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 such as CO150, common goals 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:
- Teach students how to ask questions about their writing (rhetorical) contexts so that they might make the best choices for their texts in response to those contexts
- Teach writing as a process of revision
- Teach students to recognize and use writing to examine culture
- Teach students to use writing to serve both academic and civic purposes
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. For instance, is the purpose fitting to the context? Is the purpose accomplished? Is the content organized so that the audience can follow it? Are the modes of development and level of support appropriate to the audience and purpose? Rather than teaching writing as “rules” or “advice” on how to produce specific forms, then, we focus on writing as a process involving questions that shape a writer’s choices.
CO150 aims to teach students to make informed choices about their writing processes and the form of their written product. Our assumption is simply that by modeling the process and choice-making strategies within the contexts we set up in the syllabus, students will be able to apply these ways of thinking to future writing situations. Thus, the writing assignments included in the second and third units focus on educated audiences outside the academy. The assignments help students use academic writing strategies and skills to write to more public audiences for typical non-academic purposes. Moreover, the focus on cultural topics 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 society.
Perhaps even more important to consider is how these goals interact and complement each other. To become more effective writers, students need to ask questions about context and make choices to respond to that context. At the same time, revision ensures that a writer is making effective choices within that 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 writers often fear it will distort their meaning. Thus, in encouraging and teaching revision, we teach students not only how to revise their texts, but also to revise the ideas and meaning within their texts. In this way writing can function as a way to revise self. Writing and the self, in turn, exist within culture. Writers are 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 and view revision as a way to change the self within that culture, a text can be used to analyze and possibly change culture. Therefore, students can also begin to see how writing can serve not only academic purposes but also cultural and civic ones. To make this interaction of the four goals more concrete, consider the following example . . .
Writing a paper for a graduate course includes a variety of possible topic choices, such as which literary text you will choose, what reading approach you will take, and what aspect of the text is most important. All of these choices are influenced by the situation in which it was assigned and the audience for which it is being written, including such factors as what you’ve done in class, the nature of past discussions, and what you believe the professor might expect. Within this complicated rhetorical situation, writers define goals for papers that, hopefully, also have something to do with what they want to express about the text to this audience. What such a situation creates is the need for writers to make a series of choices about the writing task based on an assessment of every aspect of the situation. Each choice limits the other kinds of choices to make. If I choose, for instance, to write a feminist analysis of Pride and Prejudice, I’ve already limited which aspects of the novel 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 the 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 might choose to stay with my original analysis to try to confront the audience’s possible beliefs more directly. Thus, we can see the interaction of revision and asking questions about the rhetorical context and how they inform a writer’s response to that context.
However, the writing process doesn’t really end there. In a larger sense, writing always occurs within a cultural context. In writing 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 society. Yet, in order for this voice to be authentic, writers must be aware of the cultural context in which they write. If we return to the example above, we see that 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 that time). However, as the writing process unfolds, writers can also express and revise their own views of culture. For example, while writing a paragraph on how the novel 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 decide to stay with my original analysis rather than revise to more readily fit what I suspect are the views of the professor, I could make an active and direct attempt to change cultural notions of gender roles within relationships, thus representing my own (revised) beliefs more accurately.
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 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.
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 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 give students less of the rhetorical situation in the second and third units, challenging them to apply academic thinking and writing strategies to new, more public contexts. In short, then, 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 choose their own topics would shift the emphasis away from writing as a response to context. How often will they be able to determine their own contexts for writing, especially in other college courses? Having more structured topics, then, serves a direct purpose in the overall planning of CO150 and meeting the main goals of the course.