractions posed a major challenge to almost all participants. Although students tried to apply division of whole numbers rules to solve division of fractions, problems most of the rules were not applicable. The use of acronyms helped some students while others could not go beyond the first step. For example, students knew they were supposed to find the reciprocal of one of the fractions when dividing two fractions, but they were not certain whether to find the reciprocal of the left or right side fraction. There was a strong relationship between students’ abilities in explaining the necessary steps required in solving a problem and obtaining the correct answer.


Bettinger, E., & Long, B. T. (2005). Remediation at the community college: Student participation and outcomes. New Directions for Community Colleges, 129, 17-26.

Fazioand, Lisa & Siegler. (2011). Teaching fractions.  The International Academy of Education.

Ni, Y., & Zhou, Y.-D. (2005). Teaching and learning fraction and rational numbers: the origins and implications of whole number bias. Educational Psychologist, 40(1), 27e52.

Kallai, A. Y., & Tzelgov, J. (2012). When meaningful components interrupt the processing of the whole: the case of fractions. Acta Psychologica, 139(2012), 358e369.

Lin, C. (2010). Web-based instruction on preservice teachers’ knowledge of fraction operations. School Science and Mathematics, 110(2), 59-70.

Vamvakoussi, X., & Vosniadou, S. (2010). How many decimals are there between two fractions? Aspects of secondary school students’ understanding of rational numbers and their notation. Cognition and Instruction, 28(2), 181e209. http://

Siegler, R. S., & Lortie-Forgues, H. (2015). Conceptual knowledge of fraction arithmetic. Journal of Educational Psychology.

Siegler, R. S., & Pyke, A. A. (2012). Developmental and Individual Differences in Understanding of Fractions. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031200.


Implementing Contextualization Into the IRW Classroom: Making IRW “Worth It”


Jessica Slentz Reynolds

Jessica Slentz Reynolds is a third-year doctoral student in developmental education with a focus on developmental literacy at Texas State University. She earned a M.A. in English from Texas A&M University—Corpus Christi, where she also taught Composition and Developmental Writing as an adjunct instructor.  She has been a Writing Consultant for the CASA Writing Center since 2011 and continues to tutor students online. Her research interests involve postsecondary literacies, integrated reading and writing, diversity in developmental education classrooms, and writing centers.

Last fall, I was inspired by The Education Institute’s (TEI) Self-Change Power Project to integrate contextualization into my Integrated Reading and Writing (IRW) course. Contextualization, in short, is the teaching of basic skills within a disciplinary topic (Perin, 2011). According to Perin (2011), contextualization can increase students’ intrinsic motivation and level of engagement in the classroom because it allows the subject to be deemed useful and interesting to learners. After reading Perin, I was reminded of the seminal work on IRW by Bartholomae and Petrosky (1986) where they argued that IRW courses should not be a study skills course consisting of workbooks and diagramming sentences, but IRW should help students acquire the necessary literacies to be successful in both academic and workplace discourses.

After making the connection between Perin’s (2011) work on contextualization and Bartholomae and Petrosky’s (1986) theory on IRW, I decided to modify the Self-Change Power Project to help students achieve the learning objectives for the expository unit of the semester: the Discourse Community Analysis (DCA). It is common for IRW instructors to assign an expository unit centered around the students’ future careers; however, I like to provide an opportunity for students to familiarize themselves with their future careers in a way that transcends a basic description of their potential professions. Since IRW is a reading and writing course, I use the expository unit to help students understand the various literacies in their chosen fields of study. The students complete a 6-week DCA project, where they not only research the many facets of communication within their potential careers, but they also observe and participate within these communities. The students must present—through either traditional essay format or by a formal presentation to the class—the goals, types of communication, language, membership, and the significance of literacy within their selected communities (Wardle & Downs, 2011).

These questions guided the expository unit to make IRW “worth it:”

  • Does assigning a DCA on students’ future careers lead to students having a stronger understanding of academic and workplace literacies?
  • Does implementing a comprehensive project that focuses on students’ individual goals increase motivation for students to complete the IRW course?
  • Could an alternative version of the Self-Change Power Project accomplish these goals?

