Teaching Philosophy

So you think you can’t write?

That’s a question I’m likely to ask my students when I meet them. Anyone can learn to write more effectively. But the conventions of some writing styles are harder to hone than others.

I began developing my teaching philosophy while working my way through undergraduate school teaching dance (ballet, modern, jazz) at community centers to school-aged children through adults. Using metaphors and demonstrating dance steps helped get my message across – “stand as if you have beautiful jewels around your neck that you want all the world to see.” I learned by trial and error, when to “show,” when to “tell,” and most important, when to shut up, and ask everyone to practice on their own for a while, to experiment, to “own” the steps, as I roamed around the room giving pointers and praise to individual students. My approach to teaching writing is similar. My job is to discover how to best help students learn by doing, with me as their coach, using the classroom as a kind of rehearsal space or workshop for “working out” to find their individual academic writing style.

Much of my teaching experience has involved working with  “developmental writing” students. For many of these students, working efficiently to make measurable gains is crucial to our work together, often focused on the path out of remediation to their first English Composition course at a community college. Helping them find that “bridge” is a dauntingly multifaceted skill set that can imply everything from writing grammatically correct sentences, the artful, articulate use of language, problematic definitions of “literacy,” to the ability to critique social issues within a discourse community and opine on the world’s problems in a two-page essay. That’s a lot to cover in a typical 16-week course with some students unsure of what exactly a “thesis” is and why they might sometimes need one. I focus on accomplishing the possible while remaining alert to those “teaching moments” that emerge spontaneously in class, often crossing disciplines and serving as an orientation to academic life.

I individualize instruction as soon and as quickly as possible, and adjust in-class activities and course assignments, accordingly. To efficiently ascertain how best to intervene, I use three diagnostics the first week of class: a grammar test, an in-class essay, and a form I created called “Student Profile,” which asks students to tell me about themselves, their major — “I don’t know” is a perfectly good major — whether they work and go to school, and significantly, how they feel about their writing and what they’d like to work on or get out of the class. They hand them in before the end of the first week of class, and I read each one to gain insights into what matters to them, in their world, and how I might keep learning to write college-level essays relevant to the rest of their lives.

The first writing assignments in my class are not graded but handed back to students with clear instructions on how to revise and develop their essays. The work isn’t graded until it’s been revised sometimes several times, to reinforce that writing is really about re-writing, and that revision results from the ongoing connection between thinking and writing and writing and thinking. By mid-term when I meet with students for writing conferences, there usually are enough of these works-in-progress to review and go over constructively together.

Another lesson that transferred from my dance-teaching days is the idea that we learn from dancing when we dance as if “no one is watching” as well as when we dance as if we have an audience. Developmental writers in particular seem to need writing assignments that allow them to circumvent the critical voices they have internalized that cut off the creative “flow” so necessary in writing first drafts. To help students “feel” what writing is like when they are not criticizing themselves, I have my students regularly “work out” their writing muscles in class during short “free-write” sessions and in journals that are not graded but do count toward part of their course portfolio.

Finally, I believe it’s important to set the tone for the semester the first week of classes. To get students used to participating and comfortable working together, I use a variety of “corny” but usually remarkably effective “ice-breaker” activities. And I share with them a bit of my story, that I began my academic career at an open-admissions junior college after I’d dropped out of high school but earned a GED. Saying that upfront, community college students have told me, over and over again, gives me “cred,” that I can relate to them and that I am “for real” dedicated to their success.

Sample Syllabus & Calendar

Sample Syllabus & Calendar

Debi Martin
ENG 5316: Composition Pedagogy
Dr. Rebecca Jackson
Final Project
Spring 2012

Developmental Writing II with Basic Intro to Writing New Media Texts
DEVW 1413: T/Th 10 – 11:15 a.m.
Spring 2012
Round Rock Campus Rm. 2321
Austin Community College

Debi Martin, B.J., M.A.
Office: RRC Adjunct Faculty Rm 1204
Office hours: T/Th 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and by appointment.
Email: dmartin@austincc.edu
Phone/Voice Mail/Text: 512-454-6555; Messages returned within 24 hours except on weekends.

