Shelley Reid .


English 615:  The Assignments

Spring 2006

E-Posts Trading Cards Class Activity Bank
Guest Teaching SP#1: Overview SP#2: Grading
SP#3: Assgt. Prompt SP#4: Textbooks SP#5: Syllabus
SP#6: 3-Day Plan Pedagogy Resp. Practical Grade Policy
Warm-up Essay Expl. Essay Part 1 Expl. Essay Part 2
Collaborative Proj. Portfolio Post Script Questions




Notes about assignment "grades"

This is a workshop-based class with a strong portfolio component.   You will receive very few formal "grades" on your written assignments, though you will receive a multitude of comments from me and your peers.  Early drafts will not be scored or rated; weekly assignments such as the Pedagogical Responses and the Syllabus Projects will be "scored" with a or a √+ (check or check-plus), and may be revised for a higher "score" at any time. If at any point you are concerned about your letter grade for an assignment or overall, please come see me to talk about it.

Community Assignments:  E-posts, Trading Cards, & Class-Activity Bank

About twice a week this semester, you'll take steps to helps circulate information and engage in conversations among the English 615 community.  These activities put into practice to three principles central to most 21st century teachers:  that knowledge is socially constructed (and re-constructed), that learning activities need to happen in multiple formats and contexts to reach all students, and that building a trusted community is crucial in supporting risk-taking and long-term, reflective teaching and learning. 

E-posts: Instead of primarily discussing theory in class and doing our writing and pedagogy-planning at home by our lonely selves (as is so frequently the case in university studies), we will reserve a chunk of class time for collaborating on writing-workshops and teaching-workshops, and—as many pros in the field now do—conduct much of our more theoretical and conceptual wrangling from home or office, via computer-mediated environments.

A minimum of 20 full postings (2-3 paragraphs each), at least 12 of which must be posted before Week 8, is necessary to earn an "A."  Since the e-post assignments are linked to the general participation grade, if you're quiet during in-class discussions, you might consider participating more often in the electronic discussion.

You are required to post at least once a week to your Engfish listserv. Make it a habit, schedule a day/time, give it a priority status.  Since life gets crazy, and this class is built upon long-term learning rather than dictatorial regulations, I will entirely understand if there's a week or so during the semester in which you need to take a "discussion vacation."  However, persistent silences or "catching up" by posting eight times right before a deadline will put your grade in jeopardy.

Demonstration of community membership:  Your e-posts should demonstrate that you are thoughtfully keeping up with the Joneses:  reading the assigned essays, thinking about class discussion, reviewing your peers' e-postings. You don't need to post a response to everything we read or say, but cumulatively your posts should show that you're familiar with and thinking about a range of community issues each week.

Moreover, your e-posts should contain and respond to direct quotations from those materials.  Please don't simply reference "the Elbow article" or "Marcie's post"; pull out a sentence or two, type or paste it in, and talk directly back, adding your own experiences, analyses, connections, and questions.

Your e-posts may also include requests, discussions, commiserations, or questions about anything even loosely associated with teaching, grading, reading, or observing classes.  General professional "nettiquette" is expected: no virus warnings, cookie recipes, insults, or e-jokes.  

General E-Style Hints:  Good electronic stylists always change the SUBJECT header when they choose a new topic or modify an earlier one.  They quote just a tiny bit from the post to which they are responding, enough to give context but not so much as to overwhelm their readers.  They also tend toward shorter paragraphs and sometimes shorter sentences than they would write in a formal essay, and/or add catchy opening sentences to their paragraphs, hoping to engage their quick-skimming readers visually. 

They are careful with humor, particularly with teasing, because tone is so difficult to convey online, and so easy for readers "not in the loop" to misinterpret.  On the other hand, they often experiment with informal or even nonstandard language, to try to personalize the blips on the screen and keep conversations flowing.  Try to find your e-mail voice this semester.