The following is a brief timeline of activities leading up to the final product for the DCA project. These components are a direct reflection of the Self-Change Power Project guidelines.

  • Students brainstorm and research types of communication, language, behaviors, and various literacies of their future careers.
  • Students decide what types of communication, language, behaviors, and various literacies of their future careers they want to observe, participate in, and monitor for 4-5 weeks.
  • Students participate in their selected communities and keep a journal about their experiences. They are prompted to write about what they observed, how they participated within the community, and how literacy is an integral aspect of their community.
  • In the last week of the unit, students showcase through writing, class discussion, and photographic evidence their processes and experiences participating in their chosen discourse communities.
  • Students submit their completed DCA project for a grade via essay or in-class presentation.

This DCA project aligns with what Goen and Gillotte-Tropp (2003) referred to as the six principles of an IRW program: integration, time, development, academic membership, sophistication, and purposeful communication. Based on feedback from two IRW sections, I received an overwhelming amount of positive responses from students who completed this project. Students stated that the project helped them decide if their selected major was the right path for them; the act of observing, understanding, and researching their communities forced students to use a variety of skills and resources they had not yet used in college; and, finally, students reported that it made them see the benefits to taking an IRW course.


Bartholomae, D., & Petrosky, A.R. (1986). Facts, artifacts and counterfacts: Theory and method for a reading and writing course. Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton/Cook.

Goen, S., & Gillotte-Tropp, H. (2003). Integrating reading and writing: A response to the basic writing “crisis”. Journal of Basic Writing, (22)2, 90-113.

Perin, D. (2011). Facilitating student learning through contextualization: A review of evidence.  Community College Review, 39(3), 268-295. doi: 10.1177/0091552111416227

The Education Institute. (2016). The Education Institute. Retrieved from

Wardle, E., & Downs, D. (2011). Writing about writing. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.






Mastery Learning: Policies and Procedures that Help it Work


Denise Lujan

Currently the Director of Developmental Math at the University of Texas at El Paso, she has worked for UTEP for 15 years and has been the director for Developmental Math for 10 years.

Denise received her Bachelor’s from West Texas A&M University in Math in 1988 and her Master’s in Educational Leadership in 2008 with a focus on Developmental Education.  She has been very involved in TADE (Texas Association of Developmental Education) and was a board member from 2008 to 2014.  She is a member of NADE, (National Association of Developmental Education), was the Co-Chair for the NADE 2014 national conference held in Dallas, and Served as the NADE Board Secretary from 2014 to 2016.  She is currently a member of the Emeritus NADE Board.  She is a member of Texas College Reading and Learning Association and was honored with the award for Developmental Educator of the year in 2016. 

She has presented at local, state, and national conferences, including the National Math Summit held at NADE 2016 in Anaheim.  She has presented at many different colleges and universities around the country on the use of ALEKS and developing summer bridge programs, Non-Course Based Options, and successful implementation of individualized programs.  In 2014, The University of Texas at El Paso Developmental Math department won the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Star Award for contribution to the state’s Closing the Gap Plan.

All students at the University of Texas at El Paso advised to take developmental mathematics receive course work that is based on the results of their initial skills assessment, and that is tailored to their individual learning needs and preferences. The Developmental Math Department uses the ALEKS® system, which applies adaptive assessment and principles of mastery learning, for assessment and teaching (McGraw Hill Companies, 2016). The system determines quickly and precisely what students know and what they need to learn. Then an individualized learning path with embedded mastery-level criterion is devised for the student. So students entering with developmental math needs are diagnostically assessed and given a unique starting point for skills development. Because of this individualized path for learning, the department has implemented procedures that help students proceed through their coursework. It is these procedures listed below that are critical to getting UTEP students through their individualized paths.

