College Writing Skills
Professor: Josh Roiland
E-Mail: joshua.roiland@gmail.com

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” — Joan Didion

“What the mind doesn’t understand, it worships, or fears.” — Alice Walker

A Pocket Style Manual, 4th Ed., Diana Hacker, ed.
Handouts and Essays on Blackboard

Course Description
English 095 is meant to prepare students for academic writing at the college level. The course places heavy emphasis on the writing process, which is comprised of: responding to, generating, and organizing content; improving syntax, diction, usage, and mechanics. Students will gain confidence along with competence in their writing skills. Our course focuses on both writing and reading because the two are so deeply intertwined, that to cultivate the craft of one would be impossible without the other. One becomes a better writer by writing, but also by reading good literature. And one gains a better grasp of what one reads, when, as the above quote by Joan Didion underscores, one writes about it. Three thematic topics (all of which are relevant to nursing students) will guide our reading: responding to trauma, defining morality, and a third topic that I will choose with your consultation. We will engage these topics by reading short stories and essays, and by watching films.

Course Objective
Students will learn to identify arguments of other writers and respond effectively to those arguments. By the end of this course, students should be able to write a logically argued and structured short essay. Such an essay requires that its author be competent in at least the following levels of writing, all of which must be practiced frequently, often in concert, for effective writing skills to be developed:
— Constructing and argument
— Writing sentences (including attention to grammar and punctuation)
— Writing well-developed paragraphs
— Organizing paragraphs to develop an argument
— Developing an effective style
— Revising

Course Requirements
Daily Reading & Writing
Class Discussion
Grammar Quizzes
Writing Workshop Participation
7 Reading Reflections
3 Essays (3 drafts each)
1 Final Revision (either Paper 1 or 2)
Final Exam

Course Evaluation
Class Discussion — 10%
Reading Reflections — 15%
Grammar quizzes — 5%
Final Exam — 10%
Paper 1: 2-3 pgs. — 15%
Paper 2: 3-4 pgs. — 20%
Paper 3: 5-6 pgs. — 25%

                              Reading and Writing Schedule

Part 1—Responding to Trauma

                              Week 1
Introduction, Syllabus
7-19: Read: Orwell, “Why I Write”
Didion, “Why I Write”
Ernest Hemingway, “Hills Like White Elephants”
Abcarian & Klotz, “Responding to Literature”
Write: Reading Reflection 1

                              Week 2
Louise Erdrich, “Red Convertible”
Sherman Alexie, “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”
No Class

                              Week 3
Grammar Workshop
Paper 1.1 DUE (Writing Workshop)
Flannery O’Conner, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
J.D. Salinger, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”

                              Week 4
Grammar Workshop
Paper 1.2 DUE
Alice Walker, “Everyday Use”
James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”
Reading Reflection 2

                              Week 5 PAPER 1 CONFERENCES
Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried”
Raymond Carver, “Cathedral”
Joyce Carol Oates, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”
Reading Reflection 3

                              Week 6
William Faulkner, “A Rose for Emily”
Jhumpa Lahiri, “A Temporary Matter”
Grammar Workshop
Paper 1.3 DUE

Part 2—Defining Morality

                              Week 7
Geiger, “Some Guidelines for Analysis of Film Sequences”
Goldberg, “Some Suggestions on ‘How to Read a Film’”
Watch: Crimes and Misdemeanors
Watch: Crimes and Misdemeanors
Reading Reflection 4

                              Week 8
Joan Didion, “On Morality”
Goodman, “Who Lives? Who Dies? Who Decides?”
Golway, “The Culture of Death”
McIver, “Assisted Dying as a Moral and Ethical Choice: A Physician’s View”
Grammar Workshop
Paper 2.1 DUE (Writing Workshop)

                              Week 9
Rachels, “Active and Passive Euthanasia”
Quill, “Death and Dignity: A Case of Individualized Decision Making”
Barnet & Bedau, “A Moralist’s View: Ways of Thinking Ethically”
“United States vs. Holmes”
Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”
Hardin, “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor”
Paper 2.2 DUE

