Might I recommend reading the book entitled Facts, Artifacts and Counterfacts: Theory and Method for a Reading and Writing Course (ISBN 0-86709-135-5) by David Bartholomae and Antony Petrosky. Since the spring semester ended, I’ve been reading it and have some great ideas to use as a result. It was actually written in 1986, so it’s in the same tradition of your original pedagogical position for some writing and reading classes 20 years ago.
This text includes the entire course syllabus, reading and writing assignments and the pace of the class. There are 12 sets of assignments and revisions included in this book. Each student reads “on average, 12 books and write 25 drafts and revisions” (30). The two themes they mention are: “Work” for nontraditional students and “Growth and Change in Adolescence” for traditional students.
One idea (of many) that I am definitely using as soon as possible is to have the students write their autobiography. Then, the essays are bound and used as reading materials for the class to share and discuss. This text becomes one of seven that they used in their courses at University of Pittsburgh which are taught as seminar classes with a thematic approach.
One concern I have about this approach in its purist form is the pace of the class. On page 95 the rigor is stated as such: “(1) Students are given nine days to read a book and two days to writie a paper. (2) Students’ written work is always returned at the next class meeting. (3) At least one sample studen paper is discussed every thim paper are returned. (4) only one assignment should be given during one class period. (5) One hour a week of class time should be reserved for in-class reading. (This class is structured around 6 hours of credit, not 3 hours.) (6) Fours of book discussion are planned for each book (this includes time for predicussion exercise). (7) A two-hour, in-class writing assignment is scheulded at eh conclusion of each book discussion.
It is the opinion of Bartholomae and Petrosky that peer reviews are more productive than focusing on explicit instruction on the mechanics of writing. Actually, the authors state “we are markedly inattentive to errs in students papers in the first part of the term” (97). They suggest, based on observations, that “students cannot learn to care about he correctness of the sentences they write until they care about what they say and how they say it” (97). It is important to note that on Assignments 9 or 10 (seventh week of semester) there is a more explicit emphasis on sentence-level errors. It is at this time that peer reviews are employed.
For many developmental writing instructors this paradigm shift from syntax to semantics will cause tremendous anxiety. Yet, research in reading suggests that students who read will become improved writers in a more natural way. (For more on this connection see: Perin, Dolores and Alla Keselman and Melissa Monopoli. “The Academic Writing of Community College Remedial Students: Text and Learner Variables.” Higher Education. 45.1 (Jan. 2003), 19-42.) After reading the chapter on “The Basic Nature of Basic Reading and Writing” professors can be more assured that this shift will be worthwhile in the long run.
This book was written over 20 years ago, yet the concepts, strategies, and pedagogy are very timely in light of the changes taking place in developmental education of American colleges.