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writing in and about school
Benjamin Miller EngCmp 0207, Section 10917
email: Fall 2015, TuTh 4:00–5:15pm
office: Cathedral of Learning 617-N class location: CL 129 (Lithuanian Room)
office hours: TuTh 2:30-3:30pm, or by appointment

Our course website:
All this information and more is posted there. Please sign up as soon as you can!

Table of Contents
I. Course Description
II. Required Textbooks
III. Course Outcomes and Responsibilities
IV. Welcome Letter
V. Avoiding Plagiarism
VI. Available Resources at Pitt
The Writing Center
Special Assistance
VII. Class-by-Class Schedule
VIII. Grading Contract
For B Grades
For Grades Below a B
For Grades Above a B

Like other Seminars in Composition, this introductory course offers students opportunities to
improve as writers by developing their understanding of how they and others use writing to
interpret and share experience, affect behavior, and position themselves in the world. This
particular seminar will include readings that consider issues of teaching and learning in
American education, and for this reason may be of special interest to students who plan to
become teachers. As a step toward college-level critical literacy, the course is designed to help
student writers become more engaged, imaginative, and disciplined composers, better equipped
to handle complex subjects thoughtfully and to use sources responsibly. This section will require
at least one crafted composition or revision per week, as well as participation in class discussion
about writing and education.
Miller 2015 Fall Syllabus – page 2

Please obtain the following two required textbooks, which have been ordered at the University

Graff, Gerald, and Cathy Birkenstein. “They Say / I Say”: The Moves That Matter in Academic
Writing. Third edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014. Print.
A small and light textbook, TSIS provides templates (fill-in-the-blank guidelines) and rationales
for such fundamental tasks as summary, quotation, agreement, disagreement, and acknowledgment
of / response to counterarguments. A good nuts-and-bolts primer, we will draw on it both for
standard templates and as inspiration to derive templates of our own, for which this book would
provide useful background.

Important Note: You do not need the anthology. Buy the slim book with the charcoal cover; save
money and weight.

Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. A Pocket Style Manual. 7th edition. Boston: Bedford/St.
Martin’s, 2014. Print.

A light-weight and easy-to-use style guide, PSM contains advice and guidelines for sentence
construction and grammar, as well as extensive references for citation and documentation
standards in several academic fields.

Because questions about conventions of grammar and style will likely come up frequently, and
because the books weigh so little, please bring both with you to every class meeting.

If you don't have a thorough, comprehensive dictionary for use off-line, I recommend Merriam-
Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. And for greater historical depth, the Pitt Libraries provide
online access to the fun and inexhaustible Oxford English Dictionary. (See links to Library
Databases at the bottom of the left-side navigation bar of the website.)

In addition, I recommend but do not require the following:

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. 3rd
edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

CR contains a surprisingly good presentation of techniques, not only for conducting library
research, but also for developing and defending claims and theses, and even for revising sentences
and paragraphs for clarity. Some exercises may be derived from this book, so anyone desiring a
fuller background and explanation will find it useful.

Bishop, Wendy, ed. Acts of Revision: A Guide for Writers. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook
Heinemann, 2004. Print.

Bishop, a long-time champion of connecting creative writing with academic writing, assembles
here a collection of essays both practical and theoretical (often at the same time) on revision –
which is to say, on writing. I will doubtless be distributing at least one of these essays during the
semester, but all are worthwhile.
Miller 2015 Fall Syllabus – page 3

Finally, you will be responsible for locating, printing (if online), and reading additional relevant
texts using the library database system (again, see links at lower left of the website). I and Pitt’s
reference librarians will happily assist you in this process.

Students in this course will:

 write frequently, building a habit of reading and writing as reciprocal activities;
 respond orally and in writing to the ideas in scholarly texts about writing and pedagogy;
 respond orally and in writing to the ideas in their peers’ texts;
 revise in response to their own reflections and feedback from peers and the teacher;
 use a variety of sentence structures to revise for emphasis and coherence;
 distinguish between the content and structure of sentences and larger textual units, even
while they recognize that structure shapes our perception of content;
 develop fluency in online composing through participation in the course wiki website;
 complete a portfolio containing, at a minimum, three extended shaped pieces, one set of
drafts, and an introductory reflection.

