English 833: Theories of Composition — Course Overview and Objectives

“When you write a story, or any paper, that teaches you something, you are no longer just a student writing a paper for a class: you’ve become a real writer. And no one can ever take that away from you, no matter what grade it gets” (p. 79).

–Pagnucci, G. S. (2006). Writing stories in college. In W. Bishop & J. Strickland (Eds.), The Subject Is Writing: Essays by Teachers and Students. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook. Heinemann.

In this course we’ll explore the question of why people write and how to best teach them to write. We’ll review the history of the field of Composition Studies, and we’ll read works by some of it’s most significant scholars. We’ll study the major theories of composition. We will also look at where the field is heading. This is a foundational course, meant to ground you in many of the most important ideas and issues in the field.

Course Objectives

Reviews the major theories of composition, especially those of the modern and postmodern eras. Examines how cultural factors such as education, history, politics, ideology, gender, race, and ethnicity affect theorizing about composition. Encourages students to construct their own theories of composition by entering into a collaborative cultural and intellectual process.

Course Philosophy

I design this and every course based on current pedagogical theory as well as my personal beliefs about teaching and scholarship. The works of Mikhail Bakhtin and Lev Vygotsky lead me to believe that learning takes place through social interaction. For this reason, active in-class discussion is essential by every class member. To facilitate this socially-based learning, students in this class will read and share their writings with each other. The work of other people in this course is just as valuable as works published by professional authors, and we will treat it as such. For this reason, adequate time will be allocated to read and discuss everyone’s writing for the class. As the teacher of this course, I will strive to make sure that all voices are heard and that no one voice is privileged, not even my own voice. Following the work of Kenneth Bruffee, Lisa Ede, and Andrea Lunsford, I will often ask students in this course to work collaboratively to increase  opportunities for dialogic thought.

Course Goals

By the end of English 833: Composition Theory, students enrolled in the course should achieve the following goals:

  • improve their understanding of foundational composition theories
  • improve  their ability to apply composition theories to both teaching and research
  • improve their abilities as a scholarly writer
  • improve their ability to do relevant bibliographic research

Course Expectations

This is a graduate seminar which will demand a high commitment from you as a student. If you want to do well in this course, I expect you to:

  • grow as a scholar
  • work hard
  • speak regularly in class
  • do all the work assigned
  • attend every class session
  • try your best
  • work well with others
  • keep an open mind
  • be courteous
  • improve yourself as a teacher
  • learn as much as you can
  • have some fun

Graduate students who meet all these very basic expectations will do well in this course.