Class-Activity Bank

Twice during the semester -- once before spring break and once after spring break -- you should contribute a brief description of an in-class activity for a writing class to the Class Activity Bank on WebCT. 

You may post a description of a class-activity that you have read about or that you have seen another writing teacher use; if you do so, be sure to give credit as needed.  You may also post a description of something you have tried or would like to try in your own classroom.  Or you may do a little of both: borrow some from an idea you encountered elsewhere (say where!), and add your own "twist" to it -- which is how most teachers teach anyway!

Please also add a few sentences about why you chose to share this activity:  how does it fit with your own philosophy or style?  how do you see it contributing to students' own learning?  what made it stand out to you, or gave you the idea in the first place?


Trading Cards

Twice during the semester, probably once before Spring Break and once after, you will create a Writing Teacher Trading Card, based on one of the articles you've read.  These cards will be printed out and distributed to class members.  Your trading card should include at least one direct quotation, one interpretive summary sentence, one practical application note, and one question or connection.  You may also include items (serious or lighthearted, true or fictional) such as graphics, nicknames, mottoes, vital statistics, hobbies, universities played-for, Voted-Most-Likely-To…, etc.  Forms and models can be downloaded from WebCT.

Purpose of these Community assignments:  To extend in-class discussions beyond the boundaries of the classroom; to encourage ongoing reflection and analysis; to develop strategies for communicating and community-building online; to create an archive of ideas and recommendations to help yourself and other teachers as you prepare to teach.

Grading of these Community assignments:

Criteria:      Completion (12+8 e-posts, 2 Trading Cards, 2 CAB posts )

                  Regularity (Posts at least once in most school weeks)

                  Range & Depth (Responds to a range of texts/issues; posts
                           average 2-3 paragraphs of thoughtful analysis/response)

                  Engages with and provides support for peers

                  Develops a lively/provocative/insightful community voice

A: Meets all criteria fully; excels in at least one area

A-: Meets all criteria fully, or nearly all criteria fully with excellent work in one

B+: Meets most criteria fully and others respectably (e.g. 17/20 posts)

B: Meets a few criteria fully and others respectably (e.g. posts are often thin or not fully engaged with the ongoing conversation)

B-:Meets most criteria respectably but one poorly (e.g. 1/2 CABs or several weeks without posts)

C-level or below:  Meets some criteria respectably but others poorly or not at all

Note:  Particularly strong or particularly passive engagement in in-class activities will have the effect of raising or lowering the final Community Participation grade by up to 2/3 of a letter.

Practical Assignments

Assignments will be "scored" as check (√) or check-plus (√+): to earn a √+, try to push beyond surfaces, wrangle with conflicts, take risks, go deep.  Revisions invited.

Guest Teaching Session

Once this semester, you'll be asked to teach 15-20 minutes of class in such a way as to allow/encourage class members to draw thoughtful connections about their current reading, writing, teaching, and other conversations.  You might have class members freewrite or respond to a prompt, discuss readings in pairs or groups, respond to a tricky "case study" in teaching, conduct a whole-class discussion, and/or join some other activity.  Please time your activity:  by the 20-minute mark, you should have a way of concluding the exercise. 

Post Game Analysis :  Within one week after the class session, you will turn in (paper or email) a 2-3 paragraph reflection addressing your initial goals for the activity, any connections you see to what we've been reading/discussing about principles for teaching, your analysis of how the activity actually went, and an idea for how to translate this kind of activity to English 101.

Note:  In contrast to some other English 615 students, you are being asked to prepare to teach your current peers, not students in an FYC class, though similar approaches may work well in each setting (don't underestimate your peers' love of Play-Doh!).  Completion of this activity automatically earns a check-plus score.

Pedagogical Responses

Twice this semester you will turn in a short response (2-3 pages) concerning a 101 or 302 class you observe this term.  Responses may review one whole class, a class sequence, or a single aspect of a class.  Deadlines for these assignments are suggested on the syllabus to help you plan your work, though you may respond somewhat earlier or later if inspiration strikes.   Please do not mention the name of the instructor you observe.