As the teacher in this course, I will:
 respond orally and in writing to students’ ideas and the ideas of scholars;
 provide a large number of exercises for generating text, re-chunking how texts are
perceived, and revising texts;
 discuss with students rationales for what each exercise is designed to do, and why it
ought to work;
 encourage students to retry earlier exercises in later contexts, to support the development
of mastery;
 choose academic articles that balance accessibility for novices with constructive
challenges that allow for learning;
 provide background context and guidance in understanding difficult texts;
 structure in-class time, especially time spent working in small peer groups, so there is
meaningful work to be done (even if we finish early or run out of time);
 build in flexibility to per-class and semester-long schedules, recognizing that the
complexity of writing means insights and lessons do not follow a linear order of
development, but leap from teachable moment to teachable moment;
 provide a detailed grading contract that outlines criteria for success in the course, and
communicate with students about their successes, failures, and possibilities.
Miller 2015 Fall Syllabus – page 4

Dear students, teachers, readers, writers (all names for the same group of people),


Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found the policy-talk of the first day of

class kind of tedious. Those endless syllabi, with their imperative tones: do this, and this, and

this, and don’t do that, or else. I’ve written my fair share of them, and I’ve seen far more… and

most of what I saw as a student, I forgot. They were impersonal: they spoke (at length!) but not

to me, and only rarely did the words themselves seem to be coming from any particular person.

So I've started writing letters instead, to tell you about the course and what I'm thinking:

that I'm thinking, that I'm thinking about you and your needs, when I haven't even met you yet.

And yet, isn't that what writing always is, at least at some level? Writing to an audience that you

imagine, but don't quite know? Often, we write because we anticipate multiple audiences; what

we write we write not only to reach our readers, but to create them: to craft within actual readers

some version or aspect of the ideal we've imagined. And when we test it on people, we learn a

little bit more about how to imagine.

On at least one level, that's the heart of this class: to try things out on each other in

writing; to play with effects, and so become more effective. And when I say play, I do mean it –

for me, there's nothing more essential than looking for fun, nothing more likely to end in a block

than believing that everything rides on the outcome.

To help carve out some safe space for exploration, I’ve set up a grading policy for this

course that guarantees you a minimum grade of B – a course grade, not a grade on any one paper

– if you consistently engage with all the exercises in the class. 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
Miller 2015 Fall Syllabus – page 5

think are the most likely route to improving your writing, and to achieving the course outcomes.

(Most of them are pretty straightforward; we can talk a little later today and on Thursday 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.

I’m not saying it’ll be easy; there’ll be some reading and some writing due just about

every time we meet, and sometimes during class, as well. But if it were too easy, if you just had

to show up? What’s the fun in that?

On another level, the course is about learning to write in college, which brings a new set

of demands, expectations, and opportunities for discovery. The course is called Seminar in

Composition, and I hope we’ll get a chance to unpack both of those words before too long – and

to think about why this course is required, both here at Pitt and, in other guises, at most colleges

across the country. For now, I want to think about the common goals that are shared by all of

Pitt’s manymany sections of SC, even as the readings and assignments vary from section to

section. Students taking any Seminar in Composition will do four things:

1. Engage in composing as a creative, disciplined form of critical inquiry.
In this course, you’ll compose as a way to generate ideas as well as explain them. You’ll
form questions, explore problems, and examine your own experiences, thoughts, and
observations. Investigating a multifaceted subject, you’ll be expected to make productive
use of uncertainty as you participate in sustained scrutiny of the issues at hand.

2. Compose thoughtfully crafted essays that position your ideas among other views.
In response to reading, listening to, and discussing challenging texts, you’ll compose
essays in which you develop informed positions that engage with the positions of others.
You’ll analyze as well as summarize the texts you read, and you’ll compose essays that
pay close attention both to the ideas voiced by other writers and to specific choices they
Miller 2015 Fall Syllabus – page 6

make with language and form.

3. Compose with precision, nuance, and awareness of formal conventions.
You’ll work on crafting clear, precise prose that uses a variety of sentence and paragraph
structures. You’ll be required to learn the conventions for quoting and paraphrasing
responsibly and adeptly, and you’ll be assisted with editing strategies that reflect
attention to the relation between style and meaning. You’ll also have opportunities to
consider when and how to challenge conventions as well as follow them.

