Primary Teaching Goals of CO150

Many of us come to CSU with very different experiences in writing classes. There are a variety of ways to teach writing and to write successfully; thus we think it is central to begin a description of the course you will be teaching by clarifying its goals. Although we hope (and fully expect) that your teaching styles will differ and that you will make the activities in the following syllabus "your own," based on your own writing experiences and knowledge about writing, in a multi-sectioned course like CO150, some unification in philosophy and goals is needed to ensure a similar educational experience for all students in the course. No matter who is teaching an individual section, the following goals are similar across all CO150 classes:

How the 3 Goals Interact

Given the nature of writing situations, good writing can never be defined universally; rather, how "good" a text is can only be evaluated according to the choices a writer makes along the way about the context: is the purpose fitting to the context? is the purpose accomplished? is the content organized so that the audience can follow it? is the level of detail appropriate to the audience and purpose? Rather than writing including "rules" or "advice" on how to produce specific forms, then, writing becomes a series of questions.

It is by teaching students to make informed choices about both their writing processes and the form of their written product that CO150 aims to teach students to write. Our assumption is simply that, by modeling the process and choice-making strategies with the contexts we set up in the syllabus, students will be able to apply these ways of thinking to future writing situations. Thus, many of the writing assignments included here focus on contexts outside the academy by asking students to consider the nature of "educated" audiences in other realms of culture. The focus on cultural topics lends itself to such changes in context as well as offering a way to help students think about how reading and writing might serve them not only as students in a university for the next three years but also educated citizens of a society wherein literate acts of reading critically and writing to meet individual goals are key.

Perhaps even more important to consider is how these goals interact and complement each other. In terms of becoming more effective writers, asking questions about context and making choices to respond to that context become crucial for revision, while revision becomes an integral part of ensuring that a writer is making effective choices within the context. Revision is also integral to encouraging students to see writing as a way to analyze and change culture. Producing text often creates a notion of "I" within a writer. That is, a writer produces a text and grows attached to the ideas and meaning of that text. This investment produces a hesitancy toward revision because they fear it will distort their meaning. Thus, in encouraging and teaching revision, we teach students not only how to revise their text, but to also revise the ideas and meaning within their text. Writing can function as a way to revise self. Writing and the self, in turn, exist within culture. A writer is influenced by cultural beliefs and pressures, which they then pass on to the text they produce. A writer's audience will likewise be affected by culture and will thus bring certain cultural expectations to a text. However, if students can recognize writing as a cultural act, then view revision as a way to change the self which interacts with that culture, a text can be used to analyze and possibly change culture. To hopefully make this interaction of the three goals a bit more concrete, consider the following example…

Writing a paper for a graduate course includes a variety of possible topic choices (which literary text will you choose, what reading approach will you take, what aspect of the novel is most important, etc.) which are influenced by the situation it was assigned in and the audience it is being written for (i.e. what you've done in class; the nature of past discussions; what you believe the professor might expect). Within this complicated situation, the writer has to define his/her goals for a given paper which, hopefully, will also have something to do with what she/he wants to express about the book to this audience. What such a situation creates is the need for the writer to make a series of choices about the writing task based on an assessment of every aspect of the situation. Each choice she makes limits the other kinds of choices she can make. If I choose, for example, to write a feminist analysis of Pride and Prejudice, I've already limited which aspects of the book I might focus on and what kinds of analyses I will have to conduct. As I clarify my own ideas on the phallocentric nature of the "romance", I will also have to decide what to include based on what I think my audience will readily accept and what I will have to prove in detail. Perhaps I complete a draft, and then decide my professor is a bit threatened by feminism (because of his cultural experiences and positioning), so I might then go back and revise the essay to be a bit more attentive to the audience's concerns. Or, I could choose to stay with my original analysis to try to actually confront the audience's possible beliefs more directly. I could go on, but throughout this writing process we clearly see the interaction of revision and asking questions about the rhetorical context.

However, the writing process doesn't really end there. In a larger sense, writing always occurs within a cultural context. As I wrote the above essay about Pride and Prejudice, I'm also writing about culture. How does culture view romance? How do cultural forces influence our actions within relationships? 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 our society. However, in order for this voice to be truly our own, a writer must be aware of the cultural context in which she writes. Returning to the above example, writing such an analysis is already analyzing cultural notions of how relationships are affected by the phallocentric culture of the time (e.g. the book may reproduce expectations about gender roles within a relationship that were dominant at the time). However, as the writing process unfolds, the writer can also express and revise their own views of culture. For example, perhaps while writing a paragraph on how the book reinforces traditional gender roles, I am able to see how those roles are present in my own relationships. While the act of revision changes what I'm saying in the text, it also may change my cultural views. If I then decided to stay with my original analysis rather than revising to more readily fit what I suspect are the views of the professor, I could make an active and direct attempt to challenge cultural notions of gender roles within relationships, thus representing my own (revised) beliefs more accurately.

Final Thoughts

We begin the syllabus with such a "philosophical" statement because it is very easy, once you begin teaching, to focus only on how to produce the particular kinds of texts asked for in the major writing assignments. Keeping the goal of teaching "choice" within a context, however, can help prevent an over-focus on only 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 writing course.

Some final thoughts on what CO150 is NOT supposed to be or do. Although much of this syllabus focuses on specific papers, it is important to keep in mind that the goal of CO150 is not necessarily to teach students to write these particular kinds of papers well. While 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 teach students about writing in such a way that they can respond effectively to a variety of writing assignments and tasks in the future. In short, the main goal of the course is to create better writers rather than writers proficient at producing certain kinds of texts. Finally, CO150 is not a class where students can write about whatever they want. Without a doubt, you'll hear this complaint early in the class and often throughout the semester. However, allowing students to freely choose their own topics would shift the emphasis away from writing as a response to context. How often will they be able to fully determine their own contexts for writing, especially in other college courses? In short, having more structured topics serves a direct purpose in the overall planning of CO150 and meeting the main goals of the course.