Detailed Description of the Assignments for this Class
Because we are so few in number, part of this course will take place through a series of one-on-one meetings with me during a mutually agreeable time in my campus office. These conference sessions will be divided between questions that will help me diagnose how well you’re comprehending and retaining the readings and discussions about the questions you have and ways we might apply what you’ve been reading to your work in other classes. These meetings will be given a nominal 10-point value for attendance. But beware: if you miss we will not be able to reschedule a meeting and so you’ll forfeit the points for any conference you miss.
We all have a personal critical theory. That is, we all subscribe to a set of assumptions (however unconscious and multifarious they might be) about what constitutes good literature, about why literature is worth studying professionally and inflicting on young minds at bedtime and in classrooms. The goal of this assignment is to articulate the assumptions and biases that guide what you read, why you read, and what you’d say constitutes great literary art. It may make your task easier if you think in practical terms. What kinds of literary art do you tend to read and/or intend to teach? Why? If you were designing the curriculum at a high school, what texts would students read? Which would you include? Again, why? Is the teaching of literature even necessary at either the high school or college level? How would you justify this practice to policy-makers and tax-payers? From answers to these questions, you can probably discern the outlines of a personal “theory.”
You’re being asked to perform fairly deep and honest introspection here. A superficial answer will not earn you full points.
You will prepare a statement of your personal critical/literary theory for the second week of classes.
Your personal statement assignment is worth 50 points.
Toward the end of the semester, you will revisit your personal statment, revising (where appropriate) the position you articulated in your first Personal Statement. In other words, you’re being asked to reflect on the way(s) the reading and discussion you experienced this semester reinforced, challenged, and/or changed the positions you articulated in your Personal Statement at the beginning of the semester.
The redux of your personal statement is worth 30 additional points.
The research project consists of three basic parts: the literature search, the prospectus, and the project itself. The basic assignment is that you choose a text and/or an author and/or a cultural-historical phenomenon obviously related to the literature we’ll be studying this semester, identify a thesis worth pursuing, conduct extensive library and database research, and then create an analysis-oriented expository essay.
The final paper part of your research project is worth 250 points.
Audience: Your classmates and me.
Topic Selection: The study of theory opens a wide range of possibilities for topic selection. One direction is to apply a particular theoretical perspective to some work of literature. Alternatively, you could critique a specific theory or an architectural style or a cultural phenomenon or... But remember, the goal of this assignment is to create a theory-literate research paper. So, whatever you ultimately decide to do, you will have to incorporate the quoted words and paraphrased ideas of other writers into your own work.
This is a research paper: The goal of this assignment is to create a research paper that demonstrates you are literate in the scholarly conversation about your chosen topic. I have therefore established several nonnegotiable requirements to encourage you to cultivate the critical literacy skills necessary to success as an English major and potential English Studies professional.
- You must incorporate the quoted and paraphrased words and ideas of other writers into your own work. The literature search will help you do this, but it is expected that your writing process will lead you to works your initial search did not uncover. The goal is to cultivate as broad and deep of a knowledge base about your chosen topic as you possibly can, given our time constraints. Mine the bibliographies of others for leads. Check titles near a specific book you’ve pinpointed in the library. Be creative about following leads and gathering data!
- You must incorporate a minimum of eight sources into your paper to receive full credit. Ideally, your eight sources will favor printed books and scholarly articles in electronic journals over websites. Websites may be used; but resist the impulse to look for “easy” reading on your subject. Relying only on wikis and other general-information, encyclopedia-level websites will prove a fatal error in this class.
- Your literature search must be formatted flawlessly in MLA style. You’re an English major! You should own the most recent edition of the MLA Handbook. Or, at the very least, consult an online resource like Purdue’s OWL to master the minute details of formatting research papers and bibliograpic citations.
- Your final paper must make proper use of inline citations and feature a flawless works cited page formatting using MLA style.
Collaborative projects: You can, if you wish, work with one or two other students to produce your final research project. But, be careful! While it is possible that the individual members of collaborative writing groups may write fewer words than solo writers, working with others creates logistical complications. Collaborative papers, just like solo papers, must be coherent and cohesive, integrating each individual member’s contribution into a corporate project that features a consistent “voice” and moves seamlessly from one person’s contribution to the next. This means that collaborative groups will have to make time to sit down together for brainstorming, research, drafting, and editing.
Unless someone bails out on the group or doesn’t pull his or her own weight, all points earned on the final project will be awarded to each group member. (If the paper earns a B, everyone gets a B. If the Prospectus memo earns 35.5 of 50 points, everyone earns 35.5 of 50 points.) To learn more about collaborative writing projects, please see me as a group.
One Paper for Two Classes: You may, if you get explicit permission from the other instructor involved, use a paper assigned in another class to satisfy this assignment for my class. There is, of course, one stipulation. You must use a specific theoretical approach to the materials you’re investigating in that other class. If you can satisfy the “theory requirement” for my class and accomplish the purposes of another class at the same time, that’s all right with me. But be sure you are up front about this with the instructor of the other class. If they’re not o.k. with this sort of “double-dipping,” then you’ll have to create a separate paper for me.