Clearly Defined Benchmarks and Attendance Policy

  • Benchmarks are given to the student at the beginning of the semester for both hour and topic goals on ALEKS. Students must meet one of these to remain on target. Benchmarks occur every week and are tracked closely by faculty. If a students miss a benchmark in both hour and topic for two weeks in a row, they are dropped from the class.
  • Attendance is required. Students are only allowed to miss two weeks’ worth of class before being dropped. We do, however, offer a “make-up” policy. If students miss class, they can attend at another agreed upon time.
  • Flexible Proctored Finals: A proctored final exam is scheduled for any student who reaches 90% of their topics.
  • Coaching and Mentoring: Instructors coach and mentor students, thereby providing discussion points concerning course progress, university goals, and time management.
  • Special Program Students: At the beginning of every semester, department faculty identify students who are a part of a unique program at UTEP, such as International Students, Athletes, Veterans, and others. We work with the program coordinators by keeping them abreast of the student’s progress.
  • Aleks Student Notebook, ASNB: The Developmental Math faculty created and published an Aleks Student Notebook. This notebook provides structure for note-taking and can be utilized by the student on the final exam.
  • Collaboration with Other Departments: The Developmental Math department has worked with the Provost’s, Registrar’s, Testing and Advising offices to implement programs that are outside of the norm in terms of part-of-term, grading, recruiting, registration, etc. By using the expertise of these departments, we are able to help students move forward in their course.

Mastery Based Instruction has benefited UTEP students in two important ways. First, by allowing students the time needed on content to master it and, second, because the individual nature allows the department to implement programs that help students move through their coursework. One example of this is the UTEP Extender Program. The Extender Program is a two-week program after the semester is over that allows students who meet strict requirements the ability to complete their coursework. The program has been in operation for five years and has helped over 850 students move on to their next math course. This could not have been done had it not been for the Mastery Based Instruction and individual paths.

Using Tableau Theatre in the Integrated Reading and Writing Classroom

PIC of Both Tami and Kristie

Tamara Harper Shetron and Kristie O’Donnell Lussier

Tamara Harper Shetron is a fourth year doctoral student in developmental education with a focus on literacy, learning supports, and postsecondary education for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She has a back ground in music and theatre, and brings an interdisciplinary approach to her teaching and research.

Kristie is in her fourth and final year of doctoral study at Texas State. Her teaching and research focus on integrated reading and writing, educational experiences of linguistically diverse students, and sociocultural aspects of teaching and learning. Kristie loves to travel and plans to see every continent someday. 

This article describes the process and results of a research experiment using tableau theatre with an integrated reading and writing class in the Spring of 2016.  Tableau is an instructional technique in which  students physically recreate ‘frozen statues’ of a literary event from their reading.  Our research goal was to find out if this contextualized learning experience would enhance motivation, engagement, and learning through the use of total body engagement (Asher, 1969), which stimulates brain activity, a prerequisite for learning (Hinton, Fischer, & Glennon, 2012; Rinne, Gregory, Yarmonlinskaya, & Hardiman, 2011; Toshalis & Nakkula, 2012), and currently one of the top needs in the Developmental Education (DE) classroom (Saxon, Martirosyan, Wentworth, & Boylan, 2015).

First, we introduced the tableau concept using a scene we thought students would be familiar with, a job interview.  Next, having established the conceptual dynamics and reflective learning postures, the IRW students then transitioned to using tableau techniques with scenes from their reading, “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.  We distributed copies of the story with the final paragraphs removed and taped under each student’s desk with the name of a different character from the story assigned to each.  Students were instructed to finish reading the story from the perspective of that character.  Next, using these randomly assigned characters, we created tableaus of the final dramatic stoning scene.  We created additional replications of the scene rotating through character assignments obtained through a mock lottery similar to that in the story.  Having grown accustomed to the task through the initial activity, students became highly engaged, and offered very little resistance to the activity.

The final portion of the experiment was to analyze student’s written responses to the activity.  Overall, student responses demonstrated a deep understanding of the story and an ability to understand the multiple perspectives of characters.  Two students responses in particular showed a depth of personal  engagement with the text far above what we had expected.  They were inventive, creative, and while remaining true to the original story, wove in themes of agency, democratic decision making and power redistribution, and even Christ/substitutionary death.

