ENGLISH 210: INTRODUCTION TO TEXTS

SECTION 003: MONDAYS AND WEDNESDAYS, 5–7:15 PM, HHH 230
SPRING 2009, UWEC

PROFESSOR BOB NOWLAN

Office: HHH 425 Office Phone: (715) 836-4369
ranowlan@uwec.edu
http://people.uwec.edu/ranowlan

Office Hours: T 2:40-4:30, W 2:40-3:30 pm, and By Appointment (MW, 7:15-8 pm I will often make available or use for group conferences)


COURSE EXPLANATION

    
    English 210: Introduction to Texts, the principal foundational core course for all English major and minor emphasis areas (Literature, Creative Writing, Teaching, Scientific and Technical Communication, Linguistics, and, in process, hopefully soon to be added, Film, Theory, and Culture), focuses on basic concepts and practices useful for interpreting a wide variety of texts, and for doing so by situating these in relevant and useful cultural contexts.  


    Introduction to Texts is a course in Cultural Studies.  Cultural Studies is a cross-disciplinary field of intellectual work that emerged in the 1980s, with particular emphasis in the arts and humanities.  Cultural studies engages the "writing" and "reading" of all "texts" of culture (and not just conventional "literary"–or print or verbal–varieties of texts).  According to cultural studies, we "read" whenever we interpret what something "means," and we "write" whenever we create something which others must interpret so as to determine what it means.  This leads us to approach all products of culture as "texts" insofar as they are written and read, insofar as they are understood as possessing or bearing meaning.  "Texts" include everything from the seemingly most "profoundly meaningful" to the seemingly most "mundanely meaningless" (as, after all, to be considered insignificant, or of little or no meaning, is to be judged to mean in a particular way as well).  Cultural studies thus focuses on making sense of "texts" such as films, television shows, music and video productions and performances, paintings and drawings, sculpture and architecture, sports teams and games, trends in clothing and fashion, commercial advertisements, individual dreams and plans, shopping lists and checkout receipts, buildings and rooms, kinds of food and drink, roads and vehicles, manners and gestures, ceremonies and rituals, personalities and personal relationships, and individual actions and specific incidents.  Cultural studies focuses on making sense of the meaning, value, and significance of specific cultural products and practices as well as of the social relationships humans form to facilitate and regulate specific processes of making and practicing.  And cultural studies focuses on the social relationships humans form, furthermore, to distribute, exchange, consume, and otherwise respond to specific processes of making and practicing.


    From the vantage point of Cultural Studies, literary texts are not the only kinds of texts that English engages, not by far, yet “literature,” taking a cue from literary and cultural studies theorist Terry Eagleton, here tends to refer to whatever a particular culture (or subculture) happens to regard as especially "highly valued writing."  This flexible definition recognizes that what is defined as “literature” and what is not–and especially “good” or “great” literature–varies considerably across time and space, and remains a continual focus of popular debate and critical contestation.  But it also recognizes that literary studies maintains a crucial place within a larger field of cultural studies:  inquiry into what makes for different conceptions of highly valued writing within and across different historical cultures–and subcultures, as well as interpretation and appreciation of those texts that do acquire and maintain the status of “literature.”  


    Within Cultural Studies, however, and also throughout the history of the existence of  this particular course, English 210: Introduction to Texts, practitioners tend to emphasize texts that are not conventionally conceived as great works of art–or the mainstays of ‘high’ or ‘fine’ culture–instead focusing on the vast array of cultural processes and productions we find in the broad, diverse arena commonly referred to as “popular culture.”  In doing so, work in Cultural Studies shows how it is possible–and useful–to bring to bear concepts and practices for interpretation of cultural texts of all levels and kinds.  At the same time, cultural studies takes ‘great works of art’–and, more broadly, texts of ‘high’ or ‘fine’ culture–seriously too, focusing on showing how these are related to texts of popular culture, including, often, as deliberate critiques of, rejections of, departures from, escapes from, and ways of, even if only temporarily, transcending the qualitative problems and limitations of what we tend to find predominant within “popular culture.”   