4. Revise your writing by rethinking the assumptions, aims, and effects of prior drafts.
This course approaches the essay as a flexible genre that takes on different forms in
different contexts — not (only) as a thesis‐driven argument that adheres to a rigid
structure. Much class time will be devoted to considering the purpose, logic, and design
of your own compositions, and you’ll be given opportunities to revise your work in light
of comments and class discussion, with the aim of making more attentive decisions.

So those are SC’s shared set of goals – but they leave a lot of different ways to get there, not only

across the campus but also for the 20 of us sitting around this room. The throughline, for our

section, will be a set of questions that we’ll pursue across the semester: Why do we write? And,

because this is SC: Education, Why do we write in school?

I mean, I’m sure you’ve noticed it, right? The writing? It comes up everywhere these

days, from history to math to physics to nursing to – look, whatever your major is, you’re going

to be writing, and often. Probably you already had to do a lot of writing in high school just to get

here. So what’s up with that? What are all these teachers and professors (and bosses) trying to

get you to do by putting all these words together?

As it turns out, rather a lot of things. But you don’t have to brainstorm answers on your

own, though it’s not a bad place to start. When I say you’ll “position your views among others,”

I mean (in part) that we’ll be reading published articles from scholars who have dedicated their

careers to these questions, scholars in a field known variously as Composition, or Composition

and Rhetoric, or Rhetoric and Composition (a subtle distinction, but palpable to some of us), or

Writing Studies. My first introduction to this work was in grad school, and I was almost angry:
Miller 2015 Fall Syllabus – page 7

why had no one told me this before? I’d struggled with writer’s block my whole life, waited in

frustration for my freshman writing class to just teach me to write, and no one had taken the time

to explain that when you’re freewriting, when they say to “silence your inner editor,” they expect

95% of what you produce to be crap. It’s the 5% non-crap that makes the exercise worthwhile.

Why had no one told me that?

I want to say up-front that this class will not teach you The One Way To Write, or even

The One Way To Write For A College Course. It can’t. The situations are too varied, the goals

and audiences and assumptions change, your level of expertise changes as you move from one

place to the next. But what it can teach you, what I hope you will learn, are ways to deal with

that uncertainty; a repertoire of options to draw on, and questions to ask as you move through a

complex set of processes that we sum up, saying “writing.” If we can do that, you’ll be in good

shape to teach yourselves the rest.

Over the next fifteen weeks, you will write through several low-stakes exercises, doing

some writing or reading for and in just about every class. Some of these exercises will

accumulate into a series of larger, more consciously revised and shaped pieces: one story and

three essays, in all of which a key objective will be to reach 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
Miller 2015 Fall Syllabus – page 8

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. 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.

Be yourself. Then be more than yourself. Isn't that, after all, why you're here?


Benjamin Miller

(please call me Ben)
Miller 2015 Fall Syllabus – page 9


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 33 of the Pocket Style Manual presents one standard method of documenting sources,
and the English department has some useful resources at

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask, because Pitt takes a very hard stance on
plagiarism. It could get you expelled. Here's an excerpt from the official Policy on Academic
Integrity, to give you the flavor:

Cheating/plagiarism will not be tolerated. Students suspected of violating the University of Pittsburgh Policy
on Academic Integrity, from the February 1974 Senate Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom
reported to the Senate Council, will be required to participate in the outlined procedural process as initiated
by the instructor. A minimum sanction of a zero score for the quiz or exam will be imposed.

A student has an obligation to exhibit honesty and to respect the ethical standards of the profession in
carrying out his or her academic assignments. Without limiting the application of this principle, a student
may be found to have violated this obligation if he or she: […]

8. Depends on the aid of others in a manner expressly prohibited by the faculty member, in the research,
preparation, creation, writing, performing, or publication of work to be submitted for academic credit or
9. Provides aid to another person, knowing such aid is expressly prohibited by the faculty member, in the
research, preparation, creation, writing, performing, or publication of work to be submitted for
academic credit or evaluation.
10. Presents as one's own, for academic evaluation, the ideas, representations, or words of another person or
persons without customary and proper acknowledgment of sources.
11. Submits the work of another person in a manner which represents the work to be one's own.
12. Knowingly permits one's work to be submitted by another person without the faculty member's

