Foundations of Academic Literacy



Course Outline

It was an absolute delight to create this course, to select and train the sessional instructors and work with them the first time it was offered, and to teach it myself.

The course was designed around four units of study, each 3 weeks in length.

The four units are: Discovering a subject, sensing an audience, searching for specifics and creating a design.

These four units can be described as “functions (jobs) that the student/writer needs to be able to do.”


Unit 1: Discover a Subject (3 Weeks)


The first job of the student/writer is to discover a subject.  The student must ask:  What do I want to write about?  What is the purpose of what I am doing?  Before these question can be answered, there is no composition.

Simply put, discovering the subject means deciding what I want write about.  What to focus on, to present, to explore, to discover? These are questions gleaned from personal encounters and experiences and the demands of the professor.

This process mandates that the student look inside and find that subject that is worthy, worthy to the writer and worthy for the reader, the subject that the writer can connect to personally, can complete in the required period of time, and meets the demand of the audience (most often the professor).

Discovering a subject is an intimate, slightly mysterious, illusive act.  It is an act that requires the subject to be approached by the student writer with an openness to ideas and an awareness of both self and subject.

In discovering a subject, the student learns to focus on one aspect, to commit to that aspect, to want to discover something in that subject. It is a process which gives the student a lot of power.  Often, the student may not think this is true, but it is.  It is the student who must decide the intention, the purpose of her piece.  Decide first for herself, then for the professor.

The question is asked:  Why do YOU want to do it?   What about writing it is important to you?

Discovering your subject is the first step of self-discovery and personal commitment.


Upon completion of this unit, students will be able to:

Demonstrate the confidence and skill needed to recognize and define a subject worth writing about from his own life and assigned texts.


Instructional Tools

Following are possible instructional tools that will aid the student in becoming adept at using the various skills, applying the knowledge and developing the attitude concurrent with successful completion of this unit.

·       Writing process practice

·       Learning style theory

·       Glasser’s Choice Theory (creating a safe environment)

·       Journal writing

·       Film study

·       Course reader

·       University facilities and support systems (Those agencies which provide support to the student, i.e. student services, advisors, etc.)


Outline for Unit One: Discovering a Subject


Week One:  Who am I?

Group event:

–       – storytelling, introductions, networking  


–       Tell your own story, personal narrative

–       Discover your personal strengths (learning style)


Week Two:  The first job of the writer.

Group event:

–       Watch film to provide the inspiration that we can do it (2 hours)  


–       Write your story (editing, feed-back processes, revision)

–       Peer-edit using First Class, getting a group name (seeking support)

–       Begin a journal (autobiography, self-discovery)


Week Three:  The job of the student.


–       Develop strategies to ensure one's being committed, staying motivated

–       Discover a subject in someone else’s material

–       Practice strategic reading

–       Write a précis


Recommended Exercises

The instructor may find the following additional student exercises useful in teaching this unit.

·       Analyze own learning/writing style (Options, instrument by Mamchur)’

·       Keep a journal

·       Write a personal narrative

·       Peer-edit

·       Revise composition

·       Examine personal needs/motivation/commitment using Glasser’s Choice theory

·       Read various materials for comprehension and pleasure

·       Make connections with the various support systems in the university

·       Form a support group

·       Conduct a film study


Selected Readings

·       Nist, Sherrie, L. & Holschuh, J. (2006). College Success Strategies

             Chapter 3 – How you Learn

             Chapter 7 -  Academic Energy: Motivation for Learning,                                              Attitudes, and Interests

            Chapter 9 – Dealing with Stress

·       Murray, D. ”Seven Stages”

·       Mamchur, C.  “Magic”

·       Selling,  B.“Finding Your Earliest Memories”

·       Jacobi, P.  “Where Ideas Come From”

·       Mamchur, C. “OPTIONS”

·       Glasser, W. “Basic Needs and Feelings” & “Your Quality World”



Express yourself in a creative format/performance/presentation.





Does the piece/presentation make sense? Can the reader understand the intent? Would anyone else besides this person have been able to express this specific thing in this way?



Unit 2: Sensing an Audience  (3 weeks)

Writers write for many reasons. One important reason is to make connection and communicate with others; to have impact.  Inherent in this purpose is the understanding that the writer has something the writer feels worth saying.  In other words, that the writer has discovered his subject – a subject he cares about.


