Five things I think about when planning a writing course

John asked a while ago for “all the teachers who read this blog to identify the five most important issues or concerns you face when planning a writing course.” I’ve been meaning to post about this for about a week now, but I’ve been distracted by a variety of different things. And besides, it’s a toughie. How do I name just five things? How do I come up with five issues or concerns?

Well, here’s a start:
1) How does the course in question fit into the “big picture” of the program? For example, if the course is first year composition, there are certain “introduction to academic life” sorts of skills and lessons that ought to be in that course. Certainly there are different issues and concerns in fy com than there is in a 300-level writing class or a grad course.

2) What do other people do who teach the course, and what do they expect out of the course? With a course like fy comp, this might come in the form of programmatic guidelines, like these outcomes for the first year writing program at EMU. But I also think it’s useful to talk with colleagues who have taught the course before. Maybe that’s common sense, but I’ve seen a few too many examples where instructors take on new courses and just didn’t do this.

3) Where do I want students to be at the end of the term? When I’m writing up a syllabus, especially for a new course, I usually start at the end of the term and work back toward the beginning. Part of it is simple logistics, but the other part of it is to try and figure out what sorts of things I need to do in the rest of the class to get students to that point.
4) What’s the basic “point” or “argument” I want to make in the class? Maybe this is the sort of thing that you can only do after teaching a class a couple if times, but I like classes to have a point, at least in my own mind. I’m not thinking of anything too complicated, though. For example, I’d describe the point of my fy comp class as “research writing is a process, one best completed in small steps.” Nothing revolutionary, but keeping this point in mind helps me shape the class assignments and activities.
5) How is all going to fit and what will I have to cut? Every time I’ve tried to develop a new class, I always do too much. Knowing that in advance, I try to realize that I can’t do everything I want to do. So the trick then is figuring out what I can afford to get rid of and still be able to do the first four things.

I don’t know if that’s what John was looking for exactly, but….

Update (5/11):
When I checked the stats for this page just now (about 11:30 am), I was surprised to see the number of hits and all from people visiting Inside Higher Ed. What’s up with that, I wondered. And then I noticed that they linked to this post in a little sidebar called “Around the Web.” Go figure.

Anyway, to be fair, it’s important to note that I posted this originally to respond to the call that John Lovas had to the question(s) that he asked on his excellent blog. Also, I know that at least Mike @ Vitia has posted five things to think about, too.

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