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How to Use This Syllabus


The syllabus contains a great deal of detail, designed to help those of you who may not have been in charge of your own classrooms before.  While you are not bound to follow the syllabus step by step, we do suggest that you at least begin by following it as closely as you can.  Once you’re comfortable in the classroom and with the course goals and assignments, you may find that you have ideas for activities that will work better or, as is frequently the case, that your students need something different on a particular day.  Feel free to respond to your students’ needs and/or to create your own activities if you feel comfortable doing so.  In fact, as you get into Unit 3, where we provide less detail, you will have more freedom with your own lesson-planning.  Our only requirement is that you adhere to the goals of particular classes, the overall philosophy of the syllabus, and the four paper assignments.


You will most definitely find, however, that there will be days when there is much more in the syllabus than you can potentially do.  Some classes of students move more slowly than others, some activities will go very well, and others won’t take as much time as we thought.  Be prepared from the beginning to decide before a given class what you might cut if you run out of time.  If you run out of time and think everything is necessary, then rearrange the following day.  In short, this syllabus, while based on the considerable teaching experience of our composition faculty, is neither perfect nor carved in stone.  Be prepared to make changes with our blessing.


The Structure of the Syllabus


The lesson plans in this syllabus have a consistent structure that, we hope, will aid you in your teaching.  Here are the sections that will appear daily, and some tips on how you should use them:


·        What you’ll do today in class:  This section is mainly a list of the activities and important concepts that will be covered in that day’s class meeting.  Use this section in combination with the “Connection to course goals” to provide students a helpful introduction at the beginning of each class meeting. 

·        Connection to course goals:  This section explains how the class addresses the overall goals of CO150 and often will touch directly on how specific activities meet those goals.  Use this section with “What we’ll do today in class” for introductions to each class meeting.  Also, this section can be useful for explaining the purpose of individual activities to students.  The more you can emphasize and make concrete connections to the overall goals of the course, the more effectively those goals will be met.

·        Introduction/Conclusion:  These sections appear at the beginning and end of each day, respectively.  They are designed to provide you with summaries to pass along to students to set clear expectations for what an individual class will attempt to achieve and what students should be learning. The first few days of the syllabus offer detailed examples of each. As you go along, get into the habit of providing these summaries of “what you’ll do in class and why” at the beginning of each meeting, accompanied by a final “what we did in class and why” at the end of the class.  It really makes a difference to students!

·        Activities:  The actual activities will appear as numbered sections.  Here you will find explanations of both how to do activities and the goals the activities meet.  We’ve also tried to include hints on what you might expect from a specific activity, so you can anticipate and prepare more thoroughly for these situations.  As the semester progresses, the syllabus provides less guidance and explanation of activities to allow you more freedom in designing your own.  (Those activities designated “Optional” are ones that you may try to incorporate if you have time in that class meeting.) 

·        Transitions:  These sections provide brief explanations of how activities follow logically from one to another.  Sequencing activities to build upon each other is effective pedagogy, and making sure students see this sequence can only further their understanding.  Again, for the first two units the syllabus provides many of the actual explanations you might use, but be sure to keep using transitions later in the semester whenever students need to understand why you’ve moving to a new activity and how it relates to other activities.

·        Assignment:  This section will list the assignment for the next class meeting.  It might be helpful to copy the assignment onto an overhead before class, so you can put it up to allow students to copy it easily.

·        Times:  The activities in the syllabus are accompanied by estimates as to how long they will take.  These times are approximate!  The activities may take a little more or less time than listed.  To that end, it would be especially useful to decide before class (especially for days that look to be rather busy) what activities are less crucial and may be dropped, or to have an additional activity in case you have time left over.  (Here it’s useful to know what’s happening in the next class meeting so you move students in that direction.)  As the semester progresses, you’ll gain a better grasp of how long activities take, as this can vary based on the teacher, the students, and even just the mood of the class that day. 

·        Reserve Reading:  There are some articles not in our textbooks that you’ll assign.  To place a reading on reserve, simply take copies of the text to the reserve desk at the library.  Take as many copies as you want available to your students.  Typically four or five should be enough to allow enough access for everyone in class.  Be sure, however, to plan ahead for reserve readings. DON’T WAIT UNTIL THE DAY BEFORE YOU ASSIGN THE READING TO TAKE IT OVER TO THE LIBRARY!  It won’t be available in time if you do so.  Also, when you assign a reserve reading be sure to tell students to find YOUR SECTION.  There are numerous sections, so they will need their section number to get the right reading assignment.