Course Description:

Welcome to Developmental Writing II with Basic intro to New Media Writing, a course in which students learn-by-doing in a writing studio/workshop format conducted in a computer-networked, web-enhanced classroom. Assignments are designed to stimulate, strengthen, and support individual writing practice and performance. Subjects include review of sentence structure, punctuation; critical thinking and reasoning strategies that underlie the writing of essays with emphasis on planning, writing, and revising of assignments designed to be read in an online environment, displayed with appropriate accompanying visual elements.  Instruction will be as individualized as possible, starting with an autobiographical essay that asks students to write about their digital media literacy practices.

Primarily, this is an exit-level developmental writing course designed to help students write more confidently and effectively in college-level credit courses, and prepare to pass the writing test that is prerequisite to enrolling in their first English Composition course. Developmental Writing II with Basic Intro to New Media Writing is among a group of alternative or “special courses” the department created to better serve the needs of its diverse student population.

This “special” Developmental Writing course provides basic introduction to new media technology used to produce essays or “texts” that increasingly are part of the 21st century college experience. A full explanation of departmental policies, course objectives, subjects, and information on “special” and standard course offerings can be found on the Developmental Writing Department’s online common master syllabus: (http://www.austincc.edu/writing/WS2syll.php and http://www.austincc.edu/writing/specia_courses.php). After completing the course students will be able to:

  • Write complete, clear sentences relatively free of spelling and punctuation errors
  • Use words and language appropriate for beginning college students
  • Demonstrate the rudiments of good writing style
  • Develop organized and coherent paragraphs and essays
  • Compose college essays or “texts” on a computer, including creating, editing, sharing, and distributing contributions to online course management systems and course blogs
  • Use search engines to find material suitable for citing in academic essays
  • Save documents in different formats, including for the web, pdf, and uploading/downloading large media files
  • Be familiar with and have a greater appreciation for the possibilities and options available for the production of writing “texts” from “pencils to pixels.”

Attendance Policy:

Because this is an intensive writing studio class that emphasizes learning by doing in a computer-networked classroom, your grade will suffer if you miss more than one class. (See “Grading” below.) All absences must be excused with documentation – some sort of proof that you went to the emergency room or your parent died.

Late work: Late work is not accepted. If you are having problems with an assignment, contact me immediately! Call or email (see above contact info), talk to me after class, during office hours or by appointment. Also, remember to make use of the excellent student services created to help you succeed, including tutors, counselors, advisors. Find more information on the kinds of Student Support services available at: http://www.austincc.edu/support/.

Course Materials:

  • Print version of text + access to text online resources: Scarry, Sandra and John Scarry. The Writer’s Workplace with Readings: Building College Writing Skills. 7th Edition. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2011.
  • Flash drive for storing and transporting essays.
  • Supplemental handouts will be placed on Blackboard and cover new definitions of literacy in the digital age, and how-to information on effectively using new media in writing projects.


6 essays: 50%
5 journal entries: 15%
5 grammar quizzes: 10%
Attendance: 15%
Writing New Media Presentation 10%


I. Essays

Writing is a process. To emphasize that writing is a process, most course essays will be rewritten for a higher grade.

Procedure: After the first version has been turned in, evaluated and given feedback as well as specific instructions on how to improve your paper…  and graded by the instructor, students are required to provide documentation (I supply the form) that they worked with a writing tutor in an ACC Learning Lab before turning in their second version, along with the first draft (so I can compare versions and see improvement) and this form that I will fill out to be used by you and your tutor.

Each essay assignment is designed to increase competency at producing particular kinds of essays — from the storytelling narrative/descriptive personal essay to the more typical argumentative and objective research paper – and to consider how to best display that text in an online environment – on a blog, in a PowerPoint presentation, YouTube video, etc.

Essay 1: Narrative/Descriptive (See Prompt 1: Writing Your Auto-Techno-Bio)
Essay 2: Persuasive/Argumentative
Essay 3: Writing New Media Project (See Prompt 2)
Essay 4: Academic Research Paper
Essay 5: Timed Essay (In-class practice for departmental exit essay test)
Essay 6: Writing New Media Final Project and presentation

II. Journal entries

“Dance as if no one is looking.”

Just as working out regularly tones and strengthens the body, learning to write well requires consistent practice. It also helps to create a time and space for writing that is free of the self-criticism that so often stifles creative, imaginative thinking and expression. As such, journal topics are not are not graded but do count towards course credit and grade. Five short journal entries (1 page single-spaced max) will be assigned and due throughout the semester.

