ENGW 1302: Rhetoric & Composition II Honors (Spring 2015)
Official Description: This course provides continued instruction and practice in the techniques of composing, with emphasis on argumentation. Students will write both formal and informal assignments, one of which will be a research paper. They will be expected to demonstrate increased competence in the writing processes from invention through revision. Class work involves analysis of occasion, audience, and purpose, as well as peer critiques and evaluation.
Our class is going to be different from any other English class you’ve had. The focus of our conversations and research into writing is going to be centered on questions of transfer: how can you transfer what you know about writing from one classroom to another? from college to the workplace? from your work life to your private life?
What is transfer?
Scholars in education and, most recently, in writing studies have started to ask questions about what students learn about writing in their first year of college and how they apply that knowledge later on in their academic and professional careers. For many years, writing teachers (and others) simply assumed that it was easy for students to practice writing in one course and then continue applying that information for their other courses. Research, however, has come to show us two interrelated things:
- Learning to write is a lifelong process, and learning about writing—how it works and how people apply this knowledge about writing as an activity—may be the best way to prepare students for the wide variety of writing tasks they’ll face in college an in their professional lives.
- Transfer—or the knowledge and skills we learn in one context enhancing what we know or do in another related (but not identical) context—depends on students learning the knowledge or skill in the first place, but transfer also depends on individuals knowing when to apply particular pieces of information and abstract thinking that can take time.
So, for our purposes, let’s think of transfer as “how previous learning influences current and future learning, and how past or current learning is applied or adapted to similar or novel situations. Transfer, then, isn’t so much an instructional or learning technique as a way of thinking, perceiving, and processing information” (Haskell 23).
When we talk about transfer in your first-year writing course (and beyond), we want you thinking about how you think about, perceive, and process information—both in similar learning environments and in unrelated situations.
Think of it like this. You’ve been driving a car for a few years. You know how to navigate the roads, how to adjust the mirrors, and even how fast to take particular corners on the drive home. Now, if you needed to drive a moving truck, you could do a pretty good job on the streets. There would be some adjustments and learning curves, but driving a car and driving a moving truck would be similar enough that triggers would cue your senses and reflexes. This is what is often called “low road transfer,” or that automatic triggering in similar circumstances.
For me, the best example of this would be thank you notes. As a child, my mother had me write notes to family friends and grandparents whenever I received a gift. Many, many, many years later, when I got married, I needed to write thank you notes to friends and family who purchased gifts as part of the celebration. Even though I hadn’t written a note like this in years, the little cards, folded in half, reminded me to name the gift I received, to comment on why it was going to be useful, and to say something meaningful about my relationship to the gift giver. This writing situation was easy for me not only because I knew the genre (thank you notes) but also because I had practice with the activity itself.
Now, as a writing teacher, you might expect me to say that I also exhibit good “high road transfer,” or that transfer of skills or knowledge that depends more on mindful abstractions. This hasn’t always been easy for me. Like you, I’ve encountered a number of writing tasks that I had never practiced, never read, and never studied. For example, as a faculty member, I have to set goals for myself each year, explaining to my boss (the Dean of Humanities) what I plan to do as a teacher, as a researcher, and as a colleague at SEU. Never in my life have I had to do this: not when I was waiting tables in high school, not when I was entering inventory data into a computer system for an oil and gas company, and certainly not when I was proofreading wills for a probate attorney. (Yes, I had all those jobs.)
When I sat down to write up my professional development plan, I didn’t have a genre to work from—I’d never written a project like this before—but I did have experience working with reflection and with goal setting. By thinking back to what I had written years and years ago as a 4-Her and remembering what I know about reflective writing, I was able to dissect this new writing situation and see that beneath its differences were similar moves I had made before as a writer. This is “high road transfer,” or our ability to use reflective thought to abstract from one context and make connections to another.
I want you entering this course thinking about transfer because, as I hope the above examples illustrate, if you can begin to recognize how and why writing situations are different, then you’ll be better prepared to adapt your (reading and) writing processes and practices for the writing challenges you’ll face throughout your career at SEU and beyond. Our job—and the goal of this site—is to give you the knowledge and language to recognize the working parts of writing situations. This is why we’re organizing the class around Threshold Concepts.
What is a Threshold Concept?
As you first start thinking about threshold concepts, you may find yourself wondering if these are more than vocabulary terms. Yes, the concepts you’ll work through in this course are also the jargon of writing studies, but these concepts are also representative of big ideas related to writing—ideas that are so big and so unique to the way that writing scholars think and talk about writing that learning them will allow you to approach your own writing activities as an expert. In your other courses, these threshold concepts may act as gateways, or ideas that you must master before you can understand any other content. So, a threshold concept isn’t just an idea you need to understand to move forward in a course; a threshold concept is something that can act as a lens for you to use in your analysis of ideas within a discipline. These threshold concepts affect how different groups of people ask questions, how they seek answers to their questions, and even how they interpret the data once they’ve collected it.
