How do you determine course content?

Video created by Elizabeth Uva Employee on Oct 16, 2015

    Adler-Kassner: I think about developing a content, which is not unrelated from a process and a structure, that will help students really dig into questions about writing.  I think about readings that can help them do that, and I don't mean readings that, you know, I can hold up as models of great kinds of writing.  I think about readings that engage students in questions about why you write, and why you write in particular ways, and what happens when you write in particular ways.


    Reynolds: I've learned to select course content by a principle of less is more.  I think that often times when you choose a textbook, it's overwhelming.  So I'm really a fan of the briefer textbooks, if you're going to order a textbook, a brief rhetoric or something where you can choose the readings or customize it or something like that.  I think it's important not to overwhelm students with content but to focus it.  You have to start, of course, with--what are the goals of this course?  What are the learning outcomes?  Where are we trying to get? And then choose the content accordingly, but make sure students are going to really, really read those texts, or there is going to be class time devoted to those texts.  Rather than assigning them and moving on and assigning something else and moving on, how are you going to use them?  Do they tie into the writing assignments? Do they... do you keep coming back to those authors or those texts or that material?


    Royster: One reading that I've used is a Studs Terkel essay about the Klansmen.  I don't know if you've ever read that. I like that one because it helps my students to see the integrity of the different points of view of the people in that little story.  So you have a Klansman and you have an African-American woman who find themselves needing to cooperate with each other, with no historical imperative in either of their lives for wanting to do so, but finding their way there anyway.  And I find that it helps my students to think about what those issues really are, what it means for people who have made a habit or come into a context where it's normal to hate, to make a different choice, without setting aside the notion that no, this is not someone that I would choose to be friends with or that I would choose to work with, but the need of the social context and the political moment and the particular exigency of that occasion has created an opportunity for peace rather than war.  And I like what my students have consistently done with that moment.  I don't like to tell them what they should think about it.  I like to watch them read that text, come to their own questions about it, be willing to take the chance of talking to other people about their questions about it, and then come to some sense of what they're thinking.  What they write is always interesting to me after such an experience. And there are other readings like that that I have used occasionally, and I think that there is enough good writing out there in all kinds of genres, whether it's poetry or essays or short stories or longer pieces or cartoons or images, that can be that kind of springboard for helping students to think about these kind of thorny, complex problems that they might not really think about on their own or might not want to even think about except by the nudging of some professor in a writing classroom.