“Tessie Hutchinson was stoned to death, or so they thought,” “She laid there so life-less…she gained strength and limped away to safety..she has been working out to get stronger and faster,” “ Tessie planned to hurt everyone who was apart [sic] of her stoning,” “She was like a [sic] invincible woman.”

In a second student’s rendition, the town votes to end the lottery, but in an unexpected shift, votes to hold one last lottery, immortalizing Tessie as the final ‘winner.’  This highly descriptive emotional roller coaster ride is then given an unexpected twist when Tessie’s husband offers to die in her place.  This student showed in-depth engagement with the story and its characters, and also added philosophical thoughts about the lottery “For every rock, no matter the shape or size that hits their loved one, a fraction of his or her soul leaves their body.”

This sample of our research demonstrates that, indeed, tableau theatre can be a very engaging and motivating instructional technique for an Integrated Reading and Writing class.


Asher, J. J. (1969). The Total Physical Response Approach to Second Language Learning*. The modern language journal, 53(1), 3-17.

Hinton, C., Fischer, K.W., & Glennon, C. (2012). Mind, brain, and education. Teaching and learning in the era of the common core: An introduction to the project and the nine research papers in the Students at the Center series. Retrieved from

Rinne, L., Gregory, E., Yarmonlinskaya, J., & Hardiman, M. (2011). Why arts integration improves long-term retention of content.  Mind, Brain, and Education, 5(2), 89-96.

Saxon, D.P., Martirosyan, N.M., Wentworth, R.A., & Boylan, H.R. (2015).  NADE members respond: Developmental education research agenda: Survey of field professionals, part 2. Journal of Developmental Education, 38(3), 32-34.

Toshalis, E. & Nakkula, M.J. (2012). Motivation, engagement, and student voice. Teaching and learning in the ear of the common core: An introduction to the project and the nine research papers in the Students at the Center series.  Retrieved from

Grading as Pedagogical Act: Three Methods for Assessing Writing That Work


lisa at gc

Lisa Hoeffner, Ph.D.

Lisa Hoeffner earned a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis in rhetoric from the University of Houston. She teaches English and Integrated Reading and Writing at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas. She is the author of two developmental education textbooks, Common Places: Integrated Reading and Writing (McGraw-Hill, 2015) and Common Ground (McGraw-Hill, forthcoming) and speaks nationally on issues related to developmental education reform.

Anyone who has taught writing knows the dread that attends grading a stack of essays. Research suggests that grading can be a pedagogical act—an act that teaches students how to improve their writing—if practitioners take care to use effective assessment methods. Three methods are particularly commendable.

 1. Start the course with assessment. Starting with a focus on assessment helps students internalize writing standards and use them as benchmarks for their own writing (Defeyter & McPartlin, 2007). Supplying students with a rubric is not enough. One way to have students understand assessment criteria is to challenge students to verbalize the qualities of good writing. This active construction of criteria puts students in the role of participants rather than passive recipients of a rubric. Once students have articulated the criteria, they can create rubrics. Orsmond, Merry, & Reiling (2002) suggest that students can better understand the assessment process by using rubrics to score sample papers, assist in peer editing, and facilitate self-assessment.

 2. Provide effective feedback. The most effective feedback in terms of seeing growth in students’ writing skills is formative feedback (Frey & Fisher, 2013). Nonetheless, many instructors provide mainly summative feedback, such as comments on a final draft. Good feedback is also timely, understandable, personalized, positive, and capable of providing a pathway for improvement (Li & De Luca, 2014). Effective feedback can be given in any number of ways. For example, in class, instructors can offer over-the-shoulder suggestions to students engaged in writing; outside of class, students can receive brief, formative feedback by texting their proposed thesis statements to their instructors. Instead of making writing assessment one onerous, summative task that happens after the product is submitted, instructors should rethink feedback so that the bulk of it occurs during the writing process. Instructors might expect to see greater improvements by using formative micro-feedback more frequently.