You have the right to a fair hearing, and I’ll talk to you before I talk to anyone else, but it’s far
easier just to avoid plagiarism in the first place. All clear cases of deliberate plagiarism will be
referred to the appropriate Dean for disciplinary action, including an Academic Integrity Board
hearing. For the University's full policy on Academic Integrity and the adjudication process for
infringements, including plagiarism, go to
Miller 2015 Fall Syllabus – page 10


The Writing Center
The Writing Center, located at 317B O'Hara Student Center, is an excellent resource for working
with an experienced consultant on your writing. Although you should not expect consultants to
“correct” your paper for you, they can assist you in learning to organize, revise, and edit your
work. Consultants can work with you on a one-time basis or throughout the term. In some cases,
I may require that you go to the Writing Center for help on a particular problem; otherwise, you
can decide on your own to seek assistance. To make an appointment, come to the Writing Center
or call 412-624-6556. For more information, including answers to frequently asked questions,

Disability Resources
If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are
encouraged to contact both your instructor and the Office of Disability Resources and Services,
140 William Pitt Union, 412-648-7890 / 412-624-3346 (Fax), as early as possible in the term.
Disability Resources and Services will verify your disability and determine reasonable
accommodations for this course. For more information, visit

Counseling Services
Pitt also offers free counseling for students who are experiencing personal or emotional
difficulties. The Counseling Center, located on the 2nd Floor Nordenberg Hall, offers
Psychological Services and Sexual Assault Services (412-648-7930) (8:30 am-5:00 pm,
Monday-Friday) or (412-648-7856) (after 5 pm, Monday-Friday or on weekends). For more
information, see
Miller 2015 Fall Syllabus – page 11


The following schedule is just a preview; the full and most up-to-date version will be posted on the course
wiki (, including more detailed explanations of each homework assignment
and full lesson plans with space for collaborative notes. This gives me more flexibility to adapt the specifics
to our needs as a reading and writing community.

Assignments are listed (as HW) on the day they are assigned, and are due to the discussion board at 10pm
the night before the following class meeting, unless otherwise specified. You should in general also bring a
copy to class, so that we have access to it for in-class discussion and/or revisions.

Unit I: Building on What We Know
In this first unit, we’ll introduce and practice moves that will become our constant companions when engaging in
academic work: inkshedding, reflection, active listening and reading, and attending to structures. The major writing
project for this unit is a narrative, exhibiting a moment in your life that we can examine to better understand what it
means to “be a writer” or to “teach writing.”

 Lesson 1, Tues 9/1 - Course introduction: The Writers in the Room
o HW: Join the wiki; create a writer-by-writer-archive page for yourself; buy textbooks; read
syllabus and come in with questions/suggestions
 Lesson 2, Thurs 9/3 - In-class essay ("diagnostic"); Genre
o HW: Predict and annotate the two short pieces by Jenkins ("Accordions, Frogs, and the 5-
Paragraph Theme") and White ("My Five-Paragraph-Theme Theme"). (See lesson plan.)

 Lesson 3, Tues 9/8 - Active Listening: engaging the almost-said
o HW: Read TSIS Introduction and chapter 1 (pp. 1-27); do exercise 2 on page 14 (summary-
and-response to the Introduction).
 Lesson 4, Thurs 9/10 - Templates and Templatizing
o HW: Read Kathleen Blake Yancey's "On Reflection," focusing on pp. 1-15; choice of active
reading strategies (see lesson plan)

 Lesson 5, Tues 9/15 - Writing to Render, Writing to Reflect; Shaped Piece #1 assigned
o HW: Revise the scene you wrote today; engage the senses.
o HW: Sign up for/attend conferences with Ben (Thurs 9/17 or Tues 9/22)
 Lesson 6, Thurs 9/17 - Workshop; Finding the Hidden They Say
o HW: Read Peter Elbow's "Reflections on Academic Discourse", and re-read Yancey's "On
Reflection." Lens writing (see lesson plan).

