Department of Basic Composition
The Department of Basic Composition* offers developmental (or basic) reading and writing courses for students at Utah Valley University.
*The Department of Basic Composition has achieved General-Level Certification for its Developmental Coursework Program (2010-2017). After a self-study and application process spanning nearly five years, the Basic Composition program recently received certification of its developmental course work program from the National Association for Developmental Education (NADE). This 7-year certification is a distinction that has been awarded to only 48 other developmental education programs in the country. The NADE reviewers praised the program for the quality of its faculty, its curriculum, and its pedagogical and philosophical commitments to under prepared students. The self review process has led to a number of changes in the Basic Composition program, including a complete review of the curriculum in both courses and a greater focus on adjunct faculty orientation and in-service training.
The theoretical framework that best reflects the primary goals and preferred pedagogies of the UVU Basic Composition Program is SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM. This philosophy of teaching Basic Writing assumes that our program exists to help students function more effectively as members of the academic society and society in general by understanding the socially-dependent and socially-influenced nature of writing. Specifically, a social constructivist philosophy
Despite its focus on the social nature of writing, this philosophy does not preclude pedagogies and approaches to writing that foster personal empowerment or personal expression. Nor does it preclude the teaching of those language and essayist conventions privileged by the academy. However, it may mean that teachers take a critical approach (rather than a conservative or current-traditional one) to the teaching of these conventions and that these conventions are viewed largely as a particular register within a particular discourse context.
Upon successful completion of the course, students will have
Basic Composition Curriculum Requirements:
The Program REQUIRES that students in both ENGH 0890 and ENGH 0990 write three or four formal, out-of-class essays. While individual instructors have considerable freedom in designing these essay assignments, the assignments should emphasize the purposes and activities of academic writing rather than particular modes or themes. These essays should reflect the writing process, particularly the pre-writing, drafting, revision and editing stages of the process. The grades on the final drafts of these formal essays should make up a minimum of 50% of a student’s course grade. The weighting of non-essay assignments should not be such that a student can receive an average grade on these formal essays of below a C- and still pass the course. The Program REQUIRES that all formal essays in both courses consider reading as an integral component of the writing process. [See the description of course reading requirements below.] The Program RECOMMENDS that assignments in paragraph development and construction be undertaken in the context of larger essay assignments. The Program ENCOURAGES teachers to introduce students to a variety of academic writing activities, purposes and organizational strategies. The instructional goal in providing students with essay “modes” and models is to help them make effective choices about structuring and developing their academic essays. The Program ENCOURAGES teachers to use multiple kinds of informal writing activities, including journaling, freewriting, blogging, in-class writing, etc. The Program also ENCOURAGES teachers to involve students in collaborative writing projects, including peer review, threaded on-line journaling, group authored essays, group empirical research projects and other group activities. (A group authored essay may not count as one of the required formal essays.)
The essay assignments in 0890 should help students “bridge the gap” between personal and academic writing and practice ways in which their personal literacies, experiences, opinions and observations can be used to extend particular academic conversations. While narrative and descriptive writing allow students to use literacy skills they are more familiar with or may already possess, assignments in 0890 should be designed to show students how these types of writing are commonly integrated into academic assignments. The essays 0890 students write should reflect their introduction to the ideas of textual (using a broad definition of textual) summary, analysis and synthesis. The formal essays for this course should be between 1 ½-3 double-spaced, typed pages.
Suggested sequence of formal essay assignments:
The essay assignments in 0990 should also give students practice in the three interrelated academic writing activities of summarizing, analyzing and synthesizing. All formal essay assignments in this class should rely heavily for their content on assigned readings. While it is likely that all three formal essays for this course will contain argumentative thesis statements (opinionated statements that require evidence to support), at least one of the essay assignments in 0990 must use the elements of traditional argumentation (taking a position, considerations of logos, pathos, ethos, and opposing viewpoints, etc.) The formal essays for this course should be between 2-4 double-spaced, typed pages.
Suggested sequence of formal essay assignments:
The Program REQUIRES that both 0890 and 0990 be reading-based writing (reading-to-write) courses. Extensive reading should be assigned and discussed throughout the semester. Readings should be used not only as models for organization and style but as primary sources for classroom discussions and essay content. Instruction in both courses must include early and sustained discussions of critical reading strategies, including the annotation, summarizing, analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing of texts. Instructors should find multiple ways to hold students accountable for their reading, including reading quizzes, vocabulary exercises, critical thinking questions (from the textbooks), journaling, and—most importantly—reading-based writing essay assignments. Instructors are h2 ENCOURAGED to assign a variety of kinds of reading including readings from across the curriculum, readings from current events and social issues, and topics relevant to Basic Writing students. The Program believes that Basic Writing students, particularly 0890 students, may also benefit from readings which emphasize education, literacy and language use.