     English 210 aims to help you to engage in a more conscious, critical, and independent-minded way with all of these different texts of culture, and to think about and relate to them, and to the ends they advance and the interests they represent, on your own terms, thereby far less easily subject to manipulation, indoctrination, dogmatism, demagoguery, or any other tendency to end up as mere mindless consumers, shallow conformists, or passive victims versus the power exercised by socially and politically dominant groups.  Pursuing this pathway enables you to engage as producers of your culture, and of your cultural experience–i.e., as people who do maintain potentially substantial power of your own to exercise versus the social conditions that ground and the social structures that shape your everyday existence. 


     In the first half of this course we will focus on learning and initially applying key concepts and practices for interpretation of cultural texts, particularly from the field of semiotics (or semiology, as it is also known).  Semiotics inquires into the nature and operations of all forms of meaningful expression, representation, and communication in culture.  We will concentrate in this half of the course on working with ways of reading–and writing about–cultural texts.  And we will concentrate in this part of the semester on working with texts from popular culture.   In the second half of class we will focus on learning and initially practicing writing–that is creating–cultural texts.  Here we will begin by reading, discussing, and interpreting a series of four English plays that foreground complexities involved in interpretation, as well as the significance of social and political struggles over meaning: two from the late 19th century, Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest, and two from the 1960s, Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr. Sloane and What the Butler Saw.  These plays have acquired the status of literary classics, and the playwrights have acquired the status of canonical authors, even as both were deliberately quite transgressive–even scandalously so–in their time.  These plays also engage critically with cultural conventions, in sharp and striking ways, and each continues to be highly challenging to–and provocative for–audiences to this day.  Working with these four plays will allow us to focus on two distinct historical places and times both different enough yet still close enough to where we are at to provide useful points of comparison and contrast, as well as connection and reflection.  What you will be doing, after we take the time initially to read, discuss, and interpret these plays, is to divide into three groups where each group will be working together to compose, produce, and ultimately perform–for the rest of the class–a short play of your own.  These plays you write will be directly related to and inspired by the plays from Wilde and Orton, while set in the here and now as well as otherwise significantly adapted and transformed.  So, in sum, in the second half of class you will gain the opportunity to bring to bear the key concepts and practices you have learned in the first half of class toward the critical and creative writing of a cultural text of your own.  


TEXTS

    The following books are required:

1.     Brummett, Barry.  Rhetoric in Popular Culture.  2nd Edition.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2006.  ISBN#: 1-4129-1437-X.   [This has been one of the principal books used in this course from the very beginning in teaching and learning fundamental concepts and practices; at the moment it also represents the popular consensual favorite among English 210 instructors.  The book is laid out very logically and precisely, and includes the beneficial feature of “summary and review” as well as “looking ahead” sections at the end of each chapter.  Please be sure to acquire the 2nd. not the 1st, edition.]

2    Berger, Arthur Asa.  Signs in Contemporary Culture: an Introduction to Semiotics.  2nd Edition.  Salem, Wisconsin: Sheffield Publishing Company, 1999.  ISBN#:1-879215-37-3.   [This is also a long-time popular standby of courses very much the same or similar to this one, and, like Brummett’s book, offers a lucid, readily accessible introduction to a field which is most often represented by books that are written in ways, and at levels, that are more difficult to come to grips with and initially understand.  Although some of the illustrations and topical references are dated at this point, and Berger’s own opinionated takes can come across as quirky from time to time, these features, as well as his continual interest in humor and in cartooning, helps him in making his points more memorably, and, after all, a key point that semiotics emphasizes, over and over again, is that the interpretation of the meaning of cultural signs and texts is a site of extensive and persistent difference, conflict, and struggle.  Please be sure to acquire the 2nd. not the 1st, edition.]

