Literacy and Crisis

English 201: Intermediate Composition, Spring 2010

Course Description

We have all been writing our entire lives, and you will keep writing long after this class. What we will do in here, though, is try to heighten your awareness about your writing practices and rhetorical skills, so that you can write better, and more consciously, as you continue on in college, work and life. Writing and what makes writing “good” vary widely across time, place, language, technology, genre, and process. No 15-week course can teach all you need to know for every writing situation, but English 201 is designed to offer substantial instruction in the four modes of literacy: speaking, reading, writing, and listening, in order to practice these skills concurrently in a variety of writing situations.

Everyone can become a better writer, but you’ll need to work hard, take risks, spend significant amounts of time on your drafts and revisions, share your writing with others, and be a good reader for them. You can expect our class meeting time to be spent writing about and discussing texts, debating ideas, workshopping writing, and generating ideas and strategies for your projects. In short, we will write a lot, in pursuit of the following questions:

  • How does writing create problems in the world?
  • How can writing engage people to take action in ways they might not have before?
  • What does our site of inquiry (literacy) teach us about how writing is practiced and arguments are constructed?

Our Theme

“Writing Studies” is emerging as an increasingly important component of 21st century English departments, expanding traditional notions of what students might study, research, or critique in English classes. Both students and scholars are increasingly interpreting an expanded variety of texts—television, film, comic books, public documents, letters, technical and professional documents, blogs—reflecting the proliferating use of text outside of academia and the turn toward an “information” or “knowledge” economy. This version of English 201 invites participants to explore Writing Studies through a problem-posing approach, focusing attention on the role various “literacy crises” have played (and continue to play) in defining how writing is understood, taught, and learned. Through historical and theoretical readings and analyses of their own literacy practices, students will become familiar with current and historical perspectives on writing and will critically examine the following questions:

  • How does a diversifying society redefine writing as effective, creative, illegal, failing?
  • What are the arguments that maintain public understandings about writing and why do these arguments persist?
  • What are the consequences of these arguments for student, professional, and public writers?
  • Are we, in fact, in a literacy crisis?

Objectives of English 201

All English 201 sections fulfill the university’s “Communications B” requirement and demand a high level of participation from students. In this class, you can expect to:

  • Learn how to analyze, negotiate, respond to, and create your own challenging or complex arguments
  • Develop an understanding of the technological, economic, and institutional trends which have shaped understandings of writing and its place in society
  • Develop your abilities as an engaged and critical reader—of your work, the work of your peers, and of published writers
  • Understand and apply basic rhetorical principles in order to communicate with style and substance
  • Plan, draft, revise, and edit multiple writing projects over time; see how your writing changes with practice
  • Increase your consciousness about the power and plasticity of writing and observe how writing varies across individuals, communities, and situations


This semester you will write frequently, turning something in for response from either your peers or me almost every week. The goal is for you to write constantly, in a variety of genres, in response to different assignments with different kinds of challenges, and for multiple readers. As in all English 201 courses, you will produce about 8,000 words (approximately 30 pages) of polished writing by the end of the semester.

Short Assignments. You will complete several 2-3 page assignments: descriptive narratives, reflections, and analyses of readings, and websites. Complete these assignments with the same care and attention as your longer projects, but feel free to take more risks or try something new. The short assignments will receive + , , or – for you to gauge your writing progress.

Long Assignments. You will also complete longer papers that expand on the writing completed in the short assignments. You will receive substantial written feedback from your peers and from me on the projects in order to gauge your writing progress and continue to improve your writing skills.

Participation. Attending class and turning in your work on time, of course, isn’t enough. You need to come to each class meeting prepared and be an active participant when you’re here. Speaking up during class is easier for some more than others, but there are a variety of ways to participate in pairs or small groups. I can help out if you don’t know how to enter the conversation—just let me know.

Tentative Course Calendar – English 201 – Spring 2010

Week 1 T 1/19 Introduction to course and to one another; discuss Bauerlein
Th 1/21 Discuss Lamott; prewriting and invention; Gee discourses; annotation
Week 2 T 1/26 Discuss Brandt and literacy narrative models; survey literacy practices
Th 1/28 Discuss Freire, Lu, Rose; showing vs. telling
Week 3 T 2/2 Literacy Narrative draft 1 due; writing workshop
Th 2/4 Discuss across group members literacy narratives; simile and metaphor
Week 4 T 2/9 Literacy Narrative draft 2 due; discuss “Bonehead,” “Johnny” articles
Th 2/11 Discuss Plato, Gee; literacy hueristic
Week 5 T 2/16 Discuss Miller, Connors, Crowley; timeline activity
Th 2/18 Literacy Analysis draft 1 due; writing workshop
Week 6 T 2/23 Discuss Soliday, Villanueva, “Statement,” Hirsch, Bauerlein; timeline 2
Th 2/25 Literacy Analysis draft 2 due; rhetorical situation
Week 7 T 3/2 Conferences – no class
Th 3/4 Rhetorical appeals; ad analysis
Week 8 T 3/9 Portfolio 1 due; fallacies; discuss “U.S…Dumb,” “Google…Stupid,” NCTE
Th 3/11 Discuss Jones, Lunsford; discuss rhet analysis models
Week 9 T 3/16 Website analysis; meet in WC computer room
Th 3/18 No class
Week 10 T 3/23 Rhetorical analysis draft 1 due; writing workshop
Th 3/25 Rhetorical analysis draft 2 due; research prep
3/30– 4/1 Spring Break
Week 11 T 4/6 Research proposal due; topics to questions
Th 4/8 Conferences – no class
Week 12 T 4/13 Research paper draft 1 due; writing workshop
Th 4/15 Using appeals in writing; claims and warrants
Week 13 T 4/20 Research paper draft 2 due
Th 4/22 Ethos and style; intro to presentations
Week 14 T 4/27 Publication/audience analysis
Th 4/29 Editorial draft due; writing workshop
Week 15 T 5/4 Presentations
Th 5/6 Presentations; Portfolio 2 due May 10