Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Wardle, Elizabeth. “‘Mutt Genres’ and the Goal of FYC: Can We Help Students Write the Genres of the University?”

Wardle, Elizabeth. “‘Mutt Genres’ and the Goal of FYC: Can We Help Students Write the Genres of the University?” College Composition and Communication 60.4 (2009): 765-89. Print.

In this article, Wardle proposes that the goal of first year composition classes be adjusted from learning to write to learning about writing. Her reasoning is that the traditional goal of freshman composition-- to teach students how to write in college--is essentially impossible to meet since disciplines vary so widely in their expectations for writing that no single general writing course could prepare students adequately for writing in their majors, so a revision of the course is needed. She notes that currently in composition courses students write “mutt genres,” which are “genres that do not respond to rhetorical situations requiring communication in order to accomplish a purpose that is meaningful to the author” (777). In short, students learn writing genres that are only useful in freshman composition, a course they will never take again. To rectify this, Wardle proposes that students study academic genres instead, and that instructors use pedagogical methods that have been shown to encourage the transfer of skills from one setting to another: abstraction, self-reflection, and mindfulness. She writes, “Why is this goal more achievable than the current one of teaching students to write? Because it teaches students a clear content—what we know about how writing and language work—and focuses on that content as the object of attention. Not only that, but the nature of that content nearly requires students to reflect on their own writing practices and the writing practices in courses across the academy” (784-85). While, we don’t have composition per se at Ursuline and do try to cultivate such transference skills in our Ursuline Studies courses, Wardle’s article is a good reminder that writing is a skill (or set of skills) that must be developed across the university “rather than relying on the false hope and promise of general skills writing courses” (785). We can also assist students in transferring skills across courses by teaching “general and flexible principles about writing” and explicitly discussing “similarities between new and previous writing assignments” (770). The journal issue including this article will shortly be available in our mini-library of writing instruction materials in the USP office.

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