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Department Programs

English Department Writing Program

The English Department Writing Program attempts to describe and guide the use of writing across courses and sections in order to meet the goals that the English Department shares with the Academic Writing Program: to improve students' writing (especially in genres typically practiced in the study and teaching of language and literature) and to enhance students' ability and opportunity to learn through writing.

As we describe our Writing Program, we set some basic requirements for all courses and sections, but we do not indicate, for example, every course in which a creative writing piece is assigned. For many of our courses we teach too many different sections, taught by several different instructors, to stipulate requirements for all sections without excessively determining individual instructors' choices. Furthermore, many sections enroll too many students to require, for example, conferences of all students. Consequently, we outline the minimal amounts and kinds of writing in all sections as well as likely assignments in various sections. As we establish this contract between ourselves and our students (as well as future teachers in the English Department), we recognize the fact that each student develops skill in written rhetoric at a different pace and through different routes than others, and we promise to do all that we can in each course to meet the needs of each student.

Writing in Core Courses

1. English 101. Although members of the English Department teach this course, it is more appropriately considered as part of the college's Academic Writing Program than the English Department Writing Program. As such, the course should continue to be shaped by the broader needs of the Academic Writing Program, initiating students to the practices of written rhetoric that they will continue to develop across the disciplines. The English Department publishes a Guide to the Teaching of English 101, which articulates the "Common Aims" of the course. These demonstrate that English 101, like other elements of the Academic Writing Program, employs frequent writing of a variety of formal and informal genres as well as regular and plentiful feedback, both written and oral (all English 101 teachers hold conferences with each of their students).

2. Core Literature Courses. Recommended courses in the English Department that fulfill the core requirement in literature are English 205, 210, 211, 215, 216, 217, 218 and 219. It is our expectation that all sections of these courses will require at least one formal composition and one essay examination (occasionally an individual instructor may vary from this guideline if he or she can meet goals of the writing program through different methods; for the sake of sharing information among colleagues and being accountable to one another, individuals should notify the departmental Curriculum Committee of such variances). Students in all sections of these courses will receive feedback from the teacher and will be encouraged to confer with their teacher.

Writing in the English Major

If a student could somehow contrive to complete an English major with teachers who assign the least amount of writing, that student would compose roughly 100 pages of formal writing for at least 12 different assignments. More realistically, majors will write over 150 pages for 14-15 assignments, writing in every class. Majors will also take at least one essay exam in every class and will write informal assignments (including journals, in-class responses, e-mail responses, annotations, and reviews) in most of their classes. Furthermore, they will receive written feedback from their teacher in all classes and will be encouraged to confer with their teacher in every class. In some classes (roughly one in four) they will receive comments from peers and/or will be allowed or required to submit revisions.

1. Introductory Courses. In English 210, 211, 215, 216, 217, 218, 219-the likeliest entry courses for majors-students are introduced to the essential aims and forms of writing about literature as they begin to work on their own writing about literature. They also practice some limited uses of writing to enhance their learning; these may be any of the kinds of informal writing mentioned in the preceding paragraph. (See also the description of these courses under "Core Literature Courses.")

2. Other 200-level courses. In these courses students will continue working to improve their own writing and using writing to improve learning (five of the non-core 200-level English courses are, in fact, writing courses). It is our expectation that every section of a 200-level English course will require at least one formal composition, and most will require some informal writing. As explained in the section on "Core Literature Courses," individual instructors may sometimes choose other kinds of writing assignments but must not lose sight of the main goals of the Departmental Writing Program.

3. 300-level courses. At least one formal composition is assigned in every 300-level English class, and informal assignments are given in most classes. Students continue the kinds of writing done in 200-level courses, but greater emphasis is placed on literary, linguistic, or pedagogic research (which is typically required for at least one formal assignment in each 300-level class). Assignments are also of a greater variety, including critical analyses, creative papers, book reviews, web-pages, portfolios, teaching units, and group projects. Conferences are required in roughly one-third of 300-level courses.

4. English 395 ("Senior Seminar") and English 359 ("Seminar in Principles of and Practices in Secondary English Teaching"). Students in both these seminars complete a major writing project. These projects call on students to use the rhetorical tools that they have been learning throughout the major and thus move them further into the kind of practical, critical, and scholarly work that they may do professionally. At least one conference with the instructor, for the purpose of discussing some facet of writing, is required of each student in English 395. The student teachers in English 359 should feel free to discuss their writing with either their student-teaching advisor or the instructor of 359; these students are also required to have at least one conference to discuss their writing with the instructor of their required English 357 class.

A Broader Vision of Rhetoric

Although this document focuses on written rhetoric, the current practices in our department make it appropriate to address rhetorical skills more broadly. The English Department Assessment Program includes "Speaking and Listening" in the "Skills" section of our objectives, thus calling on our students to develop some expertise in oral rhetoric. Several members of the department also require students to compose web pages, which demand both effective visual rhetoric and careful use of the rhetorical potential of hypertext. We both accept and encourage these assignment practices; however, we must also insist that if students are to use oral and visual rhetoric to complete assignments in our department, they should be taught how to do so effectively.

A possible first step toward such instruction would be to concentrate on the common rhetorical choices made in written, oral, or visual formats-choices, for example, of audience, purpose, focus, organization, detailed evidence, style, and correctness. Students could be instructed in the various ways in which they have different options and different reasons for selecting among options when using written, oral, and visual rhetoric-or combinations thereof. The effort would be to help students translate their skill in making rhetorical choices in written texts into the multi-rhetorical decisions they make in electronic texts.

Faculty Experience

All members of the English Department share a long-term commitment to the teaching of writing; all have taught writing courses, many have taken part in writing-across-the-curriculum seminars, and many have taught "writing-enriched" courses.


Assessment of the English Department Writing Program will be an ongoing part of the English Department Assessment Program. Much of our Writing Program describes rather than prescribes the kinds and amounts of formal and informal writing, as well as the opportunities for feedback (written and oral) and revision. Therefore, one part of our Departmental Assessment Program will be to determine if the frequency, variety, and feedback that we currently enjoy in our Writing Program remains at the current level. One of the regular responsibilities of Departmental Assessment will be to inform the English Department if it should need either to adjust its requirements in order to maintain the accuracy of the descriptions herein or to revise its Writing Program.