English Composition I (F18)
My Fall 2018 “English Composition I” course at Lehman College asked students to interrogate the author-art relation at the heart of plagiary. This debate, one New Critics and New Historicists have long been litigating, undergirded the course’s readings and assignments. From music sampling and art forgery to quotation, citation, and outright theft, the course’s muddied definition of “plagiary” asked students to sort attribution from the chaff of ambiguous authorship. This sorting raised some sticky lingering questions.
Is Kanye West’s Amnesty sample in “Lift Yourself,” West’s controversial 2018 track, plagiary or prompt? Is it, in other words, blatant theft or targeted deployment of a cultural artifact? Does it make sense to say that Pontus Hulten’s Warhol Brillos are fakes when we know Warhol himself denied the originality of his own “““original””” Brillos? Lastly, my students queried, is Hannah Gadsby a New Critic or a New Historicist?
Threading their analytical needles through these thick unanswerables, my students achieved the course’s mandate to prepare students for college writing.
Below you’ll find an interactive module that details some important aspects of my course design philosophy.
The syllabus for this course is rather traditional, but there are few points to flag.
The syllabus also includes a detailed description of my expectations for students’ weekly Seminar Papers, which form the foundation of my courses’ success.
The last noteworthy section, the Classroom Contacts mini-worksheet, arrives at the end of the course policies section. Widening my definition of “course content” means that attendance as my syllabus defines it is central to the course’s success. Because this definition is so wide, I ask students on the first day of class to obtain their right- and lefthand neighbors’ contact information. This stopgap promotes out-of-class communication among my students and streamlines student requests in my inbox. (!)
Feedback, or: In Defense of Rubrics
In addition to weekly Seminar Papers, this class required two larger assignments: a Midterm Paper, which is an expanded Seminar Paper, and a Final Paper, a freer, more interpretive comparison paper. For both assignments, I used a comprehensive rubric to deliver more targeted feedback individually and for the class as a group.
I collated their Midterm Paper data and presented it—along with comments from their anonymous midterm feedback forms—to my students for discussion. This data reflected some key insights that changed the way we discussed readings, ran workshops, and clarified expectations in the second half of the semester.
In defense of rubrics: had I not used a rubric, my feedback to the group would have been generalized—and I would have missed some of the insights these data suggested. Despite their faults, rubrics are a godsend for this adjunct laborer: not only do they save time, structured grading cuts down on bias, unfair grade variation, and grade inflation. (I owe a great deal to the rubric outlined in John C. Bean’s teaching classic, Engaging Ideas, from which much of this rubric is drawn.)
Selected lesson plans
The summer before my first semester as lead instructor, I searched desperately for minute-by-minute lesson plans—and couldn’t find any that met my needs. Below you’ll find some that are representative of my lesson preparations before every class.