Writing effectively involves making a multitude of choices. Many of these choices are determined by the rhetorical situation—the writer’s purpose, the writer’s audience, the nature of the writer’s subject matter, and the writer’s relationship to the subject. English 1 is intended to increase students’ awareness of rhetorical situations—within each writing project at the university, and beyond. Students learn that language has consequences and writers must take responsibility for what they write.
In English 1, students to take responsibility for the ideas they discover as writers—ideas that occur through engaging with a range of materials in independent research and considering how one’s own perspectives add to those of an ongoing conversation. The course frequently puts students at the center of their own discourse, challenging them to discover and express their own ideas and to make their ideas convincing or compelling to others.
Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing
In English 1, students work with readings that stretch them intellectually; readings may be challenging, or may be in genres with which they are less familiar. Generally, readings in English 1 center on intellectual challenges and questions—that is, they are written to respond to and extend the conversations in academic communities of various kinds. However, instructors sometimes also provide a wider range of nonfiction texts as they guide students toward becoming more flexible readers. While English 1 is a primarily a writing course, it is also a course in rhetorical reading. Students learn how to engage with a variety of texts, how to understand a writer’s argument, and how to actively critique and respond to the ideas of others.
Knowledge of Process and Conventions
Part of helping students to embrace writing as a lifelong practice is to emphasize that writing itself is a kind of inquiry, a way to think and learn. It is not simply a means of recording what one already knows. English 1 creates the conditions that allow students to gain confidence as they discover what they think through writing, helping them see that this process can be used in any subject, any discipline, and almost any situation that demands thought.
How students view themselves as learners and what motivates them to acquire a particular body of knowledge strongly influences students’ learning. As instructors of an entry-level writing course, we believe that students’ experience with language and language use in the course should be a positive one, and this will provide the basis for the development of writing strategies and practices. As a consequence, English 1 focuses, in part, on the affective dimension of writing and thinking processes; the course encourages students to believe that reading and writing are meaning-making activities that are relevant to their lives, within school and without.
A Final Note about the Activity of Writing
In English 1 students work within a community of writers in which they understand that membership implies engagement with each others’ struggles to make meaning. They experience writing as a social interaction for a particular purpose, for knowledge is not created in isolation but through dialogue and writing shared with a real audience. The writing classroom functions as an intellectual community in which students are encouraged to think freely and deeply, where difference is not only accepted but is also seen as an opportunity for learning.