In English 615, you'll find both immediate help with course planning and support for your continuing development as a teacher of writing, as well as a community of supportive peer-learners.
Class sessions and assignments will help you find a workable balance between -- and links among -- principles and practices in teaching, and help you becomeaware of a variety of options and reasonings for writing and teaching writing well.
We'll also focus on developing strategies for noticing teaching and learning to help you strengthen your teaching vision and increase your teaching range. One way to notice how people teach or learn writing is to write and revise writing while you are reflecting on those actions, so we'll do that, too.
Finally, we'll place a high value on collaboration and community development, because good teachers almost never become good—or stay that way—all on their own.
English 615 is an unusual class for graduate students in English, in several ways:
This is a true introductory class, new-to-you in topic and maybe in style. For many of you, it's the first "intro" you've taken in several years, and perhaps the last you will take for many years to come. You're all accomplished students and writers; you're also well on your way to being accomplished writing teachers, or you wouldn't be here. I hope you will try to be patient with the learning curve, with your own occasional frustrations and struggles, when you are more used to feeling smart and leaping gracefully about.
This is a stepwise, recursive class. An introductory class, even one with very smart students in it, often proceeds stepwise with lots of consultation rather than asking students to rely only on private, intuitive leaps leading to massive final projects (or, occasionally, vivid final catastrophes). Also, given that writing is never finished, only sent-out or set-aside -- and that teaching writing is really never finished -- we won't complete Project A, take a break, and then start Totally New Project B. Assignments and ideas will come round again…and again. This pedagogy is designed to allow you time to digest complex material thoroughly rather than gulping it down at one sitting.
This is a writing class, but not a class focused on producing your best-ever writing at the end. Instead, we'll write to discover what we think. We'll write in order to notice how we write, and how we learn to write, and how we might write differently. We'll write to feel what happens when we write all the way out to the cliff's edge where the dragon lives. We'll write to see what it's like to be in an essay-writing class. We'll write to produce the texts we'll use in teaching a writing class. We'll write to support one another, and to help others re-see their texts. If you produce the next Great American Essay along the way, well, excellent -- but that's not our main purpose in writing together.
This is a noncompetitive class. I'll issue very few grades or rankings: most of our assignments are rehearsals for (or reflections on) other performances, and judging your rehearsals or ruminations would be counterproductive. Your goal should be to use our stepwise, community-rooted class to learn how to be a better writing teacher, the one you want to become and keep becoming; my goal is not to "weed you out" or "mold you" to a particular end, but to support and encourage your growth as a teacher.
In one way, of course, English 615 resembles other advanced classes:
This is a class about complex questions rather than easy answers. Writing is hard and exhilarating and dependent on subtle nuances of context and audience. Teaching writing is hard and exhilarating and dynamic, dependent on the needs and contributions of the 20 or so other human beings in the room. As we keep learning to teach writing, we have to adapt to a culture of probabilities and likelihoods, options and variations, rather than certainties. But we're the Weird Ones: we like the puzzles and the Gray Areas, so we'll help each other survive and even learn to like not knowing exactly what comes next.
The Books & Readings
Bean, Engaging Ideas (1996)
Moore and O'Neill, Practice in Context (2002)
Straub, A Sourcebook for Responding to Student Writing (1999)
Also, occasional readings accessible via university library databases such as JSTOR, accessible through the E-Reserves, or posted on WebCT (http://webct41.gmu.edu).
The Assignments and Grade Values, Very Briefly:
Revisions are always allowed; let me know if you'd like to revise something for a new mark/grade.
There is no final exam in this class. Your final portfolio is due during the last week of class.
Grading Expectations for Class Assignments
To earn full credit (or "A"-level grades) on your assignments for this class, your writing generally will need to be
Drafts of assignments will be assigned one of two letters: S for drafts that are making Satisfactory progress with these criteria, and I for drafts that are Incomplete or that miss the mark significantly.
Short assignments will usually be marked as check-plus (√+), check (√), or check-minus (√-) based on these criteria. These marks may be loosely translated to 10, 9, and 7 on a 10-point scale. A balance of check-pluses and checks will be sufficient to earn an "A" for a collection of assignments.
Other Policies of Note:
Attendance is expected. This is a collaborative, workshop- and participation-intensive class, so missing more than one meeting will affect your participation grade. (And we'll miss you!)
A strict late work policy is inappropriate, given our emphasis on drafting and revising through the semester, though I expect that overall you'll keep up with both the reading and the writing. If you have to miss a due date, or you start to feel that you're falling behind, please let me know so we can work out some alternatives.
Although it goes without saying, sometimes saying it is important, especially for an interactive class: you should maintain an attitude of professionalrespect and courtesy—though certainly not always agreement—toward other class members.
Students with disabilities: Students with documented disabilities are legally entitled to certain accommodations in the classroom. Students requesting such accommodation must present faculty with a contact sheet from the Disability Resource Center(703-993-2474). I will gladly work with students and the DRC to arrange fair access and support.
Please save everything you write for this class: all drafts, reflective writing, scribbles, handouts, logs, assignments, etc. Keep the original paper copy if possible (not just the e-copy on disk). This will make assembling your portfolio in May much easier!
Last updated January 2007.Email Shelley Reid