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English 108: Fall, 2012


(See also: Assignments and Updates )

(This page will be used for miscellaneous postings over the course of the quarter)


1. Reading Difficult Texts: Three Principles

2. Writing Ready Course Portfolio

3. Presentation Problem Profile

4. Six Criteria for Papers in This Class

5. Outside to Inside

6. Group Research Proposal and Presentation

7. Core Concepts for the Learning Self


1. Reading Difficult Texts: Three Principles

1. Patience: Even if things are not making full sense, keep on reading as best you can through as much of the text as you can.

Doing this will ask you to develop a capacity for suspending a thought until you’ve gotten enough to put it together. Expect, too, to have to re-read in order to assemble the parts you've managed to unscramble.

2. Look for Key Words: Whatever field this reading is in is likely to have a few key words—core concepts upon which other things depend. Look for words you know to be key concepts here, and look, too, for words that seem to be central to understanding what you are reading. Do an online search on these words. Often you'll find an explanation that will much simplify your task!

3. Tolerate incompleteness: These are hard ideas, with a lot of allusiveness, and even expert readers cannot always understand everything, especially on a first or second pass. So don’t worry too much if there are bits and pieces you don’t quite get.

In short: follow the rule of One, Two, Three: Get one, then two, then three things straight. One step at a time.


Summarizing what you read

Even when you understand the words and sentences of a given piece of research you read, it is still often difficult to figure out what it's about and how to make sense of it.

Often this is because the one piece you are looking at is a response to someone else. That's not unusual--in fact it happens very frequently. Most scholarship in any field is part of an ongoing conversation. Sometimes its an expansion of someone else's thinking ("The argument/claim you made in your paper is right, and my paper will extend its insights..."); sometimes it is a rejection of someone else's thinking ("I don't agree with your claim, and here is why..."); and very often it is a modification: ("Yes, your argument makes sense, but it would be stronger if...").

So one thing that can help you make sense of a piece is to think of it in the context of a larger conversation. You can think of this process as having three steps:

  • What, as clearly as you can figure out, is the argument (or at least part of the argument) of this piece?
  • Why might someone ever decide to write about this subject in this way? What is it trying to do, really? To whom does it respond? With whom is it in conflict? What work do you already know that can be brought to bear to help explain this piece? (If you don’t know, then search on the internet, ask your teacher, or call the library information desk.) And finally, see if you can figure out:
  • So What? What difference does this argument in fact actually make? What does it do both in terms of your understanding, and in terms of the critical conversations that surround it? (It may be very useful to you without necessarily being a big contributor to an on-going conversation—and vice-versa!

But how do you know what the ongoing conversation is? Often the paper points to that in its opening. It will usually mention other work done in the field and explain why this particular piece is of value. You can also help yourself by getting some background on the subject. Wikipedia and similar online sources are not always reliable, but they do often give you some basic information about the conversations and disagreements in the field. The more background you have, the easier the reading of other research based material generally is.

2. Writing Ready Course Portfolio

English 108 Writing Ready Course Portfolio

A portfolio for an English class is like many other portfolios:  a collection and display of the work you have done, together with a reflective essay describing your experience in the course.  This project thus offers you a chance to review your quarter's work, as well as to put that work into some kind of narrative perspective.  Your  portfolio should include:

1) A detailed listing of the contents of the Portfolio. 

2) All of the writing you have done for this class over the course of the quarter, including the final assignment. 

3) A short Self-Reflective Essay, which you will write in class on the final day of the quarter.

In your Self-reflective Essay you will tell me the story of your experience taking this course.

For this essay again you are the insider—you know what you have done here, what you have learned, what you still have to work on, and some of the means you’ve developed to cope with problems that have arisen for you. And I am again the outsider. I’ll know more about you and the progress you have made than I did when we began the course —but I won’t know it as you know it.

This will be your chance to tell me what kinds of difference this class has or has not (!) made in your Writing Life. And paradoxically, the more honest, thoughtful and convincing you are about the challenges you still will be facing as you leave this class, the better your grade on this essay will be.

The portfolio counts for 10 per cent of the course grade; I will evaluate the daily assignments included in the Portfolio on the basis of completeness and quality of involvement (one-half of your grade for the Portfolio itself).  The Self-Reflective Essay I'll evaluate on the basis of responsiveness and thoughtfulness as follows: 

Fully responsive and thoughtfully undertaken         = Full Credit   
Responsive but less completely thought through     = Half Credit
Marginally responsive, or not well thought through = No Credit

You must submit your Portfolio in a large, self-addressed mailing envelope in order that I can mail it back to you.  Its presentation should be neat, ordered, and careful. To have it returned, address the envelope and provide postage sufficient for the thirty pages or so you will have submitted! (If you have an on-campus address, you don't need postage)

3. Presentation Problem Profile

Creating a Presentation Problem Profile

Learning to recognize editing problems is hard in part because we often don't even know when we are going wrong. This page will list some common problems, but to begin with, you probably will also need help from either teachers, Writing Center tutors, or even friends who have a better ear and eye than you do for sentence problems.

