Introduction to College Writing
In 2015-16, our Composition program made some key curricular revisions to ENG 1020, primarily in shifting the focus towards conducting secondary academic research and writing in academic genres, i.e. the goal of a well-researched academic argument geared towards an avenue for undergraduate publication. In this section, I will share the assignment descriptions and rationale for the common syllabus, as well as some of the specific techniques I have used to scaffold and fulfill these revisions.
As I stated in my teaching philosophy, I am a strong believer that quality writing and quality argumentation stems from the investment and comfort a student develops in a content area only after immersing oneself in research. One of the points of contrast between this common course, in which students are self-directed in their fields and research areas, and the other iterations of ENG 1020 I have taught, in which the entire class worked collectively to gain fluency in an unfamiliar field and have one another to hold their fluency and expertise in the field accountable, prompted me to reflect on and communicate how their individual genres of composition would be scrutinized for their fluency and expertise within their each of their unique, imagined fields. The primary technique I applied to accomplish this goal was dividing the research process up into clear steps based on different genres of research, and making clear what the advantages and disadvantages of those genres were. In other words, we identified, based on prior knowledge, where each student was in relation to their topic (mostly uninformed, but interested), and constructed a research plan tailored their needs. We subsequetly focus on a single source, moving from texts intended for popular audiences to texts intended for academic audiences, for an entire week. Over the course of that week, students find and locate an appropriate text, read the text, and summarize the text for their peers, methodically building their knowledge base while simultaneously developing their skills as a speaker on that topic. I heavily emphasized the need for students to gain fluency with the topic before engaging with academic genres like scholarly journals which presume a high level of prior knowledge and historical context.
In order to reach this level of prior knowledge before engaging with academic genres, I require my students to locate, evaluate, read and summarize ONE article published in a convential print or on-line periodical (Time, The Atlantic, etc.) to give them the most recent, up-to-date conversation about their chosen topic, and ONE full-length monograph published since 2010 written by a professor or journalist in the field, but published by a mainstream press and intended for a popular audience: I provide examples like Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow or Eddie S. Glaude's Democracy in Black, but students locate, evaluate and acquire instructor-approval on texts of their choice. Monographs like these provide students, who have little to no prior knowledge, accurate context for the conversation as a whole, as well as a compelling model of writing towards which to aim. In revising my course from my first semester to my second, I have given more time to reading, summarizing, and sharing these mainstream sources with others in the class in order to build confidence with the field before moving on to academic genres that can be intimidating and stultifying for students with little prior knowledge on the topic. Here is a condensed three-week breakdown of how this research process would loo, leading up to the I-Search paper (assignment details below):
Week 1: Locate, evaluate, read, and summarize (250 words) conventional print or on-line article; Present your findings to small group, condense summary (100 words), develop body section #1 of I-Search. Locate, evaluate and acquire approval for monograph.
Week 2: Read and summarize (500 words) monograph; Present your findings to small group, condense summary (250 words), and develop body section #2.
Week 3: Locate, evaluate, read and summarize (400 words) academic scholarly article; condense summary (200 words), develop body section #3, make presentation to whole class about total finds and what you want to contribute to this whole scholarly conversation.
Under this schedule plan (w/ presentations takes closer to 4 weeks), I am afforded time to instruct students about the benefits and drawbacks of each genre of research, illustrate the process of "becoming an expert" (i.e. growing one's prior knowledge and fluency in a topic), show them the value of summary and condensing summaries, and emphasize the relationality of one source with another, in terms of value and differentiation. It is articularly this final component facilitates the move that I aim for with my student's writing: the recognition and articulation of how their work will add to, and not reproduce or parasitically consume, the scholarly conversation they choose to engage.
I am currently teaching this common course, and will add student examples as they become available.
Table of Student Evaluations of Teaching (SETs)
Building upon students’ diverse skills, English 1020 prepares students for reading, research, and writing in college classes. The main goals of the course are (1) to teach students to consider the rhetorical situation of any piece of writing; (2) to have students integrate reading, research, and writing in the academic genres of analysis and argument; and (3) to teach students to develop analyses and arguments using research-based content, effective organization, and appropriate expression and mechanics.
