English 38 Assignments: Spring 1999

Shelley Reid, Austin College

See below for

Writing assignments in this class focus on introducing you to the various processes of writing -- and of improving your writing—currently practiced within the discipline of modern literary studies. Assignments are designed, individually and collectively, to foster both exploration and precision in thought and presentation.

Phase I: Two Short Analysis Essays (20%)

Essays will be open-topic, covering a text or two from the early readings: the first essay will work with poetry, the second with drama or prose fiction. Essays will be 600­900 words in length; the shortness of the essay will necessitate a very tight focal lens to fully explicate a single thread, voice, section, or problem of the text(s) at hand.

As a demonstration of thoughtful analysis in the discipline, you should strive to work closely with the words on the page(s), delving into and making clear how language is artfully used to make meaning(s). Essays may use discipline-specific vocabulary as needed, but without burying the reader in vague terminology. Your specific evidence must also support a more general argument about the text, author, or reader, and/or about the world in which it was created or is being read.

As a demonstration of competent writing in the discipline, your essay, though short, should consciously employ standard American Academic Essay strategies: presenting a clear, arguable thesis as part of an engaging (if brief) introduction; creating focused paragraphs that link quotations and analysis to the larger argument; moving the reader smoothly and logically from one point to the next; and drawing conclusions about -- not just summarizing -- the evidence presented. Attention to rules and conventions for including quoted material will be encouraged; careful proofreading will be expected.

Phase I Folders should contain the assigned essay (title?), any pertinent drafts or notes, photocopied pages (whole poems or 3-5 pp. of a longer work) with your annotations of the text(s), and a Post Script (which may be handwritten) that thoughtfully completes the following statements:

Incomplete folders will result in a grade penalty for that essay. Please check to be sure yours is complete.

Phase II: Revision (15%)

After completing -- and receiving feedback on -- the two short analysis essays, you will select one of those essays for revision and expansion into a more thoroughly developed, more stylistically polished essay of about 800­1300 words.

Within one week of the second essay's return to you, you must schedule a Revision Conference. By the end of that conference (if not before), you will have selected an essay to revise, identified areas of your writing that need specific attention, and decided upon a general plan for revising and expanding the essay. You should arrive at your Revision Conference already prepared to offer proposals about these decisions.

Revised essays will receive the average of two new grades. The first grade will be based on the scope and effectiveness of the revision effort itself. Revision is something less than "writing a whole new essay" but is more than just "fixing mistakes"; substantial revision involves a re-seeing of the essay. Significant alterations to the argument scope or focus; additional development or support of ideas; thoughtful reorganization of sentence-groups or paragraph analyses; and/or general improvements in style or presentation: revision involves efforts in at least one and usually several of these areas. When selecting an essay to revise, then, you should choose one that has room for development and alteration, and that focuses on a concept about which you have more -- or more focused points -- to present.

The second grade will be the more common quality grade: does the essay satisfy the basic expectations of an academic literary analysis? More than the short analyses were, this essay will be expected to provide a reading of the overall text, not just a piece of the text. You should thus also select an essay that has some strong foundations upon which to build a more polished essay.

Phase II Folders should contain the assigned essay (title?), any pertinent drafts or notes, all previous essay materials, and a Post Script (which may be handwritten) that thoughtfully completes the following:

Incomplete folders will result in a grade penalty for that essay. Please check to be sure yours is complete.

Phase III: Exploration of Critical Perspectives (15%)

The middle third of the course has two goals: to provide opportunities and strategies in general for rereading literary texts, and to introduce several main critical perspectives currently central to conversations in the discipline. The Exploration assignment asks you to combine these two activities.

You will choose a text from the first third of the course to revisit (not one you have already written about), and choose two of the modern critical approache -- e.g., reader-response, psychoanalytic, New Historicist (also Marxist or Cultural Critique), Feminist (also Gender or Gay/Lesbian), and/or Deconstructionist -- through which to reread the text. As an exploratory assignment, your paper will not necessarily choose a single recommended vision of the text, but rather present a number of possible readings, explaining what each reveals and what each overlooks or conceals.

