The First-Year Writing Program, a unit within the department of Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse, provides courses to nearly all university students. Our goal is to help students learn to read and write critically within the context of the university and to prepare them for reading and writing in the world beyond.
Our program shares the following assumptions:
1) Literacies. We are helping students become more literate. By literacy, we do not mean merely learning to read and write academic discourse, but also learning ways of reading, writing, thinking, speaking, listening, persuading, informing, acting, and knowing within the contexts of university discourse(s) and the multiple discourses in the world beyond the university. Consequently, writing classrooms should be places where these multiple activities are valued, and where there is ample opportunity for critical reflection on aims and results of literacy acquisition.
2) Reflection. Students are best able to transfer skills they have learned in our courses to other classes and other contexts if they engage in regular and sustained reflection about their processes and work. Thus reflection (like the reflective essay component in student portfolios) plays a key role in the success of learning to write.
3) Language is a social process. Language (written, oral, and multimodal) and literacy involve social processes. Language is, at heart, collaborative; hence dialogue with others is key to helping students situate themselves as writers, readers, and thinkers in the world.
4) Knowledge is a transaction. Within the context of literacy learning, knowledge is best considered not as a commodity but rather as a complex process that involves give-and-take between participants and contexts. The best kinds of classrooms, then, are those in which everyone learns and everyone teaches, and where knowledge involves an ongoing and productive process.
5) Support and Engagement. Learning to write in new ways is an extraordinarily complex activity. It takes time and requires an environment where learners have low anxiety, high confidence and strong motivation, and where every participant has responsibility for learning and a stake in the process.