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English 108 A: Writing Ready

M-Th 9:30-12:00 Savery 132

Office phone: 543-6203 Padelford A-407

Office Hours: Tu Th 1-2, and by appt

Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

Assignments and Updates



Course Overview:

English 108, Writing Ready, is designed for those students who are not fully confident of their writing skills as they enter college. At other universities, courses like this are called "bridge" classes, and we, like they, want to offer students a clearer and more helpful academic transition from high school than they'll get if they just show up for class on Day One. The course description on the Early Fall Start sign-up page reads:

This course will help new UW students develop writing fluency and confidence as they look ahead to college level composition courses. English 108 students will work closely with instructors and classmates as they write about themselves as writers and as learners, develop critical thinking, presentation and study skills, and get early hands-on experience with campus libraries and writing centers. Because the course is held the month before Autumn Quarter begins, students will also be able to explore the UW campus and the surrounding Seattle area before other students return.

But while writing will always be at the center of this course, college students (like everyone else!) don't just "write"--they write as a form of inquiry into material connected to the courses they are taking. We'll be doing that here, too, and the subjects you'll write about are two: writing itself, and learning.

For the first of these, the reason may be obvious, but I'll say something about it anyway. Quite simply, there are few things you will do at the University of Washington over the next four years that will be more useful to your life both in college and beyond than writing well. Ironically, twenty years ago there were people predicting that the advent of computers and the internet would be the end of reading and writing, but oh how wrong they were!! For what has happened since then is exactly the opposite: in profession after profession, and even in those professions where one might think there would be no need to write, writing well turns out to be increasingly central to long term success. Ask a mathematician, or a physicist, an engineer, or a physician--do you need to be able to write? The answer will be yes--and the demands to do so have actually grown.

So the first emphasis of this course is writing about writing. The second emphasis of this course is writing about learning. You may ask, "what's so hard about learning? I've been doing it all my life." Mainly what's hard about learning is that it happens subconsciously, without your knowing very much about how or why. And because as you enter college you are about to increase the difficulty of your learning, understanding better what good learners do and don't do will give you significantly more control of your college learning life than you would likely otherwise have. So we will work with a series of learning issues, exploring how you, personally, learn, and in what ways you might learn better.

That's a lot to accomplish in four weeks, and English 108 can only be a beginning. But in all we do, every day of this class will be dedicated to ensuring that you will be significantly more ready for college level writing (and learning!) by the start of Fall Quarter than you are today.

Course Learning Goals

We will work towards making you more writing ready by:

  • increasing your fluency as a writer by having you write frequently--every single day, sometimes in several different ways during a single class session. We want writing to become second nature for you.
  • providing an introduction to the processes of inquiry in order that you have a headstart on developing the ideas and understandings without which good college writing cannot be done. A big part of what we will talk about will be how inquiry can help you move from the "outside" to the "inside"--the place where all good writing begins.
  • introducing you to campus resources to support you as an inquiring writer--especially writing center support and library-based research support. Many new students find these things a little off-putting at first--but you will have been introduced to them already in EFS, and you'll have the advantage of being better equipped to find help when the need arises.
  • developing your skill with metacognition. Loosely speaking, this is thinking about thinking, or "self-reflection." It is also a very powerful way to build self-assessment skills, transfer skills, and self-monitoring skills, all skills critical to your becoming a confidant and successful student.
  • engaging you in the study of learning itself. Becoming a better, more aware learner is central to building confidence in yourself as a writer, and knowing more about how you learn will enormously help in that process.
  • Finally, it is our goal that you leave this class more confident of your writing skills and more comfortable in using them than you were as we began.

Course Structure: Our four weeks will be organized around three assignments. Each of those assignments includes a graded paper, but it will also include a number of ungraded exercises designed to make you better able to complete the graded paper successfully. The three projects are:

1. Week 1: My Writing Life: Who I am as a writer, and how I came to be this way. This assignment asks you to tell me the story of how you became the writer you are. Your job is to enable me to have an insider’s look on what you know about you as a writer and how you came to be that way. (See the Updates page for a complete version of this assignment.)

2. Week 2: My Learning Profile. After learning a few things about learning both through readings for class and through class discussion, you will write a paper that describes who you are as a learner, and gives examples of the behaviors you see yourself displaying. Your job will be both to enable me to have your insider's look at how you learn, but also to learn for yourself what both your strengths and your challenges as a learner are.

