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College of Arts and Sciences

Course Organization and Design

first year writing program

The First-Year Writing Program acknowledges that a variety of approaches, assignments and activities can help writers develop confidence and broaden their toolkit of skills and strategies. We believe that students learn writing best when engaged in a meaningful intellectual inquiry, focused around questions worth exploring. As a result, the content of the readings and assignments for each FWS section is determined by the instructor, in order to make a coherent course that engages students in an ongoing inquiry.

While individual readings and assignments may differ, each FWS course shares the same goals for student outcomes, which are adapted from the outcomes statement of the National Council of Writing Program Administrators

Rhetorical Knowledge

By the end of first year composition students should

  • Focus on a purpose
  • Respond to the needs of different audiences
  • Respond appropriately to different kinds of rhetorical situations
  • Use conventions of format and structure appropriate to the rhetorical situation
  • Adopt appropriate voice, tone, and level of formality
  • Understand how genres shape reading and writing
  • Write in several genres

Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing

By the end of first year composition students should

  • Use writing and reading for inquiry, learning, thinking, and communicating
  • Understand a writing assignment as a series of tasks, including finding, evaluating, analyzing, and synthesizing appropriate primary and secondary sources
  • Integrate their own ideas with those of others
  • Understand the relationships among language, knowledge, and power


By the end of first year composition students should

  • Be aware that it usually takes multiple drafts to create and complete a successful text
  • Develop flexible strategies for generating, revising, editing, and proof-reading
  • Understand writing as an open process that permits writers to use later invention and re-thinking to revise their work
  • Understand the collaborative and social aspects of writing processes
  • Learn to critique their own and others' works
  • Learn to balance the advantages of relying on others with the responsibility of doing their part
  • Use a variety of technologies to address a range of audiences

Knowledge of Conventions

By the end of first year composition students should

  • Learn common formats for different kinds of texts
  • Develop knowledge of genre conventions ranging from structure and paragraphing to tone and mechanics
  • Practice appropriate means of documenting their work
  • Control such surface features as syntax, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Composing in Electronic Environments

As has become clear over the last twenty years, writing in the 21st-century involves the use of digital technologies for several purposes, from drafting to peer reviewing to editing. Therefore, although the kinds of composing processes and texts expected from students vary across programs and institutions, there are nonetheless common expectations.

By the end of first-year composition students should:

  • Use electronic environments for drafting, reviewing, revising, editing, and sharing texts
  • Locate, evaluate, organize, and use research material collected from electronic sources, including scholarly library databases; other official databases (e.g., federal government databases); and informal electronic networks and internet sources
  • Understand and exploit the differences in the rhetorical strategies and in the affordances available for both print and electronic composing processes and texts

Other BC Requirement for First-Year Writing Seminar

In addition to the requirements outlined by the WPA Outcomes Statement (asking students to write in varied rhetorical situations, to engage in critical reading and writing, to explore processes of invention and revision, to learn conventions of various genres and to understand something about composing in electronic environments), your FWS class at BC should also contain the following features:

An Overarching Inquiry:

Following from our discussion of James Zebroski’s work, I would ask that every FWS class have some sort of inquiry, theme or focus that helps unite the assignments and create a logic in terms of sequencing. You’ll get lots of help on this, but the goal is to create some ideas or ‘refrain’ that the course can return to, as a way to learn more about writers and writing.


Instructors will conference most weeks (i.e. more than half) of the semester, meeting with students individually or in small groups. Conferences should be 15 minutes or so for individual conferences and longer if groups (three students = 45 minutes).

Reading Other Students’ and Professionals’ Work:

One belief of the BC FWS program is that students learn well while reading the polished and in-process writing of other students, as well as the finished work of professional writers and scholars. That means each section should include some polished writing by students. Fresh Ink is an online publication of student writing that you can use in the class as well as New Comm Ave.

Four to Five Formal Papers:

While instructors have a great deal of flexibility around the assignments you create, to assure courses are roughly equal in terms of work and rigor, imagine an equivalent of four to five formal papers plus lots of informal writing (reading responses, journals, in-class writing etc.) as the amount of work desirable for the course. This work can be in separate papers or can be combined or build off one another in some ways.

Include Formal Introduction to Research Writing and BC Research Resources:

FWS is the only course at BC guaranteed to introduce students to the resources of the BC library system. As such, all FWS courses should include one or more opportunities for students to engage in research writing and should include an orientation to the library led by a BC librarian. You can register for your desired date for a library visit to your class through the BC library website. (More on that later.)

Some Portfolio Grading:

To underscore the value of revision and reflection, at least some portion of the FWS final grade should be based on a portfolio that the students create and reflect on near the end of the term. We will discuss the various types of portfolios and options for evaluating them in coming weeks.