Overview of Unit 1: Learning to Write to an Academic Rhetorical Situation

  1. Introduce students to the importance of a text's purpose, audience, and context as part of the rhetorical situation
  2. Teach students how to make choices about their own texts based on context
  3. Move students from more familiar, personal responses to more academic modes of discourse appropriate for the expectations and needs of academic contexts
  4. Teach principles of objective, academic summary of texts as a basis for effective response
  5. Develop skills in reading nonfiction texts critically

Unit One establishes the course's larger goal of having students recognize that writing is a response to a specific context-an attempt to achieve a specific purpose addressed to a specific audience. In service to that goal, we look at how context defines expectations and values for writing within any given situation. In this case, we'll be moving from a more personal and familiar context in Essay 1 to a more unknown, academic writing context in Essay 2. This shift to an academic context is designed to highlight the distinctions in expectations and values, as well as the choices students can make in relation to purpose, audience, focus, and use of evidence depending on the rhetorical situation involved. For instance, instead of merely offering a personal response within a context that is more familiar to them as in the first assignment, Essay 2 calls for students to define and negotiate the needs and values of a less known audience. By juxtaposing the assignment contexts we call attention to how the new, academic context influences each dimension of the rhetorical situation-from students' purpose and focus, to the types of evidence students use, to the way they organize their writing. Moreover, because students develop their own criteria for evaluating a text, they recognize that there is not a single or universal form for their writing, but they instead see that the structure for their writing comes out of the context provided in the assignment. Through audience analysis students generate a list of possible criteria for evaluating the text, opening up different choices for their response to the assignment context. Both the Essay 1 and Essay 2 assignments offer questions to get students thinking about how they can most effectively approach the assignment context. In this way, students must define their goals for their paper based not only on the assignment sheet provided, but also on recognizing that assignment sheet as exemplifying and identifying a specific context that they must write to, thereby equipping them for other kinds of academic writing they will encounter. By continually focusing on choice and analysis of context in writing, we want to show students that these ways of analyzing texts are choices available to them in writing to respond to a variety of contexts in other classes.

Role of Writing/Writing Skills Emphasized: Unit One highlights analyzing a rhetorical context to determine what approaches are available for producing a text. Students are asked to recognize and analyze their purpose in writing, as well as consider their audience. Given the academic context, this unit emphasizes the introduction and development of academic writing skills-objectivity and accuracy in summary, the use of evidence in support of a focused response to a reading or set of ideas, conventions for organizing and defining claims-as well as the development of critical reading strategies and skills. However, it's important that we emphasize these skills as responding to the context of academia. (Even the personal response in Essay 1 is framed within academic expectations for focus, organization and development.) These skills, as we know, are not equally relevant in the contexts of business or personal writing. We do a disservice to students to teach them these "skills" without acknowledging that these "skills" themselves function within certain contexts.

Role of Reading: Critical and active reading strategies/skills are crucial not only in this unit, but also in most of the academic and professional texts students will encounter in the future. Therefore, it's important to help students develop the ability to define a writer's purpose, position, and main ideas objectively; and understand how those emerge from the context within which that particular writer is writing. In this regard, it is more important to focus on the argument or main ideas/viewpoints of the texts than understanding and emphasizing each event or example, a way of reading that many students used to reading narrative fiction find particularly challenging. Although we focus primarily on main ideas of a text, in Essay 2 we also read for specific textual examples and features such as evidence, tone, and organization to use as possible criteria in responding to the context for that assignment. Noting the relationship between textual features and larger structure is a key aspect of critical reading because students must be able to prove with textual evidence that their analysis of main ideas in a text is valid. Finally, a satellite function the readings serve is to connect to the theme of cultural influences that will help set up deeper analysis of the cultural implications of writing in Unit 2.

Tips from Experience:

Some things to consider or anticipate in this unit: