Designing Reading/Writing Courses

In fall my campus is converting from quarters to semesters. My seminar, “Pedagogies of Reading” will change from English 589 to English 5131 and will be five weeks longer, though the class meetings will be shorter so that there will really only be about three hours additional class time. This conversion has caused me to do some considerable rethinking.

The biggest change will be in the seminar project. I plan to have groups of students propose reading/writing courses which individual students will populate with teaching units similar to ERWC mini-modules. The groups will decide the type of course they want to design and develop the learning outcomes. They will also discuss what sorts of teaching units might fit into the course. Individual students will then propose teaching units, which will have to approved first by the group and then by me. The courses could be high school or college-level, theme-based, rhetoric-based, literature-based, or some combination.I have created the following handout to facilitate course design.

CourseArc-hnd-1

The varying height of the rectangles is supposed to represent initially increasing levels of difficulty, a plateau of practice, and a slight dip at the end, still above the initial level, when assessing. That is my normal pattern when designing a course.

This handout emphasizes the importance of having clear learning goals, being aware of them throughout the course, and assessing them at the end. This may seem obvious, but many composition instructors still tend to fall into a pattern of assigning readings that they like about issues they think are important, discussing them in class, and making students write about them. This pattern simply repeats until the term is over. Learning can occur in that environment, but it is haphazard.

The units will be based on templates that the groups develop in class. Of course, the ERWC Assignment Template will be one example. However, I want the class to develop new templates for different courses. I often feel that the ERWC template is too linear and that it does not adequately represent the shift in rhetorical perspective that happens when a student moves from being a reader (the pathos position) to a writer (the ethos position). The following handout is an initial attempt to represent that movement in a cyclical rather than a linear way.

ReadingtheRhetoricalSituation

(These handouts are less than elegant, I know. I am learning to use LibreOffice Draw.)

An author purposefully writes a text for a particular audience. Our student reads that text, performing the audience role, but for different purposes than the original audience. Then the student responds to the text, in different ways for different purposes, becoming a writer with an audience him or herself. In the center is the text, with an original context and exigence, but as the cycle repeats, those factors change. Instead of driving the same linear one-way road over and over again, the student is in a cycle of reading and writing, reading a writer and then being a writer. Rather than being a passive consumer of discourse, the student is an active participant in an ongoing conversation.

The question for a teacher designing modules and teaching units is “How can I set this cycle in motion in such a way that my learning goals are advanced in every repetition?” That is what we will be trying to answer in my new version of this course.

One thought on “Designing Reading/Writing Courses

  1. guitarsophist

    One of my colleagues said that he liked the fact that the second chart looked like a periscope viewfinder, but didn’t think he would use it in his course, which is more about rhetorical theory than teaching. One of my students suggested that a spiral or an ellipse like a planetary orbit might work better. These observations, while helpful, indicate that this diagram is not quite working. My original attempt to get at this idea was the metaphor of a driver and a passenger switching seats on a long road trip. The essence of the idea is that a student taking a reading/writing course goes through cycles moving from being a reader to being a writer, and that in a well-designed course each cycle should advance the learning goals. A series of modules is not a series of one-way excursions from point a to point b, but a series of cycles that are all part of one journey, a journey that begins before the course and continues after it. In order to become good writers, we have to become good readers, and as we shift from role to role, we discern the purposes of others and develop our own purposes. Perhaps it is developing the ability to see purposes and have purposes for reading and writing that is most important.

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