3.    Wilde, Oscar.  Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest.   Any edition is acceptable.

4    Orton, Joe.  Entertaining Mr. Sloane and What the Butler Saw.  Any edition is acceptable.

*****    All of these books are available for you to purchase at the UWEC Bookstore.  You may purchase them elsewhere, as you wish, as long as you do acquire them in time to use for class.   In the case of the Wilde and Orton plays, because of the vagaries of publishing as well as restrictions on which publishers and distributors they can work with, the UWEC Bookstore has ordered (or will have ordered) editions where the plays will be bundled together with many other plays by the same playwright than those we will use in class.  However, these are still relatively inexpensive (and, strangely enough, cost less than many smaller, single-play editions), while also providing you more reference and contextual material (including for prospective extra credit papers–see below).  However, as I myself have done, if you are able to order on-line, you likely will be able to find editions containing only the specific plays we will be using in class–or further editions of select or complete plays besides the ones selling in the UWEC Bookstore). *****  


    I will supply additional written texts, as need be, in the form of photocopied handouts, or on Desire2Learn and the W (the Student-Faculty Shared) Drive.  I will also supply copies of the visual, audio, and audio-visual texts that we may make use of from time to time as well.   


SCHEDULE

M 1/26: Introduction and Orientation.

W 1/28: The Rhetoric of Everyday Life, The Building Blocks of Culture: Signs, Definition–Signs and Semiotics, and How Signs Work.  

    Read for Class, W 1/28: Rhetoric and Popular Culture, Selections From Chapter 1, pp. 3-14 (“The Rhetoric of Everyday Life” and “The Building Blocks of Culture: Signs”–Including “Indexical Meaning,” “Iconic Meaning,” “Symbolic Meaning,” and “Complexity of the Three Kinds of Meaning”); Signs in Contemporary Culture, Chapter 1 (“Definition” and “Honor in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I”) and Chapter 2 (“How Signs Work” and “Sherlock Holmes”), pp. 1-21.
 
M 2/2: The Building Block of Culture: Artifacts; Language and Speaking; Forms of Signs; and Who Uses Signs?   

    Read for Class, M 2/2: Rhetoric and Popular Culture, Selection From Chapter 1, pp. 14-22 (“The Building Blocks of Culture: Artifacts”–Including “An Action, Event or Object Perceived as a Unified Whole”); Signs in Contemporary Culture, Chapter 6, pp. 39-45 (“Language and Speaking” and “Fashion”), Chapter 8, pp. 53-61 (“Forms of Signs” and “Eight Hypotheses on Digital Watches”), and Chapter 16, pp. 121-126 (“Who Uses Signs?” and “Poetry as Signs”).

W 2/4: Definitions of Culture; Characteristics of Cultures; and Signs and Identity.

    Read for Class, M 9/15: Rhetoric and Popular Culture, Selections From Chapter 1, pp. 22-38 (“Definitions of Culture”–Including “Elitist Meanings of Culture” and “Popular Meanings of Culture”–and “Characteristics of Cultures”–Including “Cultures Are Highly Complex and Overlapping,” “Cultures Entail Consciousness, or Ideologies,” and “Cultures Are Experienced Through Texts”); Signs in Contemporary Culture, Chapter 17, pp. 127-139 (“Signs and Identity,” “Teeth as Signs,” “Logos and Corporate Identity,” “The Un-Cola Country,” and “The Onion of Culture Metaphor”).  
                                    
M 2/9: Codes.

    Read for Class, M 2/9: Signs in Contemporary Culture, Chapters 25-26, pp. 195-216 (“Codes,” “Baseball,” “Characteristics of Codes,” and “Foods as Signs”).

W 2/11: Texts as Sites of Struggle, Characteristics of Critical Studies, and Finding a Text.

    Read for Class, W 2/11: Rhetoric in Popular Culture, Selections From Chapter 3, pp. 90-110 (“Texts as Sites of Struggle”–Including “Texts Influence Through Meanings” and “Texts Are Sites of Struggle over Meaning”–“Three Characteristics of Critical Studies”–Including “The Critical Character,” “Concern Over Power,” and “Critical Interventionism”–and “Finding a Text”–Including “The First Continuum: Type of Text” and “The Second Continuum: Sources of Meaning”).

