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Constructing a Foundation: Writing and Thinking Workshop

What Should Every Educated Person Know? Bard College at Simon’s Rock core curriculum is designed to answer this very question. Founded from Bard’s core curriculum—the Writing and Thinking Workshop, First-Year and Sophomore Seminars, and the Moderation Process, and the RAP credit, (which was always a curricular staple at Simon’s Rock)—these courses are all constructed to develop skills that support a lifelong pursuit of knowledge. These courses nurture the intellectual foundations that the College believes students of every discipline must acquire a fluency in: the ability to think critically, read closely, write articulately, move confidently, collaborate freely, and to listen intently.

Constructing a Foundation: Writing and Thinking Workshop

What is a foundation, and how is it built? The word foundation derives from Latin fundus, meaning ‘the bottom’—this is the first part laid down when building a house; in broader terms, it is the groundwork of anything. This question of foundations—intellectual, technical, social, philosophical—is part of the thinking behind the Writing and Thinking Workshop at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. When students enter the College, they arrive as high school students with diverse abilities, educational backgrounds, and academic goals. The Workshop—a five day intensive for first-years held prior to the start of the fall semester—is a common experience intended to provide foundational skills in critical reading and writing, upon which students can build future scholarly work. Conceived by President Botstein based on the principal that strong writing and close reading enrich and enliven the classroom experience, the workshops set the stage for the kind of interdisciplinary, intensive work students will tackle during their time at Simon’s Rock.

Faculty members from nearly all disciplines lead sections of 12-13 students in short writing activities, critical reading exercises, and group discussions about the texts at hand—a shared selection of traditional and contemporary poetry, plays, essays, and fiction—developing a common vocabulary that will serve students well as they continue to examine material and articulate ideas in their first Simon’s Rock courses.

Whether engaged in a ten-minute “focused free-write,” or debating the meaning of a line of poetry, students are not only working with faculty and each other to build their critical language skills, but are also experiencing what it means to participate in an intimate intellectual community. They are learning to take initiative, speak up, and think differently while listening to alternative ideas, presenting personal work for feedback, and providing thoughtful criticism on the others’ work. By the end of the workshop, students produce a piece of polished prose that can become a tool for reflection, skill assessment, and continued development that will serve as their first building block to approach their First-Year and Sophomore Seminar study.

*Next month Curriculum Perspectives will feature the First-Year Seminar.