Administering a general education course is such a privilege because it allows me to have a hand in welcoming students to higher education and our university. The first two years of college are when students tend to drop out or stop out, and composition courses have small course sizes where mentoring, peer learning, reflection, and individualized instruction are possible. As an administrator, I work to support teachers and foster a respect and excitement for working with first-year students. For students, I hope composition courses help them learn transferrable writing skills related to deep reading, informational literacy, feedback, and revision. Writing at the college level looks very different from the standardized testing students are used to; I'm excited to create programs that welcome them to college and help them identify strategies to adapt to college writing expectations.
The following principles and concepts guide my development of first-year writing curriculum.
Writing in the Disciplines
There is no one correct way to write. In my composition courses, I hope students develop a spark of inquiry that leads them to ask about what good writing looks like and does in their fields. Projects like rhetorical genre analysis guide them in analyzing successful writing in their profession to identify the audience, purpose, conventions, and styles. Multimedia projects like remediation assignments help students practice communicating complex, jargon-specific knowledge from their field to other audiences. These twin tasks offer students a framework for thinking about writing in purposeful, context-specific ways.
Developing Transferrable Literacies
College-level writing standards depend on certain literacies: the ability to read, annotate, synthesize, and cite research; the ability to communicate using various media and genres; the knowledge of how to adjust one's writing for particular writing contexts and audiences. First-year composition must introduce these literacies to students and help them engage in meaningful practice in hopes that they will continue to use and grow such literacies in their majors and professions.
It's easy to see a composition course as a single class that students need to pass to progress in their general education. Reflection helps students pause and integrate their learning. I use ePortfolios with reflective writing to prompt students to explore the connections they see between the learning goals for the course, their assignments, their experiences outside of the course, and their identity as an emerging professional.
Multiple Opportunities for Success
Students are given a safe learning environment where they can try, fail, and try again. I encourage instructors to consider nontraditional forms for evaluation and assessment, like ePortfolios and labor-based grading contracts in first-year composition courses. These methods for assessment allow students to mentally move beyond the grade to focus on their learning and growth. They also provide more flexibility so that students entering the course with various levels of writing experience are not evaluated using a one-size-fits-all model for grading.
Composition instructors are handed an important and difficult job. The difficulty is compounded when instructors are teaching high course loads or are teaching as GTAs while they complete graduate school. As a first-year composition WPA, I work to offer manageable solutions to instructors while also helping them reflect on their own teacherly identities. These include adaptable course syllabi and activities so that they can personalize their course but have a starting point for their teaching. I also create spaces where instructors can mentor and learn from one another through conversational observation processes, learning communities, and shared departmental resources related to teaching and learning.
Check out our public curricular resources: Our College Composition site, our Inkwell blog, and our Teachers' Guide.