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Winter Quarter '06 - English 498:

Bridging the Gap: What Did You Do When You Did English?


Course Description

One purpose of a senior seminar is to provide a “capstone” – a sort of culmination and summary to a major. Most such courses focus on a special topic, and the capstone part is the writing of a research paper. Another kind of capstone, however, is a course which asks you to look back at where you have been as you have completed your major, and to reflect upon what it all means. What HAVE you done as you have done English? This will be just such a course. We will provide occasion for you to investigate questions about your experience in English: What are your own personal high spots? What made them high? What are your disappointments? What do you now think you can do with what you learned? What is still left to do?

As a result of your reflections you will by the end of the course have produced your own personal e-portfolio representing your work in the major, and you will also have produced papers both about your experiences in the program, and about suggestions you have for revising the major for future students.

To help deepen these inquiries, we will also read as a group a series of works that address the role of humanities education in one way or another. We’ll include a movie or two with literary education themes as well. Evening Degree students only.


Thomas More’s Utopia, Virginia Woolf’s, A Room of One’s Own, Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, and readings from David Richter’s Falling into Theory: Conflicting Views on Reading Literature, 2nd ed.


This course will have two parts:
Part 1: Looking back.

Here the project is to review what you’ve done as an English major.

The Writing: What have you done as you’ve done English? Identify 3-4 key texts or moments, and describe why they have been important to you and how. What was the context of those key readings? What did you learn in doing that reading that now seems of special value? Correlatively, what did you NOT learn? Where did you find yourself not growing as you would have liked? Why not? Be as specific as you can.

This is a kind of literacy autobiography, focused on what you have done in your English classes—an English major’s version of David Copperfield. It is also the investigatory phase for the e-Portfolio due in Week 9. (5-8pp). Your audience for these essays is this class; we’ll be publishing these for you all to read and respond to.

Part 2: Looking Ahead.

So you’ve now thought about what your English major was; what about the rest of the world? What is it at other places? What might it have been here? The project in this section of the course is to become a more informed reflector on both the work you have done, and on the question of how else your work might have been structured and where else it might have taken you. This will offer different ways of thinking about a very complicated and very fast changing field. Writing here will be fueled by investigations of a set of readings (Thomas More’s Utopia, Virginia Woolf’s, A Room of One’s Own, Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, and readings from David Richter’s Falling into Theory: Conflicting Views on Reading Literature, 2nd ed.) and by some research into what other universities like our own ask of their English majors.

One of our goals as a class will be to build a set of ideal Learning Outcomes for the major. What do we as a group take as the strengths with this major should prepare us? And how, exactly could one best achieve those outcomes? What sort of readings and requirements would we have? What would one actually do in class? What writing should you do? What from your point of view would be the most effective way to ensure that every major graduates with the abilities your learning outcomes define?

The writing: Utopian Dreams. Knowing what you now know about your learning over the past few years, think both about what made your work here good, and what might have made it even better. Think about the kinds of literary and non-literary texts you might have read, the kind of classroom environment that worked best for you, the sorts of projects people asked you to do. Which worked best? Which should a more perfect program emphasize? Which should it de-emphasize?

Then write a 5-7 page (or whatever it takes) Utopian view of an English major. What learning goals should such a major have? How would it best set itself up to achieve them? What should be required, and how should it be orchestrated? What would happen in the classes you took? We will be publishing these for the class to read and respond to—and, I hope, to share with members of the English Department faculty who have for the past three years been redesigning the English major.

Finally, at course end you will be submitting a dual portfolio project. I will have two elements.

