These may not be the only questions
Sue McLeod suggests that instead of trying to identify the content of composition (or as part of that project), perhaps we consider its “function(s),” or “the place of composition in the undergraduate curriculum.” Nick Carbone asks if our views of composition’s content or its function(s) might be related to the graduate programs we completed and/or the shape or our research interests / agenda. And Irv Peckham suggests ways to focus the questions more usefully: When is a first year writing course? and What writing skills do we want FY students to learn?
From: Susan McLeod
May I add my perspective? I find it useful to discuss the content of composition in tandem with the function of composition, or if that sounds too instrumental for some, the place of composition in the undergraduate curriculum. Right now, the single universal (or nearly universal) requirement for undergraduates in the U.S. is FYC. We ARE the core curriculum. It think it’s a good idea to keep that in mind when discussing curricular matters.
From: Debra Dew
Sue~ In trying to unpack and interpret your claims here: Are you asserting that FYC has a single essential *function,* one that trumps other desires, interests, etc? A higher calling perhaps? A primary calling? A charge unlike other charges? Help me better understand what your claim of function as BEING the core brings along with it.
From: Susan McLeod
Nope, nothing so grand. But coming from the WAC perspective, as I do, I see FYC as serving an important function in introducing students to the notion that different disciplines have different discourse expectations, and as a teacher of comp. I can give them the rhetorical tools to help figure out those expectations. So I see it as a course that will be useful to them throughout their college career, as well as afterwards, and I spend a lot of time trying to help them see the connections between what we are reading and doing in class and what’s going on in their other classes.
When I design a course, then, I’m thinking not just about content, but about student learning outcomes and how those connect to the rest of the curriculum, especially in general education. What do we want students to know and be able to do by the end of the course? I’m not setting this out in opposition to the present discussion, or trying to suggest it’s the only way to teach FYC—just adding my perspective from 100 years of working on curricula and serving on gen ed committees. (Well, it feels that long.) Hope this is helpful.
From: Nick Carbone
Does our conception of what our field’s content is depend upon where we go (or went) to graduate school, who we study (ied) with, followed by what we choose to read, by where our research goes? Maybe a baseline canon might be defined by those works which are required reading in graduate courses on writing theory, writing discipline history, and/or writing and the teaching of writing courses. Is there a CCC research grant for someone who might seek to gather that kind of information, or is it a dissertation topic? —
From: Irvin Peckham
I don’t think it’s a matter of one claim trumping other claims. I seem my function rather simply, somewhat like Sue: I am trying to direct a fyw course that will help students negotiate the writing demands that will be placed on them in other courses that set writing situations. We are research here what those demands are, asking for specific writing assignments in the different fields and then trying to abstract from those tasks (they are pretty interesting) writiing skills that will help them meet at least a signficant proportion of those tasks. If we do a good job in preparing students to meet these tasks, that’s good enough for me.
I know other wpas have different priorities. Making claims of which is trump depends on some rather nebulous claims about what the primary function of fyw should be—and that kind of argument strikes me as being similar to arguments over the existence of god. It’s certainly like making claims about the overriding function of education.
From: Irvin Peckham
I really don’t think we can answer question 1. It seems too general—there are so many writing classes possible. I would ask: when is a first semester firstyear writing class a writing class—and when does it become something else. I can teach a writing class called Personal Writing—and I would have different answers.
Same for question 2. “What” is too open as a category. I would rephrase—what writing skills do I want my first semester firstyear writing students to have.
For our second essay in our first semester course, we’re having students writing profiles (they just finished writing firsthand portraits). Here’s what we want students to learn when writing profiles: