Theoretical Perspectives for Developmental Education

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Theoretical Perspectives for Developmental Education

The first annually published independent monograph sponsored by The Center for Research in Developmental Education and Urban Literacy, General College, University of Minnesota.
Dana Britt Lundell
Jeanne L. Higbee

Devjani Banerjee-Stevens

Jennifer A. Kreml

Assistant Editors

Karen A. Bencke

Cover Design & Layout

Copyright © 2001 by the Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy, General College, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of the publisher.

Printed in the United States of America.

Foreword 5

David V. Taylor
Preface 6
Jeanne L. Higbee
Introduction 9
Dana Britt Lundell
Approaching Theory in Developmental Education 15
Carl J. Chung
The Student Personnel Point of View 23
Jeanne L. Higbee
Democratic Theory and Developmental Education 33
Patrick Bruch
Toward a Theory of Developmental Education: The Centrality of “Discourse” 46
Dana Britt Lundell and Terence Collins
Is Developmental Education a Racial Project? Considering Race Relations in
Developmental Education Spaces 60
Heidi Lasley Barajas
The Place of “Culture” in Developmental Education’s Social Sciences 71
Mark H. Pedelty and Walter R. Jacobs
Cooperative Learning in the Multicultural Classroom 88
Rashné R. Jehangir
Constructivist Perspective and Classroom Simulations in Developmental Education 98
David L. Ghere
Getting Basic: Exposing a Teacher’s Deficiencies 106
Amy M. Lee
Bakhtin’s Notion of Dialogic Communication and a Discourse Theory of
Developmental Education 116
Thomas Reynolds
Writing Instruction: The Intersection of Basic Writing, ESL Writing, and
Traditional College Composition 122
Ditlev S. Larsen
Theories for Math and Science New Directions in Science Education for Developmental Education 136
Randy Moore
Theoretical Views and Practices Supporting In-Context Developmental Strategies in
the Physical Sciences 146
Allen B. Johnson
A Selectionist Approach to Developmental Education 155
Thomas Brothen and Cathrine A. Wambach
Applying Theory to Practice: Mediated Learning and the American Mathematical
Association of Two-Year College Standards 163
D. Patrick Kinney


David V. Taylor, Dean

General College, University of Minnesota
The mission of the General College (GC) is to provide access to the University of Minnesota for highly motivated students from the broadest range of socioeconomic, educational, and cultural backgrounds who evidence an ability to succeed in the University’s rigorous baccalaureate programs. The mission is accomplished through a developmental general education program offered in a multidisciplinary and multicultural learning community by nationally recognized faculty and staff who are grounded in the theory and practice of developmental education. Through its teaching, advising, research, and outreach, the General College seeks to be the nation’s preeminent developmental education institution.

In 1988, the mission of the General College at the University of Minnesota was changed. Although GC retained its primary role of providing access to the University for students who had not met the traditional preparation standards, the College voluntarily relinquished its degree programs. Its new mission, as a freshman admitting college, was to successfully transfer underprepared students into other degree granting academic units where they would complete their baccalaureate studies. The development of academic support programs and effective counseling and advising programs was crucial to the success of preparing students for transfer.

The faculty and staff embraced the theoretical construct of developmental education as descriptive of their work. Although the services that were provided to students in the General College went well beyond most developmental education programs, the existing theories and practices in the emerging field provided a core around which the meaningful research could be conducted. The energy that once sustained the vitality of the degree program was now liberated and redirected into research that explores the interrelationships between effective pedagogies, practices, and student outcomes. Our raison d’etre is to retain students and to assist them through the transfer process so as to enhance the likelihood of their eventual graduation and, secondarily, to disseminate to all interested parties what we have learned in the process.

Over the past decade GC has hired innovative faculty and creative student services personnel who understand and resonate to its new mission. They in turn have helped to define and sustain the work of the Center for Research in Developmental Education and Urban Literacy (CRDEUL). The First Intentional Meeting on Future Directions in Developmental Education held in Minneapolis in October of 1999, and the launching of the monograph series reflect their continuing interest in engaging professionals in the field about theories and practices that inform the discipline of developmental education. It is our hope that the monograph will be widely circulated and discussed. We encourage other scholars and practitioners to share with us research which will broaden an understanding of and improve services to college students.


Jeanne L. Higbee, Faculty Chair

Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy (CRDEUL)
In 1995 the National Association for Developmental Education (NADE) published the following “Definition and Goals Statement” to guide theory, research, and practice in the profession:

Developmental Education is a field of practice and research within higher education with a theoretical foundation in developmental psychology and learning theory. It promotes cognitive and affective growth of all postsecondary learners, at all levels of the learning continuum.