Each PR should include four parts (see Note below): 

  • a log or short description of the classroom activities under consideration;
  • a paragraph reflecting on how at least one activity demonstrated a composition pedagogy that you could adapt to future teaching (explain your judgment);
  • a paragraph reflecting with some specificity (if not always with direct quotations) on at least one specific connection to an assigned reading that has been given at some point during our class;
  • and a set of 2-4 questions or exploration points that could help you extend your (and perhaps your classmates') thinking beyond the immediate classroom experience.

Note:  This four-part heuristic is designed to stimulate rather than restrict thinking; it's important for scholar-teachers to be able to write/think toward all four purposes (summary, analysis, synthesis, exploration), and to distinguish among them.  If, after considering this basic four-part format, you wish to experiment with other ways of representing your four-fold thinking, feel free to do so.

Syllabus Projects

You'll complete six short projects designed to provide you with the experience and resources to develop an English 101 syllabus.  You may collaborate with another student on any of these projects if you wish.

Syllabus Project #1: Three-Syllabus Comparison

From the Mason online databases, select and print out three syllabi for English 101.  In paragraph or table form, briefly compare four elements of the syllabi:  texts and/or themes chosen, major writing assignments given, other assignments or grades described, and the tone/style of the syllabus.  Write 2-3 paragraphs analyzing what you've found:  what conclusions do you draw about ENGL 101 or writing-teaching generally? what elements surprised or intrigued you?  which elements would you want to build into your own 101 course?

Syllabus Project #2: Conscientious Grading

Submit via conference with Prof. Reid two composition papers, with your comments (and tentative letter-grades), from the set posted on WebCT.  Be sure to read the assignment prompt that engendered the papers, and be prepared, in each case, to discuss the principles behind your responses as well as your questions.

Syllabus Project #3: Clearsighted Assignment

Draft an assignment prompt for a main essay for English 101 or a similar class.  Include the instructions as you would give them to the class, as well as a description of the specific criteria for evaluation (what constitutes an "A" or "C" essay?) and/or a grading rubric.  Add a paragraph or two reflecting on your goals for this assignment, any difficulties that you would expect college writers to encounter in working on this assignment, and how you might help those writers meet your goals.

Syllabus Project #4: Initial Book Review

Choose two composition textbooks from the shelves in the writing center or the composition library and, in a short essay (2-4 pp.) compare one angle of the pedagogy they profess (their overall organization/focus, a chapter of each, the tone or examples of each, etc.) in order to judge possible ways to teach FYC.  Which of these approaches appeals most or least to you as a writing teacher?  Be sure to analyze more than you summarize; this is an evaluative, reflective text rather than a book report.

Syllabus Project #5:  English 101 Course Design (Initial Syllabus)

Step 1: Sketch.  Draft a sketch of an English 101 course you could teach.  At this point, you should include at least 4 key kinds of information:  the textbook(s) you might use, an outline of the main essay assignments you would give (what kind of essay; how long), a breakdown of the grade-weights for the course, and a semester-long schedule noting the main essay dates (drafts due, workshops, finals due).

Step 2: Expanded draft.  To your sketch, add some of the standard "front material" as specified by the composition handbook (contact info, description, policies); more fleshed-out statements of your essay descriptions and/or other assignments and of your  grading criteria.

Step 3: Portfolio draft.  Polish your draft, concentrating more on articulating your principles and goals thoroughly in what you already have written than on filling in every date/task.  Add a reflective paragraphor two about the challenges & intrigues of designing a 101 syllabus, and where you want to go from here.

Syllabus Project #6: Three-Day Schedule

Submit a three-day course plan for an English 101 or similar course.  For each day, describe the activity/ies that you would have students engage in as they worked toward completing an essay and note the approximate time given to each. 