III. Grammar quizzes

“One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas.
How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.” — Groucho Marx

Writing correctly structured and punctuated sentences isn’t just about “following rules.” It’s about communicating. Effectively. No one can appreciate your brilliant, beautiful ideas if they have to read your sentences over and over to understand your meaning. This course includes an advanced grammar review. Five grammar quizzes will be completed using the course text’s online ExamView, and will emphasize the following areas:

G1: Sentence boundaries – run-ons, fragments, comma splices

G2: Subject-verb agreement, pronoun case
G3: Misplaced modifiers, parallel structure
G4: Comma usage
G5: Coordinating conjunctions, caps and punctuation, words often confused

IV.Attendance and Class Participation

“Eighty percent of success is showing up.” — Woody Allen

Well, maybe he said 90%. In this class, “showing up” is worth 15% of your grade. That’s a lot. It’s the difference between an “A” or a “B” or a “B” or a “C” and so on. How is this crucial part of your grade calculated? Attendance is the major factor. You can’t participate if you aren’t present. Another measure factored into your class participation grade is your adherence to class routine, which requires that you treat the writing studio/classroom as a professional workspace in which writers collaborate sometimes, work independently other times, and where the ability to socialize and “get along” is valued but not as important as “getting the work done.” To do that, you will appear alert and engaged in class. You will arrive on time, ready to sit down at your computer workstation and start working on that day’s assignment.


About your instructor

I started my college career at the University of Houston Downtown Campus, which at the time had an open-admissions policy. That meant even this 10th grade high school drop out with a GED was allowed to take classes. Though I worked full-time, I managed to make the Dean’s List the first semester, and actually discovered I liked school. Eventually, I transfered to the University of Texas at Austin  where I earned my bachelor and master degrees.

My first teaching job had nothing to do with writing. I taught ballet, jazz, and modern dance at a YWCA. I’ve also worked as a newspaper columnist and feature writer, taught English Composition, magazine journalism, and interdisciplinary liberal arts courses at St. Edward’s University, and developmental writing and Journalism courses at ACC. For more than 20 years I’ve earned my living balancing my love of teaching with writing for magazines and blogs. I love rock ‘n’ roll, pop culture, “new media” convergence, comedy, dogs and cats (I’m bi-partisan), and I’ve lived enough and done enough to know there’s nothing I’d rather do with my life than what I am doing now.

I believe that education (real world learning) and schooling aren’t always the same things but they can be, that both are better when they are intertwined — when the classes you take in school relate to what going on off-campus and not just what but how you want to live your life. I promise not to bore you or waste your time.



Jan. 17, Tuesday

  • Welcome, introductions, cover departmental syllabus and syllabus for this course syllabus, classroom routines, expectations, objectives
  • Create Name Plate (I will provide index cards and colorful pens and explain!)
  • Short In-class activity 1: Intro to course web site, and course text’s site (www.cengage.com/devenglish/scarry/writersworkplace)
  • Short in-class activity 2: Getting started writing/composing on the computer, we will go over creating word documents, using a flash drive, and work on Student Profile (Hand-out) and Your Techno-Autobiography, which will count as Journal Entry 1.

Jan. 19, Thursday

  • BEFORE CLASS: Read Chapter 1 “Gathering Ideas for Writing,” p. 4- 14 on free-writing, brainstorming, and outlining, and complete Activity 1 on p. 7 and Activity 2 on p. 8. Be prepared to go over chapter 1 material and your responses to activity assignments
  • Be sure Name Plate is on your Desk/Computer Work Station

Jan. 24, Tuesday

  • BEFORE CLASS: Chapter 8 “Correcting Fragments and Run-Ons,” p. 142- 155, and do Activity 1 – 4, and be prepared to go over your responses in class and with a classmate
  • In-class: Complete activity 1 and Test 2 in to prepare for Grammar 1 quiz
  • In-class activities: Chapter 2 “Recognizing the Elements of Good Writing” on the writing subject, purpose and presentation, audience, voice and unity; activities 1 on p. 21, 4 and 5 on p. 25-26, 6 on p. 26 and Activity 7 on p. 28
  • Discuss Essay 1: Narrative/Description assignment. For topic suggestions see p 381-384

Jan. 26, Thurs.

