Rhetoric and Composition Office Makes Writing Courses More Inclusive and Effective at U of A
Students coming to the U of A in the fall will find themselves facing a much more inviting and rigorous first-year composition classroom.
In the new academic year, Composition 1 and 2 (ENGL 1013 and 1023, respectively) will be moving to a portfolio system supported by a grading contract. For students, this means their instructors will focus more on what they write and how their texts work rather than focusing on the style they use to write it.
Students should feel comfortable being, writing and existing as themselves in Composition 1 and 2, and this policy aims to systematically make that possible.
Starting in the fall, students will be free to write in the style and dialect that they find comfortable in their Composition 1 and 2 coursework, giving them more space to build their skills as researchers, writers and revisers of the written word.
This writing-centered approach also allows instructors to focus on helping students effectively research, draft, structure and revise their writing instead of focusing on how well they edit the rough first drafts of a complex assignment. Under the grading contract system, the emphasis is on the completeness of assignments and the amount of meaningful revision that has been applied to a paper.
Adam R. Pope, interim director of the Program in Rhetoric and Composition in the Department of English, explained: "The grading contract removes a lot of the stress around sounding like an academic that students bring into Composition 1 and 2. Many students come to the university worried about their writing skills and dive into Composition trying to focus on really advanced topics like the style they are writing in without having a firm foundation that lets them be effective researchers and writers."
"With this new approach, we hope to establish space for students to learn the fundamental skills they will need as they learn to find their own voice in academic and professional settings over the next several years at the U of A and beyond," Pope said. "Comp 1 and 2 aren't the start and finish of a student's writing journey; they are just the first two steps in a lifelong journey."
According to Katherine Lam-Bellacero, the curriculum and teaching specialist in the Program in Rhetoric and Composition, "Before we begin writing, we have to plan, research, evaluate our sources, take notes, summarize and synthesize them into a coherent argument, and learn when and how to cite correctly."
"Yet, traditional writing assessments overlook all of this labor in favor of a well-edited piece of writing that may not have the substance required of first-year writing. The grading contract seeks to recognize this commitment of time and effort," she said.
While it may seem like this approach makes composition courses easier, the opposite is true. A grading contract ensures that all students will do a lot of writing and write consistently through the semester.
"We have chosen textbooks, curriculum and assignments that teach and reinforce the techniques of effective writing for a variety of contexts," said LewEllyn Hallett, assistant director in the Program in Rhetoric and Composition. "That continues to be our goal and standard. It is unfair to penalize a student who is working hard and improving but is not yet a capable writer and award another student who has the background to write effectively from start of semester. Using a grading contract equalizes but will not sacrifice the rigor of writing instruction."
These changes by the the Program in Rhetoric and Composition will bring the freshman writing experience at the U of A into closer alignment with best practices in the larger field.
As Pope explained, "None of this is new or unique to the University of Arkansas. This project is informed by Dr. Asao B. Inoue's work on anti-racist writing assessment in particular and supported by countless other projects that work to make the writing classroom a more diverse, inclusive and effective space."
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