 3. Finally, provide a way for students to map improvement. Grading is not a pedagogical act when graders edit their students’ papers. This is especially true for developmental writers, for these students can rarely articulate why an edit was made. Even if students can identify the reason for an edit, they do not necessarily acquire the skills they need for improvement. A more successful way to mark papers is to assess via an ongoing dialogue between student and instructor so as to facilitate improvement on future writing assignments (Rust, O’ Donovan, & Price, 2005). One way to do this is to identify two to three recurrent errors to master before the next writing assignment. Students and instructors jointly keep a writing progress log on which goals are recorded and monitored. For instance, a student may be prompted to master paragraph development and subject/verb agreement before submitting the next paper. After grading the next paper, progress is recorded on the log and goals are revised. This kind of carry-through provides accountability and allows students to map improvements in a measurable and quantitative way.

By using pedagogical grading methods, the time spent on assessment can become a valuable part of the teaching and learning process.


Defeyter, M. A., & McPartlin, P. L. (2007). Helping students understand essay marking criteria and feedback. Psychology Teaching Review, 13(1), 23-33.

Frey, N., & Fisher, D. (2013). A formative assessment system for writing improvement. English Journal, (1), 66.

Li, J., & De Luca, R. (2014). Review of assessment feedback. Studies in Higher Education, 39(2), 378-393.

Orsmond, P., Merry, S., & Reiling, K. (2002). The use of exemplars and formative feedback when using student derived marking criteria in peer and self-assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 27(4), 309-23.

Rust, C., O’Donovan, B., & Price, M. (2005). A social constructivist assessment process model: How the research literature shows us this could be best practice. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 30(3), 231-240.


How to Contextualize Math Using Infographics

bio pic Patricia Helmuth2 (2)

Patricia Helmuth

Patricia Helmuth is an Adult Numeracy Consultant and Educator. She teaches two HSE classes, does one-on-one tutoring (in partnership with the Center for Workforce Development), and is a Professional Development Team Member for the Adult Program at Sullivan County BOCES, NY. In addition to working with students, she enjoys sharing her “numeracy adventures” at the regional, state, and national level by presenting at conferences and writing for adult education web-based resources. She currently serves as the newsletter editor for The Adult Numeracy Network.

In a traditional math classroom, where math topics may be taught in isolation, students watch the instructor model a procedure on the board and then students are expected to memorize, repeat, and practice the procedure. The trouble is, many students have difficulty connecting the procedure to real-life applications. This disconnect that students experience is evidenced in ABE/HSE classes, as well as on college campuses in developmental math classes. According to Models of Contextualization in Developmental and Adult Basic Education, “…students who want to be nurses, EMTs, firemen…. are stuck in a course that doesn’t work.” Conversely, when math is contextualized, students can develop conceptual understanding of the math.  “Research supports the fact that students understand math better when it is contextualized. It motivates and increases the students’ willingness to engage (Tabach & Friedlander, 2008) and provides concrete meaning to the math (Heid et all, 1995).” – (2015 Center for Energy Workforce Development)

In light of this research, and the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the release of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, adult education instructors are being called upon to make changes in classroom practice that will adequately prepare students to pass new high-stakes exams and enter college and the workforce with marketable skills. How can adult educators do all this given the short amount of time that adults typically spend in class?

A great place to start is by using a variety of authentic infographics that connect to the social studies, science, or career readiness that you are already teaching. By using infographics, you are combining content knowledge, math skills, and analyzing and interpreting graphic information into one lesson! While infographics may be new to some of us in adult education, they are not new to our students. They see them all the time in the real world so it is imperative that they develop skills to decode them. Besides all that, they are fun! Students are drawn into a conversation when you display an infographic and simply ask:

  • What do you notice? What do you wonder?

Students at all ability levels can participate in a lesson that is introduced like this. Furthermore, when students share out their observations and questions it serves as a formative assessment and enables the instructor to connect what students already know with the whatever math concept the instructor has in mind to draw out of the infographic.

