Teaching the First-Year Seminar
Many instructors wonder what skills their students will bring with them to the first-year seminar classroom. Student preparedness varies, often depending on which term you are teaching.
If you are teaching a fall-term seminar, your students have been exempted from the Writing 5 requirement. Although many of them will be among the best writers in the first-year class, our exemption criteria are far from perfect. You'll also want to remember that none of your students have taken a Dartmouth writing course. Though they may have excelled as writers in high school, they do not yet understand the expectations and conventions of academic discourse. You should also assume that they are unfamiliar with the research resources available at Dartmouth.
If you are teaching a seminar in the winter or spring term, your students have taken either Writing 5 or Writing 2-3. Your students will have written at least four papers. Writing 5 and Writing 2-3 teach students the elements of argument and introduce them to library resources. These courses require students to revise their work, guided by comments from the instructors. Assume that your students will need to practice and polish their skills in the seminar. Also note that, although Writing 5 and Writing 2-3 cover proper citation protocol, citation styles differ among disciplines, and so you should not assume that your students know how to cite in your discipline. Students should be aware of the Academic Honor Principle, but they will not know how you expect them to conduct themselves in your course. For fuller explanation, see Guidelines for Writing 5 and Guidelines for Writing 2-3.
First of all, students expect the first-year seminar to be a writing class. Although they are designed around disciplinary or interdisciplinary content, the seminars' focus is writing. In fact, seminars are the only writing course required of all of Dartmouth's undergraduates. Instructors are expected not only to assign writing, but to teach writing as well. Teaching writing involves holding writing workshops, conferring with students about their writing, and making good use of the collaborative learning and active learning ideas described throughout this website. For a more thorough description of the program's expectations, please see First-year Seminars: Guidelines for Faculty. We hope that you will especially note the following:
- Plan to spend substantial class time on student writing. Don't allow course readings to crowd out discussion of student work. Treat student work as another text for the class, using it as the basis for in-class writing workshops. See Conducting Writing Workshops for proven strategies.
- Design a research assignment that requires each student to find sources beyond the assigned readings. Show students how to find, evaluate, incorporate, and cite sources. Discuss with your students how the Academic Honor Principle applies to your seminar, as well as its broader implications.
- Optional: The College strongly encourages First-Year Seminar instructors to incorporate a significant oral component, which could include presentations, discussions, or debates. If you choose to include an oral component, be sure to discuss first with your students the methods involved and how you will evaluate their work.
Over the years, we've heard from students the various expectations they have of their seminars. Here are some of the most commonly heard expectations:
- Students expect the classroom format to be discussion-based, rather than lecture-based. They want a class that is intimate not only in size but in character.
- Students want feedback from you on their writing. You should respond not only to the content of the writing, but also to its structure, form, and style.
- Students expect that you will return their papers to them in a timely manner, so that they have sufficient time to absorb and incorporate your comments before the next paper is due.
- Students expect that you will meet with them in conference at least once or twice during the term to discuss their progress as writers. They also hope that you will be available to them in office hours and via email.
- They don't realize it, but your students need you to show them where their existing models of research and writing, which they have inherited from high school, fail. Until you can demonstrate to them that their existing models are inadequate for academic purposes, they will probably resist your efforts.
- Once you've shown them that their existing models won't work, students will want you to inspire them to explore new models and to support them while they do. They'll want you to remain engaged with them as writers and as thinkers, so that they in turn can do their best work in your course.
If you have questions about teaching writing in your seminar, please contact Karen Gocsik, Executive Director of the Writing Program.
Last modified: Friday, 12-Oct-2007 15:12:01 EDT
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