Students often write to show that they know the material, and, thereby, to earn a grade.  But unless the student changes that purpose to do more than get a mark or complete the assignment, the task will too often appear difficult, unsatisfactory and an ordeal for the student.


Writing is an expressive, communicative act and if it is to be shared, it must at some level have a degree of readability in relation to its intended meaning.


The purpose of writing is to carry ideas and information from the mind of one person into the mind of another.


The writer is engaged in the activity of externalizing an idea or mental image coherently so that it can be read and understood by someone other than himself.   This sounds simple, but isn’t.  Too often we make the mistake of thinking that if it clear to us it will be clear to someone else.  Not necessarily.

The second job, then, of the writer, is to sense her audience.  She must find ways, first to make things clear, to be understood; and then to have impact.

Here writing skill and knowledge come into play.  How does one think on paper?   How does one respond to different audiences?   To the business world?  To the world of science?  To the world of the humanities?

Getting the words right is an important part of sensing an audience. 

Delivering what you promise is the job of the writer.

Understanding and being understood.

The student writes FOR himself, but not TO himself.

“To have any effect, an idea must be couched in terms that are understandable to others, it must pass muster with the experts in the field, and finally it must be included in the cultural domain to which it belongs" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996, p. 27). In most cases, the cultural domain is the particular faculty in which the student is studying.

The writer becomes successful by infusing the writing with voice. Voice is what allows the reader's eyes to move over silent print and hear the writer speaking.

Voice is the quality in writing, more than any other, that makes the reader read on, that makes the reader interested in what is being said and makes the reader trust the person who is saying it. …Voice is the music in language.


Upon completion of this unit, students will be able to:

Demonstrate in their writing a knowledge of how writing can influence, inform, affect, entertain, satisfy, the reader.


Instructional Tools

Following are possible instructional tools that will aid the student in becoming adept at using the various skills, applying the knowledge and developing the attitude concurrent with successful completion of this unit.

·       Narrative

·       Writing process practice

·       Writing style theory

·       Prose models

·       Journals

·       Course reader

·       Film

·       University facilities and academic systems (Those agencies which provide knowledge, i.e. faculties)


Outline for Unit Two: Searching for Specifics

Week Four:  What do I know about my audience?

Group event:

–       Meet the faculty: Reception and panel discussion

–       Watch film to see how director/writer/producer/actor affect audience.    


–       Examine and understand different literacies of different faculties.

–       Remember the audiences you have had and how you’ve responded to them.  What would you do differently now?

–       Understand different communication preferences.

–       Listen to a lecture and take notes.


Week Five:  How can I make myself clear?


-        Practice writing with correct grammar and usage.

-        Practice writing with style by mastering some of the writing tricks of the trade of professional writers.

-        Share your story and review editing and feed-back processes.


Week Six: How can I make my work deliver what it promises?


         - Practice writing effective beginnings and endings

         - Use verbs for effect

         - Be conscious of premise, thereby maintaining integrity to yourself and for your audience

         - Watch a film


Recommended Exercises

·       Make connections with the various academic faculties in the university

·       Experience a storyteller telling a personal narrative

·       Look at different communication styles

·       Keep a journal

·       Write a 3 page (maximum) personal narrative

·       Peer-edit (this can be done via e-mail  or First Class)

·       Analyze student work to determine what makes it work and what doesn’t in various disciplines (supplied by each faculty)

·       Practice taking notes in class


Selected Readings

·       Nist, S. & Holschum, J. (2006) College Success Strategies:

            Chapter 4:  Interacting with your Professors

            Chapter 14: Take Note!  Lectures; A Different Kind of Text

            Chapter 15: Strategies Across the Disciplines

·       Various samples of student writing that give indications of what is an “A” paper and what is a “C” paper and why – from all faculties.

·       Vaughn, L. “How to Read Philosophy”

·       Delton, J. “The 29 Most Common Writing Mistakes and how to avoid them”.

·       DiTiberio, J. & Jensen, G. “Writing for Different Audiences”

·       Brande, D.,  “On Taking Advice” & “Harnessing the Unconscious”




Write a 3 page (maximum) composition with a specific purpose for a specific audience that has been selected by the student.




Is the purpose clear? Does it follow through? Does the writer make an attempt to use some writing strategies to connect with the reader? Does the piece have integrity – a consistent premise?