For specific lesson plans and ideas on how to do this, go to:

In the Adult Education classroom today, we need to do more than present our students with workbooks that include traditional examples of maps, charts, and graphs.  We need to use what our students see all around them every day: infographics.


Center for Energy Workforce Development (2015). Contextualized math for the energy industry. Retrieved from

Education Development Center (EDC). (2012). Models of Contextualization in Developmental and Adult Basic Education. Retrieved from EDC website:


Doing Different in the Mathematics Classroom


Stephanie Cockrell Andrews, Ed.D.

Dr. Stephanie Cockrell Andrews is a mathematics professor and the mathematics department lead faculty at Lone Star College-Kingwood (LSC-K).  She has earned degrees from East Texas Baptist University, Stephen F. Austin State University, and Sam Houston State University. This is her 28th year in education, where 15 of those years were in public education as a secondary mathematics teacher and counselor.  Stephanie was a 2006 Project ACCCESS fellow with the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (AMATYC). She has received the Faculty Excellence Award at LSC-K and the Educational Leadership Doctoral Award at Sam Houston State University.  She is a member of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International for Key Women Educators. 

In the report, Closing the Gaps by 2015: 2009 Progress Report, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB, 2009) stated, “Texas must take bold steps for the future success of its people” (p. ii). Being the math chair, my president was always stressing to me that we needed to increase student success (A, B, or C) in our developmental courses, to get more students to and through our gateway mathematics course—and to do it all faster! Add in the definition of insanity—attributed to several, including Einstein (Howes, 2009)—of “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” and I was determined to do something that was bold and different.

So, during 2013 – 2014, I taught Foundations of Mathematical Reasoning (FMR) and Statistical Reasoning (SR) using the curriculum from The Dana Center at The University of Texas in Austin, and it rocked my academic world. I am a dedicated, traditional algebra teacher, and I have received awards for teaching, but when I taught these courses, my life and the lives of my students changed. The New Mathways Project (NMP) courses are based on principles including to provide relevant and rigorous mathematics, help students complete college-level math courses faster and use intentional strategies that help students grow as learners (The Charles A. Dana Center, 2013).

I have always been told that, while I am teaching, I should include real-world problems, interdisciplinary activities, collaborative work, active learning, productive struggle, reading and writing. I could not get all of this included much less included well, but NMP incorporates all of these skill—all based on proven practice! I did it with NMP!  I saw it work for me and be transformational for my students.

Even though this is controversial, I believe what I experienced teaching these courses is a strong rationale that this can be done and should be done. The courses are rigorous, involve collaborative learning; are saturated with real-world problems that the students get excited about (e.g., blood-alcohol-level formula for order of operations); teach students to be much better college students and well-informed citizens; and are much more closely aligned with degree programs than college algebra for non-STEM majors.

Testimonials from students include a video from Holly at

And an article by Kaleena Steakle at

I have been working the last two years for The Dana Center helping other professors in our state and nation implement the NMP materials, but this week, I started back in the classroom! I have three, full FMR classes, and I am extremely excited to see how the students will grow this semester and be propelled to the next steps of their careers.


Howes, Ryan. (2009, July 27). The definition of insanity is…perseverance vs. perseveration. Retrieved from

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. (2009). Closing the gaps by 2015: 2009 progress report. Retrieved from

The Charles A. Dana Center. (2016). The New Mathways Project curricular materials. Retrieved from


Breaking Out of the e-Learning Courseware Box: Integrating Social Media


Steven S. Vrooman, Ph.D.

Dr. Steven S. Vrooman is a Professor of Communication Studies, Chair of the Department of English and Communication Studies, and Director of General Education at Texas Lutheran University. Following his B.A. in English at Loyola Marymount University, he earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in Communication from Arizona State University. He spoke at TEDxSanAntonio on how our brains work like Twitter. He is the author of The Zombie Guide to Public Speaking and writes The MoreBrainz Blog, which offers help for public speaking and pedagogy. He can be reached via email at

We are sure e-learning works, although we often act as if all online practices are the same as we continue to investigate online vs. face-to-face modes and find them equivalent. The finding remains the same over the course of ten years (Schaik, Barker, & Beckstrand, 2003); Mativo, , & Godfrey, 2013), yet each online course seems to have different designs.  Additionally, although we also believe that social media is good for learning, Facebook, to take one platform, sometimes works (Kivunja, 2015) and sometimes does not (Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane, 2011), and my reading of the studies seems to indicate that it depends on what we use it for and how.

