Opening Doors with Open Educational Resources

By Clara Hodges Zimmerman

In April 2021, I responded to a call from a colleague at Berkeley City College for collaborators on a project funded by ASCCC Open Educational Resource Initiative (OERI) to write a textbook-style advanced-level OER for students who were learners of English. It was a year into the pandemic and I was back to teaching after having a baby in October. To be honest, I was feeling a little isolated and disconnected from my vocation (although maybe that was just the sleep deprivation!). So, I eagerly emailed back my enthusiastic response and joined eight other community college ESL instructors from around the state interested in filling a gap in the OER/ESL world.

Goals

We had several goals in mind as we started.

First, we wanted a text that truly addressed the mix of language and composition skills for a reading-and-writing focused course one level below transfer English composition.

Next, as ESL teachers, we spend a lot of time making materials that address our students’ unique needs and identities, particularly since most ESL textbooks are geared toward an extremely general, international audience. We wanted to create a text that was narrower in its intended audience but reflected the diversity of the students in our classes; it was just our luck that the participants in this project represent rural, urban, small, and large campuses from around California.

Finally, we felt strongly that students need authentic models of student writing as well as other authentic texts not edited for an “ESL audience.” To that end, each of the six chapters in the book contains an unedited student essay and authentic readings from a variety of sources.

Process

Since most of us didn’t know each other, one of the first things we did was discuss and create a values statement to make sure our goals aligned. Central to this statement was a firm belief in the need for broad, equity-minded representation in images and examples used throughout the text and an emphasis on writers and writing that mirrors the diversity of the California Community College population. We also agreed that, because we each bring our own biases to the table, we would keep an open mind throughout the writing process and be open to suggestions for revision. In retrospect, I believe that this discussion was crucial to the success of this project since it provided a focal point for our large team of contributors.

To select content and frame the structure of the book, we pulled course outlines from our colleges’ English composition classes and advanced ESL courses, examined and compared them, and made choices based on what we felt students would need to be prepared with for success in transfer-level English. We also reviewed existing OER for ideas and pooled activities and lessons we’d developed for our own classes. Then, we drafted the chapters. After completing a draft, we peer reviewed each other’s work, filled in any gaps, and put the draft on LibreTexts, our publishing platform. Finally, the book was peer reviewed for content, accessibility, and appropriate licensing by a team at ASCCC OERI.

Takeaways

I was fortunate to be able to present the text with my colleague and project lead at October’s CATESOL conference and, as we prepared, we spent some time reflecting on the project.

We agreed that the process of creating this text was far more intensive and laborious than we had imagined going into it. Since our team was large, weaving together everyone’s voices to create a cohesive text was a challenge. However, we came to think of these different voices as a strength of the text and a feature to highlight. Other challenges were much more mundane; for example, learning how to import and edit the textbook in LibreTexts was a learning curve we hadn’t anticipated. Personally, though, despite the tremendous time and effort spent on this project, I still came away with my cup filled; I felt, and continue to feel, a greater sense of community and am reinvigorated about my vocation.

More than anything, this project underscored for us the power and importance of inter-campus collaboration in service of our students. A shared vision and set of values that reflect a commitment to student success will lead to projects that create an impact in our students’ lives. And, the more high-quality OER that are created, the easier we can meet zero- and low-textbook cost goals for our classrooms.

Now that it’s out in the world, our text will, we hope, be useful in a variety of language classrooms and situations. While we designed the book for an ESL class one level below transfer English, much of the content could be easily adapted for to levels above and below this – in my case, I’m teaching a transfer-level English class this semester and have adapted activities and examples to use in my class. (This flexibility is one of the benefits of using OER; I don’t feel guilty about assigning a text and only using bits and pieces that suit my class’s needs!)

As an English teacher, I love a good call to action. I encourage you to think about creating, adopting, and sharing OER in your own classes as it feels useful and appropriate for your situation. These high-quality resources can help alleviate financial strain on our students, be customized for real students in real classrooms rather than an imagined audience, and create opportunities for valuable cross-campus discussions and collaboration. What are we waiting for? 

We’d love feedback on the text, particularly if you have adopted it in some form in your classroom. You can find Reading, Writing, Research, and Reasoning: An Advanced ESL Text here.

Clara Hodges Zimmerman grew up between Indonesia and California and developed a love of language and learning at a young age. Her family moved to Porterville when she was in high school, and her first college class was English 101A at Porterville College (thank you, Professor Mills)! She has a BA in Anthropology and Sociology from the University of Redlands and MA in English with a TESOL emphasis from Central Washington University. Prior to coming to Porterville College as an adjunct instructor in 2015, she lived and worked in Washington State and Guangxi Province, China. She teaches English, ESL, and Linguistics courses at Porterville College. In her free time, she loves reading, being outdoors, and spending time with her family.

Building Community 15 Minutes at a Time

By Leslie Pelon

I will never forget the first day of my British Literature class during my final undergraduate semester. I was excited to have made it onto the roster from the waitlist the week before, since it was a popular course taught by the most beloved English Professor on campus. I knew the class would be excellent. I had no idea that it would be transformative.

There were almost fifty of us crammed into that basement classroom when Professor Walker came through the door and proceeded to greet us, each by name. No, he did not call roll or go alphabetically. He went down each row, looked each student in the face, and greeted them, “Hi Sarah, nice to see you. Ethan, welcome. Hello, Sam.” At first, I assumed he knew these students from other classes, then that they must all be students who spent a lot of time in the English department offices. It was not until this man whom I’d never met greeted me by name that I realized what was happening. Dr. Walker, a man who taught 200 plus students a semester, had memorized our names and faces off his roll sheet before coming to class.

Ten years later, I still have no idea how he accomplished that feat of memorization. From the moment I stepped into his classroom, I felt seen.

While I have yet to imitate his first-day roll-calling trick, I have worked hard to emulate many of the practices I observed him use in class. And one in particular has made an enormous difference in my classroom cultures – and student outcomes.

When it came time to submit our first writing assignment, Dr. Walker had us sign up for a 15-minute, one-on-one meeting with him. I turned in my writing assignment in the meeting and watched as he read and graded it in front of me. We spent the rest of the time talking about my writing, goals, and concerns about the class.

When we went into lockdown in the spring of 2020, all of us were looking for ways to connect with our students and keep them engaged. I was trying to figure out ways to get to know my students and impact them, when I read an article that mentioned requiring students to attend office hours. I immediately thought of how impactful that 15 minutes with Dr. Walker had been and decided to try it.

Unlike Dr. Walker, I do not grade a paper in front of my students. Instead, starting in the second week of the semester and going through week five, they are each expected to sign up for a slot and meet with me to discuss their final paper topic. I expect them to come having read the assignment instructions and with ideas on topics that might interest them. We usually spend about half the time talking about the final paper and the rest of the time discussing other concerns and interests. The meetings all end the same way, with me asking them to repeat after me and say, “I promise not to suffer in silence.”

I will admit those three weeks of the semester were long and hard. During this semester I have ninety-five students on my rolls, and I met with each one for fifteen minutes. That comes out to about twenty-four hours of student meetings over three weeks. And, of course, there is the rescheduling and the no-shows. That first semester I began doing this I thought, “Well, that was cute, but we are not doing it again.” No way could that much upfront work on my end be worth it.

I was wrong, and I have continued the practice every semester since.

After starting to require these meetings, I have seen my students’ success improve drastically. They do better on the assignment when they meet with me because I can explain it to them and answer questions one-on-one. They show up to student/office hours more often throughout the semester. Because my student has had the chance to get to know me, they have been eager and willing to ask me for help and share their insights. And best of all, I have seen them feel more confident participating in class and engaging with their peers.

Committing to intimidating or time-consuming practices is scary, and I understand why many of my colleagues call me “nuts” when I tell them about these meetings. Still, I am reminded of what I learned as a student in Dr. Walker’s class again each semester. It always pays off when instructors put forth the energy and extra effort to create relationships and connections with students.

Leslie Pelon is an Assistant Professor of History at Porterville College. Before being hired full-time, Leslie had been an adjunct instructor at PC since the Fall of 2019.  Leslie holds a B.A. in History from Brigham Young University and an M.A. in History from Southern New Hampshire University. Her master’s thesis centered on women preachers of the Second Great Awakening. When she is not teaching, Leslie keeps busy performing in plays at the Porterville Barn Theater, listening to audiobooks, and being a dance/swim mom for her two children.

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