                              Week 10 PAPER 2 CONFERENCES
Phillip Gourevitch, from We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families
Watch: Hotel Rwanda
Watch: Hotel Rwanda
Reading Reflection 5

                              Week 11
Grammar Workshop
Paper 2.3 DUE
Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”
W.E.B. DuBois, “A Mild Suggestion”

                              Week 12
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Eastland, “Ending Affirmative Action”
Marshall & Deb, “Not Color Blind, Just Blind”
Grammar Workshop
Paper 3.1 DUE (Writing Workshop)

Part 3—Media & Culture

                              Week 13
Scholes, “On Reading a Video Text”
Rhodes, “Hollows Claims About Television Violence”
Grossman, “It’s Important to Feel Something When You Kill”
Reading Reflection 6

                              Week 14 PAPER 3 CONFERENCES
Males, “Who Us? Stop Blaming Kids & TV”
Paper 3.2 DUE
Malcolm Gladwell, “Brain Candy”
Grammar Workshop
Reading Reflection 7

                              Week 15
NO CLASS—Work on Papers
Evaluations, Questions
Paper 3.3 DUE
Final Revision DUE


A Note on Assignments
Upon receiving a writing assignment, small or large, do not immediately configure your thought process according to its parameters. Instead of asking me what I want, ask yourself what you want to write about. What interests you about the topic? What excites you? What makes you angry? Determine these answers first, and then proceed to figuring out how to incorporate your thoughts and feelings into the limits of the assignment. These are your assignments; therefore, you should dictate what goes in them.

A Note on Writing
Our course is not an assembly line, where, after several key stops, a polished and finished product (you, the writer) appears. Rather than production, think of this class as design, where you come up with new, creative ideas, and then test them out. Some will work, others will not, but this class, like college in general, is not a means to an end. It is a means to exploration of thought – and there can be no end to that. This semester we will be:

-practicing the stages of the writing process, including peer review
-defining a significant argument through the writing process
-framing personal experience for a public audience
-supporting an argument with relevant evidence from formal essays
-considering audience in making decisions about writing
-identifying arguments in reads and responding to them
-developing arguments in a variety of ways outside the formal essay
-writing clear, error-free sentences
-revising for style, grammar, and essay organization

A Note on Grading
Do not be consumed by your grades. Thoughtful feedback, not judgmental grading, will help you become a better writer. Grade obsession often stifles creativity and compels students to pander to a higher authority (i.e., me, the teacher). This ideology runs counter to everything our class will celebrate. Take risks! Explore! And heed the words of author and critic James Baldwin: “It is very nearly impossible…to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.” It will serve you better to concern yourself with originality of thought rather than outcomes of performance.

A Note on Asking Why?
The word why, in my opinion, is the most powerful word in the English language. It derives its power from the response generated in those who are asked it. Be it parents, teachers, politicians, etc., the word why grates and nags because it requires critical thinking, articulation, and honesty. We are a fast-paced culture that thrives on instant gratification, convenience, and economy. Why entrenches itself against all these notions. It requires us to slow down, work hard, and perhaps – almost certainly – be displeased with the results we find. The benefits to this discomfort, however, far outweigh the inconvenience. Asking why allows us to travel beneath the surface, beneath the generalizations, easy answers, and half-truths. Asking why is a powerful tool that makes people nervous; it allows us to get to the heart of the heart of the matter – to learn things others may not want us to know.

A Note on Respect
As I’ve noted, our class will function mainly as a discussion group (a hyper-analytical book club with writing assignments, if you will). Whether we meet in small groups or as a whole class, it is imperative that we treat everyone’s opinions with respect, empathy, and concern. No doubt we will, at times, get into heated debates in the classroom – this is great, this means we are passionate and engaged with our topics – but these debates must always remain civil and thoughtful. When emotions run high it becomes easy to dismiss other points of view, but in doing so we learn nothing. We must listen to the other side (if for no other, than to develop arguments against it), and try to understand why those in opposition to us feel the way they do. Civilized intellectual discourse is what college, and life for that matter, is all about, and more often than not, we will learn more from listening than from shouting.

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