The philosophy of the Composition Program is guided by these concepts:

Process vs. Product . . . and where expressivism fits in

In the past, product-based pedagogies supported a notion that learning could be finished, punctuated, and filed away and that successful writing was a matter of applying audience-based conventions and rhetorical patterns to something already known. A focus on product tends to emphasize reading and writing as ways to imitate thought and form. Instructors who focus on product may inadvertently send the message to students that writing is all about grammar and correctness, rather than about thinking clearly/deeply/logically and communicating thoughts in truly accessible and interesting ways.

On the other end of the spectrum, expressivist pedagogies stress personal style and the internal creative or analytical thought of a writer. Reading and writing are seen as extensions of an internal desire to “voice” oneself, as if the self already knows everything and just needs to express its “story.” Narration/storytelling tends to be the mode that expressivist teaching approaches foster and elicit.

A process-based pedagogy is positioned between these two poles, with reading and writing as part of an overarching thinking process that stretches one’s knowledge and understanding beyond the self. The emphasis is on reading to gain new thoughts (both creative and analytical thoughts) about things outside of the self, writing to develop that new thinking, and writing also to communicate one’s new thoughtful understanding in ways meaningful to others. A process approach recognizes that learning is perpetual, research is about learning, not just for gaining credibility with an audience, and structuring learning into written form is a dynamic rethinking and revisioning process—we call that revision. On a practical level, we know that good writing comes from analytical researching, reading, thinking, and revision of writing, so we build these processes into our course assignments.

Collaboration and Peer Response

Learning is always social to some extent—and collaboration exposes and give voice to that powerful, mutual mode. Peer response groups are the most obvious instance of such learning. Our students respond well to classroom sessions where peer response is focused on specific goals, such as critiquing transitions or identifying and judging the ways in which fellow student papers use sources to further a line of reasoning. Students don’t do well when given overly general instructions for peer critique, and tend to fall into commenting on proofreading, which is ironically what they tend to be least competent in during a critique session. Collaboration, in the Paolo Freire sense in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, also involves the creation of an active, dialogic classroom where students become partners with instructors in devising criteria for meaningful peer critique. Integration of the Writing & Reading Studio also supports a collaboration-rich learning environment. The Learning Commons trains its consultants to use dialogic methods of interaction with fellow students.

Critical Thought

To exist critically in the world means to recognize that the world is a creation, a textual creation to some extent, that is open to interpretation, judgment, and revision. Through the use of surprising texts (music, TV, and so on), we impress on students that all things—not just “academic texts”—are worthy of study, interpretation, and integration into our academic, intellectual world.

Metacognitive Reflection

College can be a stressful place, allowing precious spare time for reflection on how one thinks and writes. But our Composition Program recognizes the importance of metacognitive reflection. Knowing it is a key component of a process-based pedagogy, we work to schedule in space and time for students to think through their learning. Revision workshops, peer responses, and collaborative learning activities can all be structured to include the necessary study of the ways we learn and the various strategies that help us be more analytical and creative (or critical) thinkers, more self-aware and intentional readers and writers.


We are devoted to creating authentic writing spaces that mirror or at least approach the complexity of real-world composition. Authentic writing spaces require serious consideration of audience needs and expectations, for without audience-aware purposes, writing remains only expressive. Thus, blogging is an important part of AH 120. In both 110 and 120, instructors stress writing essays to audiences described as “not the teacher and not the class.” Students engage in activities that help them imagine and address audience members who represent a wide range of cultures, values, needs, desires, fears, and expectations.


“Majors” and disciplines implicitly make us think that the world is well-bordered, e.g. that the science of artificial intelligence can learn nothing from English or that art and chemistry never touch on one another. The truth is that the world has fewer borders than it seems. Through an emphasis on interdisciplinarity, we attempt to show the world in all of its complexity. Taking things apart (analysis) and putting them back together in different, meaningful ways (inference/synthesis) is foundational to understanding the complexity of our physical, social, technologic, political, economic, spiritual, and cultural worlds. Thus, the analysis and synthesis of a range of texts and disciplines are part of college essay writing.


Good student writing depends on an intense, analytical engagement with written texts, including those written by other students. Models of analytical thinking and meaningful communication, both by professional and student writers, remain essential in Composition. But besides generally being a process that allows one to absorb content for informed engagement, what IS reading? It isn’t really “engagement” with ideas/concepts/content. Such engagement is its goal, its purpose. And it isn’t just a set of words (vocabulary) to understand in order to be engaged. I will take a stab at what reading actually is, drawing on developmental linguistics. Reading is a highly technological activity that “translates” the vocabulary, the grammatical categories of words, and the surface sentence (or syntax) in relation to one another and in relation to one’s internalized understanding of language and the content-concepts accessed through one’s language mode. This kind of definition of reading is currently causing a rethinking of how to help individuals to read complex academic texts. We, too, are on a journey to rethink what reading is and how to help our students use reading technology more effectively for critical thought and writing.

Information Literacy

However nuanced, we appear to live in an age defined by a glut of information. Our composition courses include instruction in the assessment, retrieval, and appropriate use of information on the web and through library databases. We work closely with Pilgrim Library personnel in order to meet this important pedagogical need.