English 521:
Composition Theory and Pedagogy

Course Requirements

This page provides information about course assignments, grading policies, and related course policies:


In this course you will be asked to:

Each is described briefly here; more information will be provided in class as we progress through the semester, and this site will be updated periodically. Also, consult the course schedule for deadlines.

Readings. The syllabus lists a rather substantial number of readings, yet even these barely scratch the surface of the field of Rhetoric and Composition or what we call "composition theory." The reading selections represent my sense of what might constitute a reasonable introduction to the field, and obviously my own biases (and my experiences in the field over more than 15 years) inevitably shape these selections. It is unlikely that we will be able to read everything listed here; moreover, since the shape of the course will (I hope) be somewhat fluid, we will likely delete some of the assigned readings and substitute others as we focus on one or another issue during the course of the semester. I ask only that you read carefully what we agree to read and that you come to class prepared to discuss the assigned readings in some depth. Obviously, much of the usefulness of the readings will depend upon what you and I bring to our discussions of them.

See the course reading list for bibliographic information about course readings.

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Summary/Response Papers. This assignment represents my attempt to help "socialize" you into the discourses and practices of the scholarly field of Composition Studies and to encourage you to engage in a certain kind of scholarly inquiry. The summaries/responses are relatively brief but focused and engaged writings about the assigned readings. During the semester, you will asked to complete several of these assignments (probably two or three, depending upon enrollment in the course). Each week several people in the class will be assigned to write these summaries/responses and share them with the class. Ideally, these texts will become a central part of our collective engagement with the readings. But I also want them to be a site of practice for a particular kind of reading/writing that might be termed "critical empathetic inquiry." In other words, these assignments are intended to encourage you to read carefully and critically, first, to try to get as full a sense as you can of what the writer seems to be attempting to say/argue/demonstrate in the reading, and second, to respond to that effort in a way that productively extends inquiry into the issues set forth in the reading. These texts are not simply critique but critical engagement with a text that somehow contributes to enriching our understanding of the many issues we will confront regarding writing and writing instruction.

Accordingly, I have set rather strict parameters for the format and focus of these texts. First, the summaries/responses should be no longer than 1000 words (approximately two single-spaced pages with standard margins). Second, they should include three separate sections: (1) a succinct but accurate summary of the key points/arguments presented in the assigned reading, with some brief discussion of the context of the piece; (2) your response highlighting what you see as the productive or provocative ideas contained in the piece and raising questions or concerns you might have about it; (3) a brief statement of your own position as reader that might help the rest of us understand your response--that is, an explicit description of how you read the piece. Obviously, in your response, you should make any references to other readings or to issues raised in our class discussions that you deem appropriate.

The point of this assignment is to encourage and facilitate our collective (and your individual) inquiry into the issues we are engaging in the course. Thus, implicit in this assignment are key questions about that inquiry: How does this piece advance our inquiry? How does it facilitate our attempts to understanding writing and writing instruction more fully? How are we reading it? How might our reading of the piece enhance our understanding of the issues it raises?

Summaries/responses should be submitted electronically (either via email or the web or on a disk). They are due by Wednesday of each week (so that everyone has time to read them prior to our Thursday evening class meeting).

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Online Discussions. Throughout the semester I hope that we will extend our in-class discussions by engaging in online discussions of course readings, issues, assignments, and related matters through the use of an electronic mailing list. Accordingly, I will distribute the summaries/responses to everyone via email and ask that you log in weekly to read what your classmates have written and to participate in the discussion by posting at least one message per week. (Please note that you will not be required to post a message during the weeks when you have submitted a summary/response.) During the semester we may also have the opportunity to engage in online discussions with some of the authors whose work we will be reading.

The online discussions will be held through the course web site using WebCT, a program for online conferencing supported by this university. For information about using WebCT go to WebCT.

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Group Project/Presentation. This assignment will correspond to the second segment of the course, in which we will examine writing instruction and the assumptions that drive conventional approaches to teaching writing. Some time around the 5th week, you will become part of a small group (with two or three classmates) that will focus its inquiry on a specific issue or question or problem in teaching writing. Much of your reading and related work will be organized around this question or issue or problem. Around the 8th week of the semester, groups will begin presenting the results of their inquiry to the rest of the class. Each group will be responsible for leading a portion of a class meeting as part of its presentation.