The Lit. Search gets your preliminary research organized and helps you to make good early use of the sources and information you uncover. The written product of the Lit. Search is a bibliography. The goal is to generate a long list or sources that seem closely related to your topic. Therefore, your list must be three, double-spaced pages long; two-and-a-half pages is not three pages. A bibliography that makes illegitimate use of large type sizes or extra paragraph spaces to cheat the three-page rule will fail automatically. If you can’t find three full pages of sources on your topic, then you need to adjust the scope of your project or see me about refining your search strategy.
In addition to a long list, you will want to tap as many kinds of sources as possible. Therefore, cite a representative number of books, periodical articles, and scholarly websites. If there are more books than websites, then your Lit Search should feature more books than websites.
This assignment is worth 50 points.
How to: After brainstorming a topic you think will work, go online and do the following:
- Conduct a search on the Maagnet and OhioLink databases to find all the books you can on your topic and closely related areas.
- Gather all relevant bibliographic information from these database sources and save them in whatever form works for you.
- Return to the Maag Library homepage and click on its “Research Databases” feature to find scholarly articles in electronic journals that seem closely related to your chosen topic. A good place to start would be Academic Search Premier; you’ll find it under the “As” in the alphabetized list of databases you’ll find when you click on the Research Databases link. Add these sources to your growing data file.
- Once you’ve done this, then you may “Google” ideas relevant to your emerging sense of your topic as a way of expanding your literature search. Also add these sources to your growing data file.
Present these materials to me as an expertly formatted MLA-style bibliography.
Whether or not you ultimately read or can even acquire the information discovered during this initial search of the literature, you’ll be able to put it to several good uses right from the start. For example, you’ll be able to identify a good introduction to your subject which you can read to gain some basic information about your subject before you start writing. You’ll also be able to use the lit. search to identify themes and subtopics deemed important by the researchers who have gone before you. In addition, a lit. search will reveal which modern authors seem to be the most widely published experts in your chosen area of interest. You’ll definitely want to look at some of their work.
Here’s a model Literature Search (from a different class) for you to examine.
The Prospectus is a memo addressed to me that outlinesin detail!what your research project is all about.
This assignment is worth 50 points.
How to: After you have created your literature search and after you have done a little preliminary skimming of introductory information relevant to your topic, address a memo to me that thoroughly discusses all of the following:
What your project is all about and why you’ve chosen it. Conclude this opening section by articulating a primary research question and however many secondary research questions your imagination can generate. You’ll use these questions to help you narrow and focus your research.
What you’ve learned (or already know) about your topic so far.
What you don’t know and/or what you need to find out more about.
What others have written about your subject. Note: You don’t need to have read everything on your lit searchthat would likely prove impossible in the time we have available to us. Rather, gather what information you can from the titles of the books, articles, and websites you’ve collected. Read abstracts of articles when you encounter them. Scan the tables of contents of the books you’ve identified as particularly likely to be relevant. And skim over the introductions to the most relevant-seeming books.
What issues you figure your paper will have to include in order to present a thorough discussion of your chosen topic and your plan for organizing those issues into a logical and coherent final paper. Note: If you’re good at formal outlines, this is the place for creating one. However, you need only describe to me the order you think will best serve your purposes and meet your audience’s needs.
Here’s a model Prospectus (from different class) for you to examine.
Note to Collaborators: Collaborative groups will prepare a joint Prospectus. You will cover all the same issues that individual writers must cover, but there are some additional things to consider when writing with a group. Most importantly, you should be very specific about who is doing which tasks. If you’ve determined that your paper is going to cover 4 basic issues, you need to delegate those tasks and let me know who is doing what. Strive for an equitable distribution of the work. If the number of sections you have to read for and write about cannot be divided evenly amongst the members of your group, you could assign someone responsibility for editorial duties in lieu of writing a section. The primary consideration is that everyone makes an approximately equal contribution to the final project.
Your final assignmentwhen you’re really tired and crankywill be to evaluate this class. Your grade will not be based on whether I “like” what you have to say, but on how thoroughly you have thought through your response. Be honest! You can tell me that the class was a complete waste of time, that you think I ought to find a different line of work, and that you didn’t learn anything you didn’t already know and still get full points for this assignment. But you’ve got to be thorough, careful, and thoughtful and support your comments with examples. That means no down-and-dirty, first-draft-only-draft parting shots prepared the hour before the final class starts!
This assignment is worth 50 points.
Consider all of the following areas in your memo:
• The Readings. Which were your favorite readings? Which were your least favorite? Why and/or why not? Which would you cut? Are there any readings that you would add?
• The Assignments. What did you think of the assignments? Do you feel that they were sufficiently broad to permit freedom of choice? Or were the assignments too restrictive? Were the assignment sheets clear? What did you like the most/the least about the assignments?
• The Grading. Was the grading, in your view, fair? Why do you or don’t you think so?
• Teaching style. How’d I do? Did I articulate course expectations clearly enough? Did I answer questions well? Did I seem to pay equal attention to everyone? Did I provide sufficient help as you worked through the various drafts of your papers? What did I cover well? What strengths and/or weaknesses do I seem to possess as a teacher?
• The Course. What would you change about the course if you could? What would you NOT change about the course no matter what? Pretend that one of your best friends has signed up for this course next semester: what advice would you give to help him or her do a good job in class?