After a while, patterns will emerge; at that point you will need to keep track of the presentation problems you have, and to classify them according to various categories. Having done this for three or four papers, you will have developed a Problem Profile—your own personal tendencies as a writer, and thus your own list of problems to watch for when you edit your papers.

Problems People Often Have: Errors and Obscurities

As many as they seem, there are really only a few things you can do that are simply "wrong." Then there are half a dozen other things writers typically do which make their writing more awkward or obscure than it needs to be.

a) Typical Common Errors:

1. Punctuation (commas, semi-colons, colons, apostrophes, dashes)
2. Spelling
3. Verbs (number, tense)
4. Nouns (plural or singular endings)
5. Parallel constructions

b) Awkwardnesses/Obscurities:

1. Passives
2. Diction and usage
3. Wordiness
4. Variation
5. Too much thought in too few words

All but one of these topics are treated in any handbook; the last one—too much thought in too few words—needs explanation.

Too Much Thought in Too Few Words

Studies of error have demonstrated that grammar and usage errors increase as the difficulty of the writing task increases.

That means that even though you will be doing your very best to edit your class assignments carefully, you are nevertheless also likely to have more presentation problems in a history paper or in an essay for your English class than you will in a letter home. How come? Two reasons.

First, the more complex the writing task, the more your mind’s attention will focus on content. Remember the Rule of No More Than 3 Things in Your Head at Once: as a writer your short-term, working memory is limited. You are working hard just to think of something to argue, or in finding ways to relate your reading to the assignment before you. With so much of your attention on conceptual issues, you have less mental capacity left over to worry about verb forms and commas.

Second, as your task grows more complex, so does your thinking, and as your thinking grows more complex, you'll find it more difficult to get your thoughts into sentences in the first place! The usual effect of this is a series of sentences with various punctuation and clarity problems, most of which are really only symptoms of a struggle to get a complicated notion into some sort of coherent form.

The solutions to these two problems are different: the first can be dealt with simply by giving yourself more time—time, for example, to let the all-but-final draft alone for a day before going back to pay attention to the presentation issues you know are likely to arise. So get started on writing assignments EARLY!!

But the second requires that you recognize that complex thoughts often require more space than simple thoughts. Very frequently, students underestimate the complexity of their arguments, with the result that they try to put too much thought into too little space. For these cases, the solution isn't better just punctuation or different wording, but expansion—of one sentence into two sentences, or of two into three, or of three sentences into a whole paragraph.

As you work to establish your own Problem Profile, then, keep the "too-much-in-too-few" problem in mind. You need to be alert for those places that need more words (often giving specifics!) that will clarify, illustrate, define, or simply make something easier for your reader to follow.

To help you master the list of problems you come up with, I offer you a Style Watch mini-handbook. It doesn't cover everything, but it covers a surprisingly large number of the errors most students tend to make.

Finally, for English Language Learning writers whose native tongue is Chinese/Mandarin, read Five Key Grammar Errors Native Chinese Speakers Often Make When Writing English.

4. Six Criteria for Writing in this Class

Central Purpose: Are the reasons for your writing clear, appropriate, and fully responsive to the prompt?

Details: Are the words and ideas used within the assignment relevant and effective in developing and supporting the paper’s central purpose?

Organization: Can your reader easily follow and understand your paper from beginning to end? Are there writing elements, like transitions and topic sentences, which maintain a coherent, flow?

Fullness: Do you do enough to carry your case? Is the document substantial enough to leave the desired impression upon the reader?

Fluency: How fluid, sophisticated, and effective is your writing at the sentence and paragraph level? Are sentences and word choices varied and clear?

Presentation: Is your paper well-edited and spell-checked? Have you reviewed your verb tense/agreement, punctuation, and other grammatical elements? Have you followed all guidelines pertaining to formatting, citation standards, and other rules of appearance as they are described in the course syllabus?

The Grid

On papers for this class you'll find in addition to comments a set of six numbers, like:

3 1 2 3 4 2

These numbers correspond to each of the criteria described above in "Six Criteria for Writing in This Class." All count equally towards the final grade.

The point of these numbers is to give you a quick mini-grade on each of the criteria I use to score papers. You can get from 1 (not very good at all) up to 6 (as good as it gets) in each category. The number represents my judgment about how well your paper has done on that one category, as measured against both my general sense of how well 100-level students ought to perform, and the performances of other students in the class. As I assign them, I have in mind the following general sense of what they mean:

1 Not enough sense of this category to be functional in college level work. (e.g., a paper without any specific details to explain or clarify the argument.)

