Writing in General Education Courses

In FIU’s general education courses, students develop broadened perspectives by exploring various disciplines, each with unique intellectual approaches, methodologies, questions, and discoveries. In these core courses, students also learn skills integral to their success at FIU and beyond: critical thinking, problem solving, and effective communication.

Writing is an essential component of these courses because completing writing projects helps students to learn course content while developing the skills a general education is intended to provide. Completing writing projects also helps to prepare students for upper-division coursework, future careers, and empowered citizenship.

Gordon Rule with Writing Courses
FIU’s first-year, two-course writing sequence teaches rhetorical concepts, skills, and strategies that prepare students to write for different purposes in a variety of contexts.

In additional Gordon Rule with Writing courses, students further develop their critical thinking and communication skills by continuing to write regularly under the guidance of instructors who communicate the kinds of writing that are practiced and valued by members of a discipline. This writing practice teaches students to utilize information to solve real-world problems and communicate effectively with specific audiences.

Since writing is a central feature of these Gordon Rule courses, there must be focus not only on the product but also on the process of writing, with instructors devoting some class time to helping students improve as critical thinkers and effective communicators.

Assigning Writing
Since Gordon Rule with Writing courses include at least three substantive writing assignments, and these assignments make up a significant portion of the final course grade, instructors must carefully consider what kinds of assignments will best help students to improve their thinking and communication skills while accomplishing content-related course outcomes as well.

Ideally, writing projects will prompt students to explore important questions or problems in a field while helping them learn to communicate in ways that will be useful in upper-division coursework or a future career. Thus, instructors should assign projects relevant to the context, like case studies, reports, analyses, reviews, research papers, manuals, project plans, feasibility studies, or websites with a professional or academic focus. Students can also be asked to write for a variety of audiences, and they benefit from a clear understanding of their audience before they write.

In addition, instructors must consider the kinds of thinking they’d like for students to employ. Interestingly, different disciplines favor different kinds of thinking, and, in fact, define ways of thinking differently. Thus, at the University of Arizona, an interdisciplinary group of faculty collaborated to identify and define the kinds of thinking students can be asked to do in writing projects, and now 160 general education faculty there use the following list and definitions helpful for planning writing assignments:

  • Observation and Description: Students are able to look at a phenomenon under study, identify its salient features, and use appropriate vocabulary to describe it.
  • Analysis: In order to recognize the salient features, students can determine or discover categories of features to be studied and then use these categories in their descriptions of the whole.
  • Synthesis: Students can see the similarities and differences among concepts and phenomena in order to integrate data from multiple sources through deduction.
  • Interpretation: Students derive meaning deductively from phenomena or ideas by applying a combination of thinking skills to them.
  • Application: Students are able to apply deductively derived principles to a new or unfamiliar case through inductive reasoning.
  • Evaluation: Students can identify relevant and valuable data or observations to weigh a phenomenon against a standard, which they may also have to derive by using a combination of thinking skills.
  • Invention: Students entertain multiple perspectives and generate novel and innovative interpretations, solutions, or principles before arguing for a particular one. They are comfortable with ambiguity and take authority for a personal interpretation, application, or solution.

By identifying what kind(s) of thinking students will employ in a writing project, instructors can also better support student success with the assignment.

Other Helpful Resources

Creating Effective Writing Assignments

Sequencing Writing Assignments