  • BEFORE CLASS: Read “My Daughter Smokes” by Alice Walker, p 623
  • DUE: Journal 2: exercise on p. 410: “Writing a Character Sketch,” in which you describe ideal roommate and roommate “from hell”
  • In-class: Complete Grammar 1 quiz
  • Essay I workshop: Exercises in Chapter 19 and Chapter 20, p 401-409
  • Read and discuss in class: “The Bungalow” by Charles Chaplin, p 405; “Going to School Behind the Iron Curtain,” student essay, p 528

Jan. 31, Tuesday

  • DUE: Essay 1
  • In-class activities: Read and complete exercises in Chapter 26 on “Writing the college essay” and “What is a thesis” up to p. 507

Feb. 2, Thursday

  • Essay 1 will be returned with instructions for improving it. Revision due one week, including visit with learning lab writing tutor
  • BEFORE CLASS: prep for Grammar quiz 2 read and do activities “Subject-Verb Agreement” p 34-67, and be prepared to discuss your responses and any difficulties you had in class

Feb. 7, Tuesday

  •  Grammar 2 prep: In-class activity: Subject-verb and pronoun agreement in context p. 76 “Focused Free-writing: Preserving Family History,” a response to Alice Walker writing passage
  • DISCUSS Essay 2 persuasive essay assignment: suggested topics p. 588

Feb. 9 Thursday

  • DUE: Essay 1R
  • Persuasion and Cause and Effect Continued: readings and activities in Chapter 16: Working with Controlling Ideas, topic sentences, Chapter 23 on “Avoiding Errors in Logic” and “Cause and Effect”

Feb. 14, Tuesday

  • BEFORE CLASS: Read “Get a Knife, Get a Dog, but Get Rid of Guns,” by Molly Ivins; “Why Don’t These Women Just Leave?” by Elaine Weiss, and “My Body Is My Own Business,” by Naheed Mustafa, p 679-687
  • In-class activities: Chapter 32, p 579-589 on analyzing the persuasive essay, structuring opposing viewpoints, achieving coherence, transition phrases to signal parts of persuasive essay
  • Workshop and collaborative in-class activity: work with a writing partner to find online a newspaper editorial and analyze it referring to questions on p. 591

Feb. 16, Thursday

  • Persuasion workshop continued: Collaborative groups continue working on analysis of editorials, then share with classmates
  • In-class activity: work independently on Essay 2

Feb. 21, Tuesday

  • DUE: Essay 2
  • Discuss Essay 3: Compare and Contrast assignment
  • Essay 3 Workshop: Readings and discuss in small groups: “Comparing Men and Women” by Deborah Tannen; “The Ugly Truth” by Dave Barry, and “The Newspaper Office Then and Now” by William Zinsser

Feb. 23, Thursday

  • BEFORE CLASS: Grammar 3 prep: Read and do activities on “Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers,” and “Parallel Structure,” p 185-190; In-class activities: “Mastery and Editing Tests” p 194 and “Preparing and Editing a Resume” p199
  • Essay 2 will be returned; Revision due one week
  • In-class activity Journal 3″A Before and After Story” exercise on p. 449

Feb. 28, Tuesday

  • Grammar 3 quiz
  • Workshop: New Media Writing Journal 4

March 1, Thursday

  • In-class activities: Grammar 4 prep exercises

March 6, Tuesday

  • Grammar 4 quiz
  • In-class: work on New Media projects Journal 3 or 4 or Essay 3

March 8, Thursday

  • DUE: ESSAY 3
  • In-class New Media projects continued

[Spring Break Holiday: March 12 – 16]

March 20, Tuesday

Begin prepare for research paper activities

  • Grammar 5 prep
  • Essay 3 Returned: Revision due one week

March 22, Thursday

  • In-class: Work Independently on Essay 3 or New Media Projects

March 27, Tuesday

  • DUE: Essay 3R
  • In-class activities: Research Paper continued: Incorporating Sources, Using Indirect and Direct Quotations, Paraphrasing and Summarizing p. 610-611
  • Grammar 5 quiz

March 29, Thursday

  • Work independently and/or collaboratively on new media

April 3, Tuesday

  • Begin Essay 4: Research Paper
  • In-class workshop on Essay 4 will include covering topics and exercises in Chapter 33 on Setting up a Time Table, Choosing a Topic, Looking for Sources and Internet Search Engines

April 5, Thursday

  • Workshop: Finding and evaluating creditable online sources for academic research papers

April 10, Tuesday

  • Research Paper continued

April 12, Thursday

  • Research Paper continued
  • Workshop: Peer review Research Papers

April 17, Tuesday

  • In-class: collaborative or independent work on new media projects and/or research paper

