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 profusion of evaluative and supportive comments from me and your peers. If at any point you are concerned about your letter-grade-standing for an assignment or overall, please come see me to discuss it.
About twice a week this semester, you'll need to share your thoughts, ideas, or resources formally with the rest of your peers in this class. You could think of this as a sort of "public journal" assignment with two "entries" a week.
Purposes of these Community assignments: A "public journal" rather than a private one makes sense because of what we know about learning to write and to teach (writing): that knowledge—particularly knowledge in this field—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 reflective teaching and learning over the long term.
These assignments are designed 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; to create archives of ideas and recommendations to help yourself and other teachers as you prepare to teach.
To earn an "A": Complete a minimum of 20 CPEs, including 10 required CPEs; complete them thoughtfully and regularly throughout the semester (not in clumps here and there); complete at least 10 total CPEs before Week 8.
Ten CPEs are specifically required, to ensure that we build a community that is continuous as well as varied in its resources: eight e-posts, one trading card, and one class-activity-bank post. You may choose any combination of CPEs to complete the rest of your work.
Instead of primarily discussing our readings and responses 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 some of our more conceptual wrangling from home or office, via computer-mediated environments.
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 issues and class materials. 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 urban legends, cookie recipes, insults, stock tips, or forwarded e-jokes. (Please use any blue language or purple prose responsibly.)
At least once during the semester, 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. In addition to the author's name and article title, your trading card should include at least
You may also include items (serious or lighthearted, true or fictional) such as graphics, nicknames, mottoes, vital statistics, hobbies, vanity license plates, universities played-for, Voted-Most-Likely-To…, etc. Forms and models can be downloaded from WebCT; I'll provide the cardstock and help with the printing as needed.
Being able to move between principles and practice, especially in a multivariate, quick-thinking situation like teaching (or writing), requires you to have those neuron pathways marked out and smoothed down—which requires repeated travel. Reading about a teaching principle (or a writing principle) once isn't enough to make it accessible to you as a new learner in the discipline. Writing about it, teaching it to others, and then referring back to it at several points in the semester helps you move it into your quick-think brain where it can be most useful to you.
At least once during the semester you should contribute a brief description of an in-class activity for a writing class to the Class Activity Bank on WebCT. You should also bring copies (three-hole-punched) of the activity description (or some element thereof) to class to distribute to everyone else.
You may describe 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 describe 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!
At some point during the semester, you may sponsor or co-sponsor a week of class, leading up to and including the class meeting. As a weekly sponsor, you should be looking for one or two ways you can help to build the classroom learning community that week.
More infoA sponsor's work begins by noticing: what actions are teachers and students taking? what attitudes are they exhibiting? what actions, assumptions, tasks, or situations are (or have been) enhancing or reducing learning? who is (or has been) participating in learning, and who is stuck? It can be very difficult to notice learning this way while you are supposed to be learning, so you may try to notice just a few things. You may want to notice what happens in class, what happens online, what happens as you and people you know work on assignments, what is happening in the community outside of class.
As you notice learning happening or not happening, you can step forward, in one or two small ways, to support learning (or to support the learning-community): you may provide information to me or to your peers; you may ask us for information or for our participation in a small activity; you may help us slow down or move forward if our timing is off; you may contribute an icebreaker, a habit-breaker, or a fast-break (mmm, cookies!); you may provide extra support or space for some student(s) who need(s) it; you may simply want to call our attention to something we've overlooked, to help us notice so we'll do better the next time. (We'll talk about other options for sponsoring a class as the semester goes on; feel free to propose other ideas as they occur to you.)
Class and Workshop Participation
Particularly strong or particularly passive engagement in in-class activities will have the effect of raising or lowering your final Community Participation grade by up to 10%.
Teaching Practicum Assignments
The Teaching Practicum Assignments ask you to wade into the weekly work of a writing teacher: designing a writing assignment prompt, grading student essays, and running part of a class session. All three of the TPAs are required, and will be evaluated as check-plus, check, or check-minus.
Purposes of these practicum assignments: To roll up your sleeves and get experience doing what teachers do while still having the opportunity to experiment safely and get focused feedback; to gain insight into teacherly work with time-management and authority; to identify your own preferences and see how they work in practice; to see the "small pictures" that will compose the larger picture of your course syllabus.
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. Please time your activity: by the 20-minute mark, you should have a way of concluding the exercise.
Note: You should prepare to teach your current peers in 615, not undergraduate students in a hypothetical (FYC) class. Your teaching session should be real teaching, not a mock-up performance.
Please help us to better learn or engage with material that's on the syllabus in front of us: a reading assignment or related issue, a writing assignment, a question that keeps coming up in our discussions. 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. "Ice-breaker" activities can be part of your session, particularly early in the semester, but you should be able to lead us into course-related learning.
