Each of us comes to CSU with widely varying experiences in writing classes. Since there are numerous ways to teach writing, it is important to begin by clarifying the goals of the course you will be teaching. We hope (and fully expect) that your teaching styles will differ and that you will make the activities in the common syllabus "your own," based on your own writing experiences and knowledge about writing. However, in a multi-sectioned course such as CO150, common goals ensure a similar educational experience for students in all sections of the course. No matter who is teaching an individual section, the following goals should be pursued in all CO150 classes:
Given the nature of writing situations, good writing can never be defined universally; rather, the effectiveness of a document can be evaluated only in the context of the writer's writing situation. For instance, is the purpose appropriate for the situation? Is the text appropriate for the readers’ needs and interests? Is the document organized in a way that allows readers to follow it? Does the document take into account the social, historical, and cultural contexts in which it will be read? Rather than teaching writing as a set of universal rules on how to produce specific forms—such as a research essay or a review of literature—we focus on writing as a process involving questions that shape a writer’s choices in a particular rhetorical situation.
CO150 is designed to help student writers understand and make informed choices about their writing processes and the documents they produce. We assume that, by modeling the process and choice-making strategies within the contexts we set up in the syllabus, we can help student writers apply these ways of thinking to future writing situations. Thus, the writing assignments addressed in the course focus on educated audiences inside and outside the academy. The assignments help students use writing processes and strategies to write to public audiences for specific purposes. Moreover, the focus on publicly debated issues throughout the course offers a way to help students think about how reading and writing might serve them, not only as students in a university but also as educated citizens of a democracy.
For these reasons, the conversation metaphor used throughout the course is particularly important. By using this metaphor, we can help students build on their understanding of conversations as situated within larger social, historical, and cultural contexts. Students realize that they would be foolish to open their mouths the moment they join a group of people engaged in conversation – instead, they’d listen for a few moments to understand what’s being discussed. Then, if they found they had something to offer, they would wait until an appropriate moment to contribute. Our students understand what happens to people who make off-topic, insensitive, inappropriate, or ill-considered remarks in a conversation. In CO150, we build on this understanding by suggesting that, prior to contributing to the debate about an issue, they should read and analyze what other writers have written. Then, when they’ve gained an understanding of the conversation about that issue, they can offer their own contribution to it.
To become more effective writers, then, students need to ask questions about their writing situations and make informed choices to respond to those situations. In a nutshell, this course helps students engage in the processes of learning about what has already been written about a publicly debated issue, drafting a response to the conversation about the issue, and revising that response as they consider a new writing situation.
Revision and Cultural Context
However, the writing process doesn’t really end with revision. In a larger sense, writing always occurs within a cultural context. In writing an essay about the social repercussions of Hurricane Katrina, you’re also writing about culture. How do social and cultural forces influence our actions? In effect, as we write, whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re participating in culture. Writing is a way to gain a voice in the constantly changing nature of society. Yet, in order for this voice to be authentic, writers must be aware of the social, historical, and cultural contexts in which they write. While the act of revision changes what you’re saying in the text, it also may change your cultural views.
We begin our common syllabus with this philosophical statement because it is easy, once you begin teaching, to focus only on how to produce the particular kinds of documents asked for in the major writing assignments. Although much of this syllabus focuses on specific essays and reports, it is important to keep in mind that the goal of CO150 is not simply to teach students to write these particular kinds of documents well. Although CO150 is meant to help students write for other courses, the variety of genres and assignments across the curriculum cannot be readily reproduced in this course. Instead, the major goal of CO150 is to teach students about writing in such a way that they can respond effectively to a variety of writing assignments, contexts, and tasks in the future. Therefore, we have designed the course so that students must choose and analyze real writing situations. Our hope is that this will help students learn how to apply academic thinking and writing strategies to new, more public contexts.
Working with the goal of teaching students to make choices within a context can also help prevent too much focus on producing an "A" paper of a particular genre. While success in particular genres will no doubt help your students succeed in CO150, it will not necessarily help them succeed in writing tasks beyond this individual class—the main purpose of a first-year course. In short, then, the main goal of the course is to create better writers rather than writers proficient at producing only certain kinds of documents.