Unit II: Entering the Burkean Parlor: Academic Conversation
Why do we write at all? In particular, why do we write in "the academy," and what, therefore, are we
learning when we study "academic writing"? What is at stake when we teach it, and whose goals does it (or
should it) serve? In this second unit, we'll step into a decades-long debate around these questions. In the
process, we’ll examine not only the answers these authors ask, but also consider issues of genre, evidence,
and authority in the crafting of academic arguments. The major writing project for this unit is a source-
based essay connecting writing that renders with writing that explains in order to advance some claim about
writing and education, and to defend your claim with evidence.
Miller 2015 Fall Syllabus – page 12

 No class Tues 9/22 because of Yom Kippur. Conferences will be held earlier in the day.
 Lesson 7, Thurs 9/24 - Academic Conversation
o HW: Read TSIS chapter 4 AND David Bartholomae's "Writing with Teachers". Begin work
on Shaped Piece 2 (first draft due in one week).

 Lesson 8, Tues 9/29 - What is an essay?
o HW: Re-read and practice essaying moves to turn in first draft of SP 2.
 Lesson 9, Thurs 10/1 - Writer's Choice
o HW: read partners' drafts and write a letter to one group member (see lesson plan). ALSO:
email Ben any questions you have related to the course material / writing. Could be wide-

 Lesson 10, Tues 10/6 - Workshop
o HW: Read TSIS chapters 2-3; vote on questions to pursue.
 Lesson 11, Thurs 10/8 - t.b.d. based on questions
o HW: Read [[[readings-and-handouts#bishop |Wendy Bishop's "Revising Out and Revising
In." Choose 1-3 of her revision suggestions to bring in a revised second draft of SP 2.

 Lesson 12, Tues 10/13 - Workshop
o HW: Incorporate or otherwise respond to suggestions from today's feedback. Sign up for a
mid-term conference
 Lesson 13, Thurs 10/15 - t.b.d. based on questions
o HW: "final" versions of SP 1 and SP 2 plus Reflection due 10pm before Thursday,
10/22. Read TSIS chapter 5, and choose another revision strategy to keep working on SP 1
and SP 2.

 No class: Pitt follows a Monday schedule
 Lesson 14, Thurs 10/22 - Discuss reflections. Think about open questions.
o HW: attend mid-term conferences

Unit III: Widening the Conversation, a.k.a. Essaying as Questing

Thus far, all the source material we’ve engaged with has been assigned or found within your own head. In
this unit, you’ll follow your interests outward to new material, using library resources, interviews, or direct
observation to answer a question of your own choosing about writing and education. The major writing
assignment in this unit is a source-based essay much like the one you completed in Unit II, now
supplemented by your own research.

 Lesson 15, Tues 10/27 - SP#3 introduced; Perl Guidelines for Composing
o HW: Have a happy Thanksgiving! Look for exhibits and arguments that stick to your felt
sense of your question. Come back ready to say what your research question is.
 No class Thurs 10/29: Thanksgiving

 Lesson 16, Tues 11/3 - There are questions everywhere
o HW: Research topic/question reflection (see lesson plan)
Miller 2015 Fall Syllabus – page 13

 Lesson 17, Thurs 11/5 - Research Strategies
Class meets in library; exact location t.b.d.
o HW: Begin research proposal, due in conferences during the week of 11/10-11/12

 Lesson 18, Tues 11/10 - Research day. Knowing and wanting to know.
Class meets in computer lab; exact location t.b.d.
o HW: Finish research proposal, move toward research report / annotated bibliography
 Lesson 19, Thurs 11/12 - t.b.d. based on questions
o HW: Research report / annotated bibliography. First draft of SP 3 due 10pm before Thurs,

 Lesson 20, Tues 11/17 - Pooling resources
o HW: Four paragraphs exercise (see lesson plan)
 Lesson 21, Thurs 11/19 - Naysayers: Revisiting Assumptions
o HW: Read TSIS 6, then write "the Turn" (see lesson plan)

 Lesson 22, Tues 11/24 - Workshop: Rotational Writing
o HW: Read TSIS 5 and continue (re)reading and writing for SP 3; final due in 1.5 weeks
 Lesson 23, Thurs 11/26 – t.b.d. based on questions
o HW: Choose another revision strategy to try as you continue revising SP 3.

 Lesson 24, Tues 12/1 - Writing alone together
o HW: "final" version of SP 3 and reflection Thursday

Unit IV: Looking Back, Looking Forward

As we head into the final weeks of the course, your major writing project will be to complete a final portfolio,
demonstrating the degree to which you have met the course's objectives and your own: that is, you will
demonstrate both to yourselves and to me what you have learned that you will take with you to other courses
and beyond. The capstone for the portfolio is a reflective introductory essay, in which you will draw on the
theorists you have read, and analyze the products of the processes you have practiced, to develop your own
theory of writing in school.