M 2/16: Defining a Context, “Inside” the Text, and The Text in Context: Metonymy, Judgment, and Power.

    Read for Class, M 2/16: Rhetoric in Popular Culture, Selections From Chapter 3, pp. 110-134 (“Defining a Context”–Including “The Third Continuum: Choice of Context” and “The Fourth Continuum: Text-Context Relationship”–“‘Inside’ The Text”–Including “The Fifth Continuum: From Surface to Deep Reading”–and “The Text in Context: Metonymy, Power, Judgment”–Including “Metonymies,” “Empowerment/Disempowerment,” and “Judgment”).  

W 2/18: Metaphor and Metonymy, Denotation and Connotation, Imaginary Signs and Signs that Lie, and Manifest and Latent Meaning in Signs.

    Read for Class, W 2/18: Signs in Contemporary Culture, Chapters 4-5, pp. 29-38 (“Metaphor: Communicating by Analogy,” “Love Is a Game,” “Metonymy: Communicating by Using Associations,” and “Political Cartoons”), Chapters 11-13, pp. 77-105 (“Denotation and Connotation,” “Comics and Ideology,” “Imaginary Signs,” “Freud on Dreams,” “Signs that Lie,” and “On Parody”), and Chapter 23, pp. 177-185 (“Manifest and Latent Meanings in Signs” and “Robinson Crusoe”).

* W 2/18: Short Paper #1 (Beginning to Work with Key Concepts and Practices in Reading and Writing About Cultural Texts) Assigned. *

M 2/23: Visual Aspects of Signs, Signifiers and Life-Style, Coherence in Signs, Signs and Images, Sign Modifiers, and Analyzing Signs and Sign Systems.

    Read for Class, M 2/23: Signs in Contemporary Culture, Chapter 9, pp. 63-70 (“Visual Aspects of Signs” and “Postmodern Design”), Chapters 14-15, pp. 107-120 (“Men’s Looks: Signifiers and Life-Style,” “Denimization,” “Coherence in Signs,” and “Formulas in the Public Arts”); Chapter 19, pp. 149-158 (“Signs and Images” and “Photography”), Chapter 22, pp. 171-176 (“Sign Modifiers” and “Cartooning”), and Chapter 24, pp. 187-193 (“Analyzing Signs and Sign Systems” and “‘Reach Out and Touch Someone’”).
    
W 2/25: Writing About Cultural Texts.

    Read for Class: To Be Announced.

M 3/2: Screening, Groundhog Day.

    * M 3/2:  Learning and Contribution Reflection Paper #1 Assigned. *

W 3/4: Discussion of Groundhog Day, including of Simulational Selves and Simulational Culture in Groundhog Day.  

    Read for Class, W 3/4: Rhetoric and Popular Culture, Chapter 7, “Simulational Selves, Simulational Culture in Groundhog Day,” 257-271.

    ** F 3/6: Short Paper #1 Due by 12 noon in my English Department Mailbox, HHH 405 **

M 3/9: Screening, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

W 3/11: Discussion of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in Comparison and Contrast with Groundhog Day, as well as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind vis-a-vis the idea of Simulational Selves and Simulational Cultures.

    * W 3/11: Short Paper #2 (Beginning to Work with Key Concepts and Practices in Reading and Writing About Cultural Texts) Assigned. *

    ** F 3/13: Learning and Contribution Reflection Paper #1 Due, by 12 noon, in my English Department Mailbox, HHH 405. **

M 3/23: Discussion, Introduction to Oscar Wilde and Lady Windermere’s Fan.

    Read for Class, M 3/23: Lady Windermere’s Fan.

W 3/25: Discussion, Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest.

    Read for Class, W 3/25: The Importance of Being Earnest.

