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Benjamin Miller email: benjamin.miller@hunter.cuny.

edu office hours: TuF 2:30-3:30 and by appointment office: 1238 HW

Introduction to Composition English 120, Section 014 TuF 3:45-5:00 Spring 2010

Table of Contents
Part 1. Course Description Part 2. Welcome Letter Part 3. Grading Contract Introduction For B Grades For Grades Below a B For Grades Above a B Part 4. Official Hunter Policy on Plagiarism Part 5. Available Resources at Hunter The Reading/Writing Center (RWC) The Office of AccessABILITY

Part 1. Course Description
English 120, an introductory expository writing course, has four related goals: Through recursive processes of reading, writing, discussion, and reflection, it teaches students 1) to generate, explore, and refine their own ideas; 2) to analyze and evaluate intellectual arguments; 3) to take positions, develop thesis statements, and support them persuasively; and 4) to proofread for standard acceptable grammar, varied sentence structure, logical organization, and coherence. Our section will be conducted as a hands-on practicum in a large variety of generative and revision techniques, with an emphasis on the relationship between prose style and critical thinking.

Part 2. Welcome Letter
To download the letter as a printable file, see the Readings and Handouts page. re: What To Expect From Our Course Dear readers, students, teachers (all names for the same group of people), Perhaps you know me. I was that kid who used to ask the questions teachers didn't know the answers to, who wanted to peek behind the curtain of their certainty, to know the reasons for

believing things, or doing things. I must have been annoying, I now realize, to those teachers who didn't want me to know they didn't know; perhaps I was annoying to my fellow students, too. But the teachers I learned most from were the ones who inspired me to keep asking, to keep probing: probing, rather than proving. Or perhaps proving in the old sense of testing, or trying, rather than putting behind you. These teachers had either thought out reasons they could help me see, or else they thought things through with me, even when they didn't (yet) have answers. I now believe that the search for reasons is one definition of academia: in college, we're interested in reasons. But for most of school, way into college, even parts of grad school, I had not yet found a teacher who could help me see the reasons that we write so much in school. And so, although I've always loved to read – even now, I am likely to procrastinate from reading by reading – and, although my reading helped me build an ear for sentences that helped me when I'd write, I used to find each essay, paper, in-class writing most of all, an incredibly painful experience. I could handle poems fine, but papers? I preferred exams. I found them easier. Especially the physics or math exams where I could rederive, from basic principles, the formulas I needed. Then a strange thing happened. In a seminar on teaching, I discovered a whole group of people who had dedicated their careers to figuring out the why's and how's of writing. They had been writing back and forth for decades, sharing their discoveries and questions and their reasons for believing what they shared, and what they did. And there were lots of them: lots of questions, but lots of reasons, also. Think about my reasons for this letter, for example. It introduces you to me, to a bit of my history; if I've done my job right, it'll also show you a bit of a "voice on the page," which is something I want each of you to achieve. (Your own voices, not mine, but I'll start where I can.) The letter is also a way to tell you about my goals for the course, my goals for you within the course – and to convince you, I hope, to share those goals with me. What are we up to now, four reasons? Here's five: to figure out, for myself, what my goals for the course really are. Now, this may seem a bit counter-intuitive. Wouldn't I have to know in advance what my goals are, to write them? As it turns out, yes and no. I set out with some vague ideas in mind, but the truth of the matter is that the act of writing helps me turn vague ideas into concrete ones. It's one of the main reasons for writing, I've come to believe: it lets me see what I say, and refine, and revise, and – when I'm lucky, as I find I am more often than I'd have expected – to surprise myself on the page. What I said before about "probing, not proving": I'd never thought of that connection until I saw my fingers typing it. It might have even been a typo, come to think of it: the B and V are adjacent on the keyboard. But I saw it, and it made sense, and I kept it. And in keeping it, I committed to a different vision for the course than I'd been working on for weeks and weeks before. You see, that idea of surprise as the central act – no, act's not right… the central point – of writing is an idea I learned from Donald Murray, whose essay "Writing and Teaching for Surprise" we're going to read together next week. Murray, who passed away a few years ago, was a major figure in the field of study I described above, which is variously referred to as composition theory, composition and rhetoric, rhetoric and composition (which isn't exactly the same), and the more straightforward writing studies. Thinking again about Murray reminded me of my conviction that if I'd known more about writing studies when I was a freshman in college,

