General Studies Writing
From GSW's Learning Outcomes Document
Rhetorical Knowledge. By the end of their General Studies Writing courses, students will be
a. Focus on purpose for writing.
b. Respond effectively to the needs of a variety of audiences, with an emphasis on academic audiences.
c. Employ rhetorical strategies that are well suited to the rhetorical situation, including appropriate voice, tone, and levels of formality.
d. Use strategies of argument appropriate to the rhetorical situation.
e. Write in academic genres which include argumentative essays, critiques, and researched writing.
Most first‐year students enter General Studies Writing without having written for audiences other than a teacher, and without understanding that all writing options are governed by the audience to whom the writing is being addressed and by the purpose for the writing. Understanding the concept of “audience” is particularly important in academic writing, since the goal is for writers to make points clearly and reasonably to a specific audience without offending or alienating that audience. College‐level composition teachers agree that helping students understand the concept of “audience” in their writing is extremely challenging.
Because of the challenge of teaching “audience,” over the past few years, GSW’s Learning Outcomes and Assessment Committees have created standardized tools which students complete to help them identify an “audience” and consider strategies for writing to that audience before they begin drafting a paper. The committee’s first attempts at these tools, while useful, did not evidence the degree of change in students’ understanding of audience in their writing which we were hoping for. In spring 2009, however, GSW’s Assessment Committee concluded that because the audience tools which had been constructed in the past were linear in design, students weren’t easily able to see the relationships between the questions about audience and the way the questions worked together to inform all aspects of a paper. To this end, the committee conceptualized an entirely new audience tool which is more visual, more holistic, and simpler for students to use. In 2009‐2010 the new audience tool was included in students’ coursepacks and required for every major paper assignment in all three GSW courses.
The Assessment Committee and GSW’s director introduced the new tool at meetings held for GSW’s teaching staff. As well, an explanation and a sample completed form was designed and included in GSW’s coursepack materials for students, and directions for teaching with the form were included in GSW’s Portfolio Assessment Manual for Instructors. The GSW director also placed a greater emphasis on “audience” in the workshop she teaches for new graduate assistants, and additional activities for teaching audience were designed and included in GSW’s Sample Assignments Manuals for Instructors. Throughout the year, GSW’s teaching staff were highly positive about using the new audience tool in their teaching. However, for a measurable indicator regarding the usefulness of the tool, at the end of spring semester 2010, thirty random student portfolios from a wide variety of GSW 1100 and 1110 sections were photocopied during GSW’s portfolio assessment procedure before the portfolios were returned to the students. (To save resources, we photocopied only portfolios from students who had given written permission for GSW to use their papers in GSW’s training program and materials; thus, the portfolios we copied had a dual usefulness.)