Students in a First-Year Writing Seminar

FWS Learning Outcomes

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Indispensable Reference

FWS Learning Outcomes


Every FWS instructor should incorporate a statement in his or her syllabus about specific learning goals or “outcomes” for students in the class—a “mission statement” for the seminar, if you will. These statements should be short and include only the learning outcomes most central to the seminar, although others may also be important. Instructors should be able to observe easily whether students are, or are not, achieving the goals, so that if need be they can adjust their teaching accordingly.

Some appropriate achievements for students to demonstrate in FWSs are as follows:

  • Writing that is suitable for the fieldoccasion, orgenre in its use of thesesargumentevidencestructure, and diction. (An individual course statement could be more specific about each area.)
  • Writing that is based on competent, careful reading and analysis of texts. (Such reading skills might need to be taught!)
  • Appropriate, responsible handling of primary and secondary sources, using a style such as MLA or APA.
  • Effective use of preparatory writing strategies such as drafting, revising, taking notes, and collaborating (the latter might be demonstrated in peer review, conferences with the instructor, consultations in the Knight Writing Centers).
  • Final drafts of essays that have been effectively proofread for correctness of grammar, punctuation, and mechanics.
  • Other: Individual instructors may wish to include statements about achievements in regard to the subject content of the course, presentations, and/or participation in discussion. (For examples, see below)

The above achievements can be demonstrated by students and concretely observed by the instructor. Other desirable outcomes are also important but are less easily measured or observed. Instructors should nevertheless aim for these through their pedagogical methods. Namely:

  • Students emerge with confidence in their writing ability and in their ability to continue to learn to write; they emerge convinced of the importance of writing well. (This outcome is measurable only indirectly, through students’ self-reporting on end- of-semester evaluations.)
  • Students understand that writing can help them to learn; they have experienced that process through various kinds of preparatory writing work in and out of the classroom, in work that helps them to explore a subject and that prepares them for their essays. (Students might demonstrate through preparatory or other informal writing the learning that writing has helped them achieve.)
  • Students realize how what they have learned about writing applies (or does not apply) to other writing situations. Their knowledge should be transferable. In a best case scenario, after taking two seminars, students learn through experience and discussion that the demands of a particular subject, purpose, audience, or voice, can cause necessary variations in such matters as style, structure, content, and argument, and that therefore one type of writing cannot be suitable to all purposes or all occasions. (In a seminar, students might demonstrate ability to adjust style or structure according to the demands of a particular genre or audience.)
  • Students perceive that they must continue to investigate “how to write” in new disciplines and situations after their First-Year Writing Seminars in order to write clearly and well. (One demonstration of transferable knowledge might be that students can describe, with appropriate terminology, what they have learned about writing, perhaps in a final reflective essay or in “author’s notes” on essays.)
  • Students develop what some researchers have called a "growth mindset" in relation to writing.

Sample Student Learning Outcome Statements

Take note of the succinct wording of the statements below. Also note that outcomes should be worded to make clear that achieving them is the student’s task. Avoid statements such as “By the end of this course you will know how to...,” which may seem to give all responsibility for learning to the instructor.

Sample 1: Statement for a FWS in English

This First-Year Writing Seminar requires that in essays and other required writing you develop anddemonstrate competency in the following areas:

  • theses, argument, evidence, organization, diction, mechanics (proofreading).
  • use of primary and secondary sources.
  • preparatory writing strategies such as drafting, revising, and peer review.
  • analysis of the literary qualities of memoir: e.g., themes, motifs, narrative structure, style. Such analysis will form the basis for essay topics.

Sample 2: Statement for a FWS in Philosophy

Course objectives

By the time you leave this course, your papers should indicate that you can:

  1. find the argument of a text and restate it clearly in your own words.
  2. explain viewpoints clearly that are not your own. (iii) think critically about philosophical ideas.
  3. demonstrate an analytical grasp of the three main currents in contemporary ethics (consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics).
  4. substantively and analytically approach the central question in ethics—“how should one live?”
  5. write papers using theses, organization, arguments, evidence, and language suitable to the discipline of philosophy.

Sample 3: Statement for a FWS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Learning Objectives

Become a better writer as demonstrated in your:

  • analysis of texts.
  • development of thesis statements and organization. – use of appropriate style, organization, arguments, and evidence for varying genres such as speeches or editorials.
  • appropriate citation of sources.
  • revision of your work and the work of others.

Become a better-informed environmental citizen. In papers and discussion demonstrate excellence in:

  • analysis of the complexity and significance of environmental issues.
  • analysis of scientific and public policy dimensions.
  • critical analysis of information about environmental issues.
  • analysis of the role of personal choice in sustainable solutions.

Note that each of the examples above implies attention to formulating good questions or problems in a given field (questions concerning literary texts, or ethics, or environmental policy, for example). You should consider it a central learning goal of your First-Year Writing Seminar to help students understand, in your discipline, what constitutes a good question, how to think critically about one, and what habits of writing they should cultivate in the pursuit of good answers. What is the raw "stuff" that your discipline turns into evidence to support the characteristic kinds of arguments made in your field? What uses of language define your discipline? The more ex plicit you can be with students about such goals, the better they will learn.

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