Collecting Homework*


There are a few different options for collecting homework assignments:

·        Collect all homework the next meeting after it’s assigned.

·        Collect homework more randomly.  Only collect it if you feel you need to see it or students really need feedback, or if you’re worried they may not be doing it.

·        Collect homework assignments with the final draft and process work for each major writing assignment.  It’s best not to collect all homework this way.  If they’ve written a free-write or some type of homework assignment that could directly help them in their writing process, you might let them hold onto it and then collect with the final essay.  Provide students a list of the homework assignments they’ve completed in preparation for an essay and have them submit it in the folder with the final draft so you can give them credit.


Commenting on Homework*


Homework assignments typically have a clearly defined purpose.  In your comments, then, try to do the following:

·        Offer quick and specific feedback in regard to the main purpose for the homework assignment.

·        Don’t comment on everything they did poorly or everything they can do better.

·        Focus your comments on the main purpose for their homework assignment.  This is not the place to be worrying about grammar and mechanics, for example.  If you assign students a summary, first comment on how accurately they summarize the main ideas and then comment on completeness and objectivity.  In short, prioritize and focus your commenting on homework.


* Using technology for collecting/commenting on homework can also prove useful.  One approach here is to have students post their homework (especially reading response, prewriting) to one of the forums provided by SyllaBase. This way you can read and write a short response to the most important homework assignments individually, or just write overall comments for the class based on patterns or concerns you see in their postings. SyllaBase can help you keep track of who is completing homework, and it has a feature to indicate when students post homework, who reads it, etc., that several instructors have found helpful.


See “Integrating Technology into the Traditional CO 150 Classroom” at for more specifics on purposes and ways to use technology in your teaching.



How to Plan Using the Syllabus


Although the syllabus contains in-depth discussions and explanations of the activities for each class, here are some tips to make sure you’re thoroughly prepared to teach an effective lesson plan:


1)      DO NOT teach directly from the lesson plans as listed in the syllabus.  Without question, you’ll be a more effective teacher if you create your own lesson plan based on the one provided in the syllabus.  Drawing up your own plan allows you to note specifics you want to remember and to personalize a lesson plan to your own style.

2)      NEVER arrive in class intending to just follow the lesson plan from the syllabus without having reviewed it before class.  Preparation is key.   You have to understand what the class should be doing and learning before the students can effectively do the same.

3)      As mentioned above, try as much as possible to plan for time contingencies.  Have in mind what activity can be cut if you’re running short on time, or what activity you can add if you have extra time.  Also, be sure to rank activities.  Although some activities may not be crucial to students’ learning, others are.  If you do need to cut an activity, make sure it’s one that students don’t absolutely need.

4)      ASK if you have any questions about a lesson plan, the course, goals, an assignment, the readings, etc.  All of us on the Composition Staff are more than willing to offer assistance, and your fellow TAs will be another helpful resource.


Abbreviations:  The syllabus includes many acronyms for the sake of page length.  The most common are:


PHG:               Prentice Hall Guide

RC:                  Reading Culture

CSOW:            Connection to students’ own writing

WTL:               Write-to-Learn exercises

OH:                 Overhead


Some Helpful Definitions to Keep in Mind


Rhetorical Situation (or Writing Context):  The context or situation in which a writer produces a text.  The context will include an audience (with certain expectations of the text to be produced), the writer, and his/her goals and knowledge, larger cultural influences, etc.  For example, when you sit to write an essay for a graduate literature course, you’re working within the context of higher education, English Literature, and a specific class.  Higher education and the English department hold certain expectations for a written essay; for instance, such a text should make an argument, and it should use textual support.  A specific class will create even more expectations—you’ll have to write about a certain time period, genre, or author, or perhaps from a specific theoretical perspective.  You’ll have to meet the specific guidelines set by the professor.  You’ll also be bringing your own context to bear on the text—you couldn’t write a Feminist analysis if you’re not familiar with Feminist theory.  Or perhaps you are most interested in the creation of identity in literature, so that’s where you choose to focus your text.  In short, there will also be a context that influences the creation of a text by setting forth certain expectations to be met.  However, there is also room to make choices within a context.  You’ll still likely be able to choose which specific text you’ll focus on, what your thesis will be, etc.  You could also still choose to work against some of the expectations of the context.  It’s important, for our purposes, to emphasize both knowing and meeting expectations, as well as  making choices in responding to a particular rhetorical context. 


