Writing Designated Courses
In writing designated courses, students are instructed in the various writing skills needed, practiced, and valued by members of a specific discipline. Students are also given opportunities to find, access, evaluate, and use sources, as well as analyze, critique, and summarize writing within that discipline. Issues regarding grammar are reviewed depending on the needs of each individual student. The assessment of written assignments evaluates not only each student’s understanding of content in the course, but also their ability to progress in essential, discipline-specific writing skills throughout the semester. Thus, in writing designated courses, the process of writing, receiving feedback, and revising becomes the way in which students learn the most about writing. The emphasis is on higher-order concerns, such as purpose, organization, and the development of ideas. The opportunities to write in these courses may take the form of written analyses, close reading, press releases, scripts, lab reports, legal and business briefs, multimedia documents, or any other writing for the professions.
- Original Ideas and Clarity of Expression: In writing designated courses, writing becomes a vehicle for students to explore new ways of thinking about the course material. However, students also need to express themselves clearly, demonstrating that their writing has a sense of purpose (to inform, to persuade, to report, to synthesize, to argue, to entertain, etc. etc.) and is geared toward a specific audience. For example, is the student informing fellow Endicott classmates about the dangers of second-hand smoke? Is the student persuading a local business to select the advertising campaign they designed? Is the student reporting their findings from a scientific experiment to other experts in the field? In order for students to express their thoughts and ideas clearly, they need to develop an understanding of the interplay between communicators, audiences, messages, and language within the specific discipline they are studying.
- Write, Critical Feedback, and Evaluation: Whether it is through informal writing assignments such as journals or brainstorming exercises, or formal assignments like research papers, writing designated courses provide students with frequent opportunities to write, both inside and outside the classroom. Faculty members can provide feedback and commentary on multiple drafts of major assignments, enabling students to rethink the material and revise their writing. It is important to stress, however, that the emphasis in writing designated courses is on the quality of writing rather than quantity; that is, while students certainly may be required to write more in writing designated courses, the goal is to provide students with various opportunities to receive guided and focused instruction in writing and writing-related tasks. This type of instruction can be done in a variety of ways, including through periodic, one-to-one conferences between the student and the instructor, as well as peer review.
- Writing as a Tool: In writing designated courses the act and process of writing becomes a tool for students to explore new ideas, reflect on the course material, take risks, make connections between information, move from early, underdeveloped drafts to polished prose, and dialogue between peers and the instructor about relevant issues in the discipline. Writing can also be used as a tool for students to develop a greater awareness of their own writing processes by asking them to describe what difficulties they encountered while writing, how they addressed the comments/suggestions of their instructor or peers between drafts, what additional research (if any) students conducted, etc.
- Formats/Conventions of Writers in the Discipline or Field: In writing designated courses, students are asked to learn about the writing skills needed, practiced, and valued by members of a specific discipline; however, some of the goals, aspects, and conventions of writing vary according to the discipline. This variance is particularly true in relation to the genre (the type of texts students produce in and out of the classroom), how arguments are posed and defended, what constitutes valid or meaningful evidence, the formality of language, the type of citation style (APA, MLA, CSE, Chicago, etc.), and the intended audience. Therefore, students are expected to understand, practice, and develop competency in the formal and informal rules of writing within a particular discipline as those rules pertain to organization of information, content presentation, formatting, and stylistics.
Areas of Writing
Pre-writing: In the “pre-writing” phase, students think, learn, and understand the course material through informal (often ungraded) writing. As defined by Peter Elbow, pre-writing often involves “frequent, informal assignments that make students spend time regularly reflecting in written language on what they are learning from discussions, readings, lectures, and their own thinking.” Pre-writing allows the student to explore what they know (or what they think they know) about a specific topic, identify their purpose, and gather information. Some useful pre-writing techniques include: outlining, diagramming, free-writing, narrating, and researching.
Drafting the Paper: In the “drafting” phase, students are given the opportunity to write several drafts of their entire assignment or focus on specific areas, such as thesis statements, paragraph construction, organization, structure, use of evidence, introductions, conclusions, and transitions. Depending on the needs of students in the class, instructors may devote some class time to one (or several) of the areas noted above. For example, what information needs to be included in an introduction? Should a thesis statement be placed at the end of the first paragraph, or does it function better later in the piece? How is evidence used in a paper on the history of voting rights in the United States and what types of evidence are the most effective (statistics, interviews, historical accounts, etc.)?
Revising and Editing: In the “revising and editing” phase, students are asked to make substantial changes to written drafts, to (in some cases) literally “re-see” their argument, the topic, or how they have approached the assignment. In writing designated course syllabi, due dates for major written assignments can be spread out over the course of the semester to ensure enough time for the revision process. In addition, writing assignments that require revision can constitute a significant portion of students’ final grades. The editing of minor, sentence-level issues such as fragments, comma-splices, verb-tense agreements, etc. can be addressed in relation to each individual student in the form of commentary on written drafts and during conferences with the instructor.
Research: Students in writing designated courses can not only learn and practice the appropriate citation style and format for the discipline being studied (APA, MLA, CSE, etc.), but can also be given the opportunity to search for the texts, data, artifacts, artworks, etc. that have not been pre-selected by the instructor. For some courses, it may be appropriate for students to generate data from primary research, such as surveys, interviews, observations, experiments, etc. Students can also be given opportunities to evaluate various sources through analysis and critique of discipline-specific writing.