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Learning Outcomes, Rhetoric, and the Syllabus: Basics

So, I'll be teaching ENC1101 Writing & Rhetoric. Thats what this whole classENG6937 Teaching College Compositionis about.

But what exactly am I teaching?

Lets turn to FIUs 2013-2014 Course Catalog to better understand the purposes of core curriculum writing classes. The course description reads: The first in a two-course sequence introduces the principles of college-level writing and research. Students write for multiple rhetorical contexts, with emphasis on critical thinking and revision. Written work meets the state composition requirement.

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We can pause here for several reasons. First, we can imply that the principles of college-level writing and research include [writing] for multiple rhetorical contexts. So, an introduction to the principles means teaching rhetorical knowledge of audience and purpose, which cannot be fully understood without contextualizing information. Second, the course places emphasis on critical thinking. Writing, of course, is closely linked with thinking; that is, when we make students struggle with their writing, we are making them struggle with thought itself, thereby increasing the academic rigor. Thus, writing promotes general cognitive and intellectual growth. In other words, if you can think it, you can write it. Teaching an emphasis on critical thinking, then, means teaching students the real nature of learning. Third, the course also places emphasis onrevision. Revision is the action of reconsidering and rewriting in the light of a new idea or reflection. When we teach writing as a multi-draft process to our students, we are enabling them with the tools and strategies to express themselves, including knowledge of mechanics and style. Fourth, ENC1101 is part of a broad foundational curriculum, and written work meets the state composition requirement. Now, what does this mean? FIUS Academic Advising Center can further nuance our understanding.

Every student enrolled at FIU is required to fulfill the University Core Curriculum requirements. ENC1101 and ENC1102 are two such requirements. ENC1101 is also classified as a Gordon Rule course, which means students must earn a grade of C or better.

All of this is to say someone must have thought ENC1101 was important.

It is. And that's what makes teaching it such a great responsibility.

Wemeaning graduate assistantsare thrown into teaching early in our graduate career. We are expected to engage with the pedagogy we are taught in ENG6937 Teaching College Composition to teach our own course within the framework of the Writing & Rhetoric program. We are expected to teach students to write and think critically, analytically, and creatively. We are expected to provide students with the skills to assemble, assess, incorporate, and synthesize their knowledge and ideas. And we are expected to do all this within a timeframe of 14 to 16 weeks.

Really, it's presumptuous. Students don't learn how to write in the course of a semester. Theyve been writing all along. But what we can do is teach our students how to write better. One such way to accomplish this is through teaching invention.

Systems of invention are the strategies that generate ideas for the writing process. This is especially important in first-year composition courses because it helps students to generate and select from material they will write about (Glenn and Goldthwaite 163). Invention has been downplayed in writing because of the assumption that we already know what we what to say; that is, we don't need to generate knowledge. But I say this assumption needs to be turned upside down.

I was particularly taken by the idea of using freewriting in the classroom as a starting place for invention. Freewriting is defined as a kind of structured brainstorming, a method of exploring a topic by writing about itor whatever else it brings to mindfor a certain number of minutes without stopping (Glenn and Goldthwaite 181). We did this very exercise the first day of class in ENG6937 when we we're asked to write about our best teacher and why. I started with a blank piece of notebook paper and, as my mind wandered while I wrote, filled it with everything that occurred to me. Of course, I found that much of what I had written was unusable, irrelevant, and nonsensical. But I also found that when I concentrated on writing without taking time to worry about what others might think of it, I was able to jog lose important insights and ideas. The writing is free, after all.

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