Advice for College Writing 2

What is a “College Writing 2” course?

College Writing 2 falls into the category of “Writing across the disciplines.” While the primary focus of the class is on writing skills, the course content should address the specific writing habits of your particular discipline. Think about the primary written modes of your field: do you write research papers? informational posters? case studies? field notes? analytic prose? argumentative prose? What kinds of reading (or listening, note-taking, visual observations, descriptive analysis, etc.) are necessary to create such writing? What kinds of sources are necessary: primary sources? secondary research? experimental practice? participant observation?

The answers to these questions will provide the primary materials of your course. The assignments that you will develop should expose students to these tasks in a sequential and scaffolded manner (that is, you should break complex analytic and compositional tasks down into smaller, more easily managed steps). You should also provide ample time in your syllabus for revision; remember that this is an introductory course for freshmen and students may need several attempts to come to grips with the kinds of writing you are asking them to produce.

Ideally, the College Writing 2 courses will serve as stepping stone to upper-level work in the various departments around campus, strengthening both the quality of student writing and the experience of students at the college.

How is a College Writing 2 course different from the Queens College “W” courses?

“W” courses at Queens College are required to include certain specific elements in their course design.

Irrespective of the written assessment component, however, these courses are predominantly topics courses where the student is expected to master a certain body of knowledge. Take, for example, MUS 247W: Music History II: 1600-1827. This course requires a research paper, including a draft and an annotated bibliography, yet in addition students are learning a number of dates, periods, musical styles, forms, composers’ details and historical contextualization. They sit an exam on this material at the end of the semester.

It is conceivable that some “W” courses would better suited as “College Writing 2” courses. In most cases, this would require a drastic cut in the amount of information that the course would be expected to cover, in order that adequate time can be spent on the difficult and time-consuming elements of academic writing. A good rule of thumb is that a College Writing 2 course will cover a third of the non-writing instruction based content of a typical “W” class.

So while you might think of a W course as a “content” course with extra writing practice, you should think of College Writing 2 as a writing course first and foremost, but which is able to use disciplinary content to provide rhetorical models, occasions for research, and opportunities for students to enter a scholarly conversation.

What kinds of students will take College Writing 2 courses?

All students entering Queens College under Pathways are required to take two classes in the College Writing sequence; transfer students from within the CUNY system may have already completed this requirement at another campus.

Note that most students in College Writing 2 will be freshmen. While many will not yet have declared a major, you can assume that their presence in your class indicates a genuine interest in majoring in your discipline. You cannot assume they will be familiar with the modes of scholarly writing under discussion, but you should assume a legitimate desire to develop the skills and forms you teach in their subsequent college career.

You can also assume that most of your students will have completed College Writing 1 (a very small number of inter-CUNY transfer students will provide an exception to this rule, however these numbers are negligible). At Queens all students take English 110 to fulfill their College Writing 1 requirement. English 110 is an innovative, fully integrated writing instruction course, developed by Writing at Queens in conjunction with the English department. Though the many sections of English 110 are taught by a large and varied faculty, the syllabi are unified around specific types of written tasks, shared peer-review practices, and a common vocabulary for describing element of academic prose. There are a large number of online resources associated with English 110. Knowing how the College Writing 1 classes function should make your job as an instructor of College Writing 2 easier: there are key concepts and learning strategies that you can assume your students know; referencing these in your class should help students to build upon their prior experience.

How can writing be taught in class?

The largest challenge to writing instruction is the hands-on time required for students to experiment and practice the skills involved. For the teacher, this means that you need to schedule time into each and every class in which writing skills (or reading/researching/revision skills) serve as focus. Several times a semester you should block out an entire period in which to run a peer-review session working on student drafts (or even cancel a week of classes in order to conference with students individually or in small groups); other classes will require shorter segments of time in which students will generate material for writing exercises. It is useful to think of these classes as “workshops” rather than lectures. Though there will be (sometimes significant) chunks of contextual material that you need to deliver or explain to the students during class time, this content is better packaged into short (5-15 minute) mini-lectures, to be immediately followed by an exercise that will prove the relevance of that material to the writing task at hand. These writing lessons are often a variant one of three things: 1) introducing and defining a writing term from your course vocabulary and having students discuss it, 2) asking students to identify rhetorical devices or writerly strategies in the assigned reading, or 3) having students look at and work with their own writing.

