Thursday, December 17, 2009

WR121 Course Concept

This semester, I'm taking a course called Teaching College Composition. We've been discussing issues in pedagogical writing theory, as well as learning specifics about how Emerson's freshman writing courses work. The first semester course is WR101, which deals with learning how to write propositions, reasons, etc. It also emphasizes peer review. WR121, the second semester course, varies much more than WR101. The course centers around 4 main "genre" writing assignments, but each instructor gets to choose a theme around which to structure the course. I chose "publication" for my course concept, and I'm really excited about it! I may never actually teach writing here at Emerson (depending on a lot of factors, such as whether or not they hire me, whether I get a full-time job, etc), but I want to share this course concept anyways. My biggest concern is the last assignment. It's very open-ended and may be too much for a group of freshmen to handle. But I think it would be a fun assignment if it worked out. I guess I'll see what my classmates and professor think tomorrow. But anyways, here's the course concept as it currently stands:

Publication: Sharing Your Writing in the Real World

“Sharing, peer feedback, and publication give the best reward and motivation for writing, namely, getting your words out to many readers” (Elbow, “Ranking, Evaluating, Liking” 195).

Course Description: This course emphasizes the importance of publication—making one’s writing public by putting ideas in a format that will resonate with the intended audience(s). Students will select a topic they are passionate about to explore throughout the semester using various “public” media, including blogs, academic essays, personal essays, and a final collaborative project.

The course is focused on helping students define their rhetorical aims through an understanding of the rhetorical situation (where their work will be published, what medium it will be published in, what discourse communities the audience participates in, etc). Because students will be working in the same medium but with widely varying topics, they will have the opportunity to explore how writing strategies are affected by both genre and content.

The underlying philosophy of this course is that the primary “call to write” comes from writers’ personal passions and goals. Therefore, students will be allowed to choose their own topic and rhetorical aims while receiving guidance on how to tailor their writing to reach its intended audience through exploring various routes to publication.

Writing Project #1: Blog
Students will each keep a blog throughout the entire semester that relates to their chosen semester topic. During the first week of class, students will begin to discuss how to choose this topic/issue. We will also read several blogs, discuss the genre of blog writing, and explore how it has come to be viewed as a legitimate form of publication.

In preparation to start their own blog, students will define the blog’s intended audiences. All students will recognize that the teacher and their classmates are part of the intended audience, but each student should also have additional group(s) with which they hope to communicate via their blog. Some questions to address include: What are the best ways to reach each audience? How do these audiences relate to each other? What tensions exist between various audiences’ expectations?

Further Details on the Blog Writing Assignment:

• By Monday of the third week, students must post a description of their personal blog on a class blog home page. This post includes a description of the topic and audiences, purpose of the blog, a link to the blog, and any other relevant information.
• For Wednesday, students must comment on classmates’ blog descriptions on the class blog. Students will probably be divided into small discussion groups to ensure that each student gets the same number of comments.
• The first blog post is due on Friday of the third week. Thereafter, students must write one blog post per week. They must also comment on at least one other student’s blog every week.
• Students will be required to link to other websites in several of their blog posts (not necessarily to scholarly sources though; the purpose is to help them include and respond to other voices).
• For blog posts written later in the course, students will be asked to incorporate research they conduct for other writing assignments into their posts. This will help them compare and contrast genres and how a particular piece of information can be used in different ways.

• I hope to show students that publication is not something that they have to wait until after college to pursue. They can publish their work right now.
• An informal medium such as a blog ought to encourage students to develop an Elbowean writerly voice.
• I also wish to address head-on the issues involved in selecting and committing to a topic. This is a challenge that every writer in every genre faces, but it is often treated as a “mystical” process in which a light bulb must click on in the writer’s head.
• Additionally, I want to introduce the concept of multiple audiences. A blog is an especially good example of writing that may be read by many different discourse groups because they are easily accessible online. At the same time, blogs may also focus on very narrow, niche audiences. Acknowledging that the teacher and classmates will be two of the audiences allows for discussions about classroom dynamics and power inequities.
• Lastly, I want to encourage students to engage in authentic conversation with each other through blog comments.