Developmental Education is sensitive and responsive to the individual differences and special needs among learners.

Developmental education programs and services commonly address preparedness, diagnostic assessment and placement, affective barriers to learning, and development of general and discipline-specific learning strategies.

Goal: To preserve and make possible educational opportunity for each postsecondary learner.

Goal: To develop in each learner the skills and attitudes necessary for the attainment of academic, career, and life goals.

Goal: To ensure proper placement by assessing each learner’s level of preparedness for college course work.

Goal: To maintain academic standards by enabling learners to acquire competencies needed for success in mainstream college courses.

Goal: To enhance the retention of students.

Goal: To promote the continued development and application of cognitive and affective learning theory.

During the past year, leaders in the field (e.g., Malinowski, 2000) have revisited the NADE Definition and Goals Statement in a variety of forums and venues, including in a “think tank” of the NADE executive board, chapter officers, and committee chairs, held prior to the annual NADE conference in Biloxi, MS, and led by outgoing NADE President Martha Casazza, and at the First Intentional Meeting on Future Directions in Developmental Education (Lundell & Higbee, 2000), sponsored by the University of Minnesota General College’s (GC) Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy (CRDEUL). One of the foci of these discussions has been the formulation of a theoretical foundation for developmental education. Collins and Bruch (2000), reporting on a session at the intentional meeting, propose, “There are literally dozens of theoretical perspectives spanning multiple traditional disciplines that can contribute to the informed practice of developmental educators” (p. 19). A preliminary list brainstormed by session participants includes 23 disciplines and theoretical frameworks, ranging from adult education and student development theories to critical democracy theory and social constructivism, which might play a role in guiding our work. Obviously, this is a far broader approach than implied in the NADE Definition and Goals Statement. Collins and Bruch assert,

We think it important to note that it is not from such disciplines or perspectives in isolation that we can construct powerful theories to guide practice in developmental education. Rather, it is from the purposeful interpenetration of the theories that inform disciplinary practices that the richness of an interdisciplinary theoretical framework for developmental education might emerge. (p. 20)

Recent developmental education publications also reflect a renewed interest in identifying theoretical frameworks (e.g., Caverly & Peterson, 1996; Darby, 1996; Duranczyk & Caniglia, 1998; Friedman, 1997; Maxwell, 1998; Silverman & Casazza, 2000) or creating a central theory of developmental education (e.g., Wambach, Brothen, & Dikel, 2000; Lundell & Collins, 1999, reprinted here). In this monograph authors representing a wide spectrum of disciplines and theoretical perspectives reflect on theories that influence research, teaching, counseling, advising, and administrative decision making. As Collins and Bruch (2000) propose, “Formation of interdisciplinary theories must have in mind the pragmatic business of informing the project at hand, and so such theory building must be flexible and adaptable” (p. 20). The purpose of this monograph is to promote further discussion regarding the definition of developmental education and the theory or theories that underlie practice.

The mission of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy is as follows:

The Center for Research in Developmental Education and Urban Literacy, in partnership with the General College at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, promotes and develops multidisciplinary theory, research, and practice in postsecondary developmental education and urban literacy. The Center identifies future directions in the field locally, regionally, and nationally by bringing together a diverse range of faculty, students, and community organizations for research collaborations.

It is our belief that theory should provide the foundation for our research, and that research should guide practice. In launching this monograph series, it seemed appropriate that we begin with a volume devoted to theoretical perspectives. Calls for submissions and editorial guidelines for future monographs are provided at the back of this edition.

The authors of the chapters of this monograph represent the wide array of disciplines in which GC faculty and staff have earned their terminal degrees, and their writing reflects their endeavors to demonstrate that any introductory college course can be taught in a developmental education context. As individuals we may agree or disagree with some of the theories presented in this volume, or with their relevance to the field of developmental education. Some chapters provide a historical perspective; others challenge us to rethink even the most modern theories. Whether a century old or contemporary, the theories represented in this monograph have and will continue to influence how educators perceive their work. It is our hope that publications like this monograph will encourage developmental educators to further articulate the theoretical foundations for the profession and refocus on the link between theory, research and practice.

Dana Lundell and I would like to express our appreciation to David Taylor, Dean of the General College, and Terence Collins, GC’s Director of Academic Affairs, for their continued support of CRDEUL and its programs, including this monograph series. We also want to recognize Devjani Banerjee-Stevens and Jennifer Kreml, our assistant editors, and Karen Bencke, who formatted this publication and created the cover design. Without their valuable assistance, this monograph series would not be possible.


