What Students Should Write About in a FYC Course

“Often it’s not we who shape words, but the words we use that shape us.” – Nina George

As we are nearing the end of our composition theory and pedagogy course, my counterparts and I have been tasked with something almost impossible: create your course design, and within that course design describe your teaching philosophy. An entire semester’s worth of information, packed into one assignment? This. Is. FINALS!

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It comes as no surprise to anyone reading these posts that I very much want to take a socio-epistemic approach to my classes and incorporate an underlying theme of linguistics in first year composition courses. I’m not going to lie – while I am insanely passionate about the topic of linguistics, I’m also a little nervous about talking about linguistics and how they shape society, especially to a class of mostly 18 and 19 year olds who have grown in the Deep South, perfectly comfortable in their own dialects and social circles. Introducing linguistics is a tricky thing to do, and there has been a part of me that has been thinking I’m being too ambitious with my course description and design.

After this past week’s readings, though, I feel more confidence than ever in my approach to my classes in the fall.

In the book, First -Year Composition: From Theory to Practice, chapter 13, titled “A Cornucopia of Composition Theories” explores the questions “What Should Students Learn? How Do These Teachers Facilitate This Learning?” In the section labeled “course content”, readers were given a glimpse into what the teachers in this book really strove for in terms of course content and activities. The main takeaways I took from this chapter are as follows:

Students Should Write to Learn About Community. One of the biggest things I want my students to learn is that they live in a culturally diverse world with many different languages, identities, and dialects. This is where I want to incorporate mini ideas about audience and audience appeals in terms of my 1101 classes. According to the text, “Multilingual students must realize that the knowledge presented in their writing must be negotiated in relation to the intellectual traditions meeting in the contact zone” (Coxwell-Teague and Lunsford 360). This just means that students need to utilize exigence along with personal experience to communicate ideas. In this regard, I want all of my students to have this approach in the 1101 classroom as well.

Students Should Write to Learn About Creating Knowledge. One of the best and most comforting things I read in this chapter was this quote: “The insistence of epistemists that writing is a means of learning is still very much a tenet of the teachers represented in this study” (Coxwell-Teague and Lunsford 363). It was great to see these thought leaders in first year composition also encourage their students to learn and create their own knowledges through their written work, an exercise that I hope to implement in my own courses in the future. The text further clarifies:

“What people experience as reality constitutes and is constituted by language: How we understand out world depends in large measure on the language we use to describe and talk about it, so that our expressive choices generate (understandings of) reality. In practice, writers find that the act of ‘writing down’ the ideas they already have usually gives them ideas they didn’t have before.” (Coxwell-Teague and Lunsford 364)

The belief here is that by physically writing down their ideas, they go through a meta-cognitive exercise of learning material and asking questions about the ideas they write down. I hope to help increase this meta-cognition exercise by assigning readers/outside texts that are written by linguists or prominent authors who incorporate linguistics and dialect into their writing, and ask students to write how the authors utilized ethos, pathos, logos, and Kairos to make their respective arguments. By giving them reading material that incorporates the information I want them to take away with them (socio-linguistics) and asking they analyze the texts, my students will process the importance and persuasive ability of language in writing composition.

Students Should Write to Learn About Power. This is perhaps the biggest lesson I want my students to take away from my class. I have had so many people express to me that writing is a “safe” act of writing down your ideas without having to directly address people or speak to an audience. This thinking is so wrong on so many different levels, but before I go off on a tangent I wish to share how this textbook also agrees with my mentality that those who wish to gain power or control do it most easily through language. According to the text, “Our students should come to understand that language is never neutral, never innocent; doing so will empower them to resist the mechanical use of language by other individuals, governments, and by themselves” (Coxwell-Teague and Lunsford 364). Further, “…there is no unmotivated writing, there is no objective, neutral, unbiased, or impartial writing or text” (Coxwell-Teague and Lunsford 365). I hope to instill in my students a sense of authority and agency through their writing, that writing can give them power and control over their thoughts and words. I want them to have this sense of power through their blog journals and also through the topics they pick for their essays. I want them to write about things that truly motivate them, not the unoriginal ideas of whether abortion or weed should be legalized. In order for them to understand power through words, I need to assign prompts that actually get them excited to write or to even think about the topic to begin with.

Mari’s Musing:

After reading this chapter, I am more motivated than ever to discuss linguistics with my kids. Some of my students may never have even heard of the concept of linguistics before, so in order for them to gain knowledge and understanding through their writing, I will provide them with readers and outside material that explains linguistics and how it is relevant to the 1101 classroom. Further, I will help them understand exigence by having them meta-cognitively write about a linguistics article, making them analyze the rhetorical appeals used in each article. It is my hope that by assigning these activities I can help students show their power and strength through words, and that languages and dialects are an important part of understanding English as a whole.

Works Cited

Barnes, Jill. “Promoting Student Agency in Writing.” International Literacy Association (ILA), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 24 Feb. 2020, ila.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/trtr.1899.

Brooks, Taylor. “What Is an Exigence?” Exigence, 2021, rhetoricandwritingmajor101.weebly.com/what-is-an-exigence.html.

Chick, N. (2013). Metacognition. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved April 19, 2021 from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/metacognition/.

“A Cornucopia of Composition Theories.” First-Year Composition: From Theory to Practice, by Deborah Coxwell-Teague and Ronald F. Lunsford, Parlor Press, 2014, pp. 348–376.

Zajac, Marielena. “Teach the Change You Wish to See.” More on That with Mari Morgan, 8 Feb. 2021, morewithmari.com/index.php/2021/02/08/teach-the-change-you-wish-to-see/.

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