FIRST-YEAR COMPOSITION (FYC) CURRICULUM
“Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.”
~ Chinese proverb
GUIDED RHETORICAL INQUIRY (GRI) CURRICULUM DESCRIPTION
The Chinese proverb above helps us to remember that we all learn best when we are doing, rather than having something done to us as when we sit passively and receive information. This “learning by doing” makes us active learners, and active learning begins with the process of inquiry.
The first skill that you need to learn, or, perhaps, relearn, is the act of asking probing questions. Do you remember when you were a child and you had an endless number of questions? You were curious about many things and sought answers through your investigations. Rarely did you take anyone else’s word for something as you wanted to explore things first-hand. Likely, you’ve heard that children are naturally curious. As you got older, though, you tended to ask fewer questions perhaps because you felt that your teachers would provide you with the answers. It is also possible that as a digital native (a term coined by Marc Prensky—American writer on learning and education—to identify those who have grown up with technology), the answer to your “questions” were/are just a click or call away. As a result of this conditioning process in most learners, your ability to formulate insightful questions and conduct self-directed investigations is affected. Discovery becomes less a process of experience.
The Guided Rhetorical Inquiry (GRI) First-Year Composition Program begins with inquiry, engages inquiry-driven research, and as you negotiate the inquiry approach—aided through a learner-centered support and strong sense of peer and teacher engagements within a collaborative initiative—you will develop independent principles of inquiry that lead to discovery processes, new understandings, and reflection, while also focusing on the critical thinking and writing skills you need throughout your college career at USF.
Inquiry-based teaching believes that “by starting a writing project with questions, curiosities, or puzzlements,” rather than with a focus or thesis statement, “students will be more investing in their work, more likely to go beyond what they already know, more likely to explore and therefore more likely to learn something new” (Lauer 154).
Drawing from five (5) ENC 1101 Fall 2010 semester classes, a cohort of approximately one-hundred (100) students is planned for AY 2010-2011. The GRI program will provide long term contact between students and faculty throughout the year. This draw of students will remain in the GRI program for two-semesters with students selecting their ENC 1102 Spring 2011 class from a group of six instructors teaching this emphasis. Class size will remain consistent with the small ENC 1101 and ENC 1102 classes.
As a subsection of the FYC Program, the GRI course follows the same curriculum as the traditional FYC, only the GRI emphasis is on the guided rhetorical inquiry mode of instruction and learning. Through their first-year composition sequence, students who complete the Guided Rhetorical Inquiry course will experience (1) an intensive shared practice of guided rhetorical inquiry that places inquiry at the center of learning and (2) a learner-centered support and strong sense of peer and teacher community-engagement. While the FYC traditional course and GRI course both focus on the critical thinking and writing skills students need throughout their college career at USF, the GRI curriculum emphasizes guided rhetorical inquiry at the core of its teaching and learning philosophy.
As the traditional ENC 1101 course and the GRI ENC 1101 course both introduce students to academic writing and the associated conventions, styles, and qualities that are part of this type of writing, the GRI curriculum approaches information literacy by encouraging students to think, reflect, and develop knowledge and skills in the same way a historian might, with inquiry at the core of its study. The GRI ENC 1101 course develops students’ abilities to learn from a variety of sources and to best develop critical thinking skills that go beyond the locating and gathering of facts.
While the GRI ENC 1101 course focuses on historiography as an approach toward inquiry, the second semester GRI ENC 1102 class assists students in gaining “agency” via argument, negotiation, and reasoning. Like the traditional FYC ENC 1102 class, the GRI ENC 1102 class gives emphasis to agency as students gain an understanding of the needs and concerns of their audiences. Where the traditional FYC ENC 1102 track follows the conventions of effective argument and negotiation by following the conventions for conducting inquiry and citing sources, the GRI ENC 1102 class emphasizes inquiry-driven research.
Throughout the course of the semester, students will
- compose three major writing projects
- receive multiple feedback from their instructors on each project
- receive and give feedback to their peers
- write two in-class essays to help prepare them for written examinations in college
- write informally on a weekly basis
- conference twice with their instructor on a one-on-one basis
CHARACTERISTICS OF GUIDED RHETORICAL INQUIRY
The design of GRI considers the following characteristics:
1. Guided Rhetorical Inquiry (GRI) operates on the premise that students are active inquirers when they pose questions, investigate and solve problems, and create and reflect on the answers they discover. GRI asks students to consider how they will solve the problem they will investigate. The driving characteristic of guided learning is the engagement by students in their own active investigation. As students learn to “formulate good questions, identify and collect appropriate evidence, present results systematically, analyze and interpret results, formulate conclusions, and evaluate the worth and importance of these conclusions” (Lee, V. et al 9), they not only develop critical thinking skills, but they take more responsibility for their learning as they establish habits of independent inquiry. Core to the process is an attitude of self-reflection and rhetorical inquiry. Figure 1 below illustrates this cycle.
Figure 1: Model of Guided Rhetorical Inquiry Learning
2. GRI offers students the structure and scaffolding they need to be successful in the inquiry process. With structured inquiry, students develop new skills, build on previous experience (scaffolding of knowledge), construct new meaning as they internalize the inquiry process, and extend their learning beyond the classroom.
3. GRI proceeds with inquiry-based teaching. GRI teachers engage students in open-ended, student-centered, hands-on experiences, using multiple teaching and invention strategies which guide students’ critical thinking such as collaborative discussions, debates, panels, forums, simulations/games, models, case studies, presentations, films, videos, sound recordings, new media, interactive activities, service learning, direct observations, creative writing, transformative art and others.
4. GRI applies the art of rhetoric to the conduct of inquiry. Rhetoric, as we know, is predominately defined as an act of persuasion, but Aristotle tells us that rhetoric is also associated with inquiry as the discovery of ideas. Also from antiquity, and along the same lines, Isocrates claims that while rhetoric is a means of convincing an audience, rhetoric also has much to do with “seeking light for ourselves on things which are unknown,” and this is because “the same arguments which we use in persuading others when we speak in public, we might employ when we deliberate in our thoughts” (50). GRI entails the posing of questions and the creating of new understandings through such a discovery process.
5. The GRI curriculum promotes that learning advances best in Community-Engaged Experiences. Students learn through the social interaction of others, learning the power of rhetoric, rhetorical principles, and the diversity of rhetorical situations by example of their discourse communities. Community-Engaged Experiences lead students to inquire, consider what they need to know, form their own perspectives, gain ownership and a new understanding, and reflect on what they have discovered. As learners become experienced as active inquirers, they can transfer new knowledge and skills to new circumstances.
GRI ASSESSMENT AND OUTCOMES
GRI is expected to lead to measurable student outcomes as it relates to critical thinking, the ability to undertake independent inquiry, responsibility for own learning and intellectual growth and maturity (Lee et al 6). Figure 2 below demonstrates this relationship between student committments and Guided Rhetorical Inquiry.
Figure 2: Relationship between Student Committment and Guided Rhetorical Inquiry
Assessment will include studies of the GRI program and its control group (the traditional FYC program). Outcome data on students’ progress will be measured through the FYC Writing Rubric and other assessment tools on an individual and group basis.
“Antidosis.” The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. New York: Bedford, 2000. 75-79.
Lauer, Janice. Invention in Rhetoric and Composition. W. Lafayette: Parlor Press LLC, 2004.
Lee, Virginia et al. “What is Inquiry-Guided Learning?” Teaching & Learning Through Inquiry. Ed. Virginia Lee. Sterling: Stylus Publishing, LLC, 2004.