Freshmen Composition

  • calibro

    Posts: 8888

    May 06, 2009 10:40 PM GMT
    So I just received my TAship assignment for the upcoming year, and I will be teaching Freshmen Composition. I know it's a while away, but I do want to start constructing a syllabus. So my question to you is what would you want to study in such a class? The letter says my objective is "to teach students to think, read, and write rhetorically to better communicate in different academic and civic contexts."

    I am not one for tradition, so already I am considering having my students read comic books and write me persuasive essays exploring the symbolism and allegory of superheros juxtaposed with contemporary events (i.e., how say X-Men was originally modeled after the civil rights movement and how it can today be interpreted as a depiction of LGBTQ struggle), and showing them Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as a means to introduce the concepts of narrative anachronism, foreshadowing, motif, and recurrent images of explanation (think Kate Winslet's hair color).

    I'll probably have to teach some classic stuff. Leaning toward Clarence Darrow's closing address for mercy in the Leopold and Loeb case. But that's all I got. So what in terms of speeches, novels, poetry, or any popular mediums of written expression would you find exciting to study?
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    May 06, 2009 11:05 PM GMT
    That is cool.
    Is this a high school class?
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    May 06, 2009 11:09 PM GMT
    Using comic books and graphic novels sounds like a terrific idea. I'm wondering what you are going to give your students as models for their own writing. One challenge for incoming freshmen is that they are asked to write in a literary form ("the academic essay") that they have never read. They just write these things--they never read them.

    I have one friend who uses the New Yorker as the course textbook; everyone in the class subscribes, and she chooses one or two articles for them to read, and then in class they analyze how the writer presents the material, anticipates and answers the reader's questions, and so forth.

    Almost any composition manual will have several examples of essays for students to analyze. That could give you some good ideas. Check out http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/ and go to "Composition" under "English." They have a ton of comp manuals. Order desk copies of any that look good.
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    May 06, 2009 11:21 PM GMT
    Sounds like you've got some solid ideas. I taught freshman comp for three years and had a blast...there can be a lot of drudgery, but bringing innovative ideas and nontraditional texts to discuss will help guarantee a memorable time for all.

    A few memorable projects/readings I did off the top of my head...

    Black Orchid -- a Neil Gaiman graphic novel that can be used as an alternative means of exploring feminism/feminine constructs.

    Maus I & II -- A pair of comic-style books which featured cute little mice, frogs, and assorted animals to create an interesting look at nationalism in the context of the Holocaust and World War II.

    Pop culture itself -- I occasionally did class discussions in which I'd bring in a handful of tabloids from the supermarket, split the students off into groups with those tabloids, and have them deconstruct an article or two, discussing what one could deduce of our culture from such 'literature'. Did the same with song lyrics...my students particularly got into a rousing discussion over Eminem's 'White America' one day.

    And as for classics, you really can't beat 'A Modest Proposal' for an exploration of satire and the examination of societal isues. It's amazing how many students simply don't get it at first.
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    May 06, 2009 11:40 PM GMT
    Congratulations. Being a TA is a great experience and career builder. Your role as a college instructor will be to share your passion for your discipline with them.

    I think you should ask yourself what the most beneficial knowledge and skills that your students will learn in your class would be. Then, design your class backwards to meet your (and the departments) course objectives. If you start with the activities that you want to do, then they may not match up with your course objectives. Too often, I see college instructors who list things like "Develop an appreciation for american literature", but the students never actually do anything that would develop their appreciation. Since your course is an early experience for these students, you can help them by connecting your class to later classes they will be taking.

    Also, make sure that your assessment for the course matches up with your course objectives. I would assess students on both factual knowledge (authors names, historical periods, etc.) and also on experiential knowledge and change in attitudes. For this last type of assessment, ask them through out the course to explain how their attitude toward the material is developing. Assessment like this helps you to improve your course from quarter to quarter. You might consider "5 minute essays" at the end of each class where you ask them to list 1.) The most interesting thing they learned 2.) The thing they were most confused about and, 3) What they would like to know more about.