2 A start in this category, with some successes, but needs substantial additional work (e.g., a paper that offers some specific details, but doesn't describe or explain them sufficiently to be effective.)

3 Functional success with this category, but not yet showing full control. (Some exploration of a few details, for example, but not with much fullness, or without consistency.)

4 Functional success with this category, with some lapses and/or inconsistencies (e.g., full exploration of some details, but not with all, or without consistency or clear relevance to the paper as a whole.)

5 Success with this category, but a success not fully integrated throughout the draft.with only minor problems. (e.g., a paper with a good sense of how to use details and to develop them far enough to make them useful to the argument.)

6 Full success with this category. (e.g., a paper with truly insightful, and fully developed details, all pertinent and effectively informative.)

There is no exact relationship between these numbers and the final score you get (I don't just add them up), but there is a very strong correlation. Six 6's, for example, would undoubtedly earn full credit.

5. Getting to the Inside

Inquiring and Reading Your Way to a Starting Point for Writing

The work of weeks three and four introduce you to what makes a university a different place from just about all other schools, and that’s that the faculty here are not just teachers but are also researchers, each engaged not just in some form of inquiry, but also in writing about the results of that inquiry. 

In this class the fields we will research will be writing and learning.  You have been introduced to a series of writing and learning issues, and your job, working in four groups of five, will be first to identify, locate and read a set of resources for further study of one topic, and then to make a presentation based on your work to other students in English 108.

Your presentation will identify and explain 3 to 4 key ideas that will enable your audience to understand how this concept, rightly understood, can be useful to them as learners or writers over the years of their college education. 

In short:  the aim of this project is learn to use library resources as a way to become insiders to a topic in a way none of your peers can be, since they will not have consulted the same sources you will have consulted.  Having done some research, you will have become at least in some degree an insider, and you will be able, like all the rest of us who work on this campus, to write and speak about the results of your inquiry. 


6. Group Research Proposal and Presentation

The central project of Sequence Two is a group research project that publishes (“makes public”) the results of your week-long inquiry and presents them to your peers. Your presentation will use a PowerPoint show, but will also require your physical and vocal presence. You’ll be giving your presentation during a day of conferences: on Tuesday, September 10th, you, along with every other English 108 student, will be presenting your projects for other 108 students, instructors, and even a few folks from campus who might drop in. It’s going to be awesome—your work will be received by an actual, involved audience, and you’ll leave your presentation having had an experience that few other newcomers to campus will be able to claim.

Now, the presentation will be the (almost) last part of a series of assignments, so it’s not as though you’ll just be putting this together overnight. You’ll be performing a number of targeted tasks along the way to help you generate your ideas, interests, questions, and practices. You’ll receive training and orientation in library tools—and if you need PowerPoint help, let me know and I'm there.

We’ll answer a lot of the questions about “what you’re gonna do” and “how’re you gonna do it” along the way, but honestly, it is you who will be making most of these decisions in conjunction with the assignment goals listed below. You will be responsible for a group presentation on the methods of research you conducted and the results you found. Use this opportunity to present yourself and your ideas in a professional manner – remember: you will have become the insiders, and your audience, not having done the same work you have done, will be the outsiders—and this is just what you want! You will likely have to do many presentations at the UW, so take this opportunity to practice and put your best foot forward.

Below is a list of requirements for the presentation. Please be sure that you complete all parts.


  • Presentations must be 10-12 minutes in length (no shorter, no longer!)
  • Each of the members of the group must speak during the presentation, ideally in equal amounts
  • After the presentation, the group will take questions—if the audience is lacking in its own responses, you should have a few follow-up points or icebreakers of your own ready (but I will be harassing the audience into asking questions, so don’t worry too much)
  • The PowerPoint element of your presentation needs to be done purposefully and with a sense of balance
  • Remember to use the MLA format for all of your materials (check out the Purdue University site: )
  • Be Creative! – This is your chance to show off your own creativity so I’m looking for you to bring your personality to this presentation. You don’t need to be crazy or silly for the sake of originality—instead think about what individual traits you bring to the table and use your skills to their best ends

What to Say: During your presentation, make sure to include the following:

  • Main Ideas – What is your topic, the question you have asked about that topic,
  • Results – What kind of information did you find and where can students go if they are interested in your topic? Here talk a little about the articles and findings from primary research.
  • A description of what you have developed as an answer to that question—or of any particular problems you may have had in trying to answer that question. 