    * F 3/27:  Short Paper #2 Due by 12 noon in my English Department Mailbox, HHH 405 *

M 3/30: Discussion, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Oscar Wilde: Conclusion.

W 4/1: Discussion, Introduction to Joe Orton, and Entertaining Mr. Sloane.

    Read for Class: W 4/1: Entertaining Mr. Sloane.

M 4/6: Discussion, Entertaining Mr. Sloane and What the Butler Saw.

    Read for Class: M 4/6: What the Butler Saw.

W 4/8: Discussion, What the Butler Saw and Joe Orton: Conclusion.

M 4/13, W 4/15, M 4/20, W 4/22, M 4/27, W 4/29, and M 5/4: Work in Groups on Writing, Producing, and Practicing Performing Short Plays.

    * M 4/13: Learning and Contribution Reflection Paper #2 Assigned. *

W 5/6: Performances of Short Plays.  

    * M 5/11: By 12 noon in my English Department Mailbox, HHH 405: Learning and Contribution Reflection Paper #2 Due. *


    **THIS SCHEDULE IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE. **
                                        

ORGANIZATION AND CONDUCT OF CLASS SESSIONS
                                            
    We will work continuously throughout the 135 minutes we have each period.  (If you need to take a short restroom break, you should feel free to go ahead and take it–but try to keep it short.)  Class will follow a variety of formats, but throughout you will be consistently actively involved.  In other words, while I will devise the structures for what we do, and direct all of our work together, this will be a discussion-emphasis as opposed to a lecture-emphasis class.  From time to time I will make short presentations, but that’s it, as it will be up to you to help us work our way toward a consensual understanding of key concepts and practices–what they mean, how and for what they are useful, and what their significance happens to be.  You will need to work with me in order to enable your learning and that of your peers; students always learn much better, in this kind of class, through active participation and extensive collaboration (including often as part of smaller groups and teams) rather than by remaining largely quiet and merely taking notes during the course of long lectures.  Plus, we will be making use of your prior, and other, knowledge, skill, talent, and experience as a crucial point of connection with everything “new” you encounter in this class.  And since we will be focusing a great deal on contemporary American popular culture, each of you has a lot to offer.  We collectively maintain “expertise” in many of the vast array of different areas in which people in the US today interact–in all of the diverse rituals, conventions, routines, customs, traditions, habits, and myriad other forms of meaningful activity that give shape and substance to our everyday lives.  “Popular culture” includes all of that, as well as all of the ways we commonly make sense of all of this participation (i.e., what we think, feel, and believe about it).  


GENERAL EXPECTATIONS OF STUDENTS

    I expect students in this course to strive to become sincerely interested in learning about the subject matter of this course, and to be consistently intellectually serious as well as academically diligent in their pursuit of this learning.   I expect students to strive to bring actively and extensively to bear–in your essays and contributions to class discussion–insights you gain through your engagement with the texts and topics addressed as part of this course, and I expect you to strive at the same time to relate these texts and topics as closely and as fully as possible to subjects of genuine interest and concern in your own lives.  And I expect you to let me know right away when and if you have any questions or problems about any aspect of how you are doing in and with the course, so that I can do whatever I possibly can to help answer these questions and solve these problems.


     In addition, students should keep in mind that the higher educational academy is not a "safe space" separate from the rest of the "real world" where you can expect to be sheltered from encountering anything you might find disagreeable or objectionable.  After all, disturbing positions and practices exist extensively outside of the classroom as well as in what we read, see, hear, and otherwise confront in and for class; what we confront in class exists in this institutional space as symptomatic of positions and practices that operate beyond the confines of the classroom, the course, and the university.  If and when you find any text or topic genuinely upsetting, you maintain the ethical responsibility not simply to try to hide from but rather to engage with it in an intellectually serious, responsible, mature adult way.  Students should expect therefore that you will on occasion encounter representations that you will find troubling, in this UWEC course and in many others as well; within this Department you will receive no right of exemption from engaging with these and absolutely no welcome for simply complaining (especially to a higher administrative authority) about their inclusion.   After all, great works of art–including of literature–are often created with the deliberate aim of disturbing, even shocking many people who will encounter these; often the intent here is to provoke strong response, as well as thought–and action–that goes beyond what has become familiar, conventional, commonsensical, and, especially, merely “safe.”


