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FAQ: What is the “content” of composition?

On September 24, 2006, Duane Roen posed the following questions to subscribers of WPA-L:

The CCCC Executive Committee is considering a series of questions about the content of composition, including the following two questions:
1. When is a writing class a writing class, and when does it become something else?
2. What do we include in writing classes?
We can all point to the WPA Outcomes Statement for one set of responses to these two questions, but I’m curious to know what other responses WPA-L subscribers care to offer.

The links below lead to a compilation of the WPA-L responses to Duane’s questions. The responses are grouped according to the way they answered the questions, and within the groups, the messages are ordered chronologically.

For some groupings, I have tried to summarize how the messages / discussions addressed Duane’s questions. As with all of CompFAQs, readers are welcome to add to the discussions. The edit password is fa05ll. For a short primer on contributing, see instructions for adding text to an existing page or instructions for creating a link from an existing page to a new page. [gb]

  • These are not new questions
  • These may not be the only questions
  • Direct answers to the two questions:
    • Bonnie Kyburz answers both: Two quotes: “[W]riting’s content need not be clearly or unambiguously determined because it cannot be circumscribed so neatly”; and “‘[W]riting is rhetoric is meaning is language is discourse is community is . . . ‘.”
    • Michael Donnelly offers an answer: “That’s a long way of saying that the answer to Duane’s second question is “It doesn’t matter.” There is no “must” content; the only thing(s) that really matters is what students are _doing_— i.e., reading, thinking, responding, writing, receiving (feedback), and re-writing. When these things are primary, and whatever other content remains secondary, we have a writing course (Duane’s first question).”
    • Mark McBeth shares an example: McBeth offers a description of the John Jay FY comp course(s) as an example of “content”
    • “Victor Vitanza: the (dis)content of composition: Two samples: “A writing class is a >class< of writing. . . . What writing, when writing, variously -determines- is content.” And “What do we include in writing classlesses? Writing and more writing.”
  • Content-based courses are effective: Writing courses using thematic content or non-writing-content are effective: Aaron Krawitz, Linda Bergmann, Ryan Skinnell, and Jeffrey Klausman.
  • Content-based courses are not effective: Writing courses using thematic content or non-writing-content are not effective: Dennis Ciesielski, Kelly Keener, and Kathy Fitch.
  • Content should be “Writing Studies”: A Discussion→Content is Writing
    • Joan Mullin-Content is Writing
    • Debra Dew-Content is rhetoric and composition
    • Elizabeth Wardle and Kathy Fitch:
      • Elizabeth Wardle: “I think the content of composition should be composition, writ broad.”
      • Kathy Fitch: “I’m curious, I suppose, about what sorts of things “writ broad” might include or leave out.”
    • Elizabeth Wardle and Kathy Fitch continued:
      • Elizabeth Wardle: “If we can explore it, my students can explore it.”
      • Kathy Fitch: “If we take journal topics as a guide, I’m not sure much gets left out at all.”
    • Dennis Ciesielski re Elizabeth Wardle: “This is great stuff. I’ve been ranting on the reality of the content problem for some time now. One major reality is that only the people on this list and active members of CCC are going to enter into the debate/dialogue re FYC content. We’ll get a lot said, and a few good articles will emerge, but the academic world will, in general, continue to mosey along the same old trail. As Susan reminds us, FYC is the one most taught (and required) course in the university. Ironically, what should have become a power situation has become a diciplinary liability. Our territory is simply so large that it defies definition.”
    • Sue McLeod and Tim Fountaine re Elizabeth Wardle:
      • Sue McLeod: Avoid comparisons with content-heavy courses; instead, compare with performance or lab courses.
      • Tim Fountaine: Having no “center” is good.
    • Doug Downs-Kathy Fitch:
      • Doug Downs: “What needs to happen *is* the debate (happening on this list, hooray!!) about what categories would get coverage in an “Intro to Writing Studies” class, and what consensus the field could achieve regarding what is said in those categories.”
      • Kathy Fitch: “So I guess what I’m saying is that if comp or comp studies is to become the content of FYC, then we’ve got quite a tall order before us: defining, in some detail, exactly what that content looks like in its FYC incarnation. . . .”
    • John Walter-Doug Downs:
      • John Walter: “I don’t think that asking what the content of an Introduction to Composition course might include is the wrong question --- that’s a good question. Instead, I think that asking to define such a course as a move to define the discipline itself is where we might be going wrong.”
      • Doug Downs: “In other fields, you ask *what* of the field to introduce students to, and *how* you’ll introduce students to the field’s methods, values, assumptions, content, and subdisciplines. In Writing Studies, we’re still stuck back at the question of *whether* to do so.”
    • Michelle Sidler-Doug Downs:
      • Michelle Sidler: “[T]he “skills” of composition— and its literate and rhetorical concepts— can be taught with just about any content, if understood as an enterprise in texuality and literacy. Moreoever, we don’t necessarily need to be full-blown experts in a given disciplinary field. . . .”
      • Doug Downs: “As has been repeated in this thread, the knowledge, methods, sensibilities, values, premises, and behaviors that let us investigate “how writing got that way” are what you seem to be describing here, and they are the things Writing Studies (or, Rhet/Comp, if you will, though that says more about subject areas than activities) knows that other fields don’t.”

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