For My spring 2015 first year writing class, I wanted to experiment with framing the class around a threshold concept, and I wanted to spend the semester explicitly revisiting how we, both me and my students, understood this threshold concept as we worked our way through three major writing assignments and a final reflection. As I developed my course, I spent a lot of time thinking about scaffolding, and about how smaller explicit and also exploratory writing and reading projects could be combined and redesigned by students into more sustained writing projects.
I also wanted to design a series of assignments that would reflect on, build, and complement each other. To me, there’s nothing that screams, “here’s a GE class you will never think about again” like a set of disconnected units, assignments or concepts. We began our semester with a few central ideas we would return to all semester:
- Writing is rhetorical practice– because I was using a “Writing about Writing” approach, we drew from composition scholarship to frame this idea, including discussions about rhetorical ecology, activity systems, and literacy.
- What does it mean to do rhetoric/how do we define rhetoric– we returned throughout the semester to to big ideas here, one rhetorical and one pedagogical
- The first is Sharon Crowley’s definition of rhetoric as a theoretical frame from “Composition is Not Rhetoric”:
Any theoretical discourse that is entitled to be called “rhetoric” must at minimum conceive of rhetoric as an art of invention, that is, it must give a central place to the systematic discovery and investigation of the available arguments in a given situation. Furthermore, it must conceive of the arguments generated by rhetorical invention as both produced and circulated within a network of social and civic discourse, images, and events. (2)
- The second is an adaptation from James Paul Gee’s “What is Literacy?” His conception of the relationship between learning and acquisition frames my pedagogical approach to FYC:
We get better at what we practice. We develop mastery—flexibility, confidence, authority, and access in a discourse—when we know how to talk about and evaluate what we practice. Continue reading