I'd have gotten a lot more out of all the writing I was forced to do without knowing the reasons for it. As I see it now, this course will aim to help you surprise yourself through writing, and to probe at what you half-realize and almost-but-don't-quite-know about writing. Our methods for achieving these aims will be informed by not only the conclusions, but also the questions and debates within Writing Studies. Along the way, we'll also take in the goals of every section of English 120:
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Write in standard English prose, observing the conventions of grammar and spelling. Employ diction appropriate to the audience and free of jargon and clichés. Make effective use of instructor and peer critiques. Revise and edit early drafts in light of critiques. Proofread written work. Develop analytic reading and research skills. Write essays and develop presentations that express a clear thesis, reflect clear thinking, and signal orderly progression of thought with smooth and logical transitions. Produce papers that incorporate and integrate ideas from others and that use substantiating evidence effectively. Identify all sources with proper attribution. Create a final research or scholarly paper employing an acceptable format for citation and documentation and that meets standard academic and specific course requirements.

Sorry about the policy-speak there; it does have to come in sometimes (cf. my note about plagiarism a little later), but I'll try to keep it to a minimum. Over the next fifteen weeks, you will write through several exercises designed to help you achieve these goals. Some of these exercises will accumulate into a series of larger, more consciously revised and shaped pieces: one story, two essays, and a reflective letter, in all of which a key objective will be to reach a new insight or understanding – some new idea that you and the rest of us will be excited to read. Other exercises will help you develop concrete writing and reading skills, skills which I hope will help you not only with your work for this course, but with other writing and reading you'll do beyond this class. Your final project for this class will be to assemble a portfolio from among your written work, demonstrating your awareness of what you've accomplished and how you might accomplish more in the future. We'll also be reading and discussing (and, yes, writing back to) a number of different kinds of texts: our "official" textbook, They Say / I Say, which provides a focused set of writerly tools, as well as rationales for why they're worth using; several published articles and chapters from the world of Composition and Rhetoric, which will serve as both models and instigations for your own further thinking and reading; and the "text" of your own lived experience as readers and writers, which is what the study of Comp/Rhet is largely about. I may also bring in the occasional poem, excerpt, handout, or other artifact from my textual travels, as the day-to-day suggests them, and I encourage you to do so, as well. In addition, you'll have the Pocket Style Manual, which is a slim reference for questions of punctuation, grammar, and documentation. While I put a lot of stock in reasoned intuition for these matters, a lot of things are conventional, meaning there's a lot of historical weight behind certain choices that may or may not agree with what you expect. So a manual is good to have,

especially when you're just not sure. If I notice that your choices consistently disagree with convention, I may point you towards a section in the PSM. Finally, I’d like you to get in the habit of rereading your own work, updating it as time and desire dictate, but mostly reflecting on the processes you use to create your products. Assessment is more than a grade, and it begins at home. Assess the differences between what you intended and what emerged, between what is there and what could be there. Treat everything as a potential source of revelation, and more will be revealed. Grades; right. I've said the word, and now you're wondering. Attached to this letter is a four-page packet, spelling out (in perhaps too-explicit language) what I'll be basing your grades on. Essentially, what I've done there is list out a regime of writing-related practices and habits that I think are the most likely route to improving your writing, and to achieving the bold-faced aims above. (Most of them are pretty straightforward; we can talk a little later today and on Tuesday about the more surprising or weird ones.) To get a B in the course, all you have to do is try them, consistently. Just trust in the process, and look for surprise, and you'll be surprised how much you can find. And if your written products are also excellent – as measured in the final portfolio, not before, so you're really being judged on your best work – then you'll get an A. And that's it. There's no curve; you're not competing with anyone else for a limited number of slots. Be yourself. Then be more than yourself. Isn't that, after all, why you're here? Excitedly, Benjamin Miller (call me Ben)

Part 3. Grading Contract
To download the contract as a printable file, click here.
Introduction

As composition theorist Peter Elbow1 has written in a number of places (see especially his “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking”2), grades are a surprisingly crude way of measuring or producing learning: they reduce complex phenomena to a single letter or number, and thus obscure the differences between, say, proofreading skills and ability to support an argument. Some teachers might try to get around this by assigning percentages of their grades to particular skill-sets, but I find I can’t know, in advance, what any one of you will need to work on: I want to be free to give more targeted feedback, and set more targeted goals, than any pre-set percentage allows me to do. As I see it, you each are here to become better than yourself, not better than anyone else. Grades distract from that, and distract from the particular reactions and suggestions that can help you improve.