In reviewing the growing literature on e-learning and social media and the various course practices that bridge them, it is clear, as with PowerPoint an educational generation ago, that when we drill down to exact practices, some things work (see, I’m sure, the past fifteen years of each of our teaching, right?) and some don’t (Adams, 2006). Specific analysis of specific practices is the only way forward. To paraphrase McLuhan, it’s not the medium, it’s the pedagogy.

To that end, I have used the following social media practices in class:

  1. Blogs: Students post data analysis, drafts, final projects and peer review them, publically.
  2. Public Blog Comments: Alumni/outside experts invited to critique student work.
  3. Discussion via Facebook Event: Including alumni/experts.
  4. Students Publicized Work: They did work on Instagram and shared it & blog work via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Qualitative assessment of the outcomes of these results suggested the following positive outcomes:

  1. Better Work: Public work is better work, especially when outside voices tell them to improve it and students are promoting it.
  1. Engagement: Social media, used in certain ways, can increase engagement more than courseware, which can feel like a waste-of-time, count-my-comments-for-the-grade echo chamber.
  1. Portfolio: Students can retain their entire work to show progression or just the final versions to demonstrate their expertise.
  1. E-Learning Bonuses: Most gamified elearning practices work better on social media than in courseware. For example, debates have more at stake and engage the public. Creative projects get a larger audience and thus bigger reaction.
  1. Skillset Development: For my communication studies majors, social media skills are key. For other majors, they are more important than you might think.
  1. Alumni Engagement: Many LOVED the opportunity to reconnect with professors and students in this way and share their new skills and perspectives. Mentoring happened in many cases. And it set the stage for increased inclusion of those alumni in face-to-face events with students.

It also revealed the following challenges:

  1. Age:
    1. Nontraditional students: They had troubles: unwilling/critical of social media, self-doubt due to lack of familiarity, higher privacy concerns.
    2. Traditional students: They had troubles: difficulty adjusting to violation of “fun” space, difficulty with academic self-promotion.
  1. Sign-Ups:
    1. Technical Difficulties: Fewer than with courseware & easy to Google answers to, but signing up for accounts is surprisingly very hard for them.
    2. Secondary Accounts: Younger students often do not want classwork in their personal accounts, but second email addresses are often required for multiple accounts. Managing multiple accounts is easy for some platforms (Twitter) but hard in others (Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn).
  1. Oversight: Hashtags are not enough to find their work. You need them to @ you or you won’t see everything.
  1. Content ABOUT Social Media is Needed: Things like how-tos, technical difficulties, privacy, etiquette, bullying/flaming, etc. probably need class time/resources to go over (however, offloading classtime experiences into social media helps offset this).


Adams, C. (2006). PowerPoint, habits of mind, and classroom culture. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 38, 389-411.

Kivunja, C. (2015). Innovative methodologies for 21st century learning, teaching and assessment: A convenience sampling investigation into the use of social media technologies in higher education. International Journal of Higher Education, 4 (2), 1-26.

Mativo, J. M., Hill, R. B., & Godfrey, P. W. (2013). Effects of human factors in engineering and design for teaching mathematics: A comparison study of online and face-to-face at a technical college. Journal of STEM Education: Innovations & Research, 14, 36-44.

Moran, M., Seaman, J., & Tinti-Kane, H. (2011). Teaching, learning and sharing: How today’s higher education faculty use social media. Babson Survey Research Group. ERIC: ED535130.

Van Schaik, P., Barker, P., & Beckstrand, S. (2003). A comparison of on-campus and online course delivery methods in Southern Nevada. Innovations in Education & Teaching International, 40, 5-15.