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. CO150 aims to teach writing as (1) a series of choices made in response to contexts; (2) a process of revision, and (3) a critical element in culture.
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.
To get at this goal, every assignment in the following syllabus emphasizes writing as a response to context. What this means is simply that every writing task is different depending on the topic, audience, writer's goals, and situation in which it takes place. For 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 prof. 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 get 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. I could go on, but the point is simply that with any writing task--even something as simple as a grocery list--I make choices about content and form depending on the context (which store I'm going to points to an organization by aisles; whether I'm going or my partner is will determine the level of detail I need to use; my current budget and food stores limits my choices of content, etc.).
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. Our goal in CO150 is to teach students how to ask these questions about their writing contexts so that they might make the best choices for their texts.
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.
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.