    Finally, students should also be prepared to deal with that fact that a professor differs from a high school teacher in many respects, but one key difference is that we maintain a principal professional, ethical responsibility forthrightly to represent the most advanced knowledges in our fields of expertise and to proceed from there to work toward their further development and dissemination.   In short, we must create, advocate for, and profess these knowledges; you should expect that your professors may from time to time take controversial positions on difficult and challenging issues, eschewing the pretense of disinterested neutrality.  To do anything less than assume this responsibility would be to shirk our professorial responsibility and to render ourselves unworthy of maintaining our professorial positions.


GOALS OF THE BACCALAUREATE

    These are the five most important, official goals all UWEC undergraduate courses are designed to help you meet:

1.    Knowledge of Human Culture and the Natural World

2.    Creative and Critical Thinking

3.    Effective Communication

4.    Individual and Social Responsibility

5.    Respect for Diversity Among People

These goals require your striving to meet them.  Striving means learning actively and deliberately, completing assignments in a thorough and timely fashion, participating in class discussion, and making connections between what we do while meeting in class and what you do when engaged outside of the classroom.


SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS FOR COURSE GRADE

Introduction

    In evaluating all work done for this course, I will take account of how carefully, seriously, intelligently, enthusiastically, and imaginatively students engage with the concepts, issues, positions, and arguments addressed in the course and represented by the texts we read, by me, and by each other.

Attendance

    Since this is your class as much as it is mine, if not more so, and its success depends upon your contribution, it is important that you be in class as often as possible.  And attendance means being in class on time, for the full 135 minutes, alert, engaged, and prepared to work.  Otherwise, it’s not really attendance at all.   I recognize that on occasion students will have to miss class, however, so each of you are allowed two unexcused absences.  Beyond that, you should only miss class because of a genuinely serious personal or family emergency, and you will need to justify to me that this is the case so as not to suffer a grade penalty.  And, if you end up needing to miss six or more classes, you should withdraw and sign up for English 210 in a subsequent semester, as it will be difficult to pass the course missing that amount of class time (unless yours is a university-authorized extended absence).  Finally, if you arrive late or leave early, engage in private conversations or in text messaging, do other work for other courses while in class, sleep in class, or behave in any other way that shows you are not really present in class, especially where this distracts from the work the rest of us are trying to do, you may be counted as absent for class.  If any of this kind of behavior is persistent or egregious that will definitely be the case.   I do pay attention, and I keep track of attendance, even though I don’t do a roll call, or have you sign in.  So, if you ever think I’ve mistakenly counted you as absent–especially for any of the reasons listed above–please make sure to come talk with me after class to explain yourself.

Short Papers–Beginning to Work with Key Concepts and Practices for Reading and Writing About Cultural Texts

    These papers will provide you an opportunity to test out your developing grasp of exactly that: key concepts and practices for reading and writing about cultural texts.  They will involve the opportunity to apply what you have learned to specific texts of your own choosing.  I will provide a thorough explanation at the time that I distribute each of these paper assignments to you, including specifications for style, format, and length (although I will mention here that I tend to be quite flexible in working with different lengths depending upon what works for different students).   Please seek out my help as you are working on these papers; I will be glad to give it.  Each of these papers will be worth 15% of the overall course grade, for a combined total worth 30% of the course grade.

Learning and Contribution/Learning and Contribution Reflection Papers
              
    My foremost aim in teaching this course is to help you to learn something of significance and value.  I will judge you to a significant degree on what you learn, how–and how hard–you strive to learn, and on how–along with how well–you contribute to the learning for the rest of the class.