Conclude each day's plan with a sentence or two about possible pitfalls and/or back-up plans, and a few sentences connecting it to principles, goals, or procedures we've been discussing this semester (grab your Trading Cards!).

Purposes of these practical assignments:

Each assignment asks you to take a step that all teachers take in designing a new course: understanding the institutional culture of the course and linking it to their own values and principles, articulating their standards, designing assignments, choosing textbooks, considering class activities, organizing a syllabus, presenting a lesson.

Experienced teachers often complete these tasks without specifically noticing them or articulating their thinking about these actions.  However, English 615 treats these steps as write-to-learn opportunities.  When you write, you think differently.  You slow down; you integrate; you give yourself time to make sense of and question all the data you're inputting.  Chances are, you'll ask smarter questions about something you're writing about, that you'll remember it more holistically, and that you'll implement it more intuitively later on. 

Short writing assignments are also important when entering a new field of study:  they help you to build a new framework with which to sort through new information.  Since thoughtful completion of these assignments, rather than mastery of information, is the main criterion for evaluation, these assignments also support early learning with very little grade-risk.


Grading of these short practical assignments (all may be revised as needed):


Complete 9 assignments; at least 7 at a √+ level


Complete 9 assignments; at least 6 at a √+ level


Complete at least 8 assignments including SP#5; at least 6 √+ (or 9/5)


Complete at least 8 assignments including SP#5; at least 5 √+


Complete at least 8 assignments including SP#5; at least 4 √+


Complete at least 1 PR, the GT, and 3 SPs including #5


Essay-length Writing Assignments

Warm-up Essay

In an organized, thoughtfully-focused short essay (3-5 pages), explain to your peers (and articulate for yourself) whether you believe in principle that First Year Composition classes best serve students if they focus primarily on encouraging students to develop their independent voices, or if they best serve students when they focus more strongly on helping the students master the conventions and meet the expectations of American Academic Prose. 

You may of course argue for an "in-between" position as long as you argue something more interesting and original than "Both ways have advantages" or "We should all do a little of both."  (You might consider the order of emphasis, for instance.)  Support your arguments with very specific examples from your own experience(s) as a student and/or teacher, and/or with specific examples from reading you've done (but don't turn this into a review of "what everyone else thinks").  Resist the temptation to try to cover every possible situation or student.

Note:  You are not expected to know an answer to this question as certainly as you know whether Stein was a great writer, how Elizabethan culture is reflected in the Bard's sonnets, what the characteristics of American Romanticism are, or how semi-colons work.  Moreover, there is no right answer to this question.  But you are a student and a writer, and you thus already have an answer to it—you have a theory that you can explore—whether you've thought about it previously or not. 

Post a draft of this response, anonymously, to the WebCT Warm Up Essay discussion board by Saturday, 1/28, at noon.  When the next person after you posts his/her draft, please read through it and write a short response about what interested you most (you may do this anonymously, too).

Bring three copies for a peer workshop on Tuesday 1/31.  You'll have the opportunity to reflect, review, and revise, before you complete a Post Script (see below) and turn everything in to Prof. Reid the following week (2/1).

Purposes of the assignment:  To introduce a question central to the scholarship of composition/pedagogy; to establish a baseline of experience/opinion from which to build further discussion; to introduce the drafting, peer-editing, revising, and reflecting process crucial to writing classes. This essay has no grade weight.

Exploration Essay, Part I

Draft an essay-length response (4-8 pp.) to some part of the question below, or some variation thereof:

Why&how    do/don't/did/should/might    I    (want/need/learn)    to write/teach-writing?

Use specific, one-time-only examples to explain your answer(s) to your peers (and yourself).  Include analysis of the ideas you present; do not only describe or narrate experiences.

This assignment is not designed to elicit a "teaching philosophy statement," polished and complete, though it asks for the kind of exploration that may lead some writers toward an eventual articulation of their overall philosophy. 

