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Autumn Quarter 2016

GS 297: How to Succeed in an English Class:

An Introduction for New-to-Literature Students, or:

What Do We Do When We Do English?

CMU 326: Tuesday 1:30-3:20

Office: Padelford Hall A-407

Office Hours: Tu Th 3:30-5:00, and by appt

Assignments and Updates


Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

Assignments and Updates | Blackboard

Course Overview:

Taught by Caitlin Palo and John Webster, Department of English

English is one of the UW’s most popular departments; every year thousands of students take courses where they read stories and poems about the rich, the poor, the troubled, the happy.  Every culture tells its stories, and in these stories are woven our best efforts to make sense of how we live, how we die, how we work, how we succeed. 

Many international students who have wished to take an English literature class have sometimes hesitated to do so because they don’t know what such classes require, what sort of work is asked, or what kind of learning they will do.

In order to help students better understand what English classes do, we are offering in Fall Quarter a 2 credit class that meets just once a week.  The class is offered Credit or No Credit, which means there will be no grade—so no risk to your grade point average.  We also limit enrollment to keep the class small.

Course Goals:  Fun while reading literature, and a sense of what English courses do


For the works we will read I will provide materials, either in class, on-line or through library reserve. And most of what we read will be available on-line.

In addition to the literature, you should get a good hardcopy dictionary of the English language. On-line dictionaries are stripped down to very short entries, but literary language often asks for more information than an on-line dictionary can give you.


Grades: Because this is a credit/no credit class, you will not actually be receiving a grade for the class. Instead you will receive 2 credits if you complete the work described below; if you don't complete the work, then you will receive no credit.

So, what work will there be? First, there will be reading. The assignments will not be particularly long, and we are assigning things that we think are well worth reading and discussing. We want to help you build your reading skills—particularly your literary reading skills. That means we'll ask you to read something new for each class.

Second, there will be writing. The writing will not be long, and it will be graded only done or not done. I will, however, ask you to write something for every class meeting, and "Done" means that you have demonstrated "ECI"—or "Engaged Critical Intelligence" in what you write. You don’t have to be “right,” and you don’t have to be polished—these are not "English papers." 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.

Third, we will take time in several of our classes to talk about taking English classes. We will introduce you to resources for finding out what is offered and something about the instructors, and we'll have a visit from some international student English Majors.

And, fourth, there will be an in-class final on December 9--the last day of class. This will be a pass/non-pass exercise.

Why writing for each class? Three 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 reading mind goes through steps enough to make the reading make sense, it rarely goes beyond that point, nor is it forced to build connections to the mental and conceptual frameworks you already have with any kind of strength or resilience. Most restricting, 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. In short: writing helps learning—a lot!

Second, the writing you do will prepare you for our time together in class. With your having already written about the poem or story for the day, class sessions will move faster, group work will be much more interesting and efficient, and every person in the class is far more likely to have read the assignment and be able to contribute to the whole. In short, our work together will be better because you will have already made progress on the day’s work before class even begins.

And third, you will learn more. Having to write will force you to confront what you don’t already know, and will help build routinization of the skills that the active reading of our authors requires.

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 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 don't 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, I simply cannot keep track of papers coming in from different inputs at different times and places. Thanks for your understanding.

Office Hours. Caitlin and I look forward to talking personally with each of you at some point in the quarter. My office hours are listed above; she will post hours soon. (When you come to my office, make sure I know you are there, even if another student is already in my office!)


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 (October 4): Introduction: Course overview, and an intro to What We Do When We Do English. Roethke, "My Papa's Waltz."

Week 2 (Oct 11): The sounds and images of literature. Kinell, Nonsense Poems, and Robert Francis, "Pitcher."

Week 3 (Oct 18): Metaphor and Comparisons. Shakespeare, "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?" Galway Kinnell, "Blackberry Eating"

Week 4 (Oct 25): Symbols. William Blake, "The Tyger."

Week 5 (Nov 1)): More symbols. Li-Young Lee, "Persimmons."

Week 6 (Nov 8): Playing with prose—Hemingway's "Cat in the Rain."

Week 7 (Nov 15): Jhumpa Lahiri, "Mrs. Sen's" Part 1 (pp 111-127)

Week 8 (Nov 22): Lahiri, "Mrs. Sen's" Part 2 (pp. 127-134).

Week 9 (Nov 29): Pound, "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter"

Week 10 (Dec 6): End of Term Surprise





Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

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