3. Weeks 3 & 4: The Inquiry Project. This will include both a group conference presentation on a subject you will have studied via library research, and will conclude with a 3-4 page paper first describing and then reflecting on the process you and your group went through in preparing for the conference and the presentation itself.

Text: There are no required textbooks for this course. You may, however, want a handbook like Diana Packer's Pocket Style Manual, or Andrea Lunsford's The Everyday Writer. Neither of these is a required text, but if you are going to be taking first year English you will likely be asked to buy one of them then.


You have my general description of the class above, as well as our course learning goals. What follow are the class pragmatics--the rules by which the class is run.

Office Hours and Virtual Office Hours: My office hours are listed at the top of this page; I am also available virtually for questions online. So when you have a short question, you can come by my office, or you can send me a note at cicero @ uw.ed. If your question or concern is too complicated to address online, we will find a time to talk face to face.

Assignments: The three assignment sequences over the four weeks we have together are described above. Each will be graded based on both the writing you submit and your participation during that particular sequence. The grading breakdown is as follows: Sequence 1, 25%; Sequence 2, 25%; Sequence 3, 40%, final portfolio, 10%.

You can expect significant reading and writing assignments daily—the Early Fall Start Quarter moves at a very fast pace and the material is compressed to fit a time frame much shorter than a normal academic term.

Each assignment sequence requires you to complete a variety of short assignments leading up to a bigger paper or project. All of the preparatory work for each sequence’s final project, including any short in-class and out-of-class papers/assignments, must be completed to receive full credit for the sequence.

Attendance and Participation: Class discussion, group activities, oral presentations, and peer-review sessions are central to your learning in this course, and yet cannot be made up should you miss them. That means that missing class will seriously compromise your ability to do well in this course.

Participation is more than a matter of your being present and on time--though both of those apply. Your participation score on each paper is also based on: 1) your demonstrated ability to discuss, comment, and ask questions in class; 2) your preparation for class, which includes your having done all of the assigned reading for class, and your bringing all required materials; and 3) your full and effective engagement in group work and peer workshops. It also includes your making at least one visit to the Writing Center, and writing a reflection about your visit.

Grading of papers: First, I will be grading only three assignments in this class, but you will be getting feedback in different ways to most of the other writing you do. In general, however, the point of much of that writing is to engage you in particular ways or to give you practice on particular skills. These papers we call “low stakes” papers; that contrasts with “high stakes” papers—those for which you will get a grade. On some low stakes papers you will receive either a "check" or a "+"; on others I will comment very lightly, others still I won’t even collect. They will, however, all be handed in as part of the final course portfolio.

What I want from low stakes writing: My criterion for low stakes writing is ECI: “engaged critical intelligence.” That means that you don’t have to be “right,” and you don’t have to be polished. You don’t even have to solve entirely whatever problem I give you. But I do want to see real effort--writing in which your intelligence is "critically engaged"--even if it’s only to narrate for me the difficulties you are having as you try to come to grips with the assignment.

Writing Center: The Odegaard Writing and Research Center is open throughout Monday through Friday afternoons throughout Early Fall Start, and it's there primarily to work with students in English 108. Students often don't know what a writing center can do to help them; for that reason I will ask that at least once this quarter you sign-up and see a tutor at the OWRC. It is located in Odegaard Library on the third floor. You may drop by, but because they are often very busy, I strongly recommend that you make an appointment (via their website:

NOTE: You can see a tutor at any point in your writing process, but the sooner you go, the more help you are likelyt to get. I will be asking you for a reflection about your visits to the center before the end of our fourth week.

Paper Submission Guidelines & Late Policy: All papers must be typed to facilitate better our revision process in workshops and my ability to give you feedback.

Assignments should abide by the following guidelines:

  • 1” margins – note that your computer may default to 1.25” on the left and right side margins and, if so, you will need to change this.
  • Double-spaced (unless otherwise indicated), Times New Roman 12 pt. font.
  • Number all pages except for the first page in the top right-hand corner. (You can write these in if you can't figure out how to get your computer to do it!)
  • Stapled – not folded or paperclipped.
  • In the corner at the top of the first page, include your name, your course section/my last name, and the date.
  • Include a title—(and select a title that can be a salesman!)
  • Length (double-spaced) should be within half a page of the minimum or half a page of the maximum

Papers that do not follow these guidelines cannot be accepted. They will be returned to you unread to be reformatted. Such papers will then be regarded as late until they have been resubmitted in the proper format.