Your response -- 800­1300 words -- should include attention to the following points:

The exploratory assignment may be informal on several counts: it need not have the argumentative focus or the overall cohesion and flow of a formal essay (if writing separate sections is helpful, you may choose that approach); it may be written in first person and/or carry some of your own conversational voice; it may admit to confusion -- if the points of confusion are explained with some clarity (not just "I don't have a clue about this whole deconstruction thing!") -- as part of the analysis.

As with earlier essays, however, it should present ideas clearly, support points with smoothly (and correctly) incorporated quotations and examples, demonstrate careful thinking, and of course be thoroughly proofread to eliminate errors.

The exploratory assignment will be evaluated based on its demonstrated comprehension of the two Critical Perspectives, on appropriate and thoughtful connections between those perspectives and the text under consideration, and on its clear-sightedness in coping with the complications of such varied rereadings.

The Phase III Folder should contain the Exploration (with full bibliography), any relevant drafts or notes, an annotation of the text under consideration, and a short Post Script:

Phase IV: The Literary Scholar's Work, Start to Finish (35% total)

In the final third of the course, you will choose a fifth text or set of texts and do a complete scholarly circuit with it/them, building on skills you have already acquired earlier in the course. As part of the initial research component, you will complete a short annotated bibliography; with or without reference to the outside sources you gathered, you will write a final analytical essay; and based on your findings you will give a short oral presentation to inform your peers of the work you have been doing.

Annotated Bibliography: 5%

Having chosen an author, text, period, idea, or other topic to investigate, you will compile an annotated bibliography of 3­5 sources. At least one of those sources should come from the Internet; at least two must be essays in scholarly journals or critical anthologies. Having thoughtfully read and reviewed the sources, you will create a formal annotated bibliography, using standard citation format and providing for each source some standard information about topic, reliability, and applicability.

Christian, Karen. Show and Tell: Identity as Performance in U.S. Latina/o Fiction. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1997.

Final Analytical Essay: 20%

As with the earlier analytical essays, your final essay -- 1000­1500 words -- will be open topic (assuming some reference to a text assigned for this class). You may choose to incorporate or respond to a Critical Perspective covered in class, or to some part thereof. You may choose to incorporate or respond to one or more of the sources you found as part of your research. You may also choose to incorporate no references to outside sources, completing a tightly focused close reading of the text(s). In any case, this essay should acknowledge and respond to possible alternatives, objections, or additions to the argument you present.

There will be no formal draft-and-revision component of this essay assignment; however, opportunities for trial and feedback -- from peers and from the professor -- will be provided, and you will be strongly encouraged to set realistic personal deadlines to enable yourself to take advantage of these opportunities.

This final essay should demonstrate not just the basic analytical essay skills generally expected of literature scholars, but should also demonstrate your own progress as a reader and writer of texts.

The Final Essay Folder should include all four previous essays; any pertinent drafts/notes for this essay; relevant annotations; any comments or suggestions received from peers; and a final Post Script:

Class Presentation: 10%

Since one main purpose of doing literary investigation is to enlighten others about the literature they read, write about, and/or teach, you will present some of your most intriguing findings to the class in a brief (8-12 minute) oral presentation.

Your presentation should pay some attention to each of the following: • Your own reading(s) of the text(s) under consideration: what are the points of contention, clarity, and/or revelation? • Some highlights of your research—what you learned about conducting research on this topic, and/or what your specific sources taught you about the topic • Some connection to other texts, questions, endeavors, or discussions that have been part of the class this semester

Your presentation, like your exploratory assignment, may be considered "informal" in some ways: you will be expected to work from notes rather than a printed script, and to respond throughout the presentation to your peers' questions and expressions of interest; you may use humor and/or non-scholarly references or approaches; you should aim for a relaxed, natural presentation and voice as a way of connecting to your audience; you may include props, handouts, or other surprises; and you may choose honestly to represent both your achievements and your continuing puzzlements or challenges.

