I entered my first-year college composition course believing I was equipped with the knowledge, skill, and ability to write an efficiently researched and well-organized essay. In high school, I learned how to create the traditional five-paragraph paper with its introduction of a thesis, explanation of that claim through three sections riddled with supporting quotes, and conclusion that restated the author’s substantiated statement. This was the prescribed formula I had learned and grown accustomed to using for book reports, compare-and-contrast papers, and research essays and, from my bestowment of high grades and praise, I’d never thought to question or deviate from its pattern. When I attended my first college writing class, I thought it wasn’t going to be difficult or challenging because I believed I was familiar with the procedures and rules of writing.
The course, vaguely entitled English 1A, was a general requirement for all students attending the University of California, Riverside. I figured I was well prepared to write about whatever topics the instructor assigned and so I counted on the course to be unchallenging and uninteresting. However, the syllabus that the instructor, Professor Cardinale, supplied to the class was very unlike the English course outlines I was accustomed to. I began to panic when I read about unfamiliar methods such as freewriting and peer editing, which were going to be used in the class because I had never allowed or was required to have other students read my work. The most disconcerting aspect of the syllabus, though, was that the students were to choose their own topics to write about for all three of the required assignments. I had absolutely no idea how I was going to choose my own writing topics and I immediately became discouraged and less confident of my writing abilities.
Before assigning the essays, Professor Cardinale asked the class to perform writing warm-ups from The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing by Rise B. Axelrod and Charles R. Cooper in order to find out how the students prepared to write. The exercises asked questions about what led the student to writing, who he or she wrote for, what his or her purpose of writing was, and what tactics he or she applied before beginning to write an essay. I realized I would only compose a one-page, rough outline before beginning a paper and I thought, because I received good grades, that that made me a much better writer than those who relied on multiple tactics to begin writing. However, regardless of the student’s past writing processes, Professor Cardinale required the entire class to complete various prewriting exercises before beginning their first drafts. I didn’t know at the time, but my instructor was using the process theory of composition to introduce the class to an entirely new approach to writing.
Professor Cardinale broke up the writing process into three stages of prewriting, writing, and rewriting. In “Teach Writing as a...