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Autumn Quarter '14

English 270: English through Literature (and vice-versa!)

Sieg Hall 228: T Th 2:30-4:20

Office phone: 543-6203 Padelford A-407

Office Hours: Tu Th 4:30-5:30, and by appt

Goals and Methods

Assignments and Updates


Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

Assignments and Updates | Blackboard

Course Overview:

English Through Literature (and vice-versa!)

This class will introduce you to the connections between the English language and its literature. We will read a limited number of texts—a few stories, a few poems, a novel. As we do, we’ll also study elementary linguistics to account for many of the effects these texts have. We’ll look at the sounds of English to study rhyme; we’ll look at the forms of sentences to understand tone; and we’ll look at how words mean in order to understand how poems—in English or in any language—develop symbolic meaning.

Though much of what we do will be in English, I also hope to have students who speak other languages enrolled so we can do some comparing of the phonetics and syntax of one language with those of another.

So: Subject? Language and literature. Object? Fun with language and a solid introduction to the basics of reading literary English.


I want students leaving this class to be more confident and experienced with the reading of poetry and literary prose.

I want students to leave with a strong intial understanding of some of the key elements of language—particularly in English, but also in some degree as those elements of English connect to other world languages.

I want students to leave having built their active reading and writing skills by having written in different ways about the interpretation of literary texts throughout the quarter.

I want students leaving the class having had fun with language and fun with poetry, and knowing better what other courses in English might be able to offer them.

(Read "The Goals of This Course" for a more complete explanation of our goals for active reading and for increased familiarity with the elements of language.)


Texts: David Madden, A Pocketful of Poems: Vintage Verse Vol. I and II (Thomson Advantage Books, The Pocketful Series) and Bharati Mukherjee, Jasmine. Grove Press, 1999.

I will also provide additional materials, either in class, on-line or through library reserve.


The chief goals of this class are to make you more informed, active, and, especially, self-reflective readers of literary texts, and to introduce you to formal language study. The course description above outlines the general sequence for what we'll do, and some of that work will be in full-class settings; some in small groups.

Because I strongly believe in writing as a means of learning, you'll be writing a lot for this class. Writing requires that you engage actively with your reading, and ensures that you—and everyone else in the class—come ready to contribute to the general class thinking. Accordingly, you’ll be writing something for every class meeting—usually something informal, a “response” paper of no more than two pages. Sometimes those will be hard-copy papers; at other times they will be either posted to GoPost sites or dropped off in a Collect-It Dropbox. In either case, at the end of the quarter you will be submitting all of your writing in a hard-copy English and Language Portfolio—a collection of all the writing you do for the quarter, along with a Self-reflective Essay describing your experience in this class.

If you want to email me, you are welcome to do so—don't be surprised, however, if I cannot give you a fast response. I get a LOT of email, and I cannot process it all when it first arrives. My email address is displayed on the homepage of this website.

Structured writing for the course will include three paper/midterms, and a group project. I'm still figuring out what those projects will be.

Course Grading: 500 Points, apportioned in the following way:

Midterm 1: 100 (Pt 1, 30; Pt 2, 70)
Midterm 2: 100
Midterm 3 (Final): 120
Group Poetry Project: 80
Portfolio: 60
Attendance/Participation: 40

Why so much writing? Several reasons. First, writing is the single most effective way almost any of us have to make our learning active. The mere reading of assignments, by contrast, is an essentially passive process. Though your mind goes through steps enough to make the reading make sense, it rarely goes much beyond that point, nor is it forced to build connections to the conceptual frameworks you already have with any kind of strength or resilience. Most restricting of all, however, is that without active and engaged work with pen (or computer) and paper your mind may also not do the re-structuring of conceptual frameworks necessary to your becoming comfortable with the active reading of literary texts.

Second, the writing you do will prepare you for our time together in class. With your having been actively engaged in a writing project, class sessions will move faster, group work will be much more interesting and efficient, and every person in the class will actually have read the assignment and be able to contribute to the whole. Our work together will be better because you will have already made progress on the day’s work before class even begins.

Third, you will learn more. Having to write will force you to confront what you don’t already know, and will give you constant practice with the skills that the active reading of these authors requires.

Finally, writing well truly is central to education in English. It is, after all, what the rest of the world thinks English is all about—and will expect you to be able to do. You SHOULD be writing constantly—so much so that it doesn’t feel like quite such a big deal in the first place!

What I want. My criterion for the response papers is ECI: “engaged critical intelligence.” 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, even if it’s only to narrate for me the difficulties you are having as you try to come to grips with the assignment.

How Much Time Should You Spend Writing? In the past some students have spent more time and anxiety on these responses than is necessary. Please understand: though I genuinely do want you to take this writing seriously, I’m not asking for a series of “English papers.” I call them “response papers” to suggest that their purpose is to be responding with an Engaged Critical Intelligence both to the reading and to my question(s) about it. In specific terms that means: I expect from you either TWO typed pages, or ONE FULLY ENGAGED HOUR of writing. If you want to spend more time than that—fine. Just don’t go over two pages, or, when posting on line, over the word-limit.

