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Why Have Just One Semester?

posted: 6.9.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

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One of the more common questions about WAW is, “What about the second semester?”  If we write about writing in Comp I, what do we do in Comp II? I won’t build the suspense: we could keep writing about writing.

My starting point for thinking about WAW in Comp I is that our students come to us from walks of life where writing has been “misunderstood.” Many believe they’re “broken” writers, and most believe that writing is a system of rules.  When students come to us later in life, after working for a few years, or after making a few different attempts at college, their experience has usually done little to mitigate that high school sense of the nature of writing and of themselves as writers.

The function of WAW Comp I, then, is to show how there are other, better ways to understand writing. So if that’s the first course, what’s the second?  Some ideas:


There’s a perfectly good argument for simply extending the conversation begun in Comp I into Comp II.  This is about the simplest articulation there can be between the two courses: Comp II continues discussing the points raised in Comp I, with additional readings on the same subjects and more discussion of the connections among those subjects.  For example, rhetoric, revision, process, discourse—these are all deep wells.  Comp I can hardly scratch the surface of how earlier writing instruction and cultural misconceptions leave us poorly understanding these aspects of writing.  Comp II can just keep going.


There are always more projects I’d like students to do than there are weeks in the semester to do them.  In Comp I, I’d love for students to do both a Literacy Reflection and a Rhetorical Analysis of one of their prior writing experiences.  (Feel free to ask me more about that one.)  Then I’d love for them to do both a research project on writing process and an Activity Analysis and a Discourse Community Description.  By the time I finish listing the projects that work really well in WAW courses, I easily have two courses worth of projects.  Then the only question (for another post, maybe) is sequencing.


Elizabeth Wardle, in some of her earliest explorations of WAW, was able to develop special linked sections of Comp I and II, where students would use Comp I to develop a research question about writing, and use Comp II to do the research.  For anyone who’s felt that sixteen weeks isn’t enough to get students doing serious research on writing, how about thirty-two?


In some sense, we can make any WAW course a gateway to WAC/WID.  But it’s a tight squeeze in Comp I alone: helping students re-understand their past as writers and having them consider their future as writers in other disciplines?  It’s possible, but not ideal.  Split those two functions into Comp I and II, however, and you have a powerful system for helping students rethink writing and learn how to apply that thinking in new writing venues.


You can see how what I describe as staging can simultaneously be a gateway arrangement.  Or how staging is one way of doing other; which itself is just one way of saying more. In short, there’s a ton of play between these different models.

Can Comp II still be WAW after Comp I has been?  Not only can it, but it makes great sense. Question for readers: What other ways are you aware of for making Comp I and II both WAW and articulating between them?  It’d be fun to build a list.

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Categories: Writing about Writing
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One Response to “Why Have Just One Semester?”

  1. justin jory Says:

    Doug and Elizabeth,

    At UCCS we’ve been teaching a WAW curriculum (in full effect) for about 7-8 years now. Here’s a fully articulated second semester course modeled after the WAW curricular model:

    I think the approach here is a blend of the approaches you identify in this post. That is, our first semester rhetoric and writing course introduces students to rhetorical and writing theories, and the second course builds on their knowledge of the theories while complicating their knowledge with classical stasis theory. Not only do they discuss rhetorical/writing theories in the context of specific academic texts and subjects, but they use stasis theory to pursue a semester-long inquiry into a topic, developing multiple source-based arguments about the topic in different stases and for various stakeholders. The final essay is an argument cast in a stasis of their choice. We’re currently working on ways to take their writing public.