A central component of revising Furman University's calendar and curriculum included a move to first year seminars—a move away from requiring traditional freshman composition courses taught exclusively in the English Department and toward an interdisciplinary concept of being a student and a scholar in a liberal arts environment. The expectations and concepts driving those seminars have been detailed (see Appendix below), but goals and plans designed before implementation always deserve a reconsideration once time has passed and evidence gathered after implementation.
This document is intended to reinforce and revitalize the still young but significant First Year Seminars (FYS), including the writing intensive seminar (FYW). Seeing these seminars again for the first time allows professors and their students to confront the seminars as transitional and foundational courses for the entire program at the university.
Here and briefly, those transitional and foundational elements will be detailed and examined to support professors teaching these seminars and to inform all professors of those key goals of the FYS/W experiences.
The FYS/FYW courses require professors to consider some core questions:
- What is the nature of learning? Notably, moving away from learning as the transmission of content from a professor to a student and toward recognizing the agency of learners in the learning process.
- What is the role of the professor as teacher?
- What is the role of student, particularly as a transition away from being a student to being a scholar? (See Johns, 2008, re: genre awareness)
Central to the success of the FYS/W program as transitional (from high school to college, from adolescence to adulthood) and foundational is recognizing who are students are as an identifiable type and as individual, and thus unique, people.
To that end, professors should anticipate what Adele Schelle has coined "the good student trap":
The odd thing about life is that we've been taught so many life-less lessons. We've all been conditioned to wait for things to happen to us instead of making things happen. If you think you have escaped this conditioning, then think again. Most of us learned as early as junior high that we would pass, even excel if we did the work assigned to us by our teachers. We learned to ask whether the test covered all of chapter five or only a part of it, whether the assigned paper should be ten pages long or thirty, whether "extra credit" was two book reports on two books by the same author or two books written in the same period. Remember?
We were learning the Formula.
- Find out what's expected.
- Do it.
- Wait for a response
And it worked. We always made the grade. Here's what that process means: You took tests and wrote papers, got passing grades, and then were automatically promoted from one year to the next. That is not only in elementary, junior, and senior high school, but even in undergraduate and graduate school. You never had to compete for promotions, write résumés, or rehearse yourself or even know anyone for this promotion. It happened automatically. And we got used to it.
Furman University attracts and admits a significant proportion of students who are "good students," meaning they are good at being compliant and they have received a tremendous amount of positive reinforcement for that compliance while also having that compliance labeled as "smart" or with an "A."
That compliance, however, is not the quality central to what is expected, wanted, or encouraged in many college classrooms or fields of study—including the faculty at Furman.
For the FYS/W courses to be effective as transitional and foundational experiences, then, professors' roles, students' roles, and classroom practices must be unlike what students have experienced before entering college. For both students and professors, however, such changes are uncomfortable and beyond our shared experiences. (Many if not most professors have been "good students" also, thriving and excelling in traditional content-/ teacher-centered classrooms that honor learning as the transmission of content—direct instruction.)
For both the FYS and FYW seminars, considerations of the research on best practice for teaching and learning as well as teaching composition (Zemelman, Daniels, & Hyde, 2005, 2012) are valuable starting points for seeing FYS/W again for the first time.
