Guided Tour: Community College Writing Class

Theoretical Foundation

finalsweek
“Finals Week” by Mack Holman. Located at Chemeketa Community College. Photo by Jason McHuff.

In “Working Through Theory in a Community College Classroom,” Howard Tinberg notes that in a community college setting student needs can be quite diverse. We might be more likely to have adult learners rather than traditionally-aged students, and those students may be focused on immediate professional rather than academic goals. Consequently, he proposes that FYC classes much be developed with the specific needs of students within the context of the local institution.Within the specific context of a community college, he notes that a desired outcome is for students to have a “hybrid literacy,” including training in writing for academia and the workforce. For this reason, some of Tinberg’s goals follow the current traditional model, with an emphasis on a use of evidence and use of language.

To support transfer and academic success among community college students, Tinberg follows Anne Beaufort is presenting the following four kinds of knowledge as learning goals:

  • Rhetorical Knowledge: Understanding of the rhetorical situation and ability to leverage the three modes of persuasion (logos, ethos, pathos)
  • Genre Knowledge: Understanding the anatomy of different forms and how to use them. Tinberg specifically names the proposal as a genre, which would be significant for more professionally-oriented writing pedagogy. He also notes that this specific course is mostly genre-based.
  • Process Knowledge: Draft, revise, peer-review, edit, and polish.
  • Metacognitive Knowledge: Self-reflective writing enabled by gaining critical vocabulary about writing.

All throughout course development needs to be guided by the following questions:

What role does reading have in a writing classroom? What level of complexity is appropriate for such readings? Who are my students as readers? What knowledge do my students need to have to work with these readings?

Central Texts

NOT Bartholomae and Petrosky’s Ways of Reading (Though the book is still influential on the conceptual level for assignment sequences).

Assignments

Essay of Belief: Students compose an audio essay that presents a belief they hold in a way that considers audience needs. Since this assignment requires no research, it can be a good place to start for inexperienced writers.

Application Essay: Following the more practical and professional orientation of the community college’s mission statement, Tinberg then has students write an application for transfer to a four-year college. This assignment develops the audience awareness students began considering in the audio essay, but directs the focus outward to the requirements of an institution rather than inward with individual belief. As a result, this assignment adds some outside research to the process.

Profile: Students interview and write a profile on a fellow student. While the first two assignments help students develop their own voice, this one requires them to listen to the voice of another student that they interview.

Proposal: Combining previous work on audience awareness and outside research, the proposal assignment calls on students to solve a problem in the community. In this assignment, students have the practice a specific genre common in professional writing.

Article Annotation: With this assignment, the course transitions from professional writing to academic writing. Building on their experience with research in the application essay, this assignment asks students to summarize and eveluate a peer-reviewed article in two paragraphs.

Trend Analsysis: The skills developed in the previous assignments culminate in this final project. In a 3-5 page paper, students analyze a marketing or business trend through their own research.

Assessment

Tinberg emphasizes peer review and written feedback in the course via blog commenting. He also provides ways for students to assess his feedback through “Talk Back” reflections.

FYC at Emory

Tinberg’s insights into the inappropriateness of assigning complex readings along with his emphasis on audience awareness and slowly scaffolding from inward sources to outward sources and rhetorical contexts are all quite relevant for Emory. However, the emphasis on professional writing would not be a good fit. Were Tinberg to teach at Emory, I think he would point out that his first principle is to conform his course development to the mission statement and needs of the local institution.

Reimagining the Course

I understand that each institution has different needs and I think Tinberg was right to move away from complex reading assignments in an FYC course, but I’m not fully convinced that a community college course should be this radically different from courses developed at a four-year college or private university. Some students are entering a community college as a cheaper springboard to completing a bachelors, and I’m not sure that this assignment sequence would be a good fit for them. Also, I worry about perpetuating inequality through purposefully offering a different kind of course to community college students. This sequence resonates too much for me with the idea of a vocational track.

Instead, I would like to be in touch with the writing faculty of local four-year colleges and universities that partner with my institution and find a compromise between meeting student needs and offering equivalent opportunities to a four-year FYC course.

I would also update the Essay on Belief from a radio essay to a podcast and change the topic. I think a podcast would include more multimodal composition than a radio essay (though they are related genres), and it would be a more familiar genre for students. Though I appreciate the metacognitive development that can come from critically considering one’s own beliefs, I’m not sure if incoming students will be ready for that for their first assignment. Instead I would like to have a lower stakes topic, such as explaining a process they already know to an outside audience, so they can focus on the actual craft of developing a spoken presence and thinking about audience needs.

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