Unit 3: Searching for Specifics (3 weeks)


This is the job of finding the details that make the story or the essay or the project convincing. The right specifics give the student the voice of authority. It makes the story or essay come alive with interest and validity.  Including the right specifics assures the writer that the reader gets the picture the writer wants.

Details make the story specifically the student's, unique to that student. It is often the main opportunity the student has to be creative. Which specifics? Which details?

Specifics are how the author comes to an in-depth understanding of his subject, what meaning it has for him and how it may have meaning for others. A tone is set by the specifics, a tone imbued with authenticity and authority built on concrete details that offer the reader something to be believed and to believe in.

As the student searches for the specifics, she revisits the discovering of a subject, the sensing of an audience. Is this in line with my purpose, with what my audience needs to see in order to understand?

Research is part of this job. A writer writes from abundance, as many specifics as he can find.  And then the selection process begins, based on subject, on purpose and on audience.  The student search for quotes. Which ones? How to find that example, that author who says exactly what we want to say, but so much better than we could have imagined. How to find the proof we need to support our theory? Our interpretation?

Technology comes in here. The student needs to learn how to find the specifics, how to recognize authentic ones, how to deliver them effectively and with integrity.  He needs to learn how to use the Internet, how to use the library, how to acknowledge sources.

This is where the writer learns to gather the details that count, the ones that serve the overall purpose, that inform and delight the reader.


Upon completion of this unit, students will be able to:

Discover, evaluate and insert the specifics into their compositions in ways which enhance meaning, have impact, keep the piece flowing smoothly.


Instructional Tools

Following are possible instructional tools that will aid the student in becoming adept at using the various skills, applying the knowledge and developing the attitude concurrent with successful completion of this unit.

·       Writing process practice

·       Prose models

·       Story telling

·       Journal writing

·       Film

·       Course Reader

·       University facilities and information systems (Those agencies which provide information to the student, i.e. library, CET, ILC, etc.)


Outline for Unit Three: Sensing an Audience

Week Seven:  What are specifics?

Group event:

–       Watch film which uses visual specifics to make the point


–       Study prose models

–       Study various materials to demonstrate the different specifics used in various fields and genres

–       Practice “Show, don’t tell” in speaking and writing

–       Read/scan/read carefully


Week Eight:  Where do I get specifics?


-        Search out the specifics from written text in library

-        Search out the specifics from internet

-        Learn to find the specific that says exactly what you want to say.

-        Learn how to quote, summarize, paraphrase.

-        Examine issues of plagiarism


Week Nine: How can I use specifics?



-        Write a short expository piece in the area of intended study

-        Practice peer-editing

-        Practice peer- support


Recommended Exercises

·       Tell a personal narrative with a focus on a specific that makes the point and arouses response in audience.

·       Keep a journal

·       Write a personal narrative that uses various specifics, particularly details that influence the reader.

·       Select various areas of interest

·       Practice reading at different speeds for different purposes

·       Search for specifics that would be supportive of what you want to say

·       Write a precis of a piece of writing (peer’s writing) share. On First Class.

·       Watch a film and analyze the specifics that affect you.


Selected Readings

·       Nist, S & Holschuh, J. ,College Success Strategies

            Chapter 10: Pre-reading Strategies

            Chapter 16: Becoming Flexible: Varying your Reading Rate

·       Lee, J. “Facing Success”



Write a piece of exposition which uses quotes and paraphrasing.



Is the piece clear? Is it focused? Has one subject been selected? Has the audience been considered? Most importantly, are the specifics well chosen and well written and well documented?


Unit 4: Creating a Design (3 weeks)

The final job of the writer is to create a design. The student must decide how to structure the work. What are the beginning, middle and end of the composition?

The structure of design, at times, is likened to an architectural structure. Form gives meaning to the material in somewhat the same way that a house, a barn, an apartment block, a supermarket gives meaning to lumber and nails, steel beams and cement.

The architectural analogy speaks to the purpose of design, which is to provide a living space for all components, both large and small, that will interconnect within that piece of writing.

Design means putting together everything you know into the place that makes the most sense. Each piece serves its own purpose and is placed where it will do its best work; no word, phrase, or sentence is silenced, overruled, or subjugated.

Design ensures clarity. It helps the student to rethink audience. It is a great chance for revision. The challenge is to present an idea and its meaning in the best possible light.

Design honors the work. Design is in service to the author and aids in the careful attention to loose ends; ensuring that all pieces are relevant and have meaning.  Huge pieces can be edited in design.

