UWP Philosophy

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There are several assumptions and principles from which the UWP works. These ideas guide its pedagogies, curricula, assessments, projects, workshops, and faculty training. These are listed below and by clicking on the link, you can read more about each one. 

Learning to read and write is best done in a culture of compassion and care for others, which is a social justice project.

In one sense, this is the “Golden rule” (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) applied to the writing classroom. In another sense, this assumption acknowledges how literacy learning in diverse settings requires students and teachers to find compassionate ways to read, respond, assess, and talk with others about their writing. It acknowledges the importance of thinking of others’ wellbeing first, because everyone’s success and learning is connected and the only sustainable community is one in which each person is compassionately caring for others.

Literacy is a social, cultural, and political process.

People read and write for a variety of reasons: to engage in conversations with others, to make changes in their lives, to research or understand information, to persuade others, to celebrate people, things, events, or occasions. All processes of literacy are networks composed of people, their discourses and texts, and the contexts that help make significant any utterance or text, thus literacy requires interactions with others in order for meaning to be made. The social and cultural nature of literacy – especially in the classroom – makes it a political process that engages people in power relations, which can easily create harmful and unfair hierarchies and conditions for some students, based on a number of social, cultural, and linguistic dimensions (e.g. race, language use, culture, appearance, class background, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc.). Harmful conditions in the literacy classroom are created when little attention is paid to the way the dominant discourse expected in the academy is a white, middle class discourse that can construct other student discourses and writing practices as deficient or remedial.

Researching, reading, and writing are connected processes.

The history of any student’s information gathering and reading practices (in and out of school) influences the researching and writing practices he/she will bring to the college classroom. This history includes what modes of information a student encounters, what a student reads, how often reading occurs, and under what conditions that reading takes place. Additionally, in academia most of the time, writing is a response in some way to research – that is, reading what others have said before is required in order to understand the conversation one is attempting to enter.

Researching, reading, and writing are practices of inquiry and meaning-making.

People investigate and read to find out information, test their ideas, and make sense of the questions they have. Similarly, writing, because it is a literacy practice, gives people a chance to think on paper, work through and revise their ideas, and join conversations. In learning environments like the literacy classroom, reading and writing practices are understood and engaged in as primarily inquiry and meaning-making activities for students, i.e. they are learning processes. One important consequence of this assumption is that failure in writing to some standard of quality (usually a white middle class standard) should not be punished; instead, failure to meet such a quality standard should be used as a valuable opportunity for reflection, learning, and development for the student and teacher. Failure is necessary for meaning making and learning.

Researching, reading, and writing are processes of revision and deeper understanding of one’s ideas and communication practices.

When people read and write, especially for academic audiences and purposes, they do so in iterative processes. Usually the best way to deliver and arrange a message isn’t the first way a communicator does it, so it takes multiple drafts, especially for those learning to use a discourse, discipline, or line of inquiry. Drafting and revising one’s writing is not proofreading or correcting errors or mistakes, which happens near the end of the writing process. Revision is re-seeing, rethinking, and reorganizing one’s ideas and text, which means it often leads to re-searching more deeply in the library or in other places where information is found. Thus student writing needs to go through various drafts after others have read and offered feedback, and researching information is an ongoing part of this recursive process. All writing practices (and to some degree reading practices) are processes of revision and deeper understanding of a topic, inquiry, and even the writer’s text itself.

Reading and writing practices are rhetorical in nature and shaped by each academic discipline.

Each discipline has different – often unarticulated, tacit, or assumed – ideas about what readers should pay attention to when they read (what’s important in a text), and how writers should present their ideas in writing, which includes how claims are supported, what constitutes appropriate evidence or a significant inquiry, and what kinds of textual conventions are common. Because writing teachers cannot possibly know every discipline’s assumptions and conventions, the writing classroom can best help students by teaching the rhetorical nature of all discourse, so that students have reading and writing practices that are flexible for any context and discipline. Academic support services outside the classroom (such as the Library, writing center, or the Teaching and Learning Center) are important in assisting students in learning the expectations and conventions of their academic disciplines because much learning happens when students are researching in the library, drafting outside of class, and getting readers’ feedback on their writing.

Reflection and self-assessment are crucial to developing as a writer and critical citizen.

Effective and productive writers regularly practice reflecting on their reading and writing practices and drafts. This allows the student to assess her/his strengths, weaknesses, choices, and differences from dominant discourses in the community, or even the classroom. Reflection and self-assessment as writing practices themselves provide students with ways to see the relationships between their own choices as writers and the ways those choices are constrained by larger social, educational, and discursive structures that act upon them and that they are often attempting to approximate.

Critical writers problematize their existential language situations.

In a culturally and linguistically diverse educational context, such as UWT, in which it may be easy to assume that a student is “remedial” because she/he does not practice the dominant academic discourse in a classroom, it is vital that students understand their own existential situation as readers and writers, and that teachers help them do so. Students must be able to pose the problems that their own language practices may create when they are set next to the dominant academic discourse. Posing language problems offers a way to understand two opposing sets of assumptions around language use and its evaluation in classrooms, which make for critical writers and citizens: that writers make decisions about their reading and writing practices (a student’s writing is her writing), and that their decisions are constrained for them to a large degree through larger structures (disciplinary, classroom, social, cultural, etc.) out of their control that place pressure on them to make particular decisions in their writing. When students problematize their existential language situations, they are more able to see how they and their writing are perceived and assessed, giving them more power in rhetorical situations and perhaps in the decisions they make about their education.