First, The Major Portfolio: an e-Portfolio display of three to five pieces of work you’ve done as an English major, along with a three to four page reflective essay that explains how your writings show your strengths. You have great freedom about what to include—the only constraints are that these must indeed be papers you wrote for classes, and that these are pieces whose strengths and challenges your accompanying reflective essay will explain. You will also choose your own audience. We’ll talk about this closer to the time of writing. In evaluating your Major Portfolio I will not (repeat: not) be re-grading your papers. It really doesn’t matter to me what grades you received. What does matter is the quality of your commentary. I will look at the clarity and focus of the way you articulate what you have achieved relative to the goals you have defined, and the appropriateness and relevance of the evidence you offer in support. Take care, too, not just to create a spin job! You should be aware not just of strengths, but of the ways in which you still are working to build strengths—and where you currently are in that process.

Second, The Course Portfolio. This is a collection of your writing for the quarter, along with a short 2-3 page essay about your work in the course.

Course Grading: 400 Points, apportioned in the following way:

The Looking Back project 80
The Looking Forward project 120
The Major Portfolio 100
The Course Portfolio 60
Attendance/Participation 40

This will be a writing-rich course. Since you are all seasoned English majors, you will have been writing regularly for a long time. In this class you will have the course projects, but you will also be writing something—usually a response paper—for just about every class session.

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 also 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 simply 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 doing constant writing—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 daily 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.

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 not generally 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 carefully 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, please 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 6 to 8 sets of papers over the course of the quarter I will have trouble enough keeping them straight already! You can, however, miss up to two assignments without any deductions from your final portfolio grade.

Truth in packaging disclosure:

1. In past quarters, most students have rated my classes as useful and relevant. But when students haven’t liked them, they have tended 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 if you feel as though you aren’t getting it, I strongly urge you to talk with me. In the end, it is up to you to get help. DON’T PUT IT OFF!!

2. Because they are writing for every class session, students 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 upper division classes runs anywhere from 3.1 to 3.3. That is NOT the bottom grade—it is the median grade. That means that a number 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.

Now, that may all sound pretty overwhelming. I think the work will be enjoyable—after all, in some sense it’s going to be about one of our favorite subjects—ourselves. If, however, for some reason you expect to be missing class, or to be unable to keep up with the assigned work, then I very strongly urge you to find something else to take!!!

Heads up Department

We’ll be doing a few other things here too. Education has been a big film topic—we’ll be looking at parts of one education themed film, Educating Rita. You will also work in groups to find a film you’d like to profile to the class—bringing the film to class to show a 3-5 minute Key Scene.

You’ll be doing a web-based research project on English majors elsewhere. Each of you will look at another College or University’s English program and report to us all.

I also plan a field trip to the new Seattle Public Library downtown for a writing Marathon. More soon.


Tentative Reading/Discussion Schedule

Week 1 (Jan 4): Introduction.
• A brief introduction to the study of English studies, and What, Why, So What.
• 20 minute in class write: A book or a moment that mattered.

Week 2 (Jan 9): Read (or re-read, if you haven’t read it before), Barthes essay, “The Death of the Author.”

(Jan 11): Read A River Runs Through It.

Week 3 (Jan 16): HOLIDAY—no class.

(Jan 18): Read Intro section to Why We Read in Richter, along with Vendler’s essay and Ohmann’s.

Week 4 (Jan 23) Read More’s Utopia—and the two examples of Looking Back papers. Set up for the
film project.

(Jan 25) Read hooks, Himmelfarb, and Freire. Beginning Educating Rita

Week 5 (Jan 30) No New Reading—Looking Back project due. PLEASE BRING TWO COPIES!!
We’ll have a read around for this—and we’ll publish the collection for our classroom use.
(Finish Educating Rita)

(Feb 1) Read Woolf: A Room of One's Own; and The Other Programs Project.

Week 6 (Feb 6) Read Robert Scholes in Richter; first set of film reports.

(Feb 8) Read essays on Service Learning and on Aesthetic Literacy (handouts); second set of
film reports.

Week 7 (Feb 13) First Edition for Looking Ahead Project due. Read around. E-portfolio field trip.

(Feb 15) Drafts back—revision workshop.

Week 8 (Feb 20) Presidents Day—No Class.

(Feb 22) 2nd Edition of Looking Ahead Project due.

Weeks 9 and 10: TBA.



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