Writing Project #2: Academic Essay
Students will write an academic/scholarly essay on some aspect of their semester topic. These essays will incorporate significant research. Students will also report on three scholarly journals that could potentially publish their paper. These journals can be high-level professional or academic journals that would rarely publish undergraduate work, or they can be publications that might actually consider student papers. Students will then select one of these journals and write their paper according to the writers’ guidelines for that journal. Students will also peer review each other’s papers, mimicking a standard peer review process that scholarly journals would use.

• My primary goal is to show that academic essays are not “busy work” and that they are actually “real world” writing. They can reach a particular audience (“the Academy”) in a way that no other genre can.
• I want students to realize that joining the academic discourse community and supporting their thoughts with relevant sources will lend credibility to their ideas.
• I also hope to show them that academic discourse communities utilize peer review on a regular basis and that this exercise is not an idle one.

Writing Project #3: Personal Essay (Print-on-Demand Anthology)

After reading several personal essays by a variety of writers, students will write their own personal essays related to their semester topic. The catch is that all students’ essays will hinge upon the same broad theme (examples: transformations, revelations, failure, overcoming obstacles, etc). The class will decide on this theme together (though I will bring in at least 3 viable options), and their essays will then be compiled into an anthology that can be printed on demand using Lulu or the Espresso Book Machine. Students will also have the option to plan in which order the essays will appear in the book, the design, the title and subtitle, etc. The essays will be extensively edited before they are considered ready for publication. Students will first serve as each others’ developmental editors, then line editors, and finally copy editors. I will make thorough comments on each essay as well.


• I want students to have the opportunity to polish a piece of writing to a level they may never have experienced before. This essay will be a wonderful addition to any writing portfolio they wish to compile during their college years.
• As communications and arts students, Emerson freshmen will benefit from learning the technical skills of developmental, line, and copy editing, and they will likely utilize these skills in future jobs.
• This assignment takes collaborative learning to a new level, as students have to think about how their own essays will complement their classmates’ essays. Thus, they should be invested in their classmates’ work and be motivated to put a lot of effort into the editorial process.
• I want students to consider the differences between a blog post and a personal essay, not just in length and formality but also in intended audiences, purpose, structure, and style.
• Likewise, we will explore the differences and similarities between academic and personal essays. In particular, we will discuss the role played by research for both types of essays.

Writing Assignment #4: Final Collaborative Project

Students will be divided into small groups of three or four, hopefully grouping students whose semester topics complement or relate to the others’ topics. The students in each group will then decide on a newly focused topic that incorporates elements of the group members’ topics. If no consensus can be reached, groups may choose a topic unrelated to their semester topics.

After a topic is chosen, groups will decide what they would like to say about this topic (their rhetorical aims) and whom they would like to communicate with (their intended audiences). After that, they will decide which genre and medium to use that will most effectively accomplish their rhetorical aims and reach their intended audiences. Students will be provided with several examples of potential genres to work with, such as magazines, short film documentaries, websites, newspapers, marketing campaigns, advocacy pamphlets, photo essays, museum exhibits, theatrical scripts, etc. The only stipulation is that they cannot compile their work in any of the formats we have already used in this class.

Students will write a proposal for their final project, describing how their chosen genre will effectively respond to the rhetorical situation. It will also explain how the work will be divided among the group members and a little bit about their methods for compiling the final project. Lastly, it will give a summary of their research.


• While this project is rather open-ended, students have been thinking about how to accomplish rhetorical aims and reach intended audiences all semester. They should now be capable of analyzing which genre will be most effective and choose accordingly.
• Students will be required to make several major decisions in their groups (choosing a topic, aim, audience, and genre), and this may be difficult at first. However, working through these issues simulates real-world collaborative processes.
• This project requires students to work with the technical, unflowery language of the proposal writing genre. At the same time, it allows students creative freedom to explore non-traditional, multimedia genres. My goal is for students to see how writing and research skills play a role in all types of communication, even the ones that may appear to involve little or no writing.
• We will also explore how groups’ chosen genres relate to the genres we used earlier in the semester.

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