Rail yard background, from the Library of Congress


A Hypertext Resource for Literature

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Many of the assignments for this class are called "responses." Students are often confused by these assignments, in part because they are somewhat less formal in structure than what you have been asked to write for classes in the past. Responses are not essays or themes: they do not need to support a single argument or provide a neat introduction and conclusion. Responses can include questions for the class, conjectures, gut feelings, and speculations. They should, however, provide specific textual evidence for whatever points they want to make. (In other words, quote readings specifically, with page numbers, rather than referring vaguely to them.) Responses should represent a first attempt to make sense out of the assignment, a first attempt at getting the bits and pieces you have marked in the reading to hang together in some way. In grading them, I will reward careful presentation of textual evidence, intellectual risk-taking, and efforts to provide material for class discussion. I also expect you to write in standard prose, as opposed to the less formal language of email. As far as the content of responses goes, however, be fearless: the correctness of these preliminary thoughts is not a factor. Responses are due by 10:00 pm the evening before the class for which they are assigned. Because the success of this course depends on our ability to read and consider responses in advance of each class session, late responses will incur severe grade penalties: the maximum grade for a late response will be a C.

Here's how I imagine you doing these assignments:

  1. Having done the week's readings and attended Monday's and Wednesday's class sessions, you page back through what you have read, scanning over the things you've marked. You look at the clock and note with satisfaction, or even a touch of smugness, that you have left ample time to think through your ideas, write a careful response, and edit your prose.

  2. You sit at a computer and type. You do this in a word-processing program. Blackboard is incredibly unreliable as a text editor, and as some students and I have discovered, it will sometimes forget what you have typed if you try anything tricky. Let me repeat that with emphasis: Do not compose responses in Blackboard. You will get burned if you do, and I will not be sympathetic because I am warning you, in italics even, of the danger. You can be tentative, speculative, or downright wrong about what you're saying. You can imagine responses as places to try out paper ideas in advance, but do not forget their primary function, which is to prompt interesting discussions.

  3. You type a response of fewer than 400 words and read it over, fiddling with it as you please. (If you get carried away and write more than 400 words, choose the parts you most want us to read and bring your other ideas to class for discussion.) You take the time you have left between writing and the deadline to read your response aloud and edit it for clarity.

  4. You copy and paste your response into the appropriate place on the class discussion board.

Should you have trouble with the discussion board server for any reason, send an email to the class (including me) with your response, and post it to the board when the technical problems are resolved.

These responses will be fodder for class discussions and for papers. Each student should print all the responses for each class and mark potential comments or questions. I might collect your copies of the responses occasionally to see how well this process is working.

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