    Class participation represents an important opportunity to learn, not just a place in which to demonstrate what you have learned.  By raising questions, testing and trying out ideas, taking risks and making mistakes, you learn a great deal–and help others learn a great deal as well.  You learn through talking, not just talk to show what you have learned.  Don't hesitate to speak forth in class if you have anything at all to throw into the mix.


    At the same time, just talking a great deal does not necessarily mean that you are making a quality contribution to the class by aiding the learning that we aim to accomplish.  Quality of participation is much more important than quantity, although a sufficient quantity is indispensable to insure quality.  Still, I want to emphasize here that I perceive talking for talking’s sake–especially talking which pulls us off on far-fetched tangents, which remains disconnected from and disengaged with the reading and the rest of the class, or which effectively silences others–to be negative participation.  Quality class participation does not, moreover, involve merely asking questions of me and responding to my questions; quality class participation requires you to work as assiduously as you can to advance a serious and substantial discussion with your peers about the texts and topics subject to discussion.

   
    Contribution to the class certainly can extend far beyond mere speaking in class: it may include a variety of ways in which you can bring to bear your insights to help yourself as well as the rest of us gain from the experience of this course.   Excellent  writing for class is also a valuable way to contribute to class.  At the same time, listening carefully, respectfully, and thoughtfully in class discussions is yet another important means of contribution–as is taking time to meet and talk with me outside of class.  In fact, meeting and talking with me outside of class can be an excellent way to contribute–as well as to show us me how seriously interested in and engaged with the course material you are.


    Learning and contribution will constitute a significant proportion of your overall course grade.  As part of this grade, you will write two short learning and contribution reflection papers.  For these papers I will ask you, simply, to assess how, along with how well, you have been learning and contributing in the class over the course of the preceding approximately one-half of the semester.  As I see it, these short papers provide you a useful opportunity to communicate with me how you believe you are doing with the course, as well as why so, and to demonstrate your critical self-reflexivity, the hallmark of a liberal arts education.  As you are assessing your own learning and contribution, you may include thoughts in reaction to issues raised in class discussion that you did not have the opportunity or did not feel comfortable enough to share in class; these additional reflections can help me get a better sense of what you have been thinking about and how you have been responding to class discussions, as well as to the readings.  I will take into account what you write in determining your learning and contribution grade for the preceding half-semester; performance on these papers represents a vital component of your learning and contribution grade.


    I  will provide you specific directions in the assignments I give you for each of these papers.  Each learning and contribution grade (including each learning and contribution reflection paper) will be worth 15% of the overall course grade, making for a combined  total worth 30% of the overall course grade.  

 Small Group Project: Leadership of Discussion of a Section of a Play
    
     As part of a group of students you will be responsible for leading our discussion for one-half period of a significant section from one of the following four plays–Lady Windermere’s Fan, The Importance of Being Earnest, Entertaining Mr. Sloane, and What the Butler Saw.  Your aims here will be: to help your fellow students better understand and appreciate (the meaning, value, and significance of) the section of the play for which you are responsible, and to do the same for the play as a whole, as well as to help stimulate an interesting discussion of the play, including by drawing connections (comparisons and contrasts) with the here and now.  If you can come up with some good ideas to help the students who will be working with this play as source material for composing, producing, and performing their own short play subsequently that will be great.  Each group will meet with me in a conference prior to the day in which you will be responsible for half of class; I will help you prepare.  Your performance on this assignment will be worth 10% of the overall course grade.   