Note 2: Completion of the Guest Teaching session and the Post-Game analysis will automatically earn you a check-plus.
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.
Post-Game Analysis: After the conference, email me 1-2 paragraphs: What were your assumptions going into this assignment? How, if at all, did they change? What 3 reminders do you want to give yourself about responding to students? What questions are you still wrestling with? Save a copy of this email.
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.
Post-Game Analysis: 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.
Building a syllabus that meshes principles with good practices, that matches your style and goals as a teacher with the requirements of the course and the university, requires you to synthesize a lot of information. Experienced teachers often complete a syllabus without specifically noticing the various steps in the process or articulating their thinking about these actions. In this class, we'll take the time to notice the process, and we'll go stepwise through it so that you can ask questions and try out ideas regarding each element.
Your Syllabus Folder will comprise three parts: your preparation notes, your three-day plan, and your tentative syllabus. Drafts, steps, and notes will be marked S or I; completed assignments will be marked √+, √, or √-.
Purposes of these assignments: This is a "teach a (wo)man to fish (better)" assignment: you'll probably design syllabi for at least two more courses while you teach at Mason, and many more beyond that, so the knowing how is at least as important as completing the project. Going stepwise also helps make the various options clearer, so you don't find yourself months later thinking, "Gosh, I didn't know we could choose to do that!" So we're aiming not only to build the core of an English 101 syllabus for next year, of course, but also to become aware of the processes and resources involved in syllabus-writing, to take time to thoughtfully consider a range of options, to develop general strategies for course-planning, to link principles and practices, to find ways to balance idealisms with practicalities.
We'll work through some preliminary steps toward designing your syllabus, such as
You'll write up some informal notes, plans, and questions in these areas to serve as guides for drafting the syllabus itself. You'll receive feedback on your notes from your peers and from me.
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).
The composition program at GMU leaves all these key decisions up to the individual teacher, as long as s/he is meeting the English 101 learning goals. Making these choices can be overwhelming for new and new-to-GMU teachers. To provide support without "fudging" on this freedom (if we "suggested" a text or an assignment sequence, our newest and thus least secure faculty might feel it was more than a suggestion), we offer the syllabus database, the sample syllabus, and a range of Orientation and consultation opportunities.
Step 2: Expanded draft. To your sketch, add some of the standard "front material" as specified by the online composition handbook (contact info, description, policies); more fleshed-out statements of your essay descriptions or other assignments; clear explanations of your grading criteria; and a few more key items in your daily schedule (workshops, conferences, special events).
Step 3: Portfolio draft. Polish your draft, concentrating on articulating your main principles, getting a general rhythm down, and taking steps toward meeting key learning goals thoroughly—rather than on filling in every date/task.
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.
Essay-length Writing Assignments
In an organized, thoughtfully-focused short essay (3-4 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 FYC best serves students when it focuses 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 than "Both ways have advantages" or "We should all do a little of both." What other relationships between these two concepts can you posit? 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 try not to turn this into a review of "what everyone else thinks"). You should resist the temptation to try to cover every possible situation or student.
Note: There is no right answer to this question, or at least no commonly agreed-upon one. I continue to wrestle with it myself, changing my mind a little each time I teach. Like me, you are a student and a writer, and you thus already have an answer to it—you have atheory that you can explore—whether you've thought about it previously or not.
Bring three copies for a peer workshop on Thursday 2/1. You'll have the opportunity to reflect, review, and revise, before you complete a Post Script (see below) and turn everything in to me the following week. This essay has no grade weight: it will not affect your course grade.
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.
Exploration Essay, Three Sketches:
Write about a page or so (300 words) describing each of the following three scenes (about three pages total):
The memories can be positive or negative, or more mixed. Instead of picking one that makes the best story, try choosing one that tickles (or stabs at) your own psyche in some way, even if you don't know why. Focus on describing your experiences and responses at the key moment, not on background or exposition. This is informal writing: our goals emphasize discovery and insight, not (yet) craft.
Your primary audience right now is yourself: you'll use the occasion of writing to recall the experience, and then use the occasion of having written as an opportunity to notice what happened with new eyes. You'll share these sketches with your peers, but their primary goal is in helping you remember and notice, not in helping you polish your performance.
On a separate page, please list 5-8 questions about (your) writing, teaching, and/or learning that these scenes raise for you. As you think now about helping other people learn to write better, what do these scenes show you (or remind you) that you really want to know more about?
Bring one anonymous copy of everything to class Thursday 2/15 to share (but not to turn in).
Exploration Essay, Initial Draft:
Choose one or two of your sketch-questions (or one[s] like them) about learning, teaching, and/or writing—one(s) that you do not know the answer to already—and draft an essay-length response (4-8 pp.) to it/them. Write "from home": that is, this should be a (first-person) essay about what you want, believe, and wonder (and why), not a treatise or polemic about all teachers, writers, or students. Your own experiences should form a core of the essay, since they (will) form a core of your teaching; your own analyses should give the essay motion.