    What ever it is, I strongly suggest that you have a rubric for grading students' assignments so that they are clear on the areas that they will be graded on. It will probably be: grammar, organization, clarity, and meeting the objectives of the writing assignment (answer the question, etc.).

    Rubrics help students specifically see where they are succeeding and where they need work.

    To reduce the work on you, have students peer review each others work before they turn in any assignment. Students should review each others working using the same rubric you use.

    Opportunities like these, where students have the opportunity to improve their work based on feedback from others, are often the most beneficial kinds of learning experiences.


    You will never go wrong if you keep asking yourself "If I were a student in my class, would I be interested and would I learn anything?"
  • calibro

    Posts: 8888

    May 07, 2009 12:18 AM GMT
    LGWC saidThat is cool.
    Is this a high school class?


    This is a freshmen comp class at the university level.
  • irishkcguy

    Posts: 780

    May 07, 2009 12:25 AM GMT
    There's nothing wrong with teaching classics -- they're classics for a reason.

    I used to teach high school English and found most students didn't understand the concept of an essay, making it near impossible for them to write one effectively.

    I like the idea about using the New Yorker as a textbook. Also, you might look into using Dave Eggers' literary magazine The Believer as a source. Two of my favorite writers are Nick Hornby and Kurt Vonnegut; both of them have published collections of essays.

    How about encouraging them to publish something? That could be the final for the class, they write a very polished essay that they then submit for publication. Writers Market would be a great text to use in class...
  • DrewT

    Posts: 1327

    May 07, 2009 12:28 AM GMT
    Congrats! It seems like it's been forever since I took that class. I would say make it accessible to all the students. A lot of people in Freshman Comp have no idea what is going on, sad, but true.

    I think you've got some good ideas, but maybe have it a little more open? I don't know. For my 102 class (which is different from 101) we could choose a topic in the Vietnam War period and I chose Stonewall.

    Don't expect a lot of class participation. My aunt teaches this class, in addition to pre-101, and most of her students are like bricks.

    Good Luck! icon_smile.gif
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    May 07, 2009 12:29 AM GMT
    having some teaching experience, in addition to being a third year university student taking first year composition, I suggest making sure your students know how to write a proper sentence.
    Having had to peer review papers at the beginning of the first year composition class I needed to take, I was astounded at the ineptitude displayed by many of my peers when it came to writing.
    Most of the pieces I read had great ideas and approached their topics from a fresh point of view, but they ultimately failed at communicating those ideas because they could not construct a proper sentence.
    While I applaud your passionate approach to your students, I would encourage you to teach them what they absolutely need to know to be successful in the world beyond high school.
    My favorite teacher in high school showed us an episode of the Simpsons, then expected a five page paper written at a university level to be handed in. He was able to balance course material that his students loved with high standards. I've never enjoyed learning more, than I did in that class.
    I wish you the best with your new class!
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    May 07, 2009 12:38 AM GMT
    I hated my freshmen composition class. The teacher was nice but very bland. The topics could have been better. Whatever you do, keep it interesting.
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    May 07, 2009 12:50 AM GMT
    calibro said

    This is a freshmen comp class at the university level.


    I guess I fail at that, have fun with that.
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    May 07, 2009 1:03 AM GMT
    I think it's a good idea to include *examples* of the sort of essays you want your class to be able to produce. Doc Johnson and Orwell's essays stuck with me for several years, and I still turn back to the Rambler when I want to read beautiful sentence construction.
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    May 07, 2009 1:11 AM GMT
    stormwatcher said While I applaud your passionate approach to your students, I would encourage you to teach them what they absolutely need to know to be successful in the world beyond high school.