So to shift our attention away from grading -– and therefore toward thoughtful assessment -– I’m going to cut you a deal. If you fulfill all the terms of the contract below, I will guarantee that your grade is no lower than B. If your work is consistently excellent, it can go up from there; if you can’t complete all of the terms of the contract, your grade may go down. As you read, you’ll notice that these B-level expectations are based on concrete, observable behaviors, not subjective judgments of quality. No matter where you start out, the playing field is level. Moreover, because the contract is based on good writing processes, not on mastery of skills, you can focus on a few manageable goals at a time, rather than feeling pressure to master everything at once. I hope you take this as an opportunity to experiment, to take risks in your writing, and to trust that you will learn something in the process: even if you try a new writing-move and fail, you can (in the words of Samuel Beckett) "fail better" next time, without being penalized. Please print this out (if you haven't already), then initial each item below to signal you've read it, and sign at the very end. A signed contract will be due within the first week of classes.

For B Grades

To earn a B for this course, you must: 1. Engage actively during every class period, and use classroom time productively. Everyone has an off day from time to time, but for nearly every class meeting, to the best of your ability, your brain should be working from 3:45 to 5:00. Note that this means you must also be consistently prepared for class: complete and annotate the required reading, print and bring any required texts, and bring your notebook and whatever drafts, revisions, or research you'll need. . 2. Participate actively during every workshop, and push yourself to provide your class- and group-mates with consistently thorough, thoughtful, helpful feedback. You should help your group-mates to become better writers throughout the semester. Taking their work seriously enough to think hard about how it can be improved is crucial for your success, and theirs, in this course. Note that this is not just about praise or criticism: ask questions, make connections, explore possibilities. . 3. Work with your group-mates to complete group assignments and exercises, to the satisfaction of everyone in the group. Divide group assignments and time fairly, and complete, on time, all the work you agree to take on for your group. Note that this also means demanding satisfaction from your group mates: if one of you is slacking off, the whole group suffers. Let that person know. . 4. For every assignment, produce substantial, thoughtful writing that follows the guidelines in the prompt – including deadlines. . 5. Revise thoroughly and thoughtfully after every workshop. Thoughtful revision means substantially clarifying your ideas, reorganizing your argument, rethinking your claims,

strengthening your evidence, deepening your research, adjusting your style, or/and reimagining your relationship to your audience. (Proofreading and swapping out individual words, while they can be important, are not what I'm talking about here.) Even if you have not received thorough feedback during a workshop, make at least one substantial revision before the next workshop and before turning in the final draft. . 6. Use the feedback provided by your instructor and your group-mates to improve your writing. You do not have to make every change suggested by your readers, of course, because your writing is yours, and after all, readers will sometimes disagree. But you must take all feedback seriously, and your drafts should show evidence of your careful consideration of your readers’ suggestions: if a reader is confused or has an objection, don't ignore it, but instead try to clear up the confusion or incorporate and respond to the objection. We'll talk about ways of doing this, especially in connection with chapter 6 of They Say / I Say. . 7. When turning in final drafts and subsequent revisions (as well as for any earlier draft on which it feels appropriate to you), attach a brief note explaining what in particular you were trying to achieve in that draft. E.g. were there particular reader comments you were trying to address? A sentence or paragraph style you were trying to emulate? I'll distribute a handout with some more suggestions, and a fuller explanation, for this recurring exercise. . 8. Proofread final drafts to eliminate distracting surface errors and typos. Final drafts do not have to be perfect, but you should learn any grammar rules that consistently cause you trouble, by talking with a classmate, using your Pocket Style Manual, and/or through meetings with me and the Reading/Writing Center staff. . 9. Attend all scheduled conferences with me and your Reading/Writing Center Consultant (if applicable), and come prepared to use the conference time productively. If I indicate on a draft that I would like you to schedule an appointment to talk with me, do so within the week. . 10. Avoid plagiarism by (a) taking careful notes to help you distinguish between your own ideas and language and those you have borrowed from sources; (b) being generous about attributing and citing those whose work has influenced your own, i.e. by attempting to cite all sources correctly, even in first drafts; (c) mastering citation conventions and citing all sources correctly in all final drafts; and (d) never attempting to disguise another’s work as your own, never purchasing essays online, and never engaging in any other act of academic dishonesty. This is a collaborative class, in which we offer each other suggestions and constructive criticism. However, the goal of all this collaboration is to clarify the expression of original ideas -– never to substitute someone else's ideas for our own, or to impose our ideas on someone else. .

