Michael Donnelly offers answers
Hi all. I’d be very interested in this discussion, since I have felt for many years that the thematic composition course has not yet been fully or adequately theorized. (Anyone have any suggested readings?) While it is true that “writing” can take a back seat to other “content,” that doesn’t _have_ to be the case.
A conscientious instructor is always aware of that risk and labors (often adjusts) to strike an appropriate balance— which means keeping writing in the foreground at all times. All of the reading and discussing we do (of any other “content”) is part of the writing process— it is the difference, I think, between talking about writing as a process and doing writing as a process. The fact is that real writers don’t write about “Nothing.” Nor, and perhaps more importantly, do they write for no reason.
The thematic course provides two key (and inter-related) components of writing: context and purpose. I don’t believe that this is necessarily the best or most effective way to teach writing for ALL instructors. But it certainly has its value.
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); when the other content becomes primary (and actually doing writing becomes secondary), we have a “writing-intensive” course on some other subject. But if you ask me where the line is— how I can tell which is primary and which secondary— I’ll have to tell you I only know that in the context of a specific course; it’s a boundary I’m constantly negotiating as I teach.