April 19, Thursday

  • DUE: Essay 4: Research Paper

April 24, Tuesday

  • Essay 4 Returned: Rewrite due last class day
  • BEFORE CLASS: Read “How to Take An Essay Exam: Writing Well Under Pressure,” p. 603 – 605
  • In-class activity: Workshop Prep for Essay 5: “Methods of Development” based on analyzing prompt, p. 605. We will do most of the exercises in Chapter 33 on the timed essay up to p. 609

April 26, Thursday

  • In-class: PREP FOR ESSAY 5

May 1, Tuesday

  • In-class: ESSAY 5: Timed Essay

May 3, Thursday

  • J 5 (New media) presentations

May 8, Tuesday

  • DUE: J 5 (New media writing)
  • Teaching evaluations

May 10, Thursday

  • (New media) presentations
  • Last class


Sample Writing Prompts

Sample Writing Prompts

Debi Martin
ENG 5316: Composition Pedagogy
Dr. Rebecca Jackson
Final Project
Spring 2012

Student Writing Prompts 1 and 2
Handout: The Writing New Media Project

As you’ve probably figured out by now – particularly if you “read the news” on your cell phone — the term “texts” no longer refers just to books in print and “writing” doesn’t necessarily have to involve pen and paper or include just words. These days, “writing” includes more and more visuals, audio, and other digital and interactive media. When you email and text a friend using your smartphone or go online to upload a video or update your Facebook page, you are “writing” a kind of “text.” When you send a friend a snip of a song, you are forwarding a “text” that communicates a specific message as much as a letter might have “said’ in centuries past.

This activity was designed to help you connect your use of writing technology in every day life to composing academic essays. We begin, at the beginning, by helping you become more aware of your self as a writer by exploring your personal history with writing, and writing with technology.

The writing new media assignment is a four-part ongoing project that you build over the semester. You will present your final version to the class the last weeks of the semester. You will work on this project throughout the semester in class during writing studio time.

Part 1: Your Techno-Literacy-AutoBio 

Write an 800-word narrative in which you discuss your writing practices using technology throughout your life.  The questions (see “Questions” below) are jumping off points for you to use to stimulate your imagination. This piece of the writing new media project counts toward your grade for Essay 1.

Part 2: Add visuals to your Techno-Literacy-AutoBio

We will work on this as a workshop project during class time in mid-February. This piece of the project counts toward your class participation grade.

Part 3: Your techno-literacy “roots”

Using the questions below, interview your parents and grandparents. Use the information you discover to create a 1200-word Compare and Contrast paper. This piece of the project counts as Essay 3.

Part 4:Your Writing New Media project

Add visuals to the compare and contrast essay and integrate the two essays and visuals into a multimedia project that you will present during class and will count as Essay 6.

  1. After giving students the handout, discuss as a class sample essays and other resources to orient students to digital writing and help them think about their own approaches. Some of my favorites include:



Early Literacy Development

  • What stories did your parents tell you about their own efforts to learn to read and write? Speak and listen? Compose/view/interact with texts of various sorts?
  • What kinds of reading and writing, speaking and listening, viewing/interacting and composing did your parents do? (Think about — but don’t limit your response to – such things as: reading newspapers, magazines, books, or novels; writing poems, lists, plays, or letters; speaking in front of groups or to individuals; listening to speeches, sermons, or lectures; viewing television, movies, or plays; interacting with computer games, kiosks, or video games; composing posters, songs, rhymes, or Web sites.)
  • What stories can you tell about when, where, how you first came in contact with computers? (including mainframe computers, personal computers, computer games)
  • What stories can you tell about when, where, how you first learned to use computers to read and write? To view/interact with/compose texts? Where did this take place? Did anyone help or encourage you? Who helped? How did they help? Howe old were they, and how old were you?
  • When you were growing up, how did yoiu feel about using computers to read or write? To speak or listen to others? To view/interact with/compose texts? At school? Other places?

