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Teaching Undergraduate composition


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So here's the thing. I got my Bachelors and my Masters in English Literature from a reputed university in India, and while the quality of teaching was top-notch, the organisation of both courses was very... informal. Though we had one very basic course on Rhetoric and Composition that covered things like scansion, for the most part we learned about academic writing on the job -- i.e, simply by doing it. We were never really formally taught about the different kinds of essays, or how to articulate thesis statements, and such. Our professors valued clarity and organisation of thought more than an adherence to formal modes/patterns. Essentially, as long as our essays had a clear beginning, middle and end, and managed to convey the point we were trying to make, anything went.


Now, I'm going to be doing an MFA course in the US that comes complete with a TA gig teaching undergraduate comp, and I confess I'm a little bit clueless about exactly what the syllabus for such a course would entail. I suspect I'm going to be learning most of the material for the first time alongside my students!


In short, I'd appreciate it if anyone could clue me in on what I could expect... some of the topics a course on undergraduate composition might cover, tips on grading essays, advice for first-time TAs... anything, really. I'm completely new at this!

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Very few first-time US English lit grad students have taken a class in rhetoric/composition either. I tested out of it at my university, as do a lot of English majors. I also know there are schools--mostly private, elite colleges--that don't even offer rhet/comp classes. So, in other words, the people who end up teaching rhet/comp are often the ones who have almost no experience with it. 
That is to say that you'll be in good company. I was exposed to rhet/comp for the first time at my department's teacher orientation. A week later I was teaching it. 
As far as what to expect? Yes, you'll be learning a lot alongside your students. Most of the time you'll be grading them on the clarity of their arguments, the development of their thesis statements, and the structure of their papers. You might be using a reader to teach (a book book like Ways of Reading, for instance), and if that's the case, you'll be devoting the bulk of your class time discussing those essays/articles and helping the students think about ways to analyze those essays. 
Most rhet/comp classes require a lot of revision. Your students will hand in a paper and you'll read it without grading it and then offer comments on the paper or in a conference. Then they'll revise the paper and hand it in for a grade. You'll probably do this three or four times throughout a semester. 
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  • 4 months later...

Get "Teaching College Composition: A Practical Guide for New Instructors" at Jain Publishing. Though theory and research based, almost none of that, just practical stuff. Covers every conceivable topic, mostly in 1-4 page chapters, from assignments to holding classroom discussions to responding to drafts to evaluation of portfolios.

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I know I took 2 freshman composition courses, but it was so long ago (over 10 years)! The first course was a basic writing course... how I wish my school had the option to test out of it! I know we wrote several different types of essays, such as compare and contrast,  persuasive, narrative, etc. I don't recall many of the assignments, but one was to write about an event in our childhood that shaped who we are. Another was to find two magazine advertisements for the same type of product and to compare and contrast them ( I remember I chose gum ads from a video game magazine and teen magazine). I know we discussed how to structure the essays and how to choose "50 cent words." Plus we looked at sample essays. I don't really recall much else.

The second course was a connecting literature to your life writing course. So we read lots of poems and short stories and wrote the same kinds of essays, but had to utilize the literature from class. We had to compare and contrast ourselves to characters, do a research paper based on something we read, etc. I remember that professor was really into the 5 paragraph essay, and she would give us sample essays and highlighters so we could identify the main ideas in the introduction and match them up in the following paragraphs. I know for one of the assignments, we read a story about a couple whose baby randomly died in the backseat of their car at the drive-in, so I wrote my essay on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and how the parents' behaviors and actions with the child were consistent with the risk factors for SIDS.

So that was the content of the courses I took. As others mentioned, a lot of revision takes place and you'll probably have them do a peer review, too. Depending on the course, you might even grade the quality of their peer review, too.

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