To achieve FYS/W's goal of being transitional, classroom practices must be transitional also, including the following (Zemelman, Daniels, & Hyde, 2012, pp. 6-7):
- LESS whole-class, teacher-directed instruction (e.g., lecturing)
- LESS student passivity: sitting, listening, receiving, and absorbing information
- LESS solitude and working alone
- LESS presentational, one-way transmission of information from teacher to student
- LESS rigidity in classroom seating arrangements
- LESS prizing of silence in the classroom
- LESS classroom time devoted to fill-in-the-blank worksheets, dittos, workbooks, and other "seatwork"
- LESS student time spent reading textbooks and basal readers
- LESS focus on "covering" large amounts of material in every subject area
- LESS rote memorization of facts and details
- LESS reliance on shaping behavior through punishments and rewards
- LESS tracking or leveling of students into "ability groups"
- LESS use of pull-out special programs
- LESS emphasis on competition and grades in school
- LESS time given to standardized test preparation
- LESS use of and reliance on standardized tests
MORE experiential, hands-on learning
- MORE active learning, with all the attendant noise and movement of students doing and talking
- MORE student-student interaction
- MORE flexible seating and working areas in the classroom
- MORE diverse roles for teachers, including coaching, demonstrating, and modeling
- MORE emphasis on higher-order thinking, on learning a field's key concepts and principles
- MORE deep study of a smaller number of topics, so that students internalize the field's way of inquiry
- MORE development of students' curiosity and intrinsic motivation to drive learning
- MORE reading of real texts: whole books, primary sources, and nonfiction materials
- MORE responsibility transferred to students for their work: goal setting, record keeping, monitoring, sharing, exhibiting, and evaluating
- MORE choice for students (e.g., choosing their own books, writing topics, team partners, and research projects)
- MORE enacting and modeling of the principles of democracy in school
- MORE attention to affective needs and varying cognitive styles of individual students
- MORE cooperative, collaborative activity; developing the classroom as an interdependent community
- MORE heterogeneous classrooms where individual needs are met through individualized activities, not segregation of bodies
- MORE delivery of special help to students in regular classrooms
MORE varied and cooperative roles for teachers, parents, and administrators
- MORE use of formative assessments to guide student learning
- MORE reliance on descriptive evaluations of student growth, including observational/anecdotal records, conference notes, and performance assessment rubrics
What is best practice? Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde (2012, pp. 8-18) identify 14 principles grouped in 3 clusters, as follows:
The best starting point for schooling is young people's questions and interests; all across the curriculum, beginning with students' own questions should take precedence over the recounting of arbitrarily and distantly selected information. For almost any chunk of required subject matter, we can find "a way in"—a subtopic, a puzzle, an angle, an implication—that can activate kids' intrinsic motivation.
Authentic: Real, rich, complex ideas and materials are at the heart of the curriculum. Lessons or textbooks that water down, control, or oversimplify content ultimately disempower students.
Holistic: Young people learn best when they encounter whole ideas, events, and materials in purposeful contexts, not by studying subparts isolated from actual use.
Experiential: Active, hands-on, concrete experience is the most powerful and natural form of learning. Students should be immersed in the most direct experience possible for the content of every subject.
Challenging: Students learn best when faced with genuine challenges, choices, and responsibility in their own learning. We need to provide "content ladders" that move kids steadily upward in complexity and challenge, as school years and school careers proceed toward college and career readiness.
The most powerful learning comes when children develop true understanding of concepts through higher-order thinking associated with various fields of inquiry and through self-monitoring of their thinking. This means teachers must explicitly model the characteristic thinking processes and strategies of each subject area, apprenticing their students to the field's ways of knowing.
Developmental: Children grow through a series of definable but not rigid stages, and schooling should fit its activities to the developmental level of students.
Constructivist: Children do not just receive content; in a very real sense, they re-create and reinvent every cognitive system they encounter, including language, literacy, and mathematics. Students' work in school should be building knowledge through inquiry, not simply listening to someone else mention information.
Expressive: To fully engage with ideas, construct meaning, and remember information, students must regularly employ the whole range of communicative media—speech, writing, drawing, poetry, dance, drama, music, movement, and visual arts.
Reflective: Balancing the immersion in experience must be opportunities for learners to reflect, debrief, and abstract from their experiences what they have thought and learned. Putting that reflection to work, students set goals for themselves, monitor their progress, and take responsibility for their own growth.
Powerful learning happens in classrooms where there is lively conversation, discussion, and debate. Teachers tap the power of young peoples' social energy to advance their thinking.
Sociable: Learning happens most efficiently in an atmosphere of friendliness and mutual support, and teachers take steps to create safe, comfortable, and energizing classroom communities.
Collaborative: Small-group learning activities draw upon the social power of learning better than individualistic, competitive approaches. In school, as in life, people must learn to work effectively in small groups—with partners, teams, and longer-term inquiry groups of all types.