 Lesson 25, Thurs 12/3 - Discuss reflections, introduce Shaped Piece 4
o HW: read Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing and WPA Outcomes Statement

 Lesson 26, Tues 12/8 - Theories of Writing for/as/in Education
o HW: tag all your pages; bring draft of SP 4

 Lesson 27, Thurs 12/10 - Last real day of class - Writer's Choice
o HW: final portfolio due Saturday 12/19; come prepared to read something from it

 Final Meeting, Saturday 12/19 - final portfolio due; farewell party
Miller 2015 Fall Syllabus – page 14


As composition theorist Peter Elbow has written in a number of places (see especially his
“Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking”**), 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 initial each item to signal you've read it, and sign at the very end. Students who have
not turned in a signed contract by the end of the fourth class may not remain in the course.

To earn a B for this course, you must:

1. Engage actively during every class period, and use class 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 4:00 to 5:15. This means you must also be consistently
prepared for class: read, annotate, and bring any required readings, and bring your notebook
and whatever drafts, exercises, 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 course. Taking their work seriously
enough to think hard about how it can be improved is crucial for your success, and theirs, in

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.

Elbow, Peter. “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting out Three Forms of Judgment.” College English 55.2
(1993): 187-206.
Miller 2015 Fall Syllabus – page 15

this course. Note that this is not just about praise or criticism: ask questions, make
connections, explore possibilities. Open space for them to do or say more. _______
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 take on. 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,
adding to or explicating your evidence, deepening your research, adjusting your style, or/and
re-imagining 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 don't have to make every change suggested, of course, because your writing is yours,
and after all, readers will sometimes disagree. But you must take all feedback seriously, and
your drafts (or notes; cf. #7) 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. _______
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? You can also use this
note to acknowledge suggestions you consciously decided not to take, explaining your
reasons. (This may, in fact, help you to discover your reasons.) I'll distribute a handout with
some more suggestions when the time comes. _______
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 a guide such as Hacker's Pocket Style Manual,
and/or through meetings with me or 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.
A missed conference counts as 2 absences (see #12). _______
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 ideas and acknowledging 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.
Miller 2015 Fall Syllabus – page 16

This is a collaborative class, in which we offer each other suggestions and constructive
criticism. But we do so 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. Missing more than 20 minutes one of class counts as an absence (though you're still
always welcome to come in, quietly). Four absences throughout the semester, three absences
during any one unit, or absence on a day when your work is scheduled to be workshopped
will break the contract (as explained in the next section). Missing more than three classes
outright, or having more than six absence-equivalents (¼ of the classes for the term), could
be grounds for failure. _______
13. Submit a complete, fully revised portfolio that meets all outlined requirements by the due
date. The portfolio for this class will consist of all major writing projects, with marked-up
drafts, plus your selection of inksheds or exercises that represent your best thinking or
writing in the course. More details to follow, closer to the deadline. _______

If you fulfill all of these expectations, you are guaranteed a grade of at least a B overall. I will do
my best to keep you informed and afloat with regard to your successful participation. If you're
ever in doubt about your contractual status, feel free to email me and/or drop by my office hours.

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. missing or not bringing in a short homework exercise, failing to
participate in full-class discussion, or leaving assigned reading at home, 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 by ⅓ of a letter, i.e. to a B–;
another breach in the same unit or 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. turning in nothing for an essay draft deadline, failing to participate
in peer review, or failing to acknowledge direct revision-suggestions in all subsequent drafts
and notes): 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. _______
 For the final portfolio: each day it is late, the contracted grade drops ⅔ of a letter. _______
 The attendance policy is outlined above, in item #12 (though see also #9). _______
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
Miller 2015 Fall Syllabus – page 17

in doubt about your contractual status, feel free to send me an email or drop by my office hours.

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 somewhat 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 piece 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. Put the pieces together. _______

 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.


I, the undersigned, have read and understood the above contract to be the grading policy
for Benjamin Miller’s section of Seminar in Composition.

_________________________________ _________________________________ ________
name (in your most legible print) signature date