Grades for each of the Three Major Projects:

First we need to warn you about grading at the UW. Many of you will be surprised by what you think are "low" grades. Keep in mind that the average high school GPA for first year students is around 3.8, while their GPA for their first year at the UW will end up being about 3.0. That means a lot of students won't have GPAs even that high. That's not a prediction about you, it's just a citing of statistics from recent years.

That said, in this class we have a policy that applies all across the 108 program:

Grading Policies for English 108:

In an ideal world, grades in a class like this would fairly reflect the quality of work its students do relative to each other and to other first-year students, and everyone would in fact write very well and be graded very highly.  In the real world, however, the quality of student work will differ, and not everyone can get a 4.0.  

Given the goals of this class, which include building student confidence and comfort with writing, the grading policy of this class represents a kind of compromise between the real and the ideal. 

On one hand we know that many 108 students are neither comfortable nor confident as writers, and the prospect of getting grades that are below their expectations will, for many, render them even less comfortable and confident as writers than they already are.  This will not be helpful, and argues in favor of lowering the importance of grades in the course—which means, in practice, assigning relatively high grades. 

On the other hand, an artificially high grading scale can mislead students about the quality of their work, recreating the very confusion and discomfort the course has worked to allay. 

For those reasons, the grading in this class will differ from anything students are likely to encounter elsewhere in their first year.  Because we know our students work hard, we have set our policies to ensure that participation and engagement in the class and its assignments are rewarded.  This will mean that if students work hard and stay engaged in this course, the grade they earn here is likely to be higher than most of the other course grades they will go on to receive this year. 

To reach these goals we have three grading principles. 

  1.  Any student who does all the required work and in the instructor’s judgment has been fully and responsibly engaged and participating throughout the course will receive a grade no lower than 3.3 (on a 4.0 scale—see the official UW grade equivalency scales at
  2. Each student will receive for each of the graded assignments a grade based on criteria shared throughout English 108 sections.   That grade, like most of the grades students will receive at the UW, will not be based on “effort” but will straightforwardly reflect the instructor’s criteria-based estimate of how a paper would be graded in other first year classes in which writing plays a significant role (W or C courses). 
  3.  Instructors will then add to this “advisory” grade a bonus of up to .5 grade points to acknowledge a student’s engagement and participation in the entire paper writing process.  (4.0 will be the top grade regardless of the participation bonus.) 

The result of this policy will mean that the overall GPA of 108 students will be higher than the average grade given to first-year student over the course of their first year (the overall GPA for first year students is approximately 3.0), even as we help students develop a realistic sense of how their papers written for subsequent courses will be evaluated.

Late Papers. All assignments must be complete and submitted on time at the beginning of class on the due date. Late work will result in a 0.2 deduction on the paper for each day it is late and will negatively impact your participation grade as well. In cases of emergency it is up to you to communicate with me about your situation. Incomplete or late low stakes writing will lower your participation grade.

And, of course, remember to back-up your work regularly, and always keep a copy of anything you turn in! Don’t be a victim of a failed hard drive--whether yours or mine!

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is using the words or ideas of another person without crediting that person fully and accurately. Plagiarism is seen at the University as a very serious matter. That doesn't mean you can't use things other people say or write. We do that all the time. But copying, quoting, parroting or even paraphrasing others without crediting your source is very much prohibited. A particularly serious form of plagiarism is copying or submitting another's work as your own. That can result in both a failing grade and referal to the University for further disciplinary action.

There are guidelines in any handbook (like the Hacker handbook) for crediting your sources, but if you have any questions at all about how best to deal with sources, please write or come talk to me!

Unforeseen Difficulties: Should any unforeseen difficulties affect your performance in the class, please let me know! Things do happen, and in spite of all of the rules and warnings above, the paramount goal for all of us here is to ensure you get as much from this course as you possibly can. So don't hesitate to talk with me about any issue that may slow you down or hold you back. I hold regular office hours, but I'm also available by appointment at other times and by email just about anytime.

If for some reason I am not available when you have an emergency, or if you want to speak to someone else about the class, please contact Professor Gary Handwerk, chair of the English Department. His office number is 206 543 2690, and his email address is

(And thanks to all the teachers of English 108 this Early Fall session for conversation and thoughtfulness about how best to design and teach this class--and especially to Tanvi, Lee, and Allison!)





Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

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