Current Literacy

  • Do you own a computer(s) now? If so, please describe it (them).
  • What specific kinds of reading and writing, speaking and listening, viewing/interacting and composing do you do now in computer environments at home? At school? Elsewhere? (Think about – but don’t limit your response – to reading newspapers, e-zines, books, or email; doing research for school on the World Wide Web; writing/sending friends instant messages and writing in chat rooms on facebook, contributing to listservs, writing papers; speaking to friends and relatives; listening to CDs and sound files; viewing movies; interacting with computer games; composing Web sites, works of art, or interactive fiction.)
  • What determines how frequently you use the computer for reading and writing, speaking and listening, viewing/interacting and composing? Are there stories/incidents to tell about this?
  • Has your experience with composing texts for online environments taught you anything about “reading” or “writing” more conventional texts, texts that appear in print? If so, please explain.
  • What are your favorite kinds of projects/activities in online environments? Please explain.
  • In the next ten years, what online literacy skills and understandings will be increasingly important for students to acquire? Why?


What counts as “visuals” or multi-media?

This can be as simple or as complicated as you like. You can create a word document and simply insert photos either downloaded from the web or from your personal family photographs. You could create a PowerPoint presentation. Even more complex, you could create a website or blog using programs such wordpress or blogger.


You can ask other students for feedback and advise but remember that what you turn in for a grade must be your own work.

Can you give me an idea of what kinds of projects are possible?



Course Justification

Course Justification

Debi Martin
ENG 5316: Composition Pedagogy
Dr. Rebecca Jackson
Final Project
Spring 2012

Justification Paper

Situating course and rationale 

In just the last decade, the materiality of the writing space and writing tools — the computer screen and its interactive and networking capabilities — have been altered to the extent that the still-common image of “basic” writers composing with paper and pencil represents a disturbing disconnect. It is possible that middle-class students will arrive at a state university possessing that basic technical dexterity. I’m less certain that students who enroll at a community college and plan to transfer to a university will be as well equipped. In my position as a part-time English/writing tutor at Austin Community College (ACC) in the last few years, I’ve helped a substantial number of “developmental” writing (and English Comp I) students who don’t have the skills necessary to create word documents, save them, upload them to a course web site, or the intellectual sophistication to distinguish between a web site that exists to advertise a product and one that is suitable for citing as a reference in a research paper. My concern is the degree of disconnect between what developmental writers are being taught today and what they could likely be expected to know by the time they enroll in First Year Composition (FYC). This disparity would most likely constitute yet another “digital divide,” and would adversely affect future students’ ability to function in the 21st century workplace. In one of the few journal articles that directly and extensively comments on the subject, two community college professors discuss the ramifications of the disconnect between developmental writing and digital literacy, and the culture at-large. In “New Worlds of Errors and Expectations: Basic Writers and Digital Assumptions,” the authors write:

… the use of computers in composition is a given, technology is part of the academic zeitgeist. While in the 1980s and 1990s much was made of “the digital divide,” documenting the economic and educational injustice of access to computers, those arguments are largely erased, or forgotten, in a culture where computers are everywhere. With the advent of Web 2.0 and social media, however, a new digital divide is emerging.

(Klages and Clark 32)

In the era of instant publishing, “basic writers” are at an increasing disadvantage. Whereas in previous decades these students and their writing would have been invisible, the digital environment clearly showcases their lack of understanding of edited American English:

Without significant work in digital literacies … basic writers face double jeopardy. They will have the traditional markers and challenges of basic writers coupled with an inability to critically engage and produce in the digital medium. Just as literacy has always been linked to social, cultural, and economic power, so too does this new digital literacy mean access to our newest forms of cultural power. The digital divide is no longer about access to technology, but rather a more complex divide of those who have had the educational access, training, and critical engagement to use technology well as literate cyber-citizens.

(Klages and Clark 47— 48)

Web 2.0 media seems ideal for developmental writers because it emphasizes project-based learning experiences, an arena in which students must periodically access what is or isn’t working. As such, students enhance their ability to not only problem-solve but also to become aware of their thinking, the quality of their thinking, and whether their thinking is improving the outcome of what is being created. This process allows students to combine the metacognitive element and the ability to look objectively at their work, i.e., to judge whether it is becoming more reader-centered than writer-centered. In light of this, I truly believe there is an appropriate place in developmental writing for digital literacies: an exit-level course, a “gateway” course to FYC.

Developmental Writing II with Basic Intro to Writing New Media Texts Workshop

A gateway course to FYC would give students an opportunity to discover how to apply their creative talents and digital literacies to compose academically appropriate web-texts. I envision this course to be a variation on the “special” learning community courses currently offered at ACC. In developmental writing literature, this could be considered a combination of the Stretch Model and Studio Model, alternative course formats that are credit-bearing and that focus on intensive writing practice (Lalicker 17-20). At ACC, these courses have been implemented as a way to more efficiently mainstream and retain developmental students through engaging, alternative learning communities.