Democratic: The classroom is a model community; students learn what they live as members of that community. In school, we are not just training "consumers"; we are nurturing citizens—our future neighbors, coworkers, and fellow voters.
These principles and the preceding suggestions of "less" and "more" are valuable ways to re-imagine FYS/W courses compared to how traditional K-12 classes and college classes create and reinforce the "good student trap."
For many professors, then, classroom practices directly impact if and how the seminars address the transitional and foundational goals of FYS/W. Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde (2012, pp. 28-87) recommend seven structures:
- Gradual Release of Responsibility
- Classroom Workshop
- Strategic Thinking
- Collaborative Activities
- Integrative Units
- Representing to Learn
- Formative-Reflective Assessment
Further, the FYW requires unique concerns for seeing the FYW again for the first time; consider the following suggestions regarding creating successful composition courses and building a workshop environment to support students as writers and scholars (Zemelman, Daniels, & Hyde, 2012, p. 155):
Student ownership and responsibility by:
- helping students learn to choose their own topics and goals for improvement
- holding brief teacher-student conferences
- teaching students to reflect on their own progress
Teacher control of decision making by:
- deciding all writing topics
- suggesting improvements without student problem-solving effort first
- setting learning objectives without student input
- providing instruction only through whole-class activity
Class time on writing whole, original pieces through:
- real purposes and audiences for writing
- instruction and support for all stages of writing
- prewriting, drafting, revising, editing
Time spent on isolated drills on "subskills" of grammar, vocabulary, spelling, etc.
Writing assignments given briefly, with no context or purpose, completed in one step
|Writing for real audiences, publishing for the class and wider communities
||Finished pieces read only by the teacher
Teacher modeling of writing—"writing aloud" as a fellow author to demonstrate:
- drafting, revising, sharing
- writing skills and processes
|Teacher talks about writing but never writes or shares own work.
|Learning grammar and mechanics in context, at the editing stage, and as items are needed
||Isolated grammar lessons, given in order determined by the textbook, before writing is begun
Making the classroom a supportive setting, using:
- active exchange and valuing of students' ideas
- collaborative small-group work
- conferences and peer critiquing that give responsibility to authors
Devaluation of students' ideas:
- students viewed as lacking knowledge and language abilities
- sense of class as competing individuals
- cooperation among students viewed as cheating, disruptive
|Writing across the curriculum as a tool for learning
||Writing taught only during "language arts" period
Constructive and efficient evaluation that involves:
- brief informal oral responses as students work
- focus on a few errors at a time
- thorough grading of just a few of student-selected, polished pieces
- cumulative view of growth and self-evaluation
- encouragement of risk taking and honest expression
Evaluation as a negative burden for teacher and student by:
- marking all papers heavily for all errors, making teacher a bottleneck
- editing by teacher, and only after a paper is completed, rather than having the student make improvements
- grading punitively, focused on errors, not growth
Finally, the FYS/W seminars constitute an important foundational purpose regarding scholarship—citation (being aware of academic integrity, the parameters of plagiarism). Both the FYS and FYW need to play a key role in introducing students to proper selection, use, and citation of references and support material for their original work. This should include helping students recognize that different fields of study implement different citation guidelines and conventions of best practice in citing works. Both the FYS and FYW course should introduce, reinforce, and help students incorporate the following expectations for documented student products:
- Introducing student to and holding students accountable for the university academic integrity pledge:
It is the desire of Furman University to unite its members in a collective commitment to integrity. In so doing, Furman University strives to teach its members to live lives of humility, respect, and responsibility. Therefore, it is the expectation that all members of the Furman University community will conduct themselves with integrity in all endeavors. In honoring these values and ideals as Furman University's foundation, it is with utmost faithfulness and dignity that I will subscribe to them.
The writing experiences of students in FYW seminars should provide students multiple experiences with drafting original essays so that those students learn and understand the conventions of academic and scholarly writing, including the opportunity to revise attempts at proper citations.
Johns, A. M. (2008). Genre awareness for the novice academic student: An on-going quest. Language Teaching, 41(2), 237-252.
