Sunday, January 23, 2005

How would you currently characterize the fx of a first year comp class?

I teach a dual-enrolled composition course at the high school where I work, and I taught comp for two years in grad school. I've spent some time thinking about this question. One of the first things I want to do is to help students see themselves as writers. A lot of them don't realize that they can write. They write for tests, but they don't spend much time writing to learn or writing to think. Especially early on, I want them to learn how to generate ideas quickly and easily and to identify their own process as writers.

Writing is so personal to students, so it is easy to scare them off and intimidate them. I do want to ease their fears about writing. I really do want to be a coach or facilitator. I want to cheer them on to a point, but I also want to push them so that they can see the potential in what they can write. I'm really one of their first critical audiences with the purpose of helping them to improve their writing and not just grading it and being done with the assignment. I feel pretty cliche here, but I do feel that building a community in the class is really important.

By that I mean, in a writing classroom everyone should know each other. Everyone should have to read each other's writing, know each other by name, and talk. Russell many times misinterprets me on this point--I don't want to get in a debate about this, but I want to mention this--I have to, especially in the early days, build a safe writing environment. Not "comfortable," Russell, but safe (there is a big difference). I do that by offering them a variety of audiences and responses. Everything we do is not evaluative. I just think you can strangle a writer by immediately criticizing his or her writing on the very first day. I've had that done to myself in a freshman comp class, and I think the purpose of comp is that we are trying to help the students join the writing community--writing for themselves, writing for academia, writing for thinking. I think the purpose of comp is that we are trying to help them improve. Way over 250 words.

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