General Composition Course Goals and Department Policies

The most obvious goal is increasing a student’s facilities with language, primarily writing, but also reading and speaking. To that end, the Department appreciates it when you offer a course that has several major writing projects offered throughout the semester, with the majority of them allowing the student to revise and develop revision skills. We encourage instructors in the Department to discuss the first draft, and often insist that students develop outlines and rough/preliminary discovery drafts (not written drafts, and certainly not Word-processed drafts, but ideas and perhaps sentence outlines) that are used as the foundations for fully developed blue book drafts. (By blue book, we literally mean the little blue books that students hand-write essays and other compositions into.) By evaluating this blue book writing (with suggestions that incorporate your reactions about organization/structure, grammar/mechanics, and intellectual content) and giving it back to the student, you are increasing the likelihood that a student will anticipate future academic writing with a strategy that uses drafts and multiple revisions. 

Reading and speaking are also important. For all Composition classes, one idea is to have students read the assignments and summarize what they have read, paying attention to main ideas/thesis statements, major points, powerful and also unknown vocabulary, and the rhetorical context or reasons why the writing was done. Many instructors have students do quizzes on their assigned reading, and others may also ask students to respond to questions at the end of the reading or to contribute to class discussions. Again, the major goals should include summarization of what was read, analysis of how the reading was put together, and critical thinking about the audience for the writing and what effects the reading might have had or does have on different audiences. 

Each of the four sequences in Composition (098, 099, 101, and 102) builds on earlier language skills, so emphasize those skills to insure that students are not passed up into courses where they will be unable to complete the assigned work.

Placement: Students are initially placed into Composition courses based on their SAT scores. If a student believes that he or she was misplaced and has the abilities to complete the skills in the next sequence, and if you concur, a portfolio-based system is the only way that the student can be exempted from the next sequence. Attached to this file is a document that you can distribute to students and it should answer their questions about the portfolio process. Don’t hesitate to see me or have your students see me about the portfolio process. I am more than happy to help you and your students compile a successful portfolio. 

Prerequisites: If a student is placed, for instance, in English 098, then the student must take English 099 the next semester. If you are teaching English 101, students who took English 099 or were initially placed in English 101 are the only students who should be in your class. Refer to the above entry on portfolios, which is the only other route for a student to be in your class. We have had many problems, due to advising and the computer system for registration, with students jumping courses, and the major effect of this problem is to have under-prepared students in your class. Make sure you announce that all students need to be officially in your class. Explain placement and the portfolio process early to avoid problems later on in the semester.

 Attendance/Absences/Lateness: The Department varies slightly on how to deal with these issues, but there is consensus that a class that meets three times a week allows for three absences. These are usually sufficient for a semester’s worth of “excused” and “unexcused” absences. Normally, each absence over three causes a deduction for the final course grade. Oftentimes, this happens like this: each excess absence is treated as a one third of a final grade deduction: for instance, six absences on a final grade of a B would cause that grade to drop from a B-, to a B, to a B-, and land at a C. Some faculty state a ceiling for absences, like eight or ten, after which automatic course failure occurs. Treat attendance seriously or else you might find that attendance becomes a major problem for your class. Normally, each late entry to class (whether that is defined as ten minutes or after a daily exercise) amounts to one third of an absence. Most faculty members define a time period, often ten or fifteen minutes, when a lateness turns into an absence. Make sure you put a specific attendance/lateness policy on your syllabus. 

 Desk Copies/Reserve Copies: Are available for all course textbooks in my office. Just ask! I also have many supporting texts, such as instructors manuals and other materials. I also have all the textbooks on reserve at the Library. Students cannot take them out of the library, but can photocopy or use them. They need to ask for them by their title or author.

 Mid-term and final exams: All courses must include a mid-term and a final exam.



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