Caverly, D. C., & Peterson, C. L. (1996). Foundation for a constructivist, whole language approach to developmental college reading. In J.L. Higbee & P.L. Dwinell (Eds.), Defining developmental education: Theory, research, and pedagogy (pp. 39-48). Carol Stream, IL: National Association for Developmental Education.

Collins, T., & Bruch, P. (2000). Theoretical frameworks that span the disciplines. In D.B. Lundell & J.L. Higbee (Eds.), Proceedings of the First Intentional Meeting on Future Directions in Developmental Education (pp. 19-22). Minneapolis, MN: Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy, General College, University of Minnesota. [On-line]. Available:

Darby, D. D. (1996). The new science: Connections with developmental education. In J.L. Higbee & P.L. Dwinell (Eds.), Defining developmental education: Theory, research, and pedagogy (pp. 5-10). Carol Stream, IL: National Association for Developmental Education.

Duranczyk, I. M., & Caniglia, J. (1998). Student beliefs, learning theories, and developmental mathematics: New challenges in preparing successful college students. In J.L. Higbee & P.L. Dwinell (Eds.), Developmental education: Preparing successful college students (pp. 123-138). Columbia, SC: National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, University of South Carolina.

Friedman, A. R. (1997). Fostering student retention in developmental reading through understanding adult learning theory. In P.L. Dwinell & J.L. Higbee (Eds.), Developmental education: Enhancing student retention (pp. 25-36). Carol Stream, IL: National Association for Developmental Education.

Lundell, D. B., & Collins, T. (1999). Toward a theory of developmental education: The centrality of “Discourse.” In J.L. Higbee & P.L. Dwinell (Eds.), The expanding role of developmental education (pp. 3-20). Morrow, GA: National Association for Developmental Education.

Lundell, D. B., & Higbee, J. L. (2000). Proceedings of the First Intentional Meeting on Future Directions in Developmental Education. Minneapolis, MN: Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy, General College, University of Minnesota. [On-line]. Available:

Malinowski, P. (2000). Defining developmental education as a profession: Students, programs, and services. In D.B. Lundell & J.L. Higbee (Eds.), Proceedings of the First Intentional Meeting on Future Directions in Developmental Education. Minneapolis. MN: Center for research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy, General College, University of Minnesota. [On-line]. Available:

Maxwell, M. (1998). A commentary on the current state of developmental reading programs. In J.L. Higbee & P.L. Dwinell (Eds.) Developmental education: Preparing successful college students (pp. 153- 167). Columbia, SC: National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, University of South Carolina.

Silverman, S. L., & Casazza, M. E. (2000). Learning and development: Making connections to enhance teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wambach, C., Brothen, T., & Dikel, T. N. (2000). Toward a developmental theory for developmental educators. Journal of Developmental Education, 24 (1), 2-4, 6, 8, 10, 29.


Dana Britt Lundell, Director

Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy
The theoretical perspectives discussed in this monograph represent both new and established foundations for developmental education. It has long been important to articulate the theories that shape our teaching, and it is equally pertinent that we continue to explore those theories that more broadly define the profession (Casazza, 1998; Lundell & Collins, 1999; Silverman & Casazza, 2000). However, this is not an easy task for several reasons. First, developmental education is only recently beginning to rename and reposition itself within the broader framework of higher education. We, as developmental educators, have challenged the use of the term “remedial” in our own work (Boylan, 1999; Higbee, 1993; Maxwell, 1997) because it has perpetuated popular misconceptions about what it is that teachers and students do in these programs, sometimes unfortunately upholding the status quo in shutting students out of many of our public institutions. By naming what it is we do not do (i.e., we do not “remediate” students using a deficit model), we have made a space for discovering and articulating what it is we actually are doing effectively. To do so, many developmental education leaders have stated this priority clearly: we need to examine and share the theories that shape our best practices (Boylan; Casazza, 1998; Higbee, 1996; Lundell & Collins; Silverman & Casazza; Wambach, Brothen, & Dikel, 2000).

Although this is a potentially liberating point in history for the field, it presents some noteworthy challenges. When we begin to explore our diverse vantage points as institutions, administrators, instructors, advisors, and students, we recognize that these standpoints alone defy easy categorization. Because we serve a variety of students, for example, we rely on utilizing and implementing our knowledge of best practices in developmental education, which includes using a flexible range of learning activities such as peer group work, Supplemental Instruction (SI), freshman seminars, and a range of other instructional delivery methods such as incorporating technology and learning communities into our curricula and program foundations (Boylan, 1999; STARLINK, 2000). As knowledgeable and responsive as we have become in our teaching methods, we also need to consider that our theories informing these methods need to be equally responsive in addressing a similar diversity in learning styles, prior knowledge and educational preparation, and student backgrounds (e.g., issues of language acquisition, race, class, gender, disability, and other social and cultural factors).

