Theory/Practice of Teaching Composition

Course Title: ENG 605, Theory & Practice of Teaching Composition

Professor: Dr. John Gagnon

Meeting Days/Times: Tuesdays at 3:30PM


Description: Across the past ~fifty years, composition has witnessed the rise and fall of various macrohistories often with varying theoretical and pedagogical agendas and implications. This course seeks to lay a foundation for students to understand the major trends and pivotal moments that have shaped the theory and practice of teaching composition as it exists today, while offering the space to explore what it means for them to enter the classroom as writing teachers in their own right. This course will provide students with a solid, working foundation for thinking about, engaging with, and practicing the discipline of writing, and teaching writing, so that they can position themselves within conversations of the field while formulating their own approach to the writing classroom. By the end of the course, students should have a clearer sense of what they can be and do in the classroom, bolster their identity as teachers, as well as helping them to develop a foundation to be productively responsive to writing course and classroom politics.

Student Learning Outcomes: (1) Preparedness to teach First Year Writing; (2) Identify and converse with relevant theories, both past and present, of composition as they relate to pedagogy; (3) Analyze required texts according to the historical and political contexts particular to the field; (4) Identify and evaluate scholarship relevant to the pedagogies taken up in teaching philosophy; (5) Enter the scholarly conversation by articulating one’s own position in it through the process of inventing (e.g., brainstorming, researching), drafting, and revising research-based writings.

Salient Questions: (1) What have been the prominent pedagogical approaches valued by and developed within CompRhet over the last 50 years and how do composition teachers apply them in the classroom today? (2) What are the most salient pedagogies articulated, forwarded, and embodied by writing teachers today; how might they be used or integrated into your own approach to teaching writing? (3) What are some of the ways writing teachers might adapt or combine pedagogical approaches to enable more productive writing courses? (4) Considering various approaches to both theory and praxis, what influences might inform your own, individualized approach to teaching writing and navigating writing course and classroom politics?

Assignments: (1) Interactive participation via weekly reading responses, class discussion leadership, and proactive engagement; (2) At least two teaching observations of ENG100 instruction, with a reflection writeup for each focusing on pedagogical approaches; (3) Development of a teaching philosophy; (4) A short book review essay evaluating and comparing the strengths and weaknesses of two major Composition collections, to look for gaps, silences, and consider scholarly identity within the field; (5) A “major” project for which students will develop an ENG100 syllabus.


  • Miller, Susan, Ed. The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Norton (2009).
  • Massey, Lance and Richard Gebhart. The Changing of Knowledge in Composition: Contemporary Perspectives. Utah State University Press (2011).
  • Murphy, James. A Short History of Writing Instruction: From Ancient Greece to Contemporary America. Routledge (2012).
  • Villanueva, Victor and Kristin Arola, Eds. Cross Talk in Composition Theory, A Reader, 3rd Edition. NCTE (2011).