English 15: Experiences in Literature

Shelley Reid, Austin College

Course Description Fall 1998 Syllabus

"Tis the good reader that makes the good book." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

"I invite the reader to come in and experience, to work with me in the telling of the story." --Toni Morrison

"How do I know what I think until I see what I say?"--E. M. Forster

Course Description, Fall 1998


This course has readerly goals and writerly goals. Morrison's comment above suggests the readerly goals: this course is an invitation--and a preparation--to readers to get inside of the texts and work with the authors to create meaning(s). Literature is a public art; it requires enthusiastic and perceptive readers. In this course I hope you find new reasons for enthusiasm and new ways to perceive and participate.

Forster's comment reflects on the need for clear writing as a step toward enthusiasm, perception, and participation. This is not "a writing course," and yet it must be a writing course--if you think great thoughts but cannot explain them with clarity to other readers, then the reading remains "all in your head." Writing clearly helps to clarify thinking; writing clearly for others to read helps to build community, inspire new thinking, and expand possibilities—and it provides more texts for readers to consider. The two goals thus are inextricably linked.


Texts: An Introduction to Literature (Barnet/Berman/Burto/Cain), Othello (Shakespeare) and The Bean Trees (Kingsolver). If you do not own a writer's handbook, with information about the grammar, syntax, organization, and citation forms that most college teachers will expect you to know, buying one may be an intelligent choice; I recommend A Writer's Reference (Hacker).

Etc. You will be required to write on or near the texts as part of reading actively; if you plan to re-sell the books at the end of the semester you need to invest now in pencils & erasers, post-it stickers, a photocopy fund, and/or other notetaking devices. You should also purchase two or three sturdy pocket folders (just the most basic kind) to use for handing in your essays and keeping track of your Discussion Group's papers.


Essays: You will write three formal essays for this course, on topics of your choosing. The first one should be 2-4 pages long; the second and third, 3-5 pages. Formal essays must be typed, double-spaced, with 1 or 1.5 inch margins; one "page" is approximately equal to 250 words regardless of typefont or margin size. Essays should be titled (cover page not necessary). They will be handed in in folders, and must be accompanied by your notes, rough drafts, and photocopies of your text annotations. Incomplete folders will receive grade penalties. Late papers may be penalized (see Space-Time Continuum sheet). You may revise one essay this semester for a new grade. See "Essay Assignments" for more information.

Discussion Groups: As a member of a classroom discussion group, you will be required to turn in six Discussion Starter and Discussion Recap assignments, as well as to participate thoughtfully and enthusiastically in the group's discussions. These assignments should also be typed, and Discussion Starters should be photocopied or multiply-printed for other group members. See the Discussion Group handouts for more information.

Prep Quizzes: As incentive to be prepared for your Discussion Group meetings, you will take a five-minute open-note quiz on each DG meeting day (see syllabus). Questions will be drawn from recently assigned readings. Your lowest score from these six quizzes will be dropped before your final grade is determined.

Final Exam: The final exam may contain some of the following: identification-and-explication questions, text annotation exercises, discussion-question generation, short-answer and/or essay questions. It will be "comprehensive," but is not designed to "trip you up." Taking notes on texts as we go along will greatly simplify the final review process; you may assume that texts we cover thoroughly in class are more likely to be on the exam than texts we don’t.

Attendance, in body and mind, and on time, is expected. (See Space-Time Continuum sheet). You are responsible for making up the work missed, in advance if possible, on any days you are absent. If you plan to miss a class, please notify me, in writing, in advance.

Weights & Measures

Your three essays will account for approximately 60% of your final grade; a steady improvement in grades will work to your benefit. The final exam will count 20%. Your contributions to your Discussion Group--including your Discussion Starters, your Prep Quizzes, your Discussion Recaps, and the leadership and cooperation you demonstrate during group meetings in class--will form approximately 20% of your final grade. Finally, although there is no specific grade for attendance or class participation, serious breaches of civility within the classroom community or lapses in attendance (physical or psychological) will adversely affect your final grade.


Class time: This class is intended to be by turns "introductory" and "challenging." Enrolled students range from first- to fourth-year students, and from students who love reading complex poetry to students who would never dream of reading that poetry stuff unless their grade depended on it. In addition to being patient with people who see literature differently from you, you will need to take charge of making this course what you want it to be.

Reading time: There is more material listed on the syllabus than we can "officially" cover in class. This directly benefits you: more selections give you more opportunities to find a piece that you like or understand or respond to or are curious about, which allows you to have some moments of enjoyment and makes finding topics for Discussion Starters and essays a lot less horrifying. Try not to give in to the temptation to read as little as you can get away with. Finally, read actively: write down actual words as well as underlines and asterisks. Talk back to the author, the narrator, the characters, the professor, the other students in the class. Nobody else will ever read this text the way you do--not even you, a few days or weeks later--so grab the experience while it's right there and write it down. .

If you need special assistance or assignment modifications to complete the requirements for this class, they will be provided upon request.

This page last modified 8/98 (minor updates 1/2006)