Thomas, P. L. (2007, May). Of flattery and thievery: Reconsidering plagiarism in a time of virtual information. English Journal, 96(5), 81-84.
Zemelman, S., Daniels, H., & Hyde, A. (2005). Best practice: Today's standards for teaching and learning in America's schools (3rd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Zemelman, S., Daniels, H., & Hyde, A. (2012). Best practice: Bringing standards to life in America's classrooms (4th ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
The First Year Seminar Program @ Furman University
Liberal learning demands critical engagement with ideas. In the First Year Seminar program students have the opportunity to begin their academic careers at Furman in small cohorts, where seminar-style discussion and faculty interaction help students adjust to the intellectual and academic rigor of a distinctive liberal arts college. In these interdisciplinary courses students learn to think and write critically, evaluate sources, develop intellectual curiosity, and approach learning as a valuable, ethical pursuit. Rather than passively absorb lectures, students will actively shape and direct their learning in animated discussion, dynamic learning activities, and challenging culminating projects.
Much of the following information has been obtained from the "2011-2012 First Year Seminar Guide" which is posted at: http://www2.furman.edu/academics/fys/Documents/2011-2012_fys.pdf
Rationale for a First Year Seminar Program:
In an attempt to create a stimulating intellectual environment, first year seminars will rely on the pedagogical philosophy outlined in the Seminar Guide to:
- foster a dynamic process between faculty and students in which ideas and knowledge are communicated and discussed in a reflective, critical, and engaging manner;
- enhance the intellectual skills necessary for analyzing and solving complex issues and problems;
- inspire a passion for learning and intellectual pursuits.
Six interrelated learning objectives for the First Year Seminar Program were distilled from the Curriculum Review Committee's report "Invigorating Intellectual Life" and included as part of the Quality Enhancement Program (QEP) for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). The seminars are intended to show measurable improvement in students':
- dispositions toward the acquisition of knowledge;
- understanding how knowledge is critiqued;
- ability to identify one's underlying assumptions and beliefs;
- understanding and demonstration of scholarly integrity;
- level of information fluency;
- ability to write logically and clearly
Students enter Furman assuming that they will encounter an environment similar to the one they encountered in high school. They view education as a fairly straightforward proposition: instructors will give them information or tell them where to find it; the students will then repeat that information on tests, term papers, and other assignments. In short, students expect to be academically successful at Furman, but not necessarily intellectually stimulated.
These seminars will represent a significant departure from the world of high school, while also providing an experience that differs from most introductory courses. Specifically, the seminars will:
- employ a format that makes students active agents in their own learning;
- require students to reflect upon and critique the ideas and concepts imparted by their instructors and peers;
- spark student interest by providing dozens of seminars encompassing a wide range of topics;
- sharpen students' analytical and communication skills;
- encourage and reinforce intellectual curiosity.
First Year Writing Seminars (FYW)
One of the main goals of writing seminars will be to teach students how to write more effectively. To meet this objective, writing seminar enrollment will be capped at twelve students. General pedagogical guidelines for writing seminars include:
- teaching critical thinking and logical argument through expository writing, working from the premise that writing is a form of thinking, and that ideas are inextricable from their written expression.
- encouraging offerings on any topic by faculty members in any department. In keeping with the emphasis on written expression, students will be required to produce 16-20 pages of finished formal writing, as appropriate to the topic of each seminar.
- incorporating education about plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty in accordance with university-wide policy.
- addressing analytical strategies, organizational methods, and grammatical correctness, although they are not designed primarily to teach the mechanics of writing.
- locating, evaluating, and incorporating information from scholarly sources, as well as giving proper credit to these sources, culminating in a research project.
Instructors will be encouraged to assign a composition handbook as a reference text and to utilize the resources of the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and the StudioLab.
To support the information fluency component, a librarian will be paired with each writing seminar. Faculty may select an appropriate reference librarian or request a librarian pairing by emailing the reference coordinator, currently Mary Fairbairn. The seminar librarian will serve as a resource for students throughout the semester, and—in collaboration with his or her colleagues—will conduct information fluency sessions during class time for students.