Dialogue on Writing: Rethinking ESL, Basic Writing, and First-Year Composition

By Geraldine Deluca; Len Fox et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Teaching Basic Writing:
An Alternative to Basic Skills
David Bartholomae

David Bartholomae is Professor of English and Chair of the English Department at the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently on the Executive Council of the MLA and he is coeditor (with Jean Ferguson Carr) of the University of Pittsburgh Press Series, Composition, Literacy and Culture. He has written widely on composition and pedagogy, including Facts, Artifacts, Counterfacts and the textbook, Ways of Reading. The following article appeared in the Journal of Basic Writing, 2, 2, 1979.

At the University of Pittsburgh, we teach Basic Writing to around 1,200 students each year. The instruction is offered through two different courses— Basic Writing (3 hours, 3 credits) and Basic Reading and Writing (6 hours, 6 credits). We also have a Writing Workshop, and basic writers frequently attend, but their attendance is voluntary, and the workshop is not specifically for writers with basic problems.

The courses are not conventional remedial courses: they carry full graduation credit and there is little in the activity the courses prescribe to distinguish them from any general or advanced composition course. In fact, because of the nature of the assignments, the courses would be appropriate for students at any level. This is certainly not to say that there is no difference between a basic writer and any other student writer. There are significant points of difference. But it is a way of saying that writing should be offered as writing—not as sentence practice or paragraph practice—if the goal of a program is to produce writers. The assignments, about 20 in a 15week term, typically ask students to consider and, from various perspectives, reconsider a single issue, like “Identity and Change” or “Work and Play. ”1 In the most general terms, the sequence of assignments presents writing as a

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1
For an example of such a sequence of assignments, and for discussion of sequence as a concept, see: William E. Coles, Jr., Teaching Composing (Rochelle Park, New Jersey: Hayden Book Company, 1974) and William E. Coles, Jr., The Plural I (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1978). My debt to Bill Coles will be evident everywhere in the paper.

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