You may consider Part I a personal/creative essay, allowing for experimentation in voice, format, and diction/style, and allowing for the possibility that you do not have a single, clear answer. 

Caveat 1:  This is an essay about writing and/or teaching writing in the world as opposed to the essay you can all write about the metaphorical bliss or angst of your personal writing experiences. 

Caveat 2: You need to meet your audience's expectation that you will in fact make something about your relationship to writing/teaching clear to your reader; your essay may be impressionistic, but a once-through reader should be able to follow a line of exploration or thinking toward your conclusions.

Caveat 3:  Challenge yourself not to write (only) the first ideas that come to mind; dig around a bit.  This essay should be a foundation for the kind of thinking/learning/reading that you will do this semester.

Bring 2 anonymous copies for the workshop; you'll turn one in for comments.  Set up a writing conference; then revise & complete a Post Script to turn in after break.

Purposes of the assignment:  To come to know thyself better as a writer/teacher, in order to be better able to build on and/or modify your predispositions; to write with purpose and clarity in a genre increasingly relevant to scholarship in English Studies, particularly composition; to begin to generate language to talk about "ineffable" qualities of your teaching/writing so that you can explain yourself to future students and colleagues; to have some fun.

Exploration Essay, Part II

Revise, refocus, and expand your early draft to integrate regular, thoughtful, specific references to a range of the articles, experiences, and theories you've encountered during this class (and your ongoing teaching or observing).  Your revised essay may thus begin to resemble more closely a "typical" graduate-level research essay, but need not obliterate the personal voice or experience that lies at its foundations. 

The expanded draft should be in the 8-12 page length range, and quote from at least 4-6 outside sources either in support of or as contradictions to your own ideas.

A main goal of this revision is for you to demonstrate your ability to see your own preferences in relation to, and in relation with, the advice and preferences of other scholars in the field.  You certainly need not revise your preferences to fit theirs.  Instead, you will explain, using some fairly attentive reading & interpretation, how their theories, as large gravitational forces in your writing/teaching universe, pull and push at your own.

Note:  Some first versions of the Exploration Essay will lend themselves easily to integrating others' voices regularly into the text.  Others will require the writer to stretch topically to draw connections to and engage in conversations with other authors (how might Daiker's ideas about praise connect to yours about why you love pen-on-paper writing?  how might Wiley's treatise on formulaic writing connect to your worries about teacherly authority?).  Yet others will require the writer to stretch generically or formally:  perhaps, it turns out, you're writing a play or dialogue?  a fugue or a four-part mini-series?  a time-travel novel or the transcript of a basketball sportscast?  I'm happy to help you explore your exploration options.

Half of the class will bring copies for the first workshop;  half will bring copies for the workshop the following week. You will turn in a draft and set up a conference.

Purposes of the assignment:  To join the professional conversation about writing and teaching-writing; to continue developing strategies for blending secondary source ideas and language with your own; to review and synthesize, in a way that makes sense to you, some of the learning you've done this term; to participate in and develop techniques for writing a truly essay-wide revision.


Collaborative Inquiry and Presentation

You and a set of partners will choose a question or issue that arises from our classroom readings, discussions, or experiences; complete some initial individual and collaborative research on the issue; and "map" the issues, questions, and/or recommendations that you find most pertinent to English 101 instructors.  You will create a poster or webpage representing your findings, along with a handout/bibliography, and share them with the class in a 10-minute presentation. See full description by clicking here.