You may but do not need to include material from one or more of your sketches.
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 of you to articulate some of your basic principles.
You may find it fairly easy to make general claims, about your preferences and/or about your views of "best practices" (what "should" be done). It will be more difficult to use honest, specific, one-time-only examples to explain your answer(s) to your peers and yourself: what happened in third grade? in the fourth assignment for Intro to Lit? It may also be more difficult to dig into "why" and "how" these events did or should or might happen, sometimes because you do know and it's hard to share, sometimes because you don't know and feel uncomfortable working out an answer as a newcomer to the issues. However, this assignment works best, at all levels, when we gently but firmly push each other into—and through—these difficulties.
Please take this opportunity to explore the assumptions and implications of the experiences you have had—particularly those assumptions/implications that have resonance for how people learn, how they (learn to) write, how they teach (writing), how they learn to teach writing, etc. What are the gaps between what happened and what might ideally happen (or have happened)? what causes those gaps? what's the first or most apparent answer, and what questions does it raise?
You may consider Part I a personal/creative essay, allowing for experimentation and innovation in voice, format, and diction/style, and allowing for the possibility that you do not have a single, clear answer.
Bring 2 copies for the workshop 3/1; email me a copy as preparation for your conference. Set up a writing conference before break; then revise (& complete a Post Script) to turn in after break, 3/22.
Purposes of the assignment: To come to know yourself 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 notice what happens during an exploratory and perhaps challenging writing process; and perhaps even to have some fun in the process.
Exploration Essay, Expansion/Revision:
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 about 7-10 pages long. You should directly quote from at least 4-6 outside sources either in support of or as contradictions to your own ideas; take the time to "sit" with each outside reference for at least a sentence or two of professional conversation, rather than just name-dropping. At least one source must be one you find (new) outside of our class materials.
Prepare a draft—according to your writing group's preferences (discussed in class)—for the workshop on 4/12. You will turn in a draft to me (with a Post Script) and set up a conference.
More infoA 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.
This essay will be graded, eventually, using the criteria for the Final Portfolio as a foundation. Please note that the quality of your writing is just one of several criteria that are important for this assignment; indeed, you should be prepared for the possibility that you will need to relax your writing-quality standards in order to reach the other goals (and still have time for sleep, occasionally).
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 notice what happens as you begin to revise a "completed" essay; to participate in and develop techniques for writing (and teaching) a truly essay-wide revision.
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:
You may also include copies of other e-posts, class handouts, or other teaching-related materials selected for their connection to and/or support of other required materials.
Also, I'd be delighted if you'd include a selection of writing you've done recently outside this class—not to be graded, of course, but to round out your picture of yourself as a writer/teacher, and to show-off a little of what you can do when you're more "in your element." (Why this one?)
Portfolios will be graded holistically based on several general criteria:
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.
Purposes of the assignment: To put the pieces together: principles and practices, plans and products, idealisms and practicalities; to take time for reflection in order to more consciously plan your next steps to be congruent with your teacherly self; to see how far you've come and glimpse where you're headed next; to show off your work at its best, without forgetting all the steps that got you there (and could get you there again); to help clarify the links between writing (and learning-to-write) and teaching (and learning-to-teach); to experience an island of closure in a sea of continuing adaptation.
POST-SCRIPT: "Dear Prof. Reid/Hi, Shelley/Yo, Teach…"
This assignment should be completed after you write/revise an essay draft.
You should complete a 300-400 word post script for any essay draft you're submitting for my review, including final drafts. 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 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 notice what happens, and 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: my responses are more likely to be directed to you than to be generic commentary about your prose.
Adapted from Stephen Brookfield, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher
A1: What did you learn this week, from any source, about writing or teaching?
A2: At what moment in class this week (or during class-related activities) did you feel most engaged with what was happening?
A3: What action that anyone (teacher or student) took this week in class (or in class-related activities) did you find most affirming and helpful?
B1: What did you most struggle with or puzzle over this week about writing or teaching?
B2: At what moment in class this week (or during class-related activities) did you feel most distanced from what was happening?
B3: What action that anyone (teacher or student) took in class (or in class-related activities) this week did you find most puzzling or confusing?
C1:What about the class or your learning this week surprised you the most? Why?
Critical Learning Log: Optional, Anonymous: Please take 10-15 minutes to respond to the questions below about the past few weeks of English 615. If you wish, you may refer to or include material from your earlier notes on your learning in class. You should type your answers; don't put your name on the page. After reading the responses, I will share them (except as noted) with the group. Thanks for taking the time to do this. What you write will help me make the class more responsive to your concerns.
Please comment briefly on one or more of the above moments; you might want to
Please type the following statement at the bottom, indicating your preference:
Last updated January 2007.Email Shelley Reid