CIty University of New York: Hostos (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2017 Proceedings
Publication year: 2017
Pages: 5028-5033
ISBN: 978-84-617-8491-2
ISSN: 2340-1079
doi: 10.21125/inted.2017.1170
Conference name: 11th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 6-8 March, 2017
Location: Valencia, Spain
Community college students entering their majors are frequently required to pass a course in basic composition, either by satisfying a cut-off score on a high stakes test or, increasingly, by compiling a portfolio of essays that represent their abilities. Needless to say, this latter approach is a welcome evolution. However, whatever the assessment method, the requirement that students be proficient in writing can in itself be a daunting challenge if learners are unaccustomed to the writing process or to its emphasis in a liberal arts environment. Swamped by technical jargon that instructors consider pivotal, such as topic sentences, thesis statements, paragraph development, rhetorical modes and citation protocols, students struggle to make sense of assignments and feedback, even more so when emerging second language competency is ongoing, as is the case at the college where I teach.

It is important for instructors to shift the mindset that writing is a chore to one in which it is seen as a creative enterprise, one that allows students to find their voice and a meaningful engagement with the subject matter. In a redesigned curriculum for a basic college writing course, I tried to do just that by employing as a subtext the guidance that acclaimed authors have imprinted on their own art. We examined the contemplations of José Gorostiza, for example, on the relative importance of form and content, Italo Calvino on communicating a position, and Anne Lamott on the dangers of perfectionism. The results, demonstrated not only by tangible outcomes like increased retention and better test scores but also by high levels of engagement with the serious issues and demanding readings of the course, bear out a simple message. Students become better equipped to tackle the challenges of writing if they understand them more deeply, and can use the power of ideas to guide their work rather than relying on intimidating terminology.

When we are asked if a glass or the water in it is more important, we obviously choose the water. Yet Gorostiza noted that water is impossible to hold unless it is first put into a container. The person pouring out this glass of water, conceived during our discussions, became the first favorite of many such characters generated by the class as shorthand to discuss the purpose and mechanics of composition. Students recognized that like Gorostiza's glass, an essay gives readers access to its valuable content: the writer's message. But more characters were to materialize among my student writers as the semester unfolded: the waiter, the sailor, the dentist and others.
Composition, English Language Learning, New Approaches.