The premise plays a very important role in design. Premise is a part of structure. It is a part of the basic inner architecture of the composition. It is the soul of the student’s work. The necessity of the writer to understand the premise well is dire to the amalgamation of: successfully applied specifics, discovered subject and projected voice. If the premise has been misconstrued, misunderstood, overlooked by the author then no matter how well structured the individual components there is no unifying force to bring them together.

The student using a badly worded, false, or badly constructed premise finds himself filling space and time with pointless discussion, unconvincing quotes, and not getting anywhere near the validation of his premise.

In this way, we come first circle, returning to the original job of the student, to discovering a subject that one is personally committed to. And purpose.  What is the belief of life? What is the thesis one is trying to prove?  What is the basic point of the whole composition?  If this is not clear to the student, then the piece will fall apart.

Often as one writes, premise can change. In searching for specifics, beliefs, values, ideas can change. Discovery is the joy of learning. We write to understand as much as to be understood.

Study of design provides an opportunity for the student to examine the expectation of different genres – what is the most familiar design in different faculties? Does it differ from English, to Business, to Education? What kind of premise? What kind of design is the norm?

Eisner postulates a similar theory in his writings regarding art and education, stating that what tools we select represents what we have to say. Forms of representation are tools, and they are not neutral. Knowing what to neglect means having a sense for the significant and possessing a framework that makes the search for the significant efficient.


Struggling with one's own design enhances the student's ability to understand the choices made by professors in preparing lectures, setting exams, framing assignments.


Upon completion of this unit, students will be able to:

Recognize the different structures required for different purposes – how content informs form and how form enhances meaning.



Instructional Tools

·       Write process practice

·       Prose models

·       Course reader

·       Narrative

·       Film

·       Time management skills

·       University facilities and support systems (TBD) (Edith - I don't know which ones apply to structure?  There are probably support ones which teach how to take tests, etc.  Not sure what they are called.



Outline for Unit Four: Creating a Design

Week Ten:  What is a design?

Large Group Event:





–       Tell your own story, personal narrative (oral or written)

–       Examine various forms of design in art, music, literature, texts, tests

-        Learn how to write effective Leads and Conclusions


Week Eleven:  How do I respond to various designs?

Exercises: -        Practice various forms of test taking-        Select the kind of writing that appeals to you, humanistic or scientific, and bring samples to class.-        Examine how you have written in your journal, even when it is a personal format.  Become aware of personal identity and language


Week Twelve:  How can I use design to give my work shape and meaning and impact?


-        Write a 3 page narrative with a beginning middle and end.

-        Write a 3-5page essay with a focus on both opening and closing.

-        Practice peer-editing

-        Practice peer-support

Recommended Exercises

The instructor may find the following student exercises useful in teaching this unit.

·       Tell a narrative that has a beginning, middle and end

·       Analyze a film recognizing Act 1, 2 and 3

·       Examine various formats of design in different genres.

·       Practice writing beginnings and endings, using previous work and/or work assigned by instructor

·       Create different kinds of exams together, discussing how one would evaluate them

·       Develop a constitution defining your values, goals and how you plan to meet those goals as a guide to time management


Selected Readings

·       Nist, S. & Holschum, J. (2006) College Success Strategies:

            Chapter 6: Getting Organized: Managing Yourself and Your Time

             Chapter 17: Preparing for Objective Exams

            Chapter 18: Preparing for and Taking Essay and Specialty Exams

·       Murray,D. “Re-write with Voice”

·       Murray,D. “Fit your Process to your task”

·       Cook,M. “A visit to the Lead Writer’s Hall of Fame” & “Saving the Second Best for Last”

·       Harvard, V. & Barton, J., “From First to Last Draft, Composing, and Expressing Ideas & the Essay: A framework for Thinking in writing”

·       Smith H., “Law 2: Your governing values are the foundation of personal fulfillment”



Write a 3-5 page article or essay with a focus on both the lead and the closure. 



Is the piece clear?  Is it focused? Has one subject been selected? Has the audience been considered? Are the specifics well chosen and well written and well documented? And most importantly, ability to writing an interesting and satisfying lead and conclusion that sandwich the “meat” of the piece.


Week 13:  Final Exam

 Celebration:  Receiving a "publication" of their writings. (Each student contributing his favorite piece of writing to be placed in a booklet that becomes a personal living memory of the achievement made in the course). Party. 






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