    I agree.
    Your class should be useful and relevant to the writing tasks the students will face in their future careers. That means mastering the ability to analyze and discuss substantive material. To that end some texts of greater specific gravity than comic books would be essential. The X-Men won't be much help if you want to go to law school.
    That said, my own freshman Expository Writing section went too far in the other direction. Our TA had us slogging through John Donne's "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions." But at least I knew if I could get through that, I could do an explication of anything.
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    May 07, 2009 1:23 PM GMT
    stormwatcher said...
    My favorite teacher in high school showed us an episode of the Simpsons, then expected a five page paper written at a university level to be handed in. He was able to balance course material that his students loved with high standards. I've never enjoyed learning more, than I did in that class.
    I wish you the best with your new class!


    I completely agree with stormwatcher. I see teachers make mistakes on both ends. They either try to be 'too fun' or 'too strict'. Its possible, and the best learning environment, to have both.

    Students will enjoy the class when you make it fun/interesting, but they will respect the learning and come out with valuable new skills when you communicate high expectations in the class.
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    May 07, 2009 1:44 PM GMT
    It's been years since I have taken Freshman comp myself but I have had to go in and view other teacher's freshmen comp classes on many occasions.

    The teacher's comp classes that I loved most was when they pulled some personal love of theirs into the study of writing, literature, etc.

    One teacher I know had deep love for Blues music. He discussed the history of the blues and had them watch a few videos on it. Then he had them read a couple of stories and essays based on the Mississippi Delta and finally had students produced their own work about it.

    The exact information that you choose is probably not as important as your personal passion for the choices you make. At least for me that is the most interesting part about it.

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    May 07, 2009 2:35 PM GMT


    calibro asked, "I'll probably have to teach some classic stuff. Leaning toward Clarence Darrow's closing address for mercy in the Leopold and Loeb case. But that's all I got. So what in terms of speeches, novels, poetry, or any popular mediums of written expression would you find exciting to study?"

    ...probably DH Lawrence's 'Women In Love' because it deals with the mores and struggle of some open relationships, closeted sexuality, and romantic idealism for example. It also gives a 'snapshot' of that era and the more adventurous in it.

    -Doug of meninlove
  • calibro

    Posts: 8888

    May 07, 2009 2:50 PM GMT
    Thanks for all your recommendations and ideas! Yeah, it seems smart to be imaginative and interesting, but within the context of a strict rubric emphasizing learning. I read everyone's posts and I immediately say, oh, I gotta use that text... but I might have too many now! You've all been wonderfully helpful. Thanks. icon_biggrin.gif
  • danisnotstr8

    Posts: 2579

    Jun 17, 2009 1:10 AM GMT
    I spent the last two years studying rhetoric.

    Most college freshmen have no idea what the word means. They think that "rhetoric" is just a part of the phrase "rhetorically speaking," which doesn't even mean what it means. (LOL)

    Most college sophomores come out of their freshman year STILL having no idea what rhetoric is.

    If the class is to learn about writing "rhetorically," then I think it's your duty to read them a couple of classic speeches that draw on Ciceronian rhetoric. Then, you'll be the teacher who actually made a difference.
  • danisnotstr8

    Posts: 2579

    Jun 17, 2009 1:21 AM GMT
    I spent the last two years studying rhetoric.

    Most college freshmen have no idea what the word means. They think that "rhetoric" is just a part of the phrase "rhetorically speaking," which doesn't even mean what it means. (LOL)

    Most college sophomores come out of their freshman year STILL having no idea what rhetoric is.

    If the class is to learn about writing "rhetorically," then I think it's your duty to read them a couple of classic speeches that draw on Ciceronian rhetoric. Then, you'll be the teacher who actually made a difference.
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    Jun 17, 2009 1:42 AM GMT
    Ahhh freshman comp, those were the days...

    Ask them to review the entire Bill of Rights and make sure that they understand the concept of the seperation between church and state, and also have them review the 14th amendment.

    Next, give them this quote below made by Barack Obama and ask them to write a letter to their Senators about why they hope that their senators are willing to bring equality to all citizens. They can have extra credit if it is in favor of equality and is mailed to the senators who represent them.

    Barack Obama: "I'm a Christian. And so, although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition, and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman."

    You could also have them argue what would a democrat find in keeping traditions as a rule of law other than a conservative following. Extra credit on this one is the ability to define the term "sanctify"