The Prompts

The narrative essay is a standard starting point in exit-level developmental writing courses for a couple of reasons. First, developmental writers typically lack confidence, and telling their stories using a chronologically organized arc is a familiar format. Prompts for these essays often ask students to reflect on a situation or person or life experience that changed them. Brainstorming and drafting such a narrative facilitates connecting prior knowledge to new concepts. As the course proceeds, essay assignments become less and less about the self and more about the self in relation to society — a progression intended to lead to increased awareness that effective college-level writing is more reader-centered than writer-centered.

The Writing New Media Project begins by allowing students to access their strengths as storytellers with expertise in their content matter. Here, the narrative (part 1 of the Writing New Media Project) has been adapted so that students can build confidence, mastery, and agency as 21st writers capable of interpreting, responding to, and producing new media texts. This activity was created to help students connect out-of-school writing literacy with academic essay writing strategies by asking them to reflect upon and reinterpret their personal histories as “writers” of “texts.”

The “Questions” section was adapted from an activity listed in a resource for English teachers interested in expanding the teaching of composition by assigning new media writing projects. The textbook was written by some of the leading scholars in the field including Anne Wysocki, Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Cynthia Selfe, and Geoffrey Sirc (59-61).

Creating a digital form of the essay (part 2) should at the very least provide students with an opportunity to see and experiment with how new media literacies can be incorporated into the development of their own “academic” writing voice. Part 3, interviewing relatives about their literary practices, allows students to practice researching primary sources, and use critical thinking skills to gather and synthesize their findings. The final Writing New Media project requires students to creatively and critically think about how to integrate all the textual elements, including the narrative, their interviews with relatives, and visuals for an effective production to share with an audience — their classmates and instructor.

Course texts and readings

The Writer’s Workplace with Readings: Building College Writing Skills is on the list of approved textbooks for ACC Developmental Writing Skills II courses, an exit-level course designed to prepare students for FYC. It includes the baseline of essentials in one text, plus a workbook that offers plenty of activities on how to define and refine a thesis, etc. Unlike course texts that students are likely to purchase for English Comp I, the textbook combines the grammar handbook and reader. This not only keeps costs down, it makes the amount of “catch-up” work seem less overwhelming than it would otherwise. The handbook component includes detailed grammar reviews to help developmental writers finesse complex sentence structures that combine clauses and coordinating conjunctions, as well as the basic “non-sentence” errors — comma splices, run-ons, and fragments. It covers how to write under pressure, plus everything from writing as a process, brainstorming ideas, prewriting strategies, crafting a thesis, composing essays using various rhetorical modes — Narration, Descriptive, Compare and Contrast, etc. — to the sourcing, citing, paraphrasing, and quoting involved in producing credible research papers. The selection of readings in the “reader” sections illustrate:

  1. various compositional modes;
  2. how to address topical social issues that developmental writers are asked to think about when crafting persuasive essays, such as “Are you for or against the right to carry concealed handguns after the tragedy at Virginia Tech?”; and
  3. short stories that showcase writing as a fine art, or literature.

Mostly, however, the readings function to reinforce the reading/writing connection, and are often followed by prompts designed to stimulate analytical thinking and class discussions.

Other course “texts”

The textbook discussed above does not cover digital literacies or producing new media texts. I read several books to get some ideas on how to create such a course and what kinds of assignments would be useful, including Because Digital Writing Matters, The Digital Writing Workshop, and Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers.

However, because I see my course as one designed for exit-level developmental writing students, I think some of the most useful supplemental readings would come from Writing About Writing: A College Reader. Before assigning the first essay on autobiography and techno literacy, I would have students read and discuss Donald Murray’s “All Writing is Autobiography” (56-66) and Deborah Brandt’s “Sponsors of Literacy” (331-352). Other pieces I’d include: “The Future of Literacy” (395-421) and “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies” (422-441).


The syllabus is aligned with those used in most ACC Developmental Writing Courses. It follows the “master” syllabus in that it includes the required sections, including course outcome goals, etc.

It was a major effort to synthesize all the elements and then add the writing new media component. To keep track of the pacing and sequence of assignments I color-coded them according to category — essay, grammar, etc. I found that this process helped me and the students make better visual sense of the syllabus and its workflow.

