Bonnie Kyburz answers both questions
this feels like a trick question ‘)
it’s early, so i’ll go there, but i imagine that your question wants to disambiguate in service to clarity, and i’m not sure i can do that. here goes:
1. When is a writing class a writing class, and when does it become something else?
In a writing class, students and teachers explore writing as a subject (histories, phenomena, theories, trends, practices, methods, etc.). A writing class also functions as a situation that calls upon students and teachers to write—writing class as exigence, Trimbur’s “call to write”. Thus, the writing class both studies its subject and practices it as well; it is form(s) and content, one not necessarily dominating the other (in an ideal world). This writing class is fairly ambivalent about what it studies in terms of content (histories of rhetoric; rhetorical theory; rhetoric “at work” within distinct “genres” or discourses such as “gender”, “ethics”,” “environment”, “politics”, and so on; theories of “composing” that extend the range of “writing” beyond English departments, where they are traditionally found/bound—art, communication, dance, architecture, multimedia, film, etc.; “writing” w/in particular institutional histories—Composition Studies, for example; “writing” as poetry, Lit, . . . “meaning-making” . . . social action . . . and so on). My point in making this list is that writing’s content need not be clearly or unambiguously determined because it cannot be circumscribed so neatly.
And but then, to limit the ways in which various teachers approach a discussion of writing is UNwriting (although it is a rhetorical move; i’m working a groovy notion of writing with a revolutionary spirit); it is a silencing scenario that potentially undoes important cultural and intellectual work that wants to ask, to inquire, to create an ongoing “displacement” of stasis/answering—borrowing from Lyotard. Speaking only for myself, then, the first two lines of this paragraph create for me and my students a notion of writing sufficient to shape a meaningful course that examines what writing is/does/can be and then asks us to try out those speculative notions in practice.
2. What do we include in writing classes?
This question clearly looks back on the last one and answers, “a lot . . . anything . . . because writing is rhetoric is meaning is language is discourse is community is . . . “.
I know; that feels pretty groovy and not all that helpful for some purposes. So, I will speak for myself and say that I include in my writing classes: writing, questions about when and how we write, when and where we repsond to writing that we enjoy or find engaging or provocative or worth reading in some way.
We write, a lot (i opened my last two classes by playing Philip Glass as students entered and asked them to do some journal writing on anything in particular; it was lovely, imho). My courses ask us to examine this provocative writing in order to discover how it works, and we usually take up this work in the context of discussing and practicing (in short writing assignments like John Bean’s microtheme, journal writing, and in class writing and discussion) some elemental rhetorical concepts that derive from studying (very basically in FYC but in more depth at the upper division) histories of rhetoric and rhetorical theories from ancient Greece as well as rhetorical theories of the 20th & 21st centuries (sometimes, we trip upon/through Augustine, as it seems useful in my local context).
Because the immediate sense of exigence for most student writing is responding to academic assignments, I feel obliged to teach exploratory / explanatory / expository writing as genres to most of my students. But along with this work, I often invite students to articulate their findings alternatively as a way of thinking about writing beyond what feels now like a genre (thanks Anis Bawarshi), beyond writing papers for college.
So, in my writing classes, I include some work on design elements, composing schemes (thanks Anne Wysocki and Dennis Lynch for your accessible textbook), and studies/practices in visual rhetoric (one class created a “special features” component for thier portfolios—mimicking the “behind the scenes” stuff we get on a lot of today’s DVDs).
I include movement, discussions about daily lives and how meaning presents itself effectively (or not) and why . . . we talk about when and how we feel/are empowered to talk back *meaningfully* and what creates these structural scenarios. We share these thoughts in whole and small group discussions, read and respond to each others’ work, and try to use these classroom scenarios as practices that shape a disposition/call to engagment with a variety of cultural and professional texts that require our individual and collective response.
honestly, here is the spinning out (of control?) part of my repsonse, and i could keep going, but i don’t want to reveal all of my insanity on this public list (see, i’ve learned something in my class!).