It might help to keep in mind the distinction between these College Writing classes and English Composition classes. What’s the difference? For starters, this class is not just about the discipline of English; it’s about writing in any number of disciplines. So you might teach your students APA or Chicago style instead of MLA, or have them write ethnographic field notes instead of close readings of poems. Another thing to keep in mind is that you’re not mainly teaching grammar, proofreading, or abstract writing mechanics; instead you’re teaching students how to write by using real models and conventions from your discipline.

Finally, when developing writing assignments, think of them as two different kinds: formal and informal. You will have 4 or so graded formal assignments, supported by various informal assignments that will help students to generate material or ideas for each assignment. Ideally, these informal assignments will allow students to practice, one at a time, the components of writing that they will have to pull together in their formal assignments. Note that these shorter, informal assignments won’t be graded in the same way (if at all) that you grade formal assignments

In College Writing 1 (English 110) the formal assignments are designed to fit several basic intellectual tasks:

Critique a text to support an arguable thesis

Develop an argument to analyze tension between sources

Use a secondary source as a lens to analyze a primary source

Present research within the conventions of a particular genre

Develop an analytical argument using original research

Many of these are applicable to various disciplines, and where appropriate these can serve as useful models for your College Writing 2 course. Depending on your field of study, other categories may be necessary.

Here is a list of things you should do throughout the semester:

Course Vocabulary

Give students a shared vocabulary for talking about elements of writing emphasized in the course (with argument, motive, evidence, and analysis as central elements). You might begin with Gordon Harvey’s “Elements of the Academic Essay” and add 2-3 terms relevant to your discipline.

Use this vocabulary to describe the learning goals for each writing assignment. Use this vocabulary when grading or responding to student drafts. Require students to use this vocabulary when referring to course readings or their peers’ work.

Course Readings

When possible, discuss course readings as models for the writing students are doing, with a focus on their rhetorical strategies and the elements of writing and argument (again, using the vocabulary described above).

Writing Assignments

Design writing assignments so that students complete them in stages, starting with informal and exploratory writing and moving toward a more formal draft. (The early, informal writing is often called “pre-draft” writing or “scaffolding.”)

Students need to write regularly in order to improve. Assign a significant amount of ungraded, informal writing (journals, blogs, reading responses, reflections on their own writing and the feedback they get on it). Note: Not all this writing has to be read by the instructor.

Formal writing assignments should be encapsulated in one task sentence that has a strong verb. Don’t have students “write an essay discussing the Holy Roman Empire,” have them “use a contemporary economic theory to test the hypothesis that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman.”

Revision

Provide students with feedback on drafts, both from you and other students. This feedback should use the shared vocabulary described above and be focused on the stated assignment goals. You should introduce a consistent system for in-class workshops at the beginning of the class, so that students become more adept throughout the semester.

Require students to reflect on their progress in writing, their strengths and weaknesses, and the feedback they’re getting. This is “meta-cognitive” work that can take the form of cover letters attached to drafts, revision responses, or research agendas.

Require students to revise in response to feedback.

Here is a sample course calendar:

Week

Writing Assignment

Writing Lesson

In-class Activities

Content Lesson

Assigned Reading

1

Blog: Describe experience with course Harvey’s Vocabulary Introductions Introduction to Queens Syllabus and Writing Doc

2

Blog: Summarize a text Wiki: Summary v. Quotation Settlements 1635-1657 Blogs, wikis about Queens

3

Essay 1: Text Critique Evidence Flushing Remonstrance Historical document

4

Blog: Response to an article Thesis Article annotation 1897: Borough of Queens Primary source: artwork, speech

5

Analysis 1909: Queensboro Bridge Atlantic or New Yorker-type article

6

Draft of Essay 2 Structure Gaipa exercise 1939: LaGuardia Airport Academic Article

7

Draft Response Letter Sources Revision workshop Other students’ papers

8

Essay 2: Analyzing Two Sources Motive Queens in Literature I from Great Gatsby

9

Proposal for Essay 4 Keyterms Queens in Literature II Academic Article

10

Blog: 5-7 Citations Evidence II Evaluating sources Sources students find

11

Essay 3: Annotated Bibliography Sources II Queens in Film/TV I Foreign Parts

12

Blog: Description of Research Process Stance Queens in Film/TV II Chop Shop

13

Draft of Research paper  Integrating Quotations Queens Politics Today NY Times articles

14

Draft Response Letter Revision Revision workshop Other students’ papers

15

Essay 4: Research Paper

 

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