English 1010 is a unique course that functions very differently than the writing or English courses students took in high school. It’s not a lecture course on literature or a weekly quiz about grammar. It’s a course defined, rather, by three important terms: Seminar in Academic Writing.
Although we often see higher education depicted as a space where experts deliver knowledge to novices, our FYW courses are seminars, which means that they are collaborative and open-ended spaces where the inquiry is driven by the students themselves. The instructor’s role in a seminar is to get the conversation started and to provide contexts (with readings, feedback, central questions, and directed discussion) for this ongoing work. The instructor helps to curate and oversee the cycles of writing and reflection that culminate in each graded essay. In turn, students pursue writing projects that enable them to select and define places where they might add to or develop the discussion at hand. Most of the learning in a seminar comes, then, from the experience of making and doing rather than from “lessons” provided by an expert.
First-year students may have only very limited experience with “the academy,” but, as participants in our courses, they are indeed academic writers. The FYW courses are cross-disciplinary and multivalent. Because there is no universal model for the academic essay or paper, we present the courses as places to explore provisional formulations and practice intellectual work that is common to all fields. This work includes engaging with established formulations, working with and through evidence, and circulating one’s own thinking with others engaged in related inquiries. The FYW courses, then, serve as sites of trial and negotiation. By semester’s end, the class itself functions something like a mini-discipline, with a cohesive, if also disparate, collection of projects developed around a common set of questions and texts.
The content of a First-Year Writing seminar is threefold. There is a subject matter, provided by the assigned readings and whatever ancillary materials are uncovered in a student’s research process. The second content includes the various insights, terms, and formulations the class develops (with the instructor’s help) regarding academic writing, including considerations of genre, audience, writing process, and so forth. But the most vital content of the course, and the bridge between the first two, is the students’ writing itself, which should serve as a primary text for the work of the course and feature prominently in most class sessions. The core activities of the FYW seminars are writing and reflection on writing. In producing individual writing projects with particular emphases and goals, a student gains experience in the local, specific contingencies and pressures of academic writing. In reflecting on and working with other students’ writing, a student has opportunities to consider more widely the problems and possibilities inherent in the choices writers make to communicate their ideas.
These three terms, and modes of teaching and learning, should be the starting place for any English 1010 course. For more details about this course’s values and components, see the full course description.