The redesign of developmental English programs across the country presents some significant challenges for developmental instructors, especially those who have been teaching in traditional multi-level programs with separate reading and writing tracks. How do faculty begin to create an integrated reading and writing syllabus, especially if they only have experience in one area or the other? What does an integrated syllabus even look like?
In working with the implementation of Virginia’s redesign and with instructors in other states, I’ve seen several models of successful syllabi—as well as some strategies which do not seem to work as well. What follows is my own informal classification of syllabus types. As one would expect, some instructors combine elements from different syllabus types, and they often find success in that eclectic approach. My list is not in any particular order, and I’m sure I’ve omitted some possible approaches. I welcome additional suggestions and comments.
The Paired Skills and Processes Syllabus. This syllabus organizes instruction according to parallel skills or steps in the reading and writing processes. For example, pre-reading and pre-writing instruction might occur together in this approach, often with a focus on rhetorical situation. Similarly, reading skills such as finding and paraphrasing the main idea are coupled with a writing skill such as developing a strong thesis. The paired skills and processes approach is often combined with a focus on genres or traditional rhetorical modes.
Read to Write/Write to Read Syllabus. In this approach, instructors focus on the role that writing can play in the reading process (annotating, note-taking, reflecting, connecting, paraphrasing, summarizing, and responding), and the ways in which reading supports writing (through pre-writing, reading to revise, reading in peer-review, reading to edit, and writing from different texts).
The Thematic Syllabus. Instructors using this syllabus select thematically-related readings to enhance the development of content-awareness and vocabulary. Class activities promote active and critical reading skills, and students write in response to readings. With a thematic syllabus, instructors have a natural base from which to teach how to synthesize information from multiple sources.
The Argument/Rhetorical Moves Syllabus. Particularly well-suited to colleges and universities with an argument-based first-year composition course, this syllabus presents both reading and writing through awareness of rhetorical moves: introducing a topic, presenting a claim, considering a counterargument, creating a context, making a concession, etc. Students learn to identify rhetorical moves in reading, assess their effectiveness for the particular audience and purpose, and ultimately imitate them as they develop their own papers.
The Great Books Syllabus. In this approach, instructors build a syllabus around one or two critical full-length books, often one fiction and one non-fiction. Reading skills and vocabulary are addressed in the context of the readings, and writing assignments build from topics in the texts.
The Project-Based Syllabus. Instructors who develop a project-based syllabus organize the syllabus around a series of projects which require both reading and writing skills for success. For example, students might conduct research and interviews related to child-care services on campus, and then draft a proposal for changes, addressed to campus administrators. Instructors must consider reading and writing skills required for a project carefully so that instruction and scaffolding flow naturally as the project develops. Project-based syllabi often work well in programs that combine developmental instruction with a service-learning component.
From our redesign in Virginia, we’ve seen that one syllabus which does not work well is an alternating syllabus: one day (or segment) on reading skills, followed by one day (or segment) on writing skills. The original intent of the alternating syllabus was simple: bring together the expertise of a reading teacher and a writing teacher to team-teach the integrated course. Teach-teaching can certainly be effective (and a tremendous opportunity for professional development), but the alternating model keeps reading and writing separate and thus works against the intent of the redesign. Anecdotally, we saw a great deal of frustration in the alternating syllabus: with essentially two separate courses going on simultaneously, instructors did not feel they had covered learning outcomes adequately, and they felt rushed and overwhelmed. As team-taught alternating syllabi evolved into thematic, paired-skills, or other syllabus types (whether taught by one or two instructors), those frustrations began to wane.
What does your integrated reading and writing syllabus look like?
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