11. Show respect for your classmates and your instructor. This includes using respectful language, taking each others’ ideas seriously, and refraining from distracting behaviors, such as falling asleep, reading the Metro, or checking text messages during class. Ensure that your cell phone doesn't ring during class. . 12. Be consistently on time for class, and be absent very rarely. Three latenesses equal one absence. Being more than 20 minutes late for class counts as an absence (though you're still always welcome to come in, quietly). Six absences throughout the semester, three absences during any one unit, or missing any day when your work is scheduled to be workshopped will break the contract. Missing more than seven classes (¼ of the classes for the term) will result in a grade of WU (Unofficial Withdrawal). . 13. Submit a complete, fully revised Portfolio that meets all outlined requirements by the due date. If you fulfill all of these expectations, you are guaranteed a grade of at least a B for the course. I will do my best to keep you informed and afloat with regard to your successful participation. If you are ever in doubt about your contractual status, please feel free to send me an email and/or drop by my office hours.

For Grades Below a B

If you break the contract, your contracted grade for the course will be lowered as follows:

For minor breaches (e.g. excessive latenesses, failure to participate in full-class discussion, or a missing non-essay-related homework, etc): in each Unit, I will permit you one “Mulligan” – one minor misstep that will not break the contract. But two minor breaches during any Unit will lower your contracted grade to a B–; two minor breaches during the next Unit, and your contract grade will be lowered further to a C+, and so on. These lowered grades can still be improved by an exceptionally strong portfolio. . For major breaches (e.g. missing a scheduled conference or workshop, failing to provide thoughtful peer feedback, or failing to turn in or revise an essay): no Mulligans; your contracted grade will immediately be lowered to a B– after the first major breach, C+ after the second, and so on. These lowered grades can still be improved by an exceptionally strong portfolio.

Again, I will do my best to keep you informed and afloat with regard to behaviors that threaten to break the contract: my goal is to keep everyone engaged, active, and learning. If you are ever in doubt about your contractual status, please feel free to send me an email or drop by my office hours.

For Grades Above a B

As mentioned above, grades up to and including B are based purely on behaviors, which is to say on process; for grades above a B, you must demonstrate Excellence and Quality in your final written products. While these terms are, unavoidably, rather fuzzy, in my defense I can say only this: First, most grades in writing are arbitrary, and at least by using the contract above I'm doing my best to limit and control the arbitrariness. Second, I promise to do my very best to articulate, in particular instances, what I think would most help the work in question achieve Excellence and Quality. One of the characteristics of such writing is that it tends to stand out as its own self, original and often surprising, and it is therefore far harder to give guidance in general terms. Still, certain approaches are more likely to move you in that direction (though, again, a given essay written with these processes won’t always succeed as a product):

Begin from perplexity. Motivate each essay with a genuine question, or felt itch, that you legitimately want to puzzle through. In other words, don't tell me something you already know, like "honesty is often the best policy" or "reading books helps you learn a language"; start with something you know about, but don't yet understand. . Proceed by thinking. This may seem obvious, but it's actually hard: having found a motivating question or puzzle, write so as to think your way toward greater understanding. Make some intellectual gears turn; you should know more by the end of the process than you did at the beginning. It's fine for a B to say that 1 + 2 + 3 = 2 + 3 + 1. But to get above the B, aim for 1 + 2 + 3 = 6. . Resound with grace. The best essays will not only hold together, but take pleasure in their own unfolding language, balancing economy and precision of diction with rhetorical prowess and poise. The fuzziest criterion of them all, but throughout the term, let's all resolve to point out examples of graceful writing when we see it.

If your work is trending towards a better-than-B portfolio, I will do my best to let you know where you've leveled up over that line, so you can try to recapture and consolidate whatever was working so well. (Don't worry, I'll keep giving suggestions for where you can improve, as well, because I believe that even the best of us can.) Once more, should you ever find yourself in doubt about your contractual status – whether your work is satisfactory for a B, unsatisfactory for a B, or excelling beyond the B-level, please feel free to send me an email, drop by my office hours, or even to set up a conference at a better time.

Once again, if you haven't already, please print this out, then initial, sign, and turn in to Ben. A signed contract will be due within the first week of classes.

Part 4. Official Hunter Policy on Plagiarism
This is a collaborative class, in which we offer each other suggestions and constructive criticism. However, the goal of all this collaboration is to clarify the expression of original ideas – never to substitute someone else's ideas for our own, or to impose our ideas on someone else.

