Goals of Unit I: Move students from more familiar, personal responses to more academic modes of discourse; teach principles of accurate and objective summarization of texts; develop skills in reading nonfiction texts critically. This unit establishes the course's overall goal of having students recognize that writing is a response to a specific context. To this end, they will complete a variety of writing tasks that highlight choices made regarding purpose, audience, focus, and use of evidence depending on the rhetorical situation surrounding the writing. Each student must define his/her goals for each paper, based not just on the assignment sheet provided, but on recognizing that assignment sheet as exemplifying and identifying a specific context for writing. (Refer to the "Primary Teaching Goals of CO150" for a larger discussion of this topic).
Writing Skills Emphasized: This unit emphasizes the introduction and development of academic writing skills -- objectivity and accuracy in summary, the use of evidence in support of a response to a reading or set of ideas, conventions for organization and defining theses -- as well as developing critical reading skills. Context and purpose in writing will be highlighted, especially in regard to defining and targeting a writer's intended audience.
Role of Reading: Critical and active reading skills are vital not just in this unit, but in most of the academic and professional texts they will encounter in the future, so it is important to help your students develop the skills to define a writer's purpose, position, and main ideas accurately and objectively. In this regard, it is more important to focus on the argument or main ideas of the texts rather than understanding and emphasizing each event or example or illustration, which many students used to reading narrative fiction find particularly challenging.
Tips from Experience:
Some things to consider or anticipate in this unit:
Most students seem to arrive at CO150 much more accustomed to reading "literature" (ie. narratives, poetry) than many of the nonfiction texts they will encounter in this class. This is good to keep in mind because it helps to explain and anticipate their tendency to recount events rather than ideas. You may want to make "IDEAS, not EVENTS" your mantra for this section, especially when we read narrative essays like Soto's or Terkel's interviews. They'll really need to learn to FOCUS their summaries on a main idea or thesis, which is sometimes helpful to think of as the writer's argument. At any rate, in their first summaries, be prepared for many of them to mention things you don't even remember from the narratives but they present as central events to the text. For example, we used to read the Rose essay in The PHG for summaries, and we all got a lot of descriptions of Rose's bus ride to school that none of us even recalled from the text!
In regard to the use of personal evidence, there are two main things to watch out for:
First, many students have had hammered into their heads the idea that personal experience is never acceptable in academic writing, and many will be fear that they will be struck by lightning if they use the word "I". You may want to discuss why this was the rule in the past and why it's slowly changing now, even in the sciences, where "objectivity" was always the rule.
Second, when using personal experience, many students have a very hard time using detail. For example, they will say they will agree with an author's point because they "remember that from high school" and leave it at that. Gently remind them that you (and probably no one else in the room) went to high school with them, so they will need to explain this more. Point out to them how a writer like Soto manages to give us necessary details of his life without losing focus of his main ideas about working class life in the U.S.
In regard to the issues discussed in the reading for Unit I:
Many students, especially first -semester freshpersons, have fairly limited contact with viewpoints and experiences unlike their own, and while some welcome this broadening of their horizons with open arms, others will react more defensively. They've grown up with cherished -- and some deeply held, though unquestioned -- notions about the world around them, and many will see you as shoving an unnecessarily bleak and "radical" viewpoint down their throats. Many will rail against what they see in Unit One as our systematic "bashing" of the American dream. This is perfectly understandable, and here's what to do if you find yourself in the position of defending the readings or our project:
Remind your students that just like you, they do not have to defend any of the viewpoints presented by the readings. They are only required to understand them and to be able to recognize the authors' positions.
In that vein, they are more than welcome to disagree with any of the ideas presented by the readings, provided that they present evidence to support their own position. Some students will undoubtedly have knee-jerk reactions to some of the views they see as politically coming from the far left. The best advice is to not engage in a political argument with them. Remind them that you do not care what they believe or don't believe, but that in college writing they have to (1) accurately represent the authors' positions and (2) support their responses to them with sufficient evidence.
For students who just don't think they can "relate" to these essays (and you'll hear this a lot -- "relating" to an essay is a popular way into that essay), you might notice them trying to force a personal connection to respond to it. In the past we've gotten responses comparing the experience of being a preppie to being a black student from rural Kentucky in an all-white university. It's not a good analogy, obviously. Instead, encourage them to look at why they can't relate to an experience they have read about. What was their background like that may have spared them some of the difficulties some authors may present? Focusing on this is more valuable to them than trying to force a false connection to an alien idea or experience. And again, remind them we're responding to ideas, in these essays, not events or experiences.
With Pincusí essay in particular, students can misconstrue his message as saying that structural discrimination is NOT discrimination (he believes the opposite!).
With the Academic Response Essay, here are some typical responses they might pursue (but you want to discourage!):
The shrinking of the middle class is no big deal -- There is "only so much wealth go around" in the world, so some people will just be poor. --Social Darwinism is "just the way it is" and wonít change - any writer who questions this stuff is a Communist - poverty happens by choice.