Composition Theory and Practice

      English 481 / UIUC / fall 2013 / MW @ 2:00 pm - 3:15 pm / EB 108
      instructor: Spencer Schaffner, Associate Professor of English
      office hours, MW 1:00 pm — 2:00 pm and by appointment
      course website under "teaching" @

Course Description

In exploring some of the major theories that inform the teaching of expository writing, we will pay particular attention to the role of innovation in written communication. Can innovation be taught? Should it be? Topics we will explore include: personal writing, the use of writing as punishment, formulaic writing, code switching, writing with images, and YouTube composition.


Nanda Van Gestel et al. (2008). The Unschooling Unmanual

Additional readings available online (links below via the course calendar).

Students are responsible for bringing copies (printed versions are preferred) of all readings to class on the day each reading is discussed.

Course Policies

Course policies are online at Before the second class meeting, read the policies and send Spencer an email indicating that you have read and understood the course policies.

Projects and Grades

→ class participation (20%)
→ reading response projects and papers (20%)
→ project on writing, shame, and punishment (20%)
→ mid-term cheating exam, cheat sheets, and reflective response (20%)
→ innovative five-paragraph essay about formulaic writing (20%)

Course Calendar

(subject to change)

Week 1

Monday, Aug 26
• introductions
• discussion: how and why we teach writing in schools
• overview of the class

Wednesday, Aug 28

• VIEW FOR TODAY: click the image to watch a video essay on "Why Johnny Can't Write"
• Read around online for 30 minutes or so, exploring reactions to "Why Johnny Can't Write"
• discussion
• in-class activity: theories of composition
• response paper assigned

Week 2: Writing, Shame, and Punishment


Wednesday, Sept 4
• discussion of forms and purposes of punishment writing
• READ FOR TODAY: NCTE Resolution on the Use of Writing as Punishment (PDF in the DropBox folder)
• READ FOR TODAY: R.owling chapter from Ha.rry and the Or.der of the Pho.enix (DropBox folder)
• DUE: reading response paper
• PROJECT ASSIGNED on writing, shame, and punishment
• response paper assigned

Week 3: Writing, Shame, and Punishment

Monday, Sept 9
• READ FOR TODAY: Franz Kafka's "In the Penal Colony"
• READ FOR TODAY: news story on "Ill. man ordered to write lynching essay"
• READ FOR TODAY: deReign's "An English Teacher's Lament on What's Wrong With Writing as Punishment" (DropBox folder)
• DUE: reading response paper

Wednesday, Sept 11
• VIEW FOR TODAY: view results of a Google image search for "passed out Sharpie"
• READ ABOUT the role of writing in the Audrie Pott case (PDF of article in DropBox folder)
• discussion of writing and shame (vernacular practices)
• note: draft of the first project due next Monday

Week 4: Writing Process(es)

Monday, Sept 16
• DUE: writing, shame, and punishment project draft (bring two copies)
• peer-review workshop: small-group model
• discussion: what is "the writing process"?
  => illustrated writing process:
  => Seinfeld on writing a joke:

Wednesday, Sept 18
• DUE TODAY: project on writing, shame, and punishment
• activity: the relationship between process and responding to student writing
    1. distributed activity
    2. minimal response
    3. response at the point of need
• response paper assigned (relating to error and correctness)

Week 5: Error and Correctness

Monday, Sept 23
• READ FOR TODAY: Joseph Williams "The Phenomenology of Error" (DropBox folder)
• discussion of Williams
• DUE: response paper

Wednesday, Sept 25
• discussion continued

• activity: responding to error
• formulaic response paper assigned

Week 6: the Five-Paragraph Essay and Formulaic Writing

Monday, Sept 30
• activity: defining "the" five-paragraph essay
• the Jane Schaffer paragraph (TS, CD, CM, CM, CS)
• READ FOR TODAY: Mark Wiley "The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (And Why We Need to Resist)" (DropBox folder)
• READ FOR TODAY: Kimberly Wesley "The Ill Effects of the Five Paragraph Theme" (DropBox folder)
• final project assigned: innovative five-paragraph essay about formulaic writing
• response paper assigned
• DUE: response paper

Wednesday, Oct 2
• Flex Day; Activities To Be Announced

Week 7: the Five-Paragraph Essay and Formulaic Writing

Monday, Oct 7
• discussion continued • READ FOR TODAY: Smith "In Defense of the Five-Paragraph Essay" (DropBox folder)
• READ FOR TODAY: Novick article (DropBox folder)
• in class reading and discussion: Lenora Smith poem (DropBox folder)
• DUE: short response
• discussion of home schooling and unschooling

Wednesday, Oct 9
• READ FOR TODAY: through p. 39 The Unschooling Unmanual
• discussion and activities; come prepared to discuss what you've read

Week 8: Unschooling

Monday, Oct 14
• READ FOR TODAY: finish reading The Unschooling Unmanual
• discussion and activities; come prepared to discuss what you've read
• response paper assigned

Wednesday, Oct 16
• discussion of cheat sheets and other literate forms of cheating
• READ FOR TODAY: Engestrom article with a focus on pp. 18-22 (DropBox folder)
• DUE: written response

Week 9: Cheating as Literate Activity

Monday, Oct 21
• discussion of cheating as literate activity continued
• preview of mid-term cheating exam
• read here and here about the case of Laura K. Krishna
• avoiding and responding to plagiarism in writing classes

Wednesday, Oct 23
Cheating Midterm Exam™
• short reflective essay assigned

Week 10: Plagiarism

Monday, Oct 28
• discussion question #1

Wednesday, Oct 30
• discussion question #2

Week 11: Writing About Literature; Remix and Writing

Monday, Nov 4
• DUE: short reflective essay (your reflections) about the Cheating Midterm Exam™
• discussion of cheating midterm
• discussion and handout: teaching students to write about literature

Wednesday, Nov 6
• in-class activity and discussion about remix, layered texts, looping, kinetic typography, and sampling
• response paper in your voice assigned
• review the following for today:

Reggie Watts using a loop sampler

Andrew Bird using a loop sampler

Kinetic typography

Layered texts such as this one (search for "layered text")

Sampling and remix (Young Guru)

Week 12: Personal Writing and Voice

Monday, Nov 11
• READ FOR TODAY: Miller "Fault Lines in the Contact Zone" (DropBox folder)
• DUE: response paper

Wednesday, Nov 13
• discussion continued
• looking ahead: activity on effective writing prompts

Week 13: "So, How Do We Teaching Writing?"

Monday, Nov 18

• READ FOR TODAY: Peg Tyre's "The Writing Revolution" (available online; PDF version in the shared DropBox folder)
• DUE: response paper

Wednesday, Nov 20
• READ FOR TODAY: NCTE Beliefs About the Teaching of Writing (available online; PDF version in DropBox folder)
• group work: defining and justifying core practices


    T H A N K S G I V I N G     B R E A K    


Week 14: "So, How Do We Teaching Writing?"

Monday, Dec 2
• READ FOR TODAY: policy documents relating to writing and the Common Core (focus on grades 7-12)
• READ FOR TODAY: CPS Common Core documents relating to writing
• group work: discussion of standards that do not change from grade-to-grade
• group work: develop a philosophical statement about the new HypterTech Writing educational writing app
don't forget: draft of final project due on Wednesday

Wednesday, Dec 4
• VIEW FOR TODAY: YouTube videos tagged "angry teacher"
• DUE: draft of five-paragraph essay on formulaic writing (bring two copies)
• peer-review workshop: anonymous model
• comic response paper assigned

Week 15: Teaching Graphic Narratives

Monday, Dec 9
• READ FOR TODAY: Gene Yang "Graphic Novels in the Classroom" (shared DropBox folder)
• DUE: comic response
• activity: making mini-comics
• course evaluations

Wednesday, Dec 11: Last Day of Instruction
• DUE: final draft of five-paragraph essay on formulaic writing
• wrap-up discussion

site online August 25, 2013