Tips on Presenting:

  • Introduce yourselves – say your names so everyone can ask you specific questions later.
  • During your speech, make sure to make eye contact, speak clearly, loudly and slowly (you may be nervous, and that will tend to make you speak FAST!), avoid reading from the handouts or visual aids, and smile!
  • Remember that you will be giving a presentation – so aim to be professional during your talk (formal tone, no jokes or laughing).
  • Keep your audience in mind—your speech, your posture, your demeanor, your attitude…it should be pitched and practiced towards your particular listeners
  • Practice your talk in front of your team and the mirror – make sure that you sound confident about the topic you are speaking about. Know what you’re going to say before you say it. (We'll have a run through of everyone's presentation in class on Monday!)
  • Make sure in your practicing that you are within the time limits! It is VERY easy to lose track of time….

For Thursday:  Your Group Proposal--

Your job for Thursday is to go from the preliminary steps of looking for material to a plan of action. Not a full campaign, but a proposal. Because audiences usually find themselves more engaged by an interesting question and answer than by a report, most of you will find that what will work best is to focus what you are learning around a research question. So how can you get this focus? It's not too hard. Suppose you are researching resistance to learning. Your question could be: How can knowing about different kinds of resistances to learning make you a better student? Or more narrowly (supposing you select just one kind of resistance): How can knowing about passive resistance to learning make you a better student?

The proposal should be 1-2 pages, and make plain the following:

  1. The question you are researching, and why you are inquiring into it.
  2. What you now see to be the main points of what you want to say (this may change!)
  3. Why other 108 students would find your inquiry interesting/relevant
  4. A preliminary list of sources to be consulted.

This is a group assignment—you’ll need just one proposal per group—to be turned in Thursday am. I will then discuss the proposals with each group in class.

For Monday, September 10 :  Rehearsal Day!  Come to class with a “draft” of your PP presentation and ready to give your report to the class.  This is VERY IMPORTANT!  It’s when you can be sure you will be successful on Tuesday, when we can give you useful feedback about time and presentation. 

Conference Narrative and Reflection Paper

Due: Thursday, September 12th (with your portfolio)
Format: 3-4 pages, Double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman Font

You will have gone through a complex process to participate in this academic conference, most of which had to be new to you.  You worked as a member of a research team, navigated the UW library system, read various sources to find something you could use for your presentation, and found a way to organize your thoughts into a 2 minute chunk, and then you actually performed it as well.  That is a lot of steps, few of which, if any were familiar or easy.  

So assess yourself as learner here.  Write a 3-4 page paper that first tells the story of your conference experience (what happened as you began the project, how did you and your group function, what was hard to do, and what turned out to be less challenging than you thought?)  and then concludes by assessing your performance as learner (e.g., What turned out to be your strengths as a learner?  What were your weaknesses?  What surprised you about what you found yourself doing?)   


7. Core Concepts for the Study of Learning

Entry Points for Learning How Your Mind Works as a Learner

Metacognition (Learning to recognize Classroom Learning Situations: Additive, Revisionary, Active, Passive)

Prior Knowledge (The Velcro rule)

Novice to Expert (The Three [or Four] Things Rule)

Resistances to Learning, or ways to Not-Learn (Positive, Negative, Active, Passive)

Motivation (Goals, Value, and Expectancies; Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic)

Difficulty and Resilience (Core and Threshold Concepts)

Transfer and Self-efficacy (Becoming your own teacher/critic)

(For a more extensive glossary of Key Learning Terms, click here.)

Two Passages for Editing

During my high school study, it was my first time to learn about

essay. At the beginning, I was wondered what is essay, how

many words I should write, where I can research resource for

my writing. There are so many questions about essay in my

mind. In most time when my English teacher asked us to write

essay, I just looked at my computer screen and my mind was

blank. Until 30 minutes passed, it was still blank on my Word

document. In the past, I always say that I am not a native

speaker, so certainly, if I am not good at English writing, it is

quite normal that happened among Chinese students.



As a student,  there is no difference between the nationality, we

all need to write. Since it is a basic skill of learning, everyone

must try it, learn it and control it and master it.  Well. It sounded

easy, but actually, it definitely not.

For example,  I can’t do well in writing for a long period, and

even worse, I can’t find the reason why failures always around

me and never go away. As a result, my writing skill is terrible

before I entered high school.


1. The other students studied with me had all improved their listening and speaking but I could only felt anxious. 

2. I am an active learner clarify, question, apply and consolidate new knowledge which are interesting and authentic.

3. [Having learned to study better,] undoubtedly, my scores were increased soon.

4. I can uncover the mask of nature there, I used to dig out worms, I threw Frisbee and fed sea owls with my toast. 

5. I became calmer and believed in if I am willing to learn or willing to pay my time on, there is nothing I cannot overcome with. 






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