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Writing Assignments in a WID-based FYC Course
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[This was originally posted October 2, 2015.]
When I share stories of my experience teaching in a WID-based curriculum, I’m often asked: So what exactly do you teach in a WID curriculum?
There are all kinds of ways to answer this question, of course. I could emphasize the rhetorical principles I teach, the writing process, the evaluation of source materials, or any number of other important concepts and skills. I’ve learned, though, that what people really want is to learn more about the kinds of major writing projects I assign.
Considering my course with such a question in mind, it occurs to me that I tend to organize my WID-based FYC course around two general categories of writing practice: rhetorical analysis projects and disciplinary genre projects.
Rhetorical analysis projects take a number of forms, but they all serve the purpose of providing opportunities for students to analyze and reflect on the ways academic communities, among others, construct texts.
When we explore writing in the natural sciences, for instance, one of my projects (Translating a Scientific Article for a Scholarly Audience ) asks students to translate a scientific article intended for a scholarly audience into a genre aimed at a more popular audience, like a press release or a news article for a science magazine. The act of translating information into the popular genre causes students to notice numerous conventional or distinctive features of scientific writing; it further allows students to consider the appropriateness of those features when communicating the same information for a different audience. In more traditional rhetorical analyses, students are asked to identify and describe the rhetorical features of one or more academic texts. As part of their descriptions in my assignment, I push students to explain why they believe the writers of a text made the rhetorical decisions they did.
Rhetorical analysis assignments like these provide opportunities for students to consider “the how question” — How is the text constructed? — but they can also cause students to consider more deeply “the why question” — Why is the text constructed as it is? Assignments that support students as they develop an understanding of how and why texts are constructed as they are, regardless of the intended audience, rely on the kinds of transferable analytical skills we want students to practice any time they encounter a new discourse community, in college and beyond.
Disciplinary genre projects are those in which students have opportunities to practice the forms of inquiry and writing that are often specific to particular academic communities. These reflect the kinds of assignments students are likely to encounter as part of the undergraduate experience. The chart below provides a sampling of genres students might produce in a WID-based FYC course:
Some Possible Genres
Interpretation of Artistic Text
Review of Work of Art
Social Science Theory Application
Formal Observation Report
Business Letter (Business), Legal Brief (Law), Discharge Instructions (Nursing)
Although I’ve described two kinds of writing assignments, the point really should be that these are complementary endeavors. Practicing disciplinary genres gives students needed experience in discipline-specific inquiry, and analyzing the rhetoric of a discipline helps students understand how that research is translated to a specific audience.
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