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College of Arts and Sciences


first year writing program


A portfolio can include either the entire body of work—including journal entries and exploratory drafts—that the student has produced during the semester and/or a representative sampling of the best work; in any case, a portfolio should give students a chance to demonstrate the quantity, quality, and range of their writing; to work on several essays over a long period of time; and to play some role in choosing which pieces should carry the most weight. Each portfolio should include some informal, speculative, one-draft writing as well as several more finished, carefully revised essays. A successful portfolio should demonstrate the writer's rhetorical skill, versatility, and willingness to experiment and revise. A portfolio should include some reflective component in which students assess the work they have accomplished in the course.

Course Readings

Although individual instructors are encouraged to assign a wide range of texts, including essays, memoirs, letters, political speeches or tracts, advertisements, academic articles, reviews of books, films, and music, each is free to choose his or her own texts for this course within the following constraints: (1) the majority of the assigned readings must be nonfiction prose; (2) the reading assignments must be primarily in the same forms as the writing assignments.

Student Publications

Each section of FWS should allow students to read the writing of other students and to include some aspect of "publishing" the students writing during the semester. Student essays can be photocopied and distributed, read aloud in workshop, posted to a class web page, and/or published in "class magazines."

Fresh Ink, edited by Lad Tobin and Eileen Donovan-Kranz, an annual publication of essays from the FWS, was published from 1992 to 2002 and during that time was the only required text of the FWS program. Under the direction of Paula Mathieu, the FWS program is seeking new ways to keep publishing student writing as an ongoing aspect of the program-including an online archive. One new resource is the graduate-run online journal of first-year writing, New Comm Ave. The goal is to have all students able to read the writing of other students as part of their learning process.


FWS instructors meet with each student on a near-weekly basis for one-to-one, 15-minute conferences. Each conference should be an attempt to (1) help the student improve the particular work-in-progress under discussion and (2) help the student become a more capable, versatile, and independent writer. Though these goals are usually complementary, they are occasionally at odds: in order to help students learn to initiate their own revisions, instructors in conferences must often resist the temptation to do most of the talking, to be overly directive, or to fix up the problems in the essay.

Faculty Development

All teaching fellows are required to successfully complete a graduate seminar—Composition Theory and the Teaching of Writing—in the year prior to their teaching and submit and revise their syllabus for approval by the FWS Director. All FWS faculty are expected to attend and participate in peer groups and staff meetings throughout the academic year. In addition, staff members are encouraged to attend optional workshops offered by the FWS administrators on specific topics of writing instruction, technology use, or research skills. Staff and FWS students are encouraged to attend talks by writers sponsored by the FWS program or other campus groups and to make connections between the intellectual life of campus and the work of their writing seminar.