Format is thus flexible for this assignment. It's up to you to decide what to do and how your topic and/or activities might enrich our collective inquiry. The only parameters are that you should plan to lead discussion for about an hour or so (though you may request more time if you need it). Please consult with me about this assignment if you have questions or concerns.

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Short Paper. This assignment will correspond to the first segment of the course, which focuses on questions about the nature of writing and the writing process. The paper is to be a relatively short (1200-1500 words) essay in which you explore your own literacy history or describe your experiences (or a single experience) with writing and/or writing instruction. We will devote some class time to working with drafts of this essay, and we will use the essay as part of our collective effort to examine the nature of writing instruction and the field of Composition Studies.

The topic and form for this essay are flexible. The only main parameters are that you write about/from your own experience and write in a form you think is appropriate for your audience (in this case, members of this class). You may choose to write about a specific event, a period in your life, a series of experiences, or some aspect of your life that somehow relates to literacy (defined as you deem appropriate); your essay may focus on school-related experiences or not, as you see fit. The purpose of the essay is to explore your experience/event/period in a way that might enable us to understand something about the role of literacy (again, defined as you deem appropriate) in your life and/or in general. Although this assignment seems to suggest that personal narrative is perhaps the most appropriate form for the essay, you may wish to experiment with form as long as you remain true to the spirit of the assignment

Your essay should be submitted in electronic form (on disk as a word processing file, in an email message, or as a web page). If you submit your essay on disk or as a file attached to an email message, please submit it in Microsoft Word (version 6.0) format; if you are unable to use that format, then please submit it in rich-text format (RTF) or text format (ASCII).

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Course Project. This assignment will be the culmination of your formal work for this course. It is intended to be an extensive and focused examination of a specific issue or problem that arises for you from the work we do in this course. You have two options for this final project:

  1. Seminar "Paper." You may for your course project construct a text focused on an important issue or question or problem that emerges for you from our readings and discussions in the course. Ideally, your work for the other assignments will somehow inform or feed into this project. The specific nature and format for this project are negotiable, and I encourage you to consider formats other than the conventional seminar paper (though that format is perfectly acceptable and may be most appropriate for some students); a syllabus and justification, a web site, hypertext, or similar electronic media documents are all possibilities. This project should be approximately 15 double-spaced pages (or the equivalent) in length.

  2. Portfolio. For this option you will compile a portfolio comprised of three main sections demonstrating what you have learned about the key questions or issues we have addressed in this course. The three main sections correspond to the main segments of the course itself: (1) What is writing? What is the writing process? (2) How should we teach writing? and (3) How should we understand Composition and Rhetoric as a discipline? You have a great deal of flexibility in determining what kinds of documents to include in each of these sections, but the goal is to put together a set of documents that reflects your learning and thinking and inquiry regarding each topic during the semester. (More information about the specific parameters for this portfolio will be provided later in the semester.)

As with the group project, some class time will be devoted to your work on this project.

Grading Policies

Grading for the course will break down as follows:

Summary/Response Papers 25%
Group Presentation 20%
Short Paper 20%
Course Project 35%

Note: I will not assign grades to individual commentaries but will assign a grade at the end of the semester to your commentaries as a body of work and a reflection of your overall effort for this assignment. Also, your participation in the online discussions will not be graded as a separate assignment but will be taken into account when I calculate final averages for the course grades.

Standard Disclaimers
  1. It should be obvious that attendance in a course such as this is essential. If you miss more than one class during the semester without prior approval, your grade may be adversely affected. Missing more than two classes may result in a failing grade.

  2. Plagiarism is unequivocally unacceptable. Please familiarize yourself with the University policies on plagiarism. If you plagiarize in this course, you may fail the course and be subject to University disciplinary procedures.

  3. If you have any problems or concerns about the course during the semester, please see me so that we can talk about them.

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