There are some key features of threshold concepts, and these features help us separate out vocabulary, jargon, and skills we might learn in a discipline from a concept unique to how a given discipline makes knowledge.
- Transformative. Once you understand a threshold concept, the way you think about your discipline will change. If you are a business student, for example, understanding opportunity cost might fundamentally change how you think about the work you do in that field. The same might be true for a linguistics student or social scientist thinking about signification.
- Troublesome. Threshold concepts are not easy to wrap our brains around; in fact, they may not only seem unnecessarily difficult, but they may not even make sense. When I first learned about signs and signifiers, I couldn’t grasp the idea that some things are “real” and others are just what we labeled them. Once I understood the relationship and significance of these terms, I couldn’t think about words and language use in the same way.
- Irreversible. Once we understand and grasp the concepts, we cannot unlearn them, just as I suggested above. Because I have a background in women’s studies, I think about media representations of women through a particular lens. This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy movies, like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but it does mean that I have to consciously “turn off” that part of my brain to avoid over analyzing the gender roles suggested by the film.
- Integrative. Threshold concepts, once we learn them, help us make connections within our discipline that we couldn’t easily make before. As you work through the eight concepts of this course, we hope that you’ll use our built-in cues to make these connections. We also hope that you make your connections and bridges between various concepts.
Okay. So, what does writing for transfer mean?
Writing for transfer is a pedagogical approach (a way of teaching) based on the theory that changing what you know about writing can change the way you write. Writing is relevant to all of us, and what you learn about writing now will be useful to you after this class ends (and even after you leave SEU). You already have 12+ years of (formal) reading and writing experience, so you have the expertise to ask interesting questions about why you (and others) write, which is the first step to becoming a student scholar.
This course should give you declarative knowledge about writing—you’ll know things about writing that more than 50 years of research has uncovered—and procedural knowledge about writing—you’ll know more about how writing practices, including your own, work. Here are some questions that you’ll be able to answer by the end of the course:
- How does writing help us learn?
- What is the purpose of asking questions in college, and what do questions have to do with writing?
- Is college writing (and research) really any different from what you learned in high school?
- Does writing matter for your job or for your major?
Student Learning Objectives
ENGW 1302: Rhetoric and Composition II is designed to help students develop competencies in five (5) distinct areas.
- RHETORIC. Students will be able to
- evaluate arguments and use sources in their own writing, and
- shape their writing to suit particular rhetorical situations.
- COMPOSITION. Students will be able to
- use successfully a variety of strategies to generate ideas, create a first draft, revise ideas and organize and edit paragraphs and sentences, and
- give peers constructive feedback on their writing.
- RESEARCH. Students will be able to
- formulate an appropriate research question, use library resources to do research, and evaluate sources.
- CRITICAL READING. Students will be able to
- evaluate arguments’ logic, evidence, and reasoning.
- MORAL REASONING AND CIVIL DISCOURSE. Students will be able to
- identify and evaluate the underlying values of arguments, and.
- discuss others’ viewpoints respectfully and accurately.
In addition to the learning objectives set out by the university, I have a number of goals for our course. You’ll likely see that there is overlap here, but my goals bear repeating. By the end of the semester, I want students to
- see that writing is an opportunity for learning;
- become actively engaged readers, able to use multiple reading strategies for a variety of complex texts, including their own;
- identify their own purposes for writing;
- gain more confidence in their abilities to engage in future writing tasks successfully;
- know how to use various types of feedback (teacher, peer, self-assessment) to revise their texts effectively;
- use technology in their writing in rhetorically effective ways;
- understand the rhetorical implications of writing style and grammatical conventions for a given writing situation, including selecting tone, voice, and level of formality appropriate for your audience and purpose.
Whew! That’s a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time, but when you look back at the course activities for the semester, I hope you’ll see that they are designed to meet these SLOs. More importantly, by the time our course is over, you should have a clearer understanding of three threshold concepts related to writing.
- Writing mediates activity: writing gets things done and makes things happen.
- Good writing is completely dependent on the situation, readers, and uses it’s being created for.
- Writing is knowledge-making, an ongoing, recursive process that changes not only what you write but also what you think.
Daily Grind Activities (300 points)
Major Writing Projects (700 points)
Writing Project 1: Rhetorical Analysis of Writing, 100 points
Writing Project 2: Research Proposal, 100 points
Writing Project 3: Annotated Bibliography, 150 points
Writing Project 4: Researched Argument, 200 points
Writing Project 5: Research Remix, 150 points
You should have purchased your own copy of Writing about Writing, which we’ll be reading in throughout the semester. In addition to this book, we’ll be reading articles available to you through the SEU Library, Blackboard, and/or this site. Below is a list of the reading assignments we’ll complete this semester. When available, you’ll find a link for the article. If you click on this link from a computer on campus, you’ll automatically be redirected to the appropriate database. If you access these links off campus, you may need to complete a few extra steps. I encourage you to download these articles and to print out hard copies of each one. I can help you save trees by printing out efficient versions (which I’ll show in class). You may also wish to read them online, but know, in advance, that you’ll need to “show” how you read materials during class discussions, so be prepared with notes and references from each reading assignment.
