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Mark McBeth shares example of a course

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It always seems to me that these questions can only be answered based on the college and the student body who attend (as well as what level in which they are placed, if your college does that). Since John Jay College of Criminal Justice has a very specific mission but one that is currently changing dramatically (if interested see our website catalog (1st page mission statement): http://www.jjay.cuny.edu). I’d rephrase the question to: What types of writing should our fyc courses expose students to that will serve them at being successful students across the disciplines they will encounter as well as successful citizens/workers beyond their educational careers?

At Jay, students leave comp courses and do gen ed/liberal arts courses (literature/history/philosophy/etc) but predominantly do sociologically-based courses as they enter their majors. The mission and resulting literacy expectations of their courses have a very cross-disciplinary bent, and they must be flexible enough to move through a variety of humanities, sociological, and scientific courses.

We’ve recently developed a new freshman year series of comp courses that introduce students to the inquiry-based research paper (Students compose a piece of creative non-fiction based on the teacher chosen theme of their comp course, devise an investigative question coming out of their creative non-fiction, prepare a proposal for an inquiry-based paper, compile an annotated bibliography, write a first draft, lay out a work-in-progress outline, write a script of two of their outside expert voices in which they act as a particpating interviewer who asks questions to inform their inquiry as well as elicit conversation between the two experts, write a second draft (if not a third or fourth), prepare a portfolio of all these incremental pieces, and then write a cover letter to their second-semester composition teacher stating what they learned in Eng 101, how they’ve improved as a writer and what writing challenges still remain for them. Sorry that’s a brief albeit long-winded explanation.)

In the second semester course, they explore writing in the disciplines. The instructor chooses a general theme and then chooses different disciplinary readings to discuss how each field has a different rhetorical approach (preferrred genres, terminologies, audiences, etc.) Students write a variety of essays exploring how the meaning of language changes as it moves through different disciplinary approaches and what strategies they need to apply to make their writing abilities transferable from one discipline to another as well as one specific course (based on professorial expectations).

We have just implemented the first half of this composition sequence and will move to the second course in the Spring. We’re hoping it will make our students much more supple writers who can move in and out of different rhetorical situations because they will sense the various expectations demanded of them in each situation.

Although we had quite a bit of resistance from our adjunct faculty and some full-time faculty, once they started devising the themes, choosing readings, and creating assignments, many people have reported that they are enjoying the process because it even allows them some intellectual exploration that our previous comp sequence did not. In implementing these courses, teachers are reporting (and this may be only anecdotal evidence at this point) that students are engaging because they see how the coursework applies to their other courses. They see pragmatic as well as critical (read: intellectual) value in these inquiry, cross-disciplinary explorations.

We’ll be doing some preliminary and more advanced outcomes assessment for this sequence but, at this point, all I can say is stay tuned.

I know at the WPA Conference this summer the Univ. of Tenn/Knoxville was doing a similar comp curriculum. Mary Jo Reiff, the WPA there, had gathered an incredible group of her comp faculty to discuss their experiences with the curriculum. I’ve been stealing . . . no I mean appropriating . . . no I mean adopting (do I mean plagiarizing?) some of their innovative ideas for our program at Jay. I see her name and some of her faculties’ names (i.e., Jenn Fishman) on this list often. I’d be really interested in knowing how they’re progressing. It was really rich, thoughtful pedagogical and systemic work.

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Page last modified on November 15, 2006, at 11:20 AM