Teaching/Writing Portfolio

Your final class portfolio should include the following, arranged in an order that makes sense to you and helps your work cohere into a single story.  Most pieces should be introduced and/or annotated (short paragraphs, section introductions, post-it notes) to show how they contribute to your ongoing development as a writer/writing-teacher:

Your final class portfolio should include the following, arranged in an order that makes sense to you and helps your work cohere into a single story.  Most pieces should be introduced and/or annotated (short paragraphs, section introductions, post-it notes) to show how they contribute to your ongoing development as a writer/writing-teacher:

  • All major workshop and final drafts of your Warm-up and Exploration essays, with original Post Scripts—and new Post Scripts if you're turning in new Exploration revisions
  • One Pedagogy Response, and either a Trading Card or an Activity Bank post (why these?)
  • Final versions of SP#4 and SP#5, plus one more short project (why this one?)
  • A short, reflective Introductory and/or Concluding essay that ties the portfolio together (2-4 pages)

You may also include copies of e-posts, class handouts, presentation notes, or other teaching-related materials selected for their connection to and/or support of other required materials.

Portfolios will be graded holistically based on several general criteria:

  • completeness

  • demonstration of writing quality (Exploration Essay + 1 other designated piece)

  • evidence of flexible, substantial, successful revisions

  • evidence of having assimilated a range of current ideas and information about composition pedagogy

  • clarity and cohesiveness of the pedagogical vision or development narrative presented in the overall collection

You should thus choose the contents of the portfolio, and use the mini-intros or reflective essay, specifically to show that (and how) you have met these criteria.

Note that portfolio grading emphasizes what you can demonstrate you know at the end of a course of study: you're not judged on your "SFD" of something.  Also, "writing quality" -- whether you earn an "A" on the Exploration essay or not -- is only one of several important criteria.  Portfolio grading emphasizes the learning process as well as reflection and self-awareness:  writers (and teachers) who have developed coping strategies and can articulate issues and approaches concerning their writing (and teaching) are likely to be prepared for successful adaptation to a range of future situations…which is a fundamental goal of any instruction. 

While an A-level portfolio will succeed strongly on all or most of the criteria listed above, a B-level portfolio will typically fall short of the mark in at least a couple of ways.  Portfolios earning a grade in the "B" range may include strong writing but not demonstrate that the writer has grown as a writer-and-reviser; they may have all the pieces but not demonstrate that the writer can integrate those pieces into a whole; they may show awareness of but not critical engagement with conversations in the field. 

Note: In this portfolio, risk-taking will be noted and considered positively during grading.

POST-SCRIPT:  "Dear Prof. Reid/Hi, Shelley/Yo, Teach…"

You should complete a 300-400 word post script for the revised early essays, and for any other essay draft you'd like me to look at.  Please respond to Question 1 and Question 6 at least briefly; otherwise, you may respond to any or all of the questions below, and/or explain something else important about your thinking/writing process. 

1.  What (if anything) was most dis-orienting (alt-orienting) and/or difficult about writing this essay?  how did you cope?  what might come, for better or worse, from having experienced this challenge?

2.  What (if anything) was easiest about writing it?  why?  is this usually easy for you?

3.  What do you think is the strongest part of this essay? where do you come closest to affecting your reader the way you'd like to? what did you do to make this part work?

4.  What changes have you already made in the essay from its earlier draft(s)?  what (if anything) did you learn as you were writing/revising? which(if any) of the peer or teacher comments did you find useful as you revised?

5.  Where, if at all, are you still having difficulties?  What other changes or additions might you make if you had an extra week of peace and quiet to work in?  What (if anything) might you do differently on your next essay?

6.  What, if anything, did you learn from writing this essay that will be useful in teaching other people to write academic essays?  What about the assignment or process would you do differently if you were assigning a similar essay to undergraduates?

Purposes of the Post Script:  This is another write-to-learn assignment.  By articulating what happened as you wrote, you make it more possible to repeat successes and avoid problems in the future:  you gain control and improve flexibility.  This is a reflective, metacognitive assignment, increasingly used for both students and professionals; becoming a "reflective teacher" is a big deal in the 21st century (try Googling "reflection teaching" some time!). And it helps open a conversation with the reader of your writing.







Last updated January 2006.Email Shelley Reid