Large Group Project: Composition, Production, and Performance of a Short Play
    
    Here you will be working together with a group of your peers from class to compose, produce, and ultimately perform–in class, for the rest of us–a short play directly inspired by one or two of the four plays we will be reading and discussing in class: Lady Windermere’s Fan, The Importance of Being Earnest, Entertaining Mr. Sloane, and What the Butler Saw. You will be updating and translating the play so that it is focused on the here and now.  At the same time, you will be maintaining significant elements of plot, character, style, mood, tone, and even setting from your original source-play(s).  And you will be working to find ways to make use of the key concepts for reading and writing about texts that we discussed in the first half of the semester; you will be bringing these to bear in how you compose, produce, and perform your play, demonstrating how your “writing” here of a cultural text reflects your critical “reading” of (and is in fact another way of “writing about”) a series of other cultural texts.  In other words, your play will offer a creative as well as critical take on some significant aspects of contemporary American culture, linked with and inspired by Wilde’s and/or Orton’s creative and critical takes on some significant aspects of 1890s or 1960s British culture.  I will provide more details when I give you the specific assignment for this project.  I will also give you instructions as well as suggestions and recommendations throughout the time you will be working on this assignment.  And you should note well here that even as this is the kind of assignment that students overwhelmingly tend to enjoy working on, and that includes students initially skeptical or worried about it, you will need to take it seriously, and make productive use of your time.  Plus you almost certainly will need to work on it outside of as well as inside of class time, even though you will have seven 135 minutes long class periods to work in your teams on composing, producing, and rehearsing your short plays.   Please feel free to consult with me outside as well as inside of class as you are working on this project; I will be glad to help in any and every way I can.  I will be doing everything I can to help you in class throughout that period of time.  Finally, I will be giving each member of each team an evaluation sheet to fill out and turn in after your play has been performed in class, where you will evaluate your own and each other member of your team’s contribution to the collective project you have worked on; I will take what teams write on these evaluation forms, about yourselves and your teammates, significantly into account in determining your individual grades for this project.  And the grade for your work as part of a team of peers involved in composing, producing, and performing a short play will be worth 30% of the overall course grade.  

Extra Credit Opportunity

    You may, if you wish, write a sustained critical analysis of the dramatic work of either Oscar Wilde or Joe Orton in which you incorporate research into the life, times, and outlook of the playwright as well as key shaping influences on him and his playwriting; the history of his plays’ production, performance, and reception; scholarly interpretation of his plays; and the relation between the plays we read in class and at least one other play that he also wrote.  Let me know as early as possible if you are interested in this extra credit opportunity, so that I can help you on it.  This extra credit paper will be worth 10% of the overall course grade.  

CONFERENCES/EXTRA HELP

    I encourage you to meet with me in conference during office hours or at another mutually convenient time to discuss any issue of interest or concern that you develop as a student in this course and as a member of this class.  I recognize the value of learning that takes place in conferences; I know this can at times be equally as important, and in fact occasionally even more important, than what takes place in class.  It also provides you an opportunity to contribute beyond what you say in class and write for class.  So please do not hesitate to meet with me at any time you think this might be helpful to you–or whenever you’d just like to talk further with me.   I want to help you in your understanding of issues addressed in texts and discussions, as well as in your writing and participation.  And you may certainly also feel free to contact me by e-mail or by (my campus office) phone as well.  


    I really do like to get to know my students; students at this university continually demonstrate impressive ability, talent, knowledge, experience, insight, vitality, and good character.  I am lucky to get to know you; it enriches me.


    * Any student who has a disability and is in need of classroom accommodations, please contact the instructor and the Services for Students with Disabilities Office. *

CONCLUSION

    In the interest of accountability–me to you–I am here providing you links: 1.) to my statement of philosophy as a college teacher: http://people.uwec.edu/ranowlan/philosophy.htm; 2.) to my autobiographical profile: http://people.uwec.edu/ranowlan/PROFILE_.htm and http://www.myspace.com/insurgentseanmurphy   (if you too are on myspace feel free to contact me to become myspace friends); and 3.) to my professional vita (the academic equivalent of a resume): http://people.uwec.edu/ranowlan/VITA.htm.  I encourage you to check these sites out; it is useful for you to know who your teacher is, what he’s about, and where he’s coming from–and I like to be very open, honest, and forthright with you about all of that.  I look forward to a great semester working together with you!