The College Writing Program offers the most important sequence of courses for students making the transition from high school to college at American University. Students often start with a host of assumptions about writing. They may regard writing as a rarified skill available only to a few. And they may, further, regard themselves as students faced with writing tasks rather than as writers seeking to persuade a reader. They may try to decode an assignment and produce a single "right" result for a teacher, without a wider and more complicated sense of audience and purpose.
In the College Writing Program, we encourage students to think as writers—anticipating the responses of a reader, exploring the depth and breadth of a subject, and working with language and form to best express their understanding. Our work with students prepares them for the writing that they'll do in the academy and for a lifelong process of intellectual discovery.
The College Writing Program, therefore, offers theme- and content-based, writing-centered, interdisciplinary courses. These courses promote approaches to writing that can be generalized to all academic disciplines. We base our instruction on the premise that while most students are not fluent in “academic English,” the skills involved in academic prose can be taught and learned in the classroom.
College Writing courses emphasize intellectual creativity in concert with—not in opposition to—academic conventions. Exploring this tension not only prepares students for the writing they’ll do in the academy but also promotes critical thinking in reading and writing. We treat writing as a mode of critical thinking, and we teach students to read for content, meaning, and rhetoric and to develop sensitivity to the choices writers make in carrying out their purposes. We also incorporate critical thinking into information literacy, creating student-researchers who evaluate a variety of sources and use them meaningfully in their arguments. Courses are organized around themes, prompting students to think and write in-depth about a content area in order to create a meaningful, directed writing experience.
College Writing courses treat writing as a social act between writer and reader. This imaginative act of envisioning one’s readers and their expectations leads to an understanding of genre conventions. Considering writing as a social act makes persuasion a primary component of a writer’s purpose, with the requisite researched evidence, since an audience other than oneself demands argumentative strategies and credible support. We recognize that all members of the academy—students and teachers—are part of an intellectual community engaged in inquiry and dialogue, and so students must also learn to anticipate the expectations and skepticisms of audiences in various academic fields in order to enter this “academic conversation.”
College Writing courses recognize that writing embodies a mixture of skill and artistry. Thus, writing is difficult, but it can be taught and learned and needn’t be a mystical—or mystifying—process. In fact, student writers can learn to communicate their ideas with clarity, originality, grace, evocative language, and correctness; they can, in fact, write with style and develop their own voices. But we also see content and form as indivisible: clear, logical thinking, well expressed, is the foundation of style. Students can learn to think more clearly and logically and learn to express those thoughts persuasively.
College Writing courses present writing as a process that takes time, is recursive, and involves revising, editing, and making conscious choices. We seek to help students realize that to re-see (revise) one’s ideas from an earlier draft and rewrite with new insights are both difficult and rewarding; this interaction between writer and text is at the heart of the writing process.
Writing is one of the most complex, cognitive tasks. We acknowledge this complexity as we work with students to help them think critically, meet rhetorical challenges, and understand the phases of the writing process in every class project. To attend to those skills and challenges, College Writing courses need to offer a core set of skills and experiences, emphasizing both continual practice and increasing complexity of reading and writing assignments over the two-course sequence. Although each instructor has a unique approach to teaching, the following core skills will be covered in all sections of College Writing.