This example of a weekly response assignment asks for students to submit a one page paper every Friday. The instructor posts specific questions each week during the first few weeks to give the students an indication of what they might pay attention to while reading. After the first few weeks, the instructor encourages the students to come up with their own topics for the responses. Included below is a list of general questions for those students who lack a specific topic for the week. The majority of the questions focus on formalist or traditional literary devices while the last question opens up the possibility of the responses by inviting students to comment on other critical approaches (i.e. feminism, reader response, etc.). One interesting twist for this assignment is the coin flip to decide whether the instructor will collect the response or not. This strategy allows students the possibility of missing a response paper without consequences to their grades and lessens the grading burden for the instructor.
Weekly Response Papers:
For every assigned reading, you should annotate the text. These annotations will help you complete the response paper that you are expected to write every week (once a week). The first few weeks of the semester, you should check the course calendar on Wednesday (from the ‘Calendar’ in our class Writing Studio program) to find questions that you may use to guide your short responses to the fiction we read. After the first few weeks of the semester, you are required to come up with your own writing topics. On weeks when we read two or more fictional pieces, you should choose one of the selections to respond to in writing. These short responses (double-spaced and 1 page in length) must be typedand brought to class every Friday (unless otherwise stated). At the beginning of class on Friday, I will flip a coin: heads means the responses must be submitted for a grade; tails means I will not collect them. These response papers, while informal pieces of writing, should still be grammatically and syntactically correct; I expect you to use language precisely, to support your response with specifics from the fiction using cited quotations, to write with style, focus, and, yes, correct spelling. Be sure to specify which selection you are responding to in the title or heading. No late responses will be accepted for any reason (you may submit them early if you anticipate an absence), but I will drop the lowest response paper before averaging the others to figure the 30% of the final course grade. I reserve the right to issue a pop-quiz or an alternative assignment in place of the week’s response paper. No email submissions are accepted.
Response Papers Dos and Don’ts:
A response paper should be fairly formal and should genuinely attempt to shed light on one or more aspects of the work. You may discuss the significance of character, plot, setting, symbol…whatever catches your fancy. Overall, I am looking for interesting and original insights concerning the reading assignment.
An ideal response will be about 1 page in length and typed. Your paper will explore a problem or point of interest created by a work of literature (this includes, but is not limited to, character motivation, thematic elements, symbol, irony, poetry conventions, etc.). Your ideas and insights will be based on information from the pages in the text we have read so far, calling upon specific examples to illustrate the idea or issue you are exploring. Your grade will be based on the quality and depth of your insights, and on the use of specific textual evidence as support. (Avoid the obvious! Take risks! Make it interesting!)
Possible starting places for your response include an author's life, politics, the social context of the work, philosophical musings, how and why the work evokes a particular feeling in you, cultural relevance, or the components of the text such as the significance of form, setting, narrative voice, imagery, or symbolism. Or, perhaps you will apply a critical approach to the text. Or, you may wish to explore the relationship between elements of the text (How does setting influence character?). As we move on into the later weeks of the course, you may even wish to direct your responses toward identifying patterns between texts, and asking what the significance of these patterns might be.
The Dos and Don'ts of Response Papers:
DO NOT: Only summarize plot
DO: Analyze the thematic and symbolic significance of events in the story
DO NOT: Say you didn't like a character
DO: Explain how a character was unlikable, how that effects the reading experience, and why that may or may not have been the author's intent
DO NOT: Generalize and provide vague
reasons behind your Text Analysis
DO: Use specific examples from the text(including quotes, if significant).
DO NOT: Make superficial, obvious insights (poor thesis: The Bluest Eye is about the struggles of growing up.)
DO: Think deeply, and look closely into the
work. Notice things that a casual reader would not.
DO NOT: Simply repeat ideas mentioned in
class by the instructor or by other students.
DO: Build off ideas mentioned in class, adding your own thoughts and insights to the discussion.
**Remember: Response papers must be submitted on time. They will be evaluated on the basis of focus, development, use of evidence, creativity, and level of insight. They will count as 30% of your final grade, and be graded on a 10 pt. scale each. Additionally, I will drop your lowest response.