Audience:  By audience we’re referring to the person or group of people a writer has in mind when producing a text.  Focusing on one group of readers does not mean other people can’t read a text!  But any text will have some audience to whom it is directed, and this target audience  forms part of the rhetorical situation for producing that particular text. 


Purpose:  Purpose refers to what a writer is trying to accomplish in writing a text.  Is the writer trying to persuade the audience to act?  To convince the audience to think a certain way?  To evaluate a text for an audience?


Exigence:  This term, which will be new to most students, refers to the perceived need for a given piece of writing:  what events or social experiences prompted a writer to write about this topic in the first place.  That is, most writers, before they even begin composing, have chosen a given topic for a reason.  Such reasons can be wide and varied depending on the writing context.  They might refer to the need to complete an assigned task (as is often the case in school), but just as often, writers compose in order to fulfill a social need—to highlight a social problem, to convince others there is a need for discussion on the topic, to encourage others to take a particular action, and so on.  Although similar to purpose in this way, exigence precedes purpose in a writer’s thinking about a topic.  Writers first decide whether and why  a topic is worth writing about (i.e. does it address a perceived social and/or professional need?) before they can specify their purpose (i.e. what specifically needs to be communicated about this topic to fulfill this perceived need) and audience (i.e. who most needs to be informed/persuaded, etc. about  this topic). When we talk about exigence, then, we are in effect answering much more common questions:  why would anyone care about this topic/issue?  how will its discussion serve a function for the society, professional community, or culture of whom the audience makes up a part?  As a result, many teachers also discuss exigence as the “so what” factor to reflect this need to consider why a given topic even needs to be discussed.   


Focus:  Focus refers to what a writer’s text is about.  Typically a text should have a narrow focus that is maintained throughout the entire piece and is relevant to the context and expectations of the assignment.  For instance, if you’re writing to evaluate a text (as students do in Essay 2), you don’t really want to argue against the author’s points, because that isn’t what the text should focus on in evaluating.  This essay would need to be further based on a question such as “which part of the text do I want to evaluate?”  A writer certainly couldn’t effectively evaluate every aspect of a given article in three pages, so she must make choices to narrow her focus.


Critical Reading:  Here’s a tough one to define fully.  But for our purposes, we want to emphasize to students that you make meaning by actively engaging a text.  As a reader, you are not a passive participant, but an active constructor of meaning.  Exhibiting an inquisitive, “critical” attitude towards what you read will make anything you read richer and more useful to you in your classes and your life.  For example, while reading you might consider questions about the author, the purpose of the text, the validity of the logic or evidence in the text, or the underlying assumptions and implications of the text.  Critical reading also requires some attention to your purpose as a reader and what influences you bring to a text that affect how you create meaning.  Also, multiple readings and annotation can be a crucial part of critical reading.  Making various marginal markings and comments encourages a more thorough interaction with a text.


Revision:  Revision never means just sentence-level editing.  Nor is revision solely a process that happens after you’ve completed a full draft, or after you’ve received instructor/peer feedback on your essay.  Instead, revision is a process that occurs throughout the production of text.  For example, you might start a research paper thinking you want to argue for school vouchers.  However, after completing your research you decide that you are against this system of school selection.  What you’ve done, of course, is a revision.  Not a revision of actual text, but a revision of ideas.  When revision applies to a text, it should always involve larger questions rather than just moving words around or fixing what the teacher marked.  Revision takes place at many levels but should involve ideas and questions of audience, purpose, and focus before approaching any sentence-level concerns.  If, for instance, a person has problems with the overall focus of an essay, correcting comma errors or examining word choice is probably not going to do anything to remedy the focus problems.  Instead, revisions need to return to larger questions of focus.  For instance, how can I narrow my focus?  What parts of my essay seem less relevant to what I really want to say?  Where might the audience be confused?  To be sure, grammar and mechanical concerns are important.  But revision is an ongoing process that occurs at many different levels.  Effective revision means understanding what choices are available and making choices based on larger contextual and conceptual concerns.