College Writing and Beyond: A New Framework for University Writing Instruction

College Writing and Beyond: A New Framework for University Writing Instruction

College Writing and Beyond: A New Framework for University Writing Instruction

College Writing and Beyond: A New Framework for University Writing Instruction

Synopsis

Composition research consistently demonstrates that the social context of writing determines the majority of conventions any writer must observe. Still, most universities organize the required first-year composition course as if there were an intuitive set of general writing "skills" usable across academic and work-world settings.

In College Writing and Beyond: A New Framework for University Writing Instruction, Anne Beaufort reports on a longitudinal study comparing one student's experience in FYC, in history, in engineering, and in his post-college writing. Her data illuminate the struggle of college students to transfer what they learn about "general writing" from one context to another. Her findings suggest ultimately not that we must abolish FYC, but that we must go beyond even genre theory in reconceiving it.

Accordingly, Beaufort would argue that the FYC course should abandon its hope to teach a sort of general academic discourse, and instead should systematically teach strategies of responding to contextual elements that impinge on the writing situation. Her data urge attention to issues of learning transfer, and to developmentally sound linkages in writing instruction within and across disciplines. Beaufort advocates special attention to discourse community theory, for its power to help students perceive and understand the context of writing.

Excerpt

In history courses students acquire skills that should be of value in
many occupations and endeavors: how to think critically, evaluate evi
dence, and write with force and clarity.

—History department web page

Write an essay of 1,000 words. Discuss the film in light of the readings
and discussion to date…. The point of this exercise is to demonstrate
that you have read the materials and can apply them to thinking about
the film.

—History course syllabus

The details of Tim’s writing experiences as he progressed through the coursework for a major in history will be given in the next chapter, but here I hold up for the reader’s view the parallel (“parallel” in the sense of being “simultaneous”) experiences Tim was having in his first year in his writing courses and in his entry level history courses—History 101 Western Civilization, and History 185 History of Islam.

READING-TO-WRITE DIFFERENCES

I begin with several charts thatjuxtapose freshman writing and Tim’s experiences in his entry-level history courses.

As Table 2 (next page) shows, in freshman writing Tim was asked to read short essays or excerpts from books—in all about 20 pages a week. This amount of reading resonates with what the instructor guide for freshman writing said:

Remember that the course is primarily one in composition. Don’t overload
your students with reading … A good rule of thumb: not more than one
third of the out-of-class work for your course should be spent on anything
other than the student’s writing.

In history, weekly reading assignments included roughly 50 pages a week in course texts and readers in addition to reading book-length works. Four books were assigned for the first essay assignment in the . . .

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