Grammar, Usage and Mechanics Requirements:
The Program supports the teaching of grammar in the Basic Writing classroom for the following reasons:
Although the Program recognizes that there are valid reasons to teach grammar in the Basic Writing classroom, it REQUIRES that grammar be taught in responsible ways. Instruction should be
The Program does not encourage the teaching of discrete editing skills separated from the writing process or from a particularly writing context. While the Program RECOMMENDS that instructors use a variety of methods to teach the conventions of standardized English and editing, students’ own writing should be the primary texts for teaching surface-level accuracy. Appropriate practice exercises, proofreading activities, sentence-combining exercises, computer/internet activities, etc. may be used to augment that instruction. While teachers may employ quizzes and exams as they deem necessary, the Program REQUIRES that students’ abilities to apply editing rules to their own writing be the primary means by which sentence-level accuracy is assessed in both Basic Writing classes. The Program REQUIRES that the combined weighting of all assessments of editing skills (grammar, usage, mechanics and style) be no more than 30% of the students’ final grade in either course. The Program REQUIRES that the weighting of editing issues in the grading of students’ formal essays be no more than 30% and that, when evaluating students’ texts, teachers focus primarily on those editing problems which actually and significantly detract from students’ meaning.
Style is a crucial component of an academic composition, helping to generate the academic voice and maintain its tone. Style helps students to make their writing clear (readable), concise (brief), and coherent (logical), while allowing creativity and some flexibility through embellishment or ornamentation. Style pertains to several facets of language which are not necessarily considered grammatical concerns, including kinds of diction, use of diction, kinds of sentences, lengths of sentences, articulation of sentences, use of sentences, figurative language, paragraphing, conventional tropes and schemes, and rhythmic/spatial elements of the text. Moreover, style instruction helps students to observe traditional and intrinsic codes of academic writing. The Program REQUIRES that students in our courses engage in classroom discussion and activities in relation to style. Instructors may use any quizzes, exercises, and stylistic analyses which help students to understand and retain elements of style. The Program REQUIRES that style be assessed but that the combined weighting of all assessments of style be included with the measurement of editing instruction and be no more than 30% of the students’ final grade in either course. Furthermore, the Program REQUIRES that the weighting of sentence-level issues (both stylistic and grammatical) in the grading of student’s essays be no more than 30% and that, when evaluating students’ texts, teachers focus primarily on stylistic problems which actually and significantly detract from the students ability to deliver writing which is clear, concise, coherent, and conscious of the needs of the audience/reader.
The Program REQUIRES 0990 students be introduced to research writing and documentation conventions. While it is unlikely that teachers will have adequate time in either course to walk students through the entire research process, instruction should emphasize the evaluation of sources (particularly on-line or data-base sources); the appropriate integration of quotes, summaries and paraphrases from sources; and the appropriate documentation of all sources. Teachers are REQUIRED to teach either MLA or APA documentation style (while MLA may be slightly easier to teach and learn, instructors may wish to consider that a larger number of their students will probably find themselves writing in social science courses and majors than humanities courses and majors). The Program REQUIRES that students in 0990 include in-text parenthetical citations and a bibliography page in at least one of their formal essays. If 0890 teachers choose to introduce students to academic research, they should do so carefully and minimally. Writing assignments that allow for empirical research (such as interviewing, surveying, participant observation, etc.) rather than textual research may be more appropriate for 0890 students. The Program STRONGLY DISCOURAGES faculty from teaching students simplified or non-standard forms of documentation.
The Program REQUIRES all students in both courses to complete and submit a Reflective Cover Letter in their final portfolio. Teachers are also REQUIRED to provide multiple opportunities throughout the semester for students to reflect on their writing process as well as on the products they are producing. These opportunities may take the form of letters, journal entries or freewrites.
The Program REQUIRES that each student submit a final portfolio (or a combination of unit portfolios) as the culminating activity of the semester and appropriate evidence of a student’s critical reading and writing skills. Therefore, the Program will not create or mandate other forms of final exams. Because the university requires that all courses hold worthwhile activities of some kind during the scheduled final exam period, teachers within the Program of Basic Composition may decide how best to use that time. Possible options for using that time period include having students submit portfolios, write the final reflective letter, write an in-class essay, present group projects, etc. If individual teachers choose to require a final in-class essay or a final grammar exam, these exams should NOT be heavily weighted.
Bringing Current Research into the Basic Writing Classroom:
The Program strongly RECOMMENDS that faculty bring current literacy and composition studies research into the classroom when possible and appropriate. According to recent scholars discussing and writing about current composition research has many benefits for students. Bringing current composition research into the Basic Writing classroom allows students to participate in the conversation about what they’re learning in composition classes and why, it helps students understand the history of academic literacy conventions/expectations (particularly in relation to other forms of literacy), and it emphasizes the evolutionary (living) nature of the English language and its use. Furthermore, bringing current research results and active scholarly debates into the classroom also illustrates to students our own currency in and engagement with our discipline.
Possible topics/debates for classroom discussion and writing assignments:
Collins, J., & Blot, R. (2003). Literacy and literacies: Texts, power and identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Crystal, D. (2007). Txtng: The GR8 Db8. Oxford UP.
Crystal, D. (2008). The fight for English: How language pundits ate, shot, and left. Oxford UP.
Downs, D. & Wardle, E. (2007). Teaching about writing, righting misconceptions: (Re)Envisioning FYC as intro to writing wtudies. College Composition and Communication 58: 552-84.
Gee, J. P. (1996). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses. London: Flamer Press.
Ivani?, R. (1998). Writing and identity: The discoursal construction of identity in academic writing. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.
Lunsford, A. A. & Lunsford, K. J. (2008). Mistakes are a fact of life: A national comparative study. College Composition and Communication 59:781-806.
(See D. Hacker’s Rules for Writer for various usage related debates.)