Regarding the “About the instructor” portion of the syllabus, I’ve gone back and forth about the efficacy of “sharing” so much about myself. However, I decided to “go for it” because, from past experience teaching developmental writing, I found that “telling” my story has helped me quickly establish rapport and credibility with the class. I let them know that I made it, and I can help them “run the gauntlet” necessary to get to FYC and transfer to a “real school” — a common goal among the students I’ve worked with at a community college.


I envision the pedagogical underpinnings of this course to be a mix of old and new. The course, itself, set up as a workshop/studio, would evoke community and collaborative pedagogies as well as a critical cultural consciousness about the self and technology during a time of exponential cultural changes in writing, communication technologies, and rhetoric.

To teach the material required to pass the timed English exam essays and the other “standards,” including the “research paper,” I’d use process-based approaches to help students streamline their thoughts, define and refine a thesis, and then cogently organize everything on paper in a timely manner. However, the new media writing pieces would allow for a much more open approach to the creative process. For example, the students’ first essay, the autobiography, could very well begin and develop as many do: chronologically. But I can imagine a lot of possibilities for working collaboratively, when students start thinking about and producing “the visuals” in part 2 and again, when they add the “roots” element. Defining the writing space as a digital space, I think, forces students to think, on a basic level, rhetorically in that it requires them to think about whether to present the information as a blog, in which case some of the information would be “read” backwards or as a PowerPoint presentation, which would also require rhetorical strategies in terms of pacing and how to best visually represent concepts. Another option: visuals with accompanying audio – a narrative voice reading a script and/or music in the background. Overall, a WordPress-based website might be the best choice as it would allow for any of the above options, and more. For instance, students would have to review many site design templates to determine which would most effectively present their information. This process would compel students to think through how best to translate a print project into the digital realm, which color palette would work best, and which navigation scheme would work best to help readers find their content.


The “standard” essays and new media projects carry the most weight and are essentially equal in the grade schema. As the course is defined as a workshop, attendance and class participation is valued at 15%, to emphasize the importance of regular attendance and class participation. The journal requirement is intended to encourage the development of a regular writing practice that is more free-form and not “graded,” in the usual sense. The aim is to encourage experimentation and less self-criticism. Grammar carries the least grading weight, because this is an exit-level developmental writing course that focuses more on developing content than on mechanics.


Due to the inclusion of the technology portion of this course, I believe it would be necessary to tweak and update the scope and materials frequently to remain relevant and determine the most effective way to reach and teach students, much more so than other exit-level developmental writing courses I have taught. I would in the future like to look into ways in which course management software might help me gain feedback from students to help improve the course.

Finally, before test-driving this course, I would do a thorough reading of several books that have helped me grasp the prompts and overall pedagogical orientation required when creating such a developmental writing/FYC/new media course hybrid. Texts I would study would include Because Digital Writing Matters, The Digital Writing Workshop, and Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers.


Works Cited

Baron, Dennis. “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies.” Writing About Writing: A College Reader. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s. 2011.

Brandt, Deborah. “Sponsors of Literacy.” Writing About Writing: A College Reader. Writing About Writing. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s. 2011.

DeVoss, Danielle Nicole, Elyse Eidman— Aadahl, and Troy Hicks. Because Digital Writing Matters. San Francisco, CA: Jossey— Bass. 2010.

DeVoss, Danielle, et al. “The Future of Literacy.” Writing About Writing: A College Reader. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s. 2011

Hicks, Troy. The Digital Writing Workshop: Improving Student Writing in Online and Multimedia Environments. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 2009.

Klages, Maria A. and J. Elizabeth Clark. “New Worlds of Errors and Expectations: Basic Writers and Digital Assumptions.” Journal of Basic Writing 28.1 (2009): 32— 49. JSTOR, PDF file. 20 June 2012.

Lalicker, William B. “A Basic Introduction to Basic Writing Program Structures: A Baseline and Five Alternatives.” Teaching Developmental Writing: Background Readings. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. 2007.

Murray, Donald M. “All Writing is Autobiography.” Writing About Writing:  A College Reader. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s. 2011.

Selfe, Cynthia L. Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press. 2007.

Wysocki, A.F., Johnson— Eilola J., Selfe, C.L. & Sirc, Geoffrey. “Activity 1: Technological Literacy Autobiographies.” Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2004.