- First tell us a bit about the basic writing and freshman composition courses that you’ve designed for use at our school.
The theme of basic writing course that I have designed for use at your school is monsters, dystopias, and society. I have chosen this theme because it allows for students to begin studying two things that most incoming students are afraid of, writing and monsters, in a way that builds from distant and singular connections to closer and more complex relationships with writing and society. Students in this class will engage in genuine inquiry and critical reading, writing, and thinking by considering what a monster is, how they can relate to monsters, how and why we make monsters, and what we can learn about social fears and issues through monstrous dystopias. This class will challenge students to go beyond the features and examine their own fears about writing and larger societal fears and issues through analysis of and arguments about socially and historically situated texts.
The other course I have designed for use at your school is a more popular theme in composition classes: autobiographical explorations. I have chosen this theme because it allows students to write about their lives, which they already have authoritative knowledge about. However, this theme also allows us to explore the genre of autobiography and its conventions interact with other genres, like more traditional scholarly research. In this class we work together to understand our selves and other communities working with texts by authors such as Edward Said and Richard Rodriguez, using these authors as models and lenses for examining our own and others lives. In this course students will be considering the complications one encounters when writing about topics they are interested in and connecting those topics to their own and others’ lives. This course is built on the idea that students learn through apprenticeship, which means that students learn from myself and other more experienced writers. Thus, students will be carefully studying the structures, organization, and stylistic choices and techniques the authors we read use and then try their own hand at writing in a similar genre, making them their own.
- What’s your definition/conception of “good student writing” and how do your course designs, your unit design and your writing prompt foster that kind of writing?
To start off, I want to acknowledge that everyone has a different perception about what “good student writing” is, which is why I am open about what exactly it is that I expect of my students and I am also open to changing my own perception about what “good student writing” is according to the situation. What I mean in that last statement is that what I consider “good” is liable to change depending on the circumstances. But if I were to break down the basic qualities of “good student writing,” I would break it into six categories:
- Purposeful – good student writing should convey a clear sense of the author’s purpose.
- Strategic in development – good student writing should have a particular and logical order or structure based on the author’s purpose that develops points and arguments
- Readerly – good student writing should consider its audience and craft arguments and tone with the audience in mind
- Coherent – good student writing should flow and fit together around the author’s purpose at a sentence and paragraph level
- Correct in grammar and conventions – good student writing should be nearly free of errors in grammar and punctuation, and depending on the context, should follow the conventions of Standard American English
- Creative – good student writing should find ways to push beyond what has been already said to make their own contribution
My basic writing course design fosters these six tenants of good student writing by having students study a variety of texts surrounding monsters, dystopia, and society, looking particularly at how these texts develop their purposes in regards to their audience and achieve their goals. My Freshman Composition course fosters my six tenants of good writing by providing good models for students to study and engage with and then pushes students to go beyond these models in terms of content and create their own texts that strive for these six qualities of “good writing.” The units that I have created support these six tenants by building up each week and taking time to point out and discuss examples of these tenants in their own and others’ work. I also make sure to specify on my prompts how one can be successful in developing and structuring their essays. For example, I specify what kinds of information should go in their introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion in an attempt to help guide them in their effort to produce “good student writing.”
- What’s your definition of “the writing process” and how do your course designs and unit designs foster that process.
Before explaining what I consider as the basic stages and steps of the writing process I think it is important to note that there has been much research on the topic that suggests that many of the writing processes occur concurrently and can double-back on itself or happen out of order. That being said, I consider the writing process to go through five concrete stages, with about six sub-steps:
Stage 1: Invention or Pre-Writing Stage
- Step 1: Read, then annotate, take notes, and think about purpose
- Step 2: Brainstorming and/or outlining
Stage 2: Composing
- Step 3: Drafting the first “shitty” version of the text
Stage 3: Revision
- Step 4: remove, add, and rearrange words, sentences, paragraphs and sections.
Stage 4: Editing
- Step 5: Proofread the text for grammar, spelling and punctuation errors
Stage 5: Sharing/Publishing
- Step 6: Sharing text with others, receiving feedback, and possibly beginning process over again or repeating certain steps as necessary.
My unit designs scaffold and support the composing process in the traditional method by using the first week to work on the pre-writing and invention stage, the second week to work on the composing and sharing stage with peer review workshops, and the third week to work on revision and proofreading. Something a little less traditional that I do in both of my courses is during each unit I will focus more overall on one of the 5 stages I have identified. Furthermore, I also incorporate opportunities at the end of the semester for students to turn in revised and more polished versions of their previous essays.
- How do your themes/topics build intellectually across each course? In other words, how does the intellectual (reading/discussion/thinking) done in each unit build upon prior intellectual work? And how does it prepare students for intellectual work in subsequent units?