To misrepresent the origins of an idea is plagiarism, and it will not be tolerated. If you want to cite an outside source, there are ways of giving credit to the original author; section 32 of the Pocket Style Manual presents one standard method of documenting sources. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask, because Hunter takes a very hard stance on plagiarism. It could get you expelled. Here's an excerpt from the CUNY Policy on Academic Integrity, to give you the flavor:
Academic Dishonesty is prohibited in The City University of New York and is punishable by penalties, including failing grades, suspension and expulsion, as provided herein. […] Plagiarism is the act of presenting another person's ideas, research, or writings as your own. The following are some examples of plagiarism, but by no means is it an exhaustive list:

   

Copying another person's actual words without the use of quotation marks and footnotes attributing the words to their source. Presenting another person's ideas or theories in your own words without acknowledging the source. Using information that is not common knowledge without acknowledging the source. Failing to acknowledge collaborators on homework and laboratory assignments.

Internet plagiarism includes submitting downloaded term papers or parts of term papers, paraphrasing or copying information from the internet without citing the source and "cutting & pasting" from various sources without proper attribution.

Hunter College regards acts of academic dishonesty (e.g., plagiarism, cheating on examinations, obtaining unfair advantage, and falsification of records and official documents) as serious offenses against the values of intellectual honesty. The College is committed to enforcing the CUNY Policy on Academic Integrity and will pursue cases of academic dishonesty according to the Hunter College Academic Integrity Procedures. All cases of deliberate plagiarism will be referred to the appropriate Dean for disciplinary action.

Part 5. Available Resources at Hunter
The Reading/Writing Center (RWC)

The Hunter College Reading/Writing Center is a comprehensive service for the entire college community offering tutoring and computer-assisted instruction to students and technical support and development to faculty and staff. The Reading/Writing Center offers tutorial assistance, free of charge, to all registered students of the college. Tutors are undergraduate and graduate students from a variety of majors, trained to help you develop your reading and writing skills. The Center will not interpret texts for you, nor will tutors write, type, or correct papers. Tutors will help you develop a reading-writing process you can use to improve your skills and negotiate the requirements of academic reading and writing.

As a student, you may use the Center in several ways:

  

Register for a regular appointment to meet with a tutor for an hour, once a week throughout the whole semester. Usually, you will be paired with another student who is enrolled in the same course.3 Drop in to work with a tutor during scheduled drop-in hours when tutors are available to meet with you on a first-come, first-served basis. See schedule below for drop-in times. Attend workshops on various aspects of critical reading and writing. Workshop topics and schedules are posted periodically throughout each semester. Use computer terminals in the Center with access to CUNY Plus and to the Reading/Writing Center web page at http://rwc.hunter.cuny.edu where you can directly access Reading/Writing Center handouts, view current workshop schedules, obtain information on the CPE and ACT exams, and link to a variety of writing resources on the Web. Use the Center's library of books during the hours the Center is open. The Center does not lend books; however, they have an extensive file of handouts which are available for you to take away.

You will learn the most if you use the Center at each stage of your writing process. Work with a tutor to clarify an assignment, to generate material, to review a draft for organization and development, and to learn how to proofread. The Reading/Writing Center is located in Room 416, Thomas Hunter Building. Our tutoring schedule is as follows: TUTORING HOURS Monday through Thursday 10 A.M. to 8 P.M. Friday and Saturday 10 A.M. to 4 P.M.

The Office of AccessABILITY

In compliance with the American Disability Act of 1990 (ADA) and with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Hunter College is committed to ensuring educational parity and accommodations for all students with documented disabilities and/or medical conditions. It is recommended that all students with documented disabilities (Emotional, Medical, Physical and/or Learning) consult the Office of AccessABILITY located in Room E1124 to secure necessary academic accommodations. For further information and assistance please call 212772-4857 / TTY 212-650-3230.

Endnotes 1. This grading contract, including some of the language, has been adapted from Danielewicz, Jane and Peter Elbow. "A Unilateral Grading Contract to Improve Learning and Teaching." College Composition and Communication 61.2 (December 2009): 244-268, as well as the online appendix to that article (see their note 1). The contracts and rationales published there were made available for the purposes of such adaptation.

2. Elbow, Peter. “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting out Three Forms of Judgment.” College English 55.2 (1993): 187-206. 3. NB: These slots are first-come, first-served, and tend to fill up quickly. If you would like to schedule a recurring meeting, I recommend signing up during the first week or two of the semester.