English 521:
Composition Theory and Pedagogy

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Guidelines for Summary/Response Papers

The summary/response papers are relatively brief but focused and engaged writings about the assigned readings. During the semester, you will be 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.

Consult the schedule for the summary/response papers for your deadline.

Ideally, these texts will become a central part of our collective engagement with the readings and the issues that grow out of those readings. But I also want the summaries/responses to be a particular kind of reading/writing practice that might be termed "critical empathetic inquiry." In other words, these assignments are intended

  • to encourage you to read generously, in a way that provides you with as full a sense of what the writer seems to be attempting to say/argue/demonstrate as you can, and

  • to respond to that writer's effort in a way that productively extends our inquiry into the issues set forth in the reading.

These summaries/responses, then, are not critiques in the conventional sense but critical yet generous engagements with texts that somehow contribute to enriching our understanding of the many issues we will confront in writing instruction.

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?

The summaries/responses should be no longer than 1000 words (approximately two single-spaced pages with standard margins). They should include three basic parts:

  1. a succinct but accurate summary of the key points/arguments presented in the assigned reading, perhaps with some brief discussion of the context of the piece;
  2. your response to the text, 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.

Summaries/responses are due by Monday of each week (so that everyone has at least one day to read them prior to our Tuesday evening class meeting). Ideally, they will be submitted via WebCT and thus available electronically to everyone in the class. During our second class meeting, a sign-up sheet for this assignment will be distributed; after that class, a schedule for the summary/response assignment will be posted to this web page.