In my Monsters, Dystopias, and Society course the intellectual work begins at a personal and individual level where students examine their own experiences with Monsters. Then with each subsequent unit the scope of the theme expands so that students are exploring how we define monsters and what these monsters have to say about American culture and society. We expand to discuss dystopias so that students can discuss and think about larger issues and how we might address these issues in the future. Structuring the class this way, from closer and more personal relationships to the theme to larger and more abstract thinking allows students to begin to build up their writing skills and authority, so that when they are asked to discuss what humans might do to address some of the issues presented in dystopias, they will feel confident and knowledgeable on the subject.
In my freshman composition course where my theme is autobiographical explorations, builds in a similar fashion to my basic writing course. The movement is not so much telescoping out in terms of topic, as we do discuss autobiographic texts the entire course, but instead each unit builds in its complexity in terms of the ideas that the students must engage with. First, they will attempt to use Richard Rodriguez’s “The Achievement of Desire” as a lens to interpret a moment of their life that is of particular importance to them. Then, students move on to writing an essay using photographs that tries to capture the complexity of a group of people that they are unfamiliar with. This movement continues away from the self until they begin to write about something important to them for other people. Writing about themselves, then others, and analyzing how authors achieve their purposes provides the students in this course with the proper support they will need in order to write their final opinion article that explores something important to them that they want their particular audience, their classmates, to know about.
- How do the writing skillsbuild across each course? How do the skills in each particular unit build upon the prior units and prepare students for subsequent units?
In my Monsters, Dystopias, and Society course the writing builds from personal narrative to definition paper. During this first transition students will be able to bring their personal experiences to bear in their writing, allowing them more confidence and authority to begin. This shifts as what they discuss in the personal narrative becomes complicated by what we discuss in class and so they must write a definition paper that asks them to take a deeper look at the complexity of what a monster really is. Then, we move on to a rhetorical analysis where students will be looking at how society demonizes mental health patients and the actions of marginal groups. While opening up students eyes to how the media can manipulate language to the detriment of others, it will also show them how writers use language to make an argument. The final portion of this assignment, which asks students to evaluate the article based on the rhetoric used is the first step in getting students to put forward their own ideas, something that comes into play during the next assignment. In their final major assignment students are asked to argue for a social issue or fear that a particular monster or dystopia represents, and then suggesting what we can learn from this monster or dystopia. The writing builds between these two assignments because students will be writing about how others structure and go about making their arguments and then they will be taking that knowledge and using it to write their own arguments and analysis.
In my Autobiographical Explorations course, the writing builds from each assignment become more complex and containing more challenges as the course and students’ writing develops. They begin with a personal narrative essay that asks them to use a lens to analyze one of their own life experiences, which cultivates students’ analytical skills. They will use and build on these analytical writing skills as they write their second essay where they seek to represent a group of people unfamiliar to them. In this essay they will gain more analytical skills as they examine photographs and begin to write about something unfamiliar to them. They will then take those analytical writing skills to examine different kind of autobiographical texts and compare how they achieve their goals and what is lost and gained in the different styles and forms. This exploration of different styles and forms will help them to write their own paper about a topic that interests them for their second to last paper. The last paper in the course asks students to go over their previous papers and find parts they are most proud of and places that they could use work. Moreover, it asks them to consider what points of view are missing and what kinds of issues they faced as a writer trying to write in the genre of autobiography.
- How do reading skillsbuild across each course? How do the skills in each particular unit build upon the prior units and prepare students for subsequent units?
In each course our readings
- How are reading and writing integratedin your courses and in the unit that you designed?
In my basic writing course about Monsters, Dystopia, and Society, I integrate reading and writing by having students annotate and write online blog posting responses to the texts we are reading. Also, students will be engaging with ideas and concepts in their readings when they write their papers. For example, in the fourth unit students will be reading The Walking Dead comic and the short story “Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler, and then writing about what social fear(s) they see represented in these stories. In constructing their arguments, students will be analyzing the texts – reading as a part of the writing process. Additionally, we will be reading some scholarly essays on the The Walking Dead and “Bloodchild,” working with them in jigsaws and finding issues they had while reading these texts. I will also be having students write difficulty responses where they grapple with aspects they found difficult in the academic papers.
In my freshman writing course: Autobiographical Explorations, I integrate reading and writing by having students engage with the ideas of the different authors we read and use ideas from the readings as lenses to analyze their own lives and other experiences. Additionally, I integrate reading and writing in this course by having students examine different writing styles and then use these styles and structures in their own writing.
8. Finally, since we can’t do everything at once as teachers, we know that every course design and every unit design involves numerous trade-offs. What tensions, trade-offs and compromises have you had to work through in making decisions about these two courses you designed?