NOTE: Readings from our required textbook are listed as WAW along with the page number.
Writing Project 1 Readings
Singh-Corcoran, Nathalie. “Composition as a Write of Passage.” Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing. Eds. Charles Lowe and Pavel Zemliansky. Vol. 2. West Lafayette, Indiana: Parlor Press, 2011. 24-36. Web. 7 Jan. 2015.
Sullivan, Brogan. “Active Reading.” Writing Commons. Writing Commons, n.d. Web. 7 Jan. 2015.
Whitehead, Alfred North. “Universities and Their Function.” Finding a Voice. Ed. Jim W. Corder. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1973. 420-427. Print.
Covino & Jolliffee. “What is Rhetoric?” WAW, 999-999.
Beckman, Milo B. “Why I Write Bad.” Editorial. The Harvard Crimson [Cambridge, MA]. The Harvard Crimson, Inc. 21 Nov. 2014. Web. 7 Jan. 2015.
McClure, Randall. “Googlepedia: Turning Information Behaviors into Research Skills.” Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing. Eds. Charles Lowe and Pavel Zemliansky. Vol. 2. West Lafayette, Indiana: Parlor Press, 2011. 221-241. Web. 7 Jan. 2015.
Fister, Barbara. “Teaching the Rhetorical Dimensions of Research.” Research Strategies 11.4 (1993): 211-219. Web. 7 Jan. 2015.
Downs, Douglas and Elizabeth Wardle. “What Can a Novice Contribute? Undergraduate Researchers in First-Year Composition.” Undergraduate Research in English Studies. Eds. Laurie Grobman and Joyce Kinkead. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2010. 173-190. Print.
Writing Project 2, 3, and 4 Readings
Olivas, Bernice. “Cupping the Spark in Our Hands: Developing a Better Understanding of the Research Question in Inquiry-Based Writing.” Young Scholars in Writing 7 (Fall 2009): 6-18. Web. 7 Jan. 2013.
“Activity Theory: An Introduction for the Writing Classroom”
“The Genres of Chi Omega: An Activity Analysis”
“‘Create a Research Space’ (CARS) Model of Research Introductions”
Nava, Angelica T. “Where Teachers and Students Meet: Exploring Perceptions in First-Year Composition.” Young Scholars in Writing 9 (2011): 119-127. Web. 7 Jan. 2015.
Writing Project 5 Readings
Giles, Sandra L. “Reflective Writing and the Revision Process.” Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing. Eds. Charles Lowe and Pavel Zemliansky. Vol. 1. West Lafayette, Indiana: Parlor Press, 2011. 191-204. Web. 7 Jan. 2015.
You will complete much of your work for this course in small groups. I expect you to fulfill your fair share of group work and interact courteously with your peers at all times. Most of our class sessions will be conducted in discussion/workshop format, and many of these workshops cannot be “re-created” outside of class, so regular attendance and active participation are essential to your success. Active participation on any given day may include successful completion of reading quizzes, which will be used to assess your preparedness for a class meeting. If you fail to complete a reading quiz, but are present for class, you may still be penalized for lack of preparedness.
You’ll find an explanation the general course policies applicable to all my courses on this site; please read and review these as necessary. Below are a few policies that are most likely to affect you as a student in my course.
Absences (and Lateness)
I do not differentiate between excused and unexcused absences. I also know that life happens, so here is the attendance policy for all my courses:
- You may miss a maximum of one week of class without penalty and with no questions asked. However, you still must turn in your work on time and keep up with the course. Because our class meets on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, this means you may miss three (3) class meetings without penalty.
- Each absence after this one week maximum will lower your final course grade by half a letter grade, regardless of how well you otherwise perform. If you miss five (5) or more class meetings, I reserve the right (but do not take on the obligation) to drop you from the course with a grade of “WA.” If you remain on the roster after the drop deadline and “disappear,” you will likely earn a grade of “F.”
Class starts and ends on time, which means 12:00 pm. If you walk in after class has begun—even if it is 12:02 pm—then you are late. Two instances of lateness will be treated as an absence. Two instances of leaving class early will also be considered an absence. Of course, if you have some legitimate reason to be late or leave early once or twice, please tell me.
I don’t accept late work. My deadlines are not like the expiration date on a gallon of milk: “Best If Used By.” The due dates and times are not suggestions. They are agreements between us about when work will be submitted. The same is true of in-class activities; these collaborative assignments depend on students being prepared. Thus, in-class assignments or activities, including daily or weekly quizzes, cannot be made up.
When you enter class, all phones must be turned off. Silent is okay, but vibrate is not. Also, I do not stand in front of class texting, and I ask that you extend me the same courtesy. If you cannot be in class without texting, then might I suggest you find another course.
I do have an office phone and voicemail box in my office. However, the best way to communicate with me is in person, during office hours. If that doesn’t work for you, my preferred method of communication is via email. I do not typically return phone calls to students.