Context in Basic Writing

As an impostor “developmental” director, I’d choose to use techniques that encourage the stages of research by having students define the topics explored in the texts, research information related to those topics in a library “to acquire the ability to explore, use, and analyze information resource to meet research objectives” with the help of a librarian during a class period, create a presentation individually to share with peers, and peer reviewed assignments with instructor created rubric (Haller 214). In a 1997 Journal of Basic Writing article, Mary Moran argued for reading aloud to employ deeper focus on reading and style for the basic writer who is not a superior reader when faced with revision of writing assignments. Most of what my course themes would consist of are discussion, recalling information, and exchanging ideas about themes that come up to exercise the skill of thinking critically and analytically in addition to writing assignments that support their development.

Ideally, I’d read two novels and a few short stories; namely, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye because both stories deal with themes of race and gender in differing ways. These works are more modern “classics” and encourage inquiry into heavily studied topics relevant to contemporary culture for students. Assessment outcomes should “include both reading and writing competencies” and so my proposed syllabus depicts techniques that encourage skill development in both (Haller 214). Students should be able to “read [and] think […] critically and analytically by practice of reading aloud in class and reading assignments at home (Haller 214). Students should also gain a better understanding of logos, ethos, and pathos in writing through discussion and analyzation of texts in written and digital format.

So, here is a summary of proposed course levels one and two, and level three is an expanded syllabus of class proposals:

Course Level One:

Writing assignment about a memorable time, place, person, or object, why it is important, and how it impacted their lives. This assignment serves as a means to get to know students. I do it with my new students to assess their writing. Although they enter the program with grade equivalency scores that determine their educational functioning level, a paper can’t tell you what they will. Usually, students flourish in this writing assignment when considering the heightened level of focus and dedication to the task. Reviewing their responses and providing written feedback (not criticism, but acknowledgement) help in the development as well.

Next, students will read other creative writing pieces, poetry, informational texts, and respond to themes that interest them in written format.  Honestly, it would be nice to read  The Metamorphasis and base the class on that text. But, some other examples I’d consider are:  Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, reading an excerpt from the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, reading Toni Morrison’s Recitatif to exercise evidence based writing and seperation of fact and opinion, reading Saranj Naidu’s poetry, reading Eudora Welty, and reading Shakespeare. These texts all lend themselves to many interpretations, but there are so many others to choose from. Also, prompt questions in digital format for students to respond to can be given to assist in the development of thorough responses.

Discussing the way things are put together.

Course level Two:

Once reading and thinking critically are thoroughly engaged the writing process in response to themes should demonstrate a deeper understanding of “evaluating and using evidence” (Haller 211). Digital (and visual) engagement with the text, and library and information literacy (conducted by a Librarian during a visit to library) would be a vital component to the course as well (Haller 211). The goal is to ensure that “inquiry [is] a holistic process of reading and writing” (Haller 210).

Students will choose from a list of poets and authors (or choose their own) and research their works, autobiographical information, and create an annotated bibliography of 5 of their chosen authors works and choose one poem to discuss. Library information is utilized heavily in this aspect of the course.

Course Level Three:

Class 1: Read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in class (separate continuation of assigned reading outside of class), discuss/recall frames in narration, and discuss author’s autobiographical information in relation to textual content of work, discuss themes of race and gender, read an excerpt from a supplemental text such as Gabrielle McIntire’s The Women Do Not Travel: Gender, Difference, and Incommensurability in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (2002) as an introduction to academic discourse about the text.

Though, an article more recent and an excerpt from an interview with someone who has primary familiarity with themes related to Heart of Darkness or the Congolese would be ideal to help students define the “task and development of information seeking strategies” (Drake 222). Also, an overview and discussion of rhetorical principles related to the readings will help students “evaluate the product and process” of the texts or visual aids (Drake 222).

Class 2: In-class reading of Heart of Darkness (continuation of reading assignment for outside of class), watch Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death 2003 documentary about the colonization of the Congo and compare contemporary representations of the Congolese colonization (such as chocolate hands for sale) to Heart of Darkness (assignment to finish watching documentary with provided link if time runs out).

This visual aid will provide students with the opportunity to engage with the information from the text in “digital age” format by encouraging identification of rhetorical principles being employed in the documentary and writing a short essay on their discovery (Drake 247). Their essays should show some skill at “synthesis of information” (into a written work for this case) (Drake 222).

Class 3: Instructor-student close reading of specific scenes, briefly explicating important moments in the story to provide examples of close reading skills, students will choose specific sections from the novella with a partner and design a unique presentation of the textual information such as: a skit, power point, or class discussion (3 to 5 discussion/research questions posed to the class and peers are provided with some answers from presenters); also, all of the assignments will be presented at a later time.

Or, students could look up contemporary news about the Congo such as Nina Strochlic’s March 22, 2017 National Geographic article titled “Why Pygmies Are Dealing Weed to Survive” and make connections with that information to the current state of American democracy concerning the legalization of medical marijuana (for the purpose of recognizing the historical effects the exploitation of the Congo had on the people, for example, and how America benefits from the trade/further exploitation of the country).

Though, this may be too many options being thrown to the students and one assignment of re-writing an alternative ending to the novella would suffice. Getting students to share/exchange those revisions with peers to workshop ideas and revise writing based on an instructor created rubric is ideal; but, the opportunity for deep research seems limited in this assignment. Overall, the goal is to get students to design something that showcase their skill at understanding the text, relating the information to contemporary culture, and conveying those connections to others.

Class 4: In class reading of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye

The topic and structure seem restricting as students should have some form of creative writing as basic writers to develop their own voice which makes the reading/writing process more hollistic. Also, reading supplemental short stories, poems, articles, or newsprint informational texts gives room for the student to gain a clearer picture of the information being presented.

Class 5: Students develop presentation of significant scene from the book with a partner or develop a 3 page essay about a topic they find interesting related to gender, race, or any other theory suitable for the course.

Class 6:



Mcintire, G. “The Women Do Not Travel: Gender, Difference, and Incommensurability in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 48 no. 2, 2002, pp. 257-284. Project MUSE, doi: 10.1353/mfs.2002.0032


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