To achieve these goals, the course places considerable emphasis upon the relationship between reading and writing, the development and evaluation of information and ideas through research, the genres of analysis and argumentation, and the use of multiple technologies for research and writing.
Project One: Rhetorical Analysis (3-5 pages)
The analysis essay is a common college assignment across many different majors. Simply put, analysis focuses on describing how something works by breaking it down and examining its various components. In this version of the analysis essay, thesomething you’ll study are examples of non-fiction writing designed to persuade readers to take action. To do your analysis, you will use rhetorical analysis, which is an advanced reading strategy used to explore how rhetorical messages work in specific situations.
Project Two: I-Search Paper (6-8 pages)
This project will be used to explore and develop research skills and your ethos as a researcher. You will pick a topic and compose a research question or questions about that topic. Then you will use the “I-Search” method to work through the process of composing a reflective research narrative. The I-Search is a process of researching a question, but also refers to a particular form of writing–a genre–that is based in questions, rather than answers, and that centers on a narrative of research. It is a project where you search for information rather than only reporting what other writers have researched before you. The outcome of the I-Search project may be an answer to your initial research question, an understanding of how to best research this kind of question, an evaluation of sources for a future research project, or even a refined sense of the argument you might pursue in the next project.
Project Three: Research Argument (10-11 pages)
Now it’s time to embark on the research study you’ve prepared for in Project 2. In Project 2, you learned how to craft a personalized research process to help you “read in” to a topic that interests you. It is time to take those research skills and put them to use in building persuasive arguments about your topic, targeted to a specific audience. You will compose a researched argument essay, using the argument types outlined in our reading (definition, evaluation, causal, rebuttal, proposal). The objective of this paper is to present the findings from your research, composing an argument about the issue you’ve identified within the topic you studied. You will be focusing on writing in an academic tone and style, developing your ethos as researchers by practicing using an “academic voice” to respond to or join the conversation you see happening.
To help develop your understanding of academic discourse, you will use a technique called genre analysis to examine publications in undergraduate research journals. These journals serve as places for students like you to publish their research and participate in a particular conversation…one that you will join.
Project Four: Infographic Argument
This project will exercise your knowledge of genre analysis, rhetorical analysis and composing for specific audiences, as it asks you to rhetorically and graphically represent the data from your Project 3 researched argument in an infographic that you will design. An infographic is a visual representation of an evidence-based argument. We will spend some time working with sample infographics to get a sense of the genre conventions and to analyze various rhetors’ rhetorical choices in composing them. You will then work through your own rhetorical decision-making process to prioritize your data, and compose an infographic representing that data. In addition to creating your infographic, you will compose a short reflective piece that describes your composing process and gives a sense of your rhetorical choices. We will then present our infographics and reflections to each other in class.
Project Five: Reflective Essay (5-6 pages)
The Reflective Essay is a 4-5 page essay in which you make a case for how well you have achieved the goals of the course. To do so, you must look back over the work you produced during the semester in order to find, cite, and discuss evidence of achievement in each of the four learning outcome categories (reading, writing, research, and reflection. It is critical that your Reflective Essay includes concrete examples and discussion of what you have been able to do as a result of your work in the course.
While your discussion of achievements with respect to ENG 1020 learning outcomes is perhaps the most important goal in the Reflective Essay, the written expression of these achievements can be strengthened when it is integrated into a broader narrative that describes where you are coming from and who you are as a student. In this narrative, you may discuss, for example, how you learned and used various reading strategies in the course, or you may describe, for example, how your ability to perform effective research increased.
In sum, the Reflective Essay should make claims about your success with respect to ENG 1020 learning outcomes and support these claims with compelling evidence of achievement in order to demonstrate what you have learned and what you can do as a result of your work in the course. In this way, a successful Reflective Essay will inspire confidence that you are prepared to move forward into your next composition courses and into the larger academic discourse community.