Homework and Class Preparation

The general homework assignments are listed in the Readings section.

The goal of regular homework assignments is to strengthen your skills in "reading as a writer," focusing on the ways in which authors craft their pieces to address audiences. Throughout the term, you will regularly submit short assignments (approx. 1–1½ typed pages, double-spaced) on required readings and films for class. Some homework assignments appear on the course calendar; others will be distributed in class or emailed to students. Some assignments will ask you to answer specific questions. Other homework assignments are more open-ended. These assignments will help to prepare you for class discussions as well as your own essay writing.

General Questions in Reviewing Readings

Here are some general questions to consider in reviewing assigned readings for class. In your homework assignments, you may only focus on a few of these questions. However, thinking about all of them will be very helpful in preparing for class discussions.

  • What is the meaning of the title? Why do you think the author chose this specific title?
  • What is the tone of the piece—persuasive, angry, informative / neutral, ironic, humorous?
  • What kind of language has the writer chosen for the piece, e.g., direct and simple, colloquial, abstract "high academic", personal / confessional, comic? Does the tone shift over the course of the piece? What is the effect(s) on you as a reader? What is your impression(s) of the writer / narrator? What do you think she/he assumes about the audience?
  • How does the writer introduce the essay? How does the writer end the piece? What do the introduction and conclusion suggest about how to interpret the essay?
  • What sections, paragraphs, words or sentences seem especially powerful? Why?
  • Does the writer use rhetorical strategies such as appeal to logic (logos) or to emotion (pathos) or rhetorical devices such as repetition in the piece? What is the effect on you?
  • In what ways does the writer employ imagery, symbol and metaphor?
  • What seems to be the central point of the piece? How does this piece influence your own perspective on a particular social or ethical issue?
  • How do you see this essay as connecting with other readings (for the course or outside), your life experiences, and issues that you have thought about?
  • What have you learned as a writer from this piece? Do you see yourself using or avoiding some of the same approaches or techniques as a particular writer?

Class Participation and Attendance

To foster a sense of intellectual community, this course is structured as a seminar, in which we discuss the work of professional, as well as student, authors. It is crucial that students come to class on time, with required texts and well prepared to offer thoughtful responses to the readings and classmates' writing. To be effective participants, students need to complete reading and writing tasks by assigned dates. A vital, ongoing intellectual conversation is at the heart of the course.

Writing Workshop

The writing workshop classes, in which students respond to their peers' work, are very important to the course. Each major writing assignment will have an in-class workshop after students submit first versions; we will also workshop some shorter pre-essay exercises. My expectation is that students will respond to classmates' work seriously and critically, approaching each piece with sensitivity, insight and imagination. For each workshop, students will read several pieces, discuss them in class and respond through letters to each writer. The ethical norm of the course is that all student writing (including peer comments) is confidential; students should store classmates' work in a secure place and not discuss peers' writing outside the class. This ethic, regularly practiced in professional writing workshops, enables us to develop the trust and security we need as a small writing community.