Traditionally, theories in developmental education, and related teaching methods, have primarily reflected individualistic models for learning (Collins & Bruch, 2000; Lundell & Collins, 1999). Because this positively serves large numbers of students in these programs, it is clear that research continues to indicate a need to reflect more systematically on why some students are still not adequately being supported by the same programs. This includes research reports that continue to document lower retention and achievement rates in college by greater numbers of students from lower income families and students of color in proportion to White students (i.e., Center for Postsecondary Research and Planning, 2000). To address these disparities in particular, it is crucial that we begin to reflect more deeply upon our theories and definitions to identify what we may be missing, and to strengthen and share what we already have implemented successfully.

As a field, we have started to do this with a definition statement outlining some areas of theory in developmental education (National Association for Developmental Education, 1995). Even in naming common ground, however, we still experience the reality that our programs and practices vary widely (Malinowski, 2000). These varied interpretations and definitions may pose some viable tensions to consider as we continue to define the field and develop theories for developmental education. First, it positively suggests a kind of breadth and collective strength in our work, the “continuum of services” (Boylan as quoted in Lundell, 2000, p. 51) we provide in programs and across institutions. That is, “developmental education” may not even be coined by this term, depending on the form in which it is applied (i.e., learning centers and stand-alone courses in institutions that do not recognize a separate developmental education division or mission). Second, as developmental educators find it difficult to describe even rather generally what it is we all commonly do, given this variety in outreach and purpose, it may be in our best interest to consider the assets inherent in this conundrum. When our programs have been sidelined in the past, it has ultimately stemmed from an overly simplified version of the work of developmental educators and these students as remedial or marginal in some way. It is to our advantage to continue developing our frameworks and definitions in a way that includes a wide variety of approaches, definitions, and theories—for this reflects our real work.

Sharing Theories for Developmental Education

“Few programs have articulated and presented their own models to a broader audience, specifically as they relate to relevant educational theories informing their conception and relationship to current definitions of developmental education” (Lundell & Collins, 1999, p. 7). There has been recent discussion about finding a theory, or theories, of developmental education (Collins & Bruch, 2000; Wambach, Brothen, & Dikel, 2000), but without first having the widespread articulation of key theories guiding individual teachers and program administrators themselves, a broader theory of sorts cannot yet practically be proposed. There is perhaps too much variety and range in perspectives to adopt a universal theoretical model at this point in time. We may need more theories for developmental education before we arrive at a theory of the field, if that is even a goal. In fact, it might be true and beneficial that the “one-size” model does not fit all in developmental education. This may be to our advantage as this appears to be one primary reason developmental education exists in the first place—to serve students for whom this type of one-size model has never fit, nor should ever entirely be made to fit. Perhaps our own theory or theories as a field might address this?

To explore the role of theory in developmental education and to articulate theories from one program, and specifically to demonstrate the range of both overlap and difference even within a program, we offer a set of theoretical perspectives from the General College (GC) at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities—one of the nation’s oldest developmental education programs. The university is the largest public, land-grant institution in the Midwest, offering four-year undergraduate and graduate degrees. It is also the only Big Ten public research institution situated in its state’s major urban site. General College offers a pre-transfer, credit-bearing undergraduate curriculum for students entering other degree-granting colleges in the university. Each fall the college admits approximately 850 new first-year students, and overall the college typically serves between 1400 and 1800 students each semester in its programs. GC accepts about half of its students from those whose composite admission scores (i.e., a combination of the American College Testing [ACT] score, high school rank, and high school grade point average) fall below university program entry requirements. Another large percentage of students are admitted to GC based on individual and committee reviews of their cases, and an additional percentage of students qualify and enter the college through the support of the federally-funded TRIO program. GC’s mission includes an emphasis on preparation toward students’ educational and career goals through a multidisciplinary curriculum with the goal of transferring into the larger university. GC also maintains a strong position that students are being served within a multicultural program that addresses issues of diversity in teaching, learning, and research. Overall, GC’s strong record of student transfer rates to degree-granting colleges of the university—rates of 79% compared to 84% for retention rates in the rest of the university—indicate that GC’s programs are successful for most students who enter the program.

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