In fall 2016 the Writing Program at NYU Abu Dhabi introduced the First Year Writing Seminar, a mandatory course for all first year students. Described in the syllabus
as a course in which “students grapple with profound and enduring questions about the human and social condition while learning the techniques and strategies of academic argument,” the aim of the course is to get NYUAD’s diverse incoming student body to be on the same page in terms of reading, writing and critical thinking.
Senior Lecturer and Director of the Writing Program Marion Wrenn emphasized the importance of critical thinking as part of the FYWS ethos. In her words, the course is structured such that “the assignments ask for thinking moves or rhetorical moves … that are consistent across all the courses.” Focusing on the creation of cogent arguments ensures the applicability of the FYWS to students of all majors.
While this iteration of the FYWS is the first of its kind, it builds on Analysis and Expression and writing-intensive core courses. The former was a mandatory class for only 60 to 70 first year students, based on the results from Candidate Weekend writing assignments. This was despite the fact that, according to Wrenn, “90% of the student body should have been in some kind of first year writing seminar.”
Another precursor to the FYWS was a writing intensive core class, which included a writing workshop. While these courses emphasized aspects of writing like research and source integration, Bryan Waterman, the Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Development, highlighted the contrasting objectives of the Core and the FYWS. The former aims to refine communication skills in all mediums, even those outside of expository writing, which is the focus of the FYWS.
Waterman highlighted that one of the criticisms of Analysis and Expression was that it focused on writing in a way that was not always clearly linked to other disciplines.
“Writing was only going to happen in the core, but then within two years we realized we would need a writing program,” said Waterman. These criticisms combined with the sense that analysis and expression was a remedial course. The FYWS aims to rectify this belief.
The NYUAD curriculum is not known for being conventional and the FYWS is no stranger to this rule. At NYU New York, students take a mandatory writing course that is either one or two semesters long, depending on their school. The readings for these courses often come from the curriculum of the school, resulting in an experience that is less pre-disciplinary than NYUAD’s FYWS. Furthermore, the small size of classes at NYUAD makes it possible for students to have an experience tailored for their specific needs. This is embodied in the support that every student receives from both the professor and the writing instructor.
But the refinement of the FYWS may also start with feedback that is closer to home. Students taking their FYWS concurrently with Foundations of Science have expressed the difficulties of managing two intensive workloads and schedules at the same time. In response to this, Wrenn has suggested that the advice given to freshmen about when to take their FYWS should be based not just on their Candidate Weekend essays but also on their schedules. In order to maintain a small class size, the Writing Program is also aiming for a better balance between the number of FYWS classes offered in the fall and spring semesters.
Although the FYWS has come a long way in its development, it is still being refined constantly to better accommodate students. Every spring, the Writing Studies Working Group at NYUAD holds a conference on strategies for the instruction of writing. This even involves working with writing faculties from other schools, like Yale-NUS in Singapore. These conversations surrounding writing pedagogy are gaining traction at NYUNY as well, where a discussion held last year saw all the program heads and writing program chiefs come together to compare notes. Led by Matthew Santirocco, the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at NYUNY, the meeting was an exploration of the different approaches to the teaching of writing.
Athena Thomas is a staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.