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Essay Assignment Sheet

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As you know, you are required to write a ten-to-fifteen critical/theoretical essay for your final assignment in this course. This page gives a rationale for this assignment, some suggestions for developing a topic, and an assignment sheet with possible topics.

What For

This assignment is aimed at helping you further develop and demonstrate an awareness of your own acts of interpretation in reading (goal 1 from Part IV of the syllabus--cf. main page). Your discussion questions, reflective essays, and group pedagogical projects should have prepared you to choose a topic for, research, and write an extended argument in which you perform a critical reading, thereby showing what you've learned in the course.

How To

The topic for your critical/theoretical essay is open. You are encouraged to develop a topic based on any of the aspects of the course from the course description:

Focus on helping students develop an awareness of their own acts of interpretation in reading and an understanding of the strengths of different approaches to interpretation and criticism. This section is an introduction to major modes of and issues in literary criticism and literary theory. We will be relating literature, criticism, and theory, but our emphasis will be on understanding, analyzing, evaluating, and working with different modes of reading the world and its texts. We will consider the strengths and weaknesses of several interpretive strategies, their stakes and historical contexts, and their relations to social struggles for dignity, justice, and creativity. The first ("criticism") half of the course will be devoted to debates that have shaped the way we think about the text, the author, the reader, literature, history, and culture and to the way they relate to our own readings of Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness. The second ("theory") half of the course will be devoted to testing the proposition that theorizing can happen in a variety of genres and modes of writing; in it, we will read Bharati Mukherjee's novel The Holder of the World as a theoretical text in dialogue with feminist, new historicist, marxist, and postcolonial studies.

Whether the topic you choose is instructor- or student-initiated, you must turn in a 2-3-page research-based proposal before Thanksgiving Break that lays out a compelling justification/rationale for pursuing the project. This will be returned to students after Thanksgiving Break during a conference with the instructor. For guidelines on proposals, click here.

Critical/Theoretical Essay Assignment Sheet

Due: Friday, December 21, no later than 5 pm, in my mailbox in the English department main office (277 Fenton) or in the envelope outside my office door (240 Fenton).

Format: 10-15 pages, double spaced, with reasonable fonts, font sizes, and margins; title that indicates main argument of paper; heading that includes your name, the course name or number, and the date; bibliography and citations in MLA style (see links page for explanations of this style of citation); proper quotation format for quotations within a paragraph: "..." (12); blockquote format for quotes five lines or longer.

Criteria for Evaluation: Your grade for this segment of the course will be based on the strength and persuasiveness of the rationale/justification for the project offered in the proposal; the degree of intellectual and analytical development from proposal to paper; and, on the paper itself, the coherence and validity of the paper's arguments, the effectiveness of the paper's structure in conveying your ideas and convincing your audience, and the quality of the paper's prose (including grammar, syntax, and punctuation).

Options: Here are some suggested rubrics for the final essay; you are, of course, encouraged to invent or develop your own topic.

  • Application: You can choose a literary (either Holder of the World or a text from outside the course) or cultural text and interpret it using one or more of the critical/theoretical approaches from the course.
  • Debate: You can choose a critical/theoretical debate and make an argument supporting one side or another, or criticizing a shared assumption among both sides of the debate.
  • Theorizing in Narrative: You can choose a literary (either Holder of the World or a text from outside the course) or cultural text and relate its mode of theorizing to one or more theoretical approches from the course.



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Writing Assignment Sheets

Included here are the assignment sheets for most of the major writing tasks assigned by instructors in recent semesters. We include multiple samples for each essay so you can choose from a variety of prompts.

  • Under "Assignments for portfolio 1," you'll find samples for summary, Toulmin analysis, response, summary/response, synthesis/response, and the inquiry/exploratory essay.
  • Under "Assignments for portfolio 2," you'll find annotated bibliography, convincing, and persuading.
  • Under "Assignments for portfolio 3," you'll find mediating/negotiating and analysis assignments.

Several instructors did not assign specific essays during the second half of the term. Rather, they introduced general rhetorical strategies in a series of short activities and then had their students define their own assignments by identifying the rhetorical context within which they wished to write and choosing the most appropriate argumentative strategy for that context.

Just a note of comfort: having taught synthesis/response and the problem-solving essay before, you are already well acquainted with the problems most of your students will face in the COCC300 essays. On the other hand, we would like to push the students beyond 100-level writing. In the exploratory essay (the COCC300 version of synthesis/response) this might mean, as Laura Thomas put it, "getting students to make the individual texts to disappear." That is, rather than asking students to represent discrete arguments in oppositional relation to each other, instead asking students to represent the complexity of the relations among different perspectives. One possible means of achieving this complexity is to ask students to consider the rhetorical context of the essays they are synthesizing and to explain how the apparent differences in perspectives might be related to the different purposes and audiences each author had in mind.

And a self-indulgent note about the persuasive essay, should you choose to assign it. As Aims defines this essay, students are asked to appeal not only to reason (a typical expectation in the academic community) but also to character, style, and emotion (rather atypical in our world). Because all appeals can be so effective in motivating people to action--toward both worthy and unworthy ends--I suggest that the weeks leading up to the persuasion essay offer a likely spot in the syllabus to talk about the ethics of argumentation, should this topic interest you. During the spring 1995 term, for example, I spent one well-received class period on the ethical nature of persuasion. Having read about audience appeals in Aims, the students and I watched a series of video clips from Branagh's Henry V, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, Eleanor Roosevelt's appeal to the United Nations, and one of Hitler's many vacuous presentations. After each clip, the students considered the appeals the speaker used, why those appeals were effective for his or her audience, and what end the speaker wished to achieve through his or her persuasion. Thus, without positioning myself as a morality cop, the students started thinking about how their own essays fit into larger ethical systems.

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