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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Bennington

More Job Materials: First Year Writing Syllabi and Writing Center Philosophy

Hello everyone and welcome back to Rhetorical Roundhouse, your home for everything related to rhetoric, martial arts studies, and Taekwondo practice. I have a really interesting new topic for you that I wanted to write about this week, but some unexpected work came up that took a lot of my writing time. Don’t worry, I’ll start talking about UFC and video games next week, I promise. And also, don’t worry, the work was a a good thing—I was scrambling together more professional documents because of a job lead. So, I wanted to share the work that I did putting these things together in case they offer useful examples for others. These include sample syllabi for a first-year writing course and an “advanced writing course” as well as a statement of writing center philosophy (for a position that also entailed directing a writing center.)

It’s been nearly two years since I’ve taught a composition class and, even then, I was teaching a fairly non-standard digital humanities flavored writing course. So, in a way, I had a LOT of fun taking all I’ve learned about writing instruction in the last eight years and applying it to a single intro class. The Comp 101 syllabus I created felt like a nice combination of me being my honest self as a teacher while also constructing a well-thought-our series of assignments designed to meet measurable student learning objectives. Anyway, I’ll share it below, but first I wanted to mention a few things.

When I read the email I sort of misread exactly what they asked for and assumed they wanted me to make a sample syllabus for their 101 and 102 components of first year writing. So I thought about what kinds of lessons could be taught over two semester course like this and then I tried to combine those ideas with the curriculum of the university. For example, I value teaching rhetoric as a way to write more effectively. This university features a second semester freshman writing course that is also responsible for introducing students to literature and film. As a compromise, I decided to design a course titled “rhetorical texts in context” so an instructor could teach the fundamentals of rhetorical analysis as applied in both literary and popular texts—achieving both the goals of my own teaching philosophy and those of this university’s English department.

Anyway, I know these syllabi aren't perfect, but I was happy with some of the creative ideas I built into the course regarding how students could participate in more experiential learning and write about their responses frequently. This came in the form of a journal, one which is kept private but students must write periodic summaries from it. The journal combined with my attempt to use the palgwe/ eight habits of mind as a way to theme each two week pair represent my artistic hippy-dippy brain at work. I don't have real data or evidence suggesting it is effective for learning, but I have no reason to believe it could be detrimental either.

Anyway, other than that I stole a lot of assignments and scaffolding from various writing courses I've taught and found successful over the past few years and stitched them together into some sort of Franken-course. And I love my creation. Teaching rhetorical analysis of discourse communities this semester has been really successful and I think he application to a first-year writing course is really clear, especially one that's investigating discourse communities within the university itself. Regarding the investigation process, one thing i found composition courses to often lack is quality resources on how to perform research. If they do have these, the research methods largely include locating secondary sources and citing them correctly. In professional writing, I have a lot of fun teaching students how to perform more applied research methods and then correlate their findings with other secondary sources. Again, a first-year course investigating a local discourse community would benefit from this kind of instruction, so I included the research summary as an assignment leading up to a final collaborative report. More important than this final deliverable, I think, are the steps built in along the way that teach students how to work together as a team, how to organize and set rules for their collaborative process, how to write together, how to communicate criticism in a professional tone, etc. Anyway, I could babble on here but I think the point is, it's ok for a 101 course to focus on just a few key goals. The ones I chose were:

  1. Reinforce basic writing skills

  2. Teach critical thought through rhetorical analysis

  3. Introduce students to applied and academic research methods

  4. Expose students to collaboration techniques for writing and future projects

Also, as I mentioned above, the 102 syllabus is meant to be a companion piece that teaches students about more advanced rhetorical analysis and research skills, but it also has to expose them to a wide variety of literature, drama, and/or film because of the standard course description. As such, I figured I would divide the semester by these different types of texts, starting with a traditional prose piece, and use each genre as an opportunity to discuss a different rhetorical context. For example, I included Fight Club as a novel they would all read and analyze in terms of the kind of 90's aesthetics or other cultural markers it may have represented. I imagined this class being quite fun as I could show clips from Bruce Lee films like Fist of Fury and discuss the underlying discourse of martial arts and racial politics...but I digress.

I did this whole 110 point system with "extra credit" and/or optional attendance grade baked in that I found kind of clean and freeing and I wish I'd thought of it sooner. Also also, I've never been a "points" guy but there's something satisfying about just seeing points instead of mysterious percentages and grade weight categories...and colors! I used colors!

Also, since I misread the initial email, I also included the following professional writing syllabus from last semester (just in case they wanted to see something more "advanced" than 102).

After thinking through a two semester sequence of first-year writing, I then switched gears a bit and tried to think about running a writing center. It's been years, but I did kind of get my start as a writing instructor at my undergraduate writing studio. I always enjoyed the one-on-one learning environments and the relaxed creative space. Not only that, I thought a lot about the kinds of problems we faced and how to solve them. Now that I'm more familiar with university administrative process, I can see more clearly the tricky space where an effective writing center must exist.

I had a lot of fun writing this one even thought was a bit of a rushed revision process. I think it lines up nicely with my teaching philosophy and demonstrates that I do have a head for admin work--I should by now!

Anyway, this is the first writing center philosophy I've ever written so any and all feedback is welcome. Thanks for reading and I hope someone out there finds this at least a little helpful.

Tune in next week for some real digital ninja action.

Until then,


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