My response to your responses. I certainly do want your papers to be coherent, but the daily response papers are not supposed to be fully finished works. And because they are informal in this way, I will also rarely read them with the same close attention I will give to your formal work. Their primary usefulness is in the writing itself. I take it as axiomatic that you will get substantially more from this class by having written regularly throughout than you otherwise would—and end-of-quarter evaluations from earlier classes confirm that most students agree.

Moreover my intent is that these exercises will be useful to you whether I actually read them or not. Indeed, I will not collect every set of papers at the time you write them (though you will be collecting them as you complete them, and turning them in as part of the course portfolio at quarter’s end). And when I do collect them, my comments will be of the “OK,” “good,” or “I’d like to see more thinking going on here” variety. (If you want more specific response to your work, you are welcome to come talk with me during my office hours.)

Late Papers. As much as I wish it were otherwise, I cannot accept late response papers. With the reading of multiple sets of up to 40 papers each over the course of the quarter I will have trouble enough keeping them straight already! (40 times 20 is 800 papers!!!!!) You can, however, miss up to two assignments without any deductions from your final portfolio grade. I also do not accept emailed papers unless I specifically ask for them to be submitted in that way. Again, this is principally a paper management issue—I simply cannot keep track of papers coming in from different inputs at different times and places. Thanks for your understanding.

Truth in packaging disclosure:

1. In past quarters, most students have rated my classes as useful and relevant. But when students haven’t like them, they tend to complain that they never really understood what I was asking them to do in the first place. I take that concern seriously; I will demonstrate what I want as clearly as I can in class.

But even if most of you will get the hang of active critical reading by quarter’s end, some of you are still likely to find the process very difficult. If you feel as though you aren’t getting it, I strongly urge you to talk with me. It is actually very helpful when I can hear from those who find what we do difficult!

In the end, it is up to you to get help. DON’T PUT IT OFF!!

2. Because students are writing for every class session, some report working more on this class than they generally do for other classes. The average time spent runs between10-12 hours per week, but some report they worked as much as15-16 hours (still within the average of 3 hours per credit which the University sets as its standard for 5 credit classes, but more than you may be able to spend).

3. The median grade (50% above, 50% below) in my classes runs anywhere from 3.1 to 3.3. That is NOT the bottom grade—it is the median grade. That means that some of you may indeed get a 2.5 or a 2.7 or a 3.0, even though you may have done better than that elsewhere. If that is going to make you unhappy, then, again, you should get into a different class.

4. Attendance and Participation are part of the course, and they presuppose engaged and timely completion of writing assignments. I take role randomly during the quarter, but I also use my review of your portfolio work to evaluate your class participation. Incomplete portfolios mean incomplete participation.

5. All assignments must be completed on time. Your score on any paper reflects whether your work has met this requirement.

So much for the work you’ll be doing.

Now for a word of caution and of reassurance. I know that some of you will not have read much poetry in English before. Not to worry. Poetry isn’t hard so much as it is really different (but not completely different!) in goal and method from ordinary writing. Once you’ve learned something about poetic thinking, and provided you do the assigned reading and writing carefully and on time, you should be able to keep up with the work (see paragraph 2 above in Truth in Advertising).

All of that said, IF for some reason you expect to be missing class, then I very strongly urge you to find something else to take!!!

Tentative Reading Schedule

(Note: I will this plan as I learn more about you and about the kinds of challenge the material will present.

Be sure to update yourself regularly as to reading and writing assignments; the most up-to-date information will always be on the Assignments and Updates page.

Week 1 (Sept 25): Introduction: Course overview, and an intro to why language study can help you become a strong reader of poetry.

Week 2 (Sept 30): Intro to the sounds of English, and to the sounds of poetry.

(Oct 2): TBA

Week 3 (Oct 7): The sounds of English, and the sounds of Poetry.

(Oct 9): Words: Structure, Morphology.

Week 4 (Oct 14): Metaphor: Condensed Comparisons.

(Oct 16): Metaphor: Conceptual Frameworks.

Week 5 (Oct 21)): Review and Midterm: Part 1.

(Oct 23): Return Midterm and review.

Week 6 (Oct 28): Li-Young Lee, "Persimmons."

(Oct 30): Halloween. More "Persimmons," and intro to "Boys and Girls." Prose as Poetry. Intro to basic English sentence structures (loose, periodic).

Week 7 (Nov 4): Style, and Munro: "Boys and Girls," Part 1. More with sentence structures.

(Nov 6): Midterm, Part 2

Week 8 (Nov 11): "Boys and Girls," Part 2. Intro to Mukherjee's Jasmine, Chap 1. More Prose as Poetry.

(Nov 13): Jasmine, Chaps 1-8. English Language History and Style.

Week 9 (Nov 18): Jasmine, Chaps 9-20.

(Nov 20): Jasmine, Chaps 21-23.

Week 10 (Nov 25): Jasmine, Chaps 24-26.

(Nov 27): Thanksgiving

Week 11 (Dec 2): Review and Poetry

(Dec 4): Review and Conclusion

Finals Week (Dec 9): Tuesday, 4:30-6:20 pm.




Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

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