Course Philosophy: Core Terms
Both ENGL 1010 and 1011 are designed to meet the very same general education requirements. They are both, equally, seminars in academic writing. Because all FYW/ECE courses are seminars in academic writing, exploring the courses through a closer examination of what FYW/ECE's core terms mean helps demonstrate the philosophical underpinnings of the courses.
Although we often see higher education depicted as a space where experts deliver knowledge to novices, UConn’s FYW/ECE courses are seminars, which means that they are collaborative and open-ended spaces where the inquiry is driven by the students themselves. The instructor’s role in a seminar is to get the conversation started and to provide contexts (with readings, feedback, central questions, and directed discussion) for this ongoing work. A seminar needs a territory for inquiry, a point of focus for the discussion that follows. The instructor helps to curate and oversee the cycles of writing and reflection that culminate in each graded essay. In turn, students pursue writing projects that enable them to select and define places where they might add to or develop the discussion at hand. The learning in a seminar comes, then, from the experience of making and doing rather than from “lessons” provided by an expert. The seminar setting, with its shared, participatory activity, situates the writing that happens in the course as a communication between seminar members.
ECE English students might not have much experience with this kind of education. Many K-12 educational systems assume that students need to acquire certain kinds of knowledge that meet certain standards. These priorities tend to discourage the spirit of the seminar, which focuses on democratic and learner-directed inquiry. You may need to explicitly address this aspect of the course at its outset and explain how an ECE English course functions differently than other kinds of classes.
ECE English students may have only very limited experience with college or “the academy"; however, ECE English courses imagine all students as academic writers. Students have often been asked to reproduce knowledge they've been taught; they often have had little experience generating truly novel questions, formulating lines of inquiry, and developing projects. Yet, the work of the academy is devoted to making sense of the world and communicating that to others in meaningful ways. Part of the purpose of FYW/ECE courses is to introduce students to the work of the academy and what it means to be a scholar, even as they may continue to finish their secondary education.
FYW/ECE courses are cross-disciplinary spaces; they are not designed to teach students how to become scholars in English or literary studies. Because there is no universal model for the academic writing, we present the courses as places to experiment and practice intellectual work that is common to all fields. This work includes engaging with others' texts, working with and through evidence, and circulating writing to wider audiences. By semester’s end, the class itself functions something like a mini-discipline, with a cohesive, if also disparate, collection of projects developed around a common set of questions and texts.
There are three main areas of "content" in FYW/ECE courses:
- The area of inquiry, provided by the assigned readings and whatever materials students assemble through research
- The rhetorical terms, or the shared meta-language about writing, that the class develops (with the instructor’s help), including concepts like genre, audience, writing process, rhetorical situation, and so forth
- The students’ writing itself, which should serve as a primary text for the work of the course and feature prominently in most class sessions; this is most vital content of the course, and the bridge between the first two
The core activities of the FYW/ECE seminars are writing and reflection on writing. In producing student-directed writing projects, a student gains experience in the local, specific contingencies and pressures of academic writing. In reflecting on and working with other students’ writing, a student has opportunities to consider more widely the problems and possibilities inherent in the choices writers make to communicate their ideas.
Other Important Terms
The title of the ENGL 1011 course, “Writing Through Literature” means much more than writing about literature. ENGL 1011 is not a traditional literature course nor an introduction to literary analysis. Whereas writing about literature makes the literary text the object of study, in 1011, the literary texts (and the work of coming to terms with them) foster an outwardly directed energy. Writing through literature means making use of literary texts to generate and support projects that extend beyond the occasion of this particular literary text. In a 1011 course, it is never enough to merely demonstrate productive reading of literary texts (although close, careful reading and exploration of texts is essential). Student essays should be directed toward a more specific contribution to a problem or question set up by the course readings. You can learn more about how the program conceives of "writing through literature" here.
We might describe the work of academic writing as a commitment to making meaning within diversity—making connections between disparate entities. Academic writing, in this sense, is an offering to a reader of a particular insight or material that will complicate or extend that reader’s understanding of a topic. Diversity is an essential, constituting component of the course, something that is always active when one writer thoughtfully engages with other writers. In preparing the courses, we might ask how readings, including the work of all the students in the class, can serve as informing but not prescriptive resources for the ongoing work of each class member. How might writing be understood and used less as a mechanism for “solving” or controlling a topic than one that can enable better connections and deeper understandings? Our approach focuses on thoughtfulness, exploration, learning, and transformation—all the qualities (and methods) of a writer who understands the diversity of human experience. You can learn more about diversity in FYW courses in the FYW Instructor Resource Book.
The University of Connecticut is a research site, and in this spirit we encourage instructors to experiment and try out various ways to enact the principles described here. In building the courses around inquiry, we ask students to pursue questions that do not have ready-made answers. Research in FYW courses is particularly important for helping students fulfill the University of Connecticut's information literacy competency, which is designed to make students more critical consumers and users of information.
We live in a world where it is increasingly common to encounter and produce writing that is multimodal and mediated by diverse technologies. It is important for teachers of writing to help students strategize and think critically about the synergy that is created when they compose through multiple modes as well as the technologies they use to compose. Technology need not mean digital necessarily. All writing, even alphabetic writing with a pencil and paper, is still a technology, one that has diverse applications and relies on multiple modes. Instructors should ask students to consider the rhetorical implications of composing with a variety of other technologies as well: video, audio recording, photographs, body language, captioning, hypertext, interactive interfaces, graphics, etc. Multimodal composition technologies have always affected the ways we write, the way we read, and the way we access texts. It is important for students to become aware of these changes through the practice of composing.
To become stronger writers, students need to be able to reflect on the writing that they do. Reflective writing should ask students to consider what their writing does rhetorically, describing and examining the choices they made and the effects these choices have in their writing. Students should also be invited to reflect on the process of writing. Reflection can (and should) be related to the course inquiry and the ideas and questions that drive that work and can be done in the context of the other course readings. Ultimately, one of the main purposes of reflective writing is to help students develop metacognition, which the WPA Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing defines as “the ability to reflect on one’s own thinking as well as on the individual and cultural processes and systems used to structure knowledge.” Metacognition allows students to become self-aware of the processes and resources they use to compose, which can help them confront unfamiliar writing situations more flexibly in the future.