Even so, the presentation should be organized; it should have "a point" or a number of points to make; it should be consciously targeted to your peer audience so as to engage and interest them; and it should be rehearsed to reduce errors, wanderings, and timing problems.

Also, your presentation should exhibit the qualities of any successful oral communication: regular eye-contact, variation in spoken tone and rhythm, clarity and sufficient volume of spoken words, a minimum of distracting physical gestures or verbal tics ("um"), and some evidence of actually "making contact" with your audience rather than just pouring information over them.

The grade for the class presentation will be based in part on the information presented and in part on the presentation characteristics as specified above; peer evaluations of the presentation will be considered as part of that grade. Discussions in class and in conferences will provide further information and assistance.

Discussion Starters

For each Discussion Group meeting listed on the syllabus, you will be required to provide a set of Discussion Starters. These should be typed or computer printed (dark enough to make legible copies). Your Questions, Claims, and Connection Thoughts should be numbered and should clearly specify the work or section to which they refer; your name, and the date should appear at the top of the page. It's often helpful to give the line or page number of the most relevant text. Your range of Questions and Claims should cover several of the assigned works.

Discussion Starters will consist of 2-4 questions and 1-2 claims and 1 connection thought about texts that have been assigned since the previous DG meeting. Please bring enough copies for each person in your Discussion Group, plus one for me.

Your Discussion Starters should demonstrate both the breadth and the depth of your reading. Four questions on a single poem or on the first scene of a play will not sufficiently demonstrate this. You do not need to cover everything, but you should range widely. Starters should also show that you've been thinking about the text, even if you don't quite understand it—questions that simply plug in a literary term ("what's the symbolism in line 4?") or go for the most general option ("what does the author mean in her ending?”) need to be expanded and/or specified to receive full credit.

Quizzes: Periodically, a short, open-note, closed-book reading quiz will be given as incentive to keep up with the reading; it also encourages the taking of notes, which will serve you well in other areas of this class. The quiz may cover all assigned texts since the previous quiz. Questions will not expect you to know arcane details, but to have an intelligent response based on a thoughtful reading.

Discussion Starters will be scored on a 10-point scale. Grammatical accuracy will not be a primary criterion; however, repeated and serious errors or sloppy proofreading will inevitably detract from the impact of your ideas, so use some care when preparing the final draft. Late assignments will be penalized (see Space-Time Continuum sheet). Improvement over the semester will work to your benefit.

Prep Quizzes will be worth 5 points each. Latecomers will not receive extra time to complete the quiz. Generally, make-up quizzes for a single absence, excused or not, will not be allowed: quizzes have relatively low grade impact, and the quiz is tied to the DG meeting which is non-make-up-able.

Friday E-Mails

As this course moves further into independent research and into more complex texts, the Friday meeting time will be reserved for individual reading, research, and writing. Yet independent scholars facing difficult texts are often most in need of community support. E-mail is a growing part of the support network for literature study, and we will experiment with its use in supporting and extending our own discussions.

You may post to the ENGFRIDAY list at any time, as often as you wish, concerning any topic that could be construed as relevant to this course. If you generally don't speak much during class time (or you talk frequently but always have more to say), this list can be a forum for you to present your complete ideas to the class community.

However, all students will be required to submit one post for each Independent Friday of the semester (eight in all). Posts may be submitted as early as the Thursday before or as late as the Sunday afternoon after the Friday. Posts may be interpretations, questions (with some background explaining why this question occurred to you), answers to or ruminations about questions, drafts of essay ideas, excerpts of texts or sites you've discovered in your research, and/or more general complaints or celebrations of readings.

Note: Any serious breach of "nettiquette"—personal attacks or "flaming," sending or forwarding of irrelevant messages, forwarding of peers' comments outside the list without their permission, or the use of speech or approaches that otherwise shut down rather than promoting discussion—will result in a significant penalty to the class-participation grade.


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