Composition Theory and Practice

      English 481 / UIUC / spring 2011 / MWF @ 2:00 pm / EB 150
      graduate CRN: 44165 / undergrad CRN: 39291
      instructor: Spencer Schaffner, Assistant Professor of English
      office hours, EB 260: MWF @ 3:00 pm and by appointment
      course website under "teaching" @

Course Description

In exploring some of the major theories that inform the teaching of academic writing, we will pay close attention to the role of innovation in written communication. Can innovation be taught? Should it be? Topics we will explore include: the teaching of graphic novels, personal writing, literate activity, classroom cheating, the use of writing as punishment, formulaic writing, code switching, writing with images, and YouTube composition. Students will be responsible for writing regular reading response papers.


Readings for the course are available online at the tag bundle Students are responsible for bringing copies of all readings to class on the day they are to be discussed.

Course Policies

Taking this class means agreeing to follow the student code. 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 the use of writing as punishment (20%)
→ mid-term cheating exam, cheat sheets, and reflective response (20%)
→ innovative five-paragraph essay about theories of composition (20%)

Course Calendar (revised 2.7.2011)

Week 1

Jan. 19
• introductions
• overview of the class

Jan. 21
• DUE: email Spencer before class about the course policies
• activity: theories of composition
• J.K. Rowling reading distributed in class

Week 2: Writing as Punishment

Jan. 24
• READ FOR TODAY: links at
• discussion of writing as punishment (forms and purposes)
• response paper assigned

Jan. 26
• READ FOR TODAY: Rowling chapter
• DUE: reading response paper

Jan. 28
• discussion continued
• project assigned on the use of writing as punishment
• response paper assigned
• Kafka reading distributed in class

Week 3: Writing as Punishment cont.

Jan. 31
• READ FOR TODAY: Kafka's "In the Penal Colony"
• DUE: reading response paper

Feb. 2 ... snow day
• punishment machine group workshop
• discussion of punishment machines

Feb. 4
• punishment machine group workshop
• discussion of punishment machines

Week 4: Writing Process(es)

Feb. 7
• DUE: punishment project draft
• peer-review workshop: small-group model

Feb. 9
• DUE: project on the use of writing as punishment

Feb. 11

Week 5: Error and Correctness

Feb. 14
• what is "the writing process"?
• watch for today: videos @
• activity: process and responding to student writing:
    1. the principle of distributed activity
    2. the principle of minimal response
    3. response at the point of need
• response paper assigned

Feb. 16
• READ FOR TODAY: Williams article @
• discussion of Williams
• DUE: response paper

Feb. 18
• activity: responding to error
• formulaic response paper assigned

Week 6: the Five-Paragraph Essay and Formulaic Writing

Feb. 21
• activity: defining "the" five-paragraph essay
• the Jane Schaffer paragraph (TS, CD, CM, CM, CS)
• READ FOR TODAY: Wiley article @
• READ FOR TODAY: Wesley article @
• assigned: innovative five-paragraph essay about theories of composition
• response paper assigned
• DUE: response paper

Feb. 23

Feb. 25

Week 7: Five-Paragraph Essay cont.

Feb. 28
• discussion continued • READ FOR TODAY: Novick article @
• READ FOR TODAY: Rico article @
• READ FOR TODAY: Nunnally article @
• DUE: short response

March 2
• READ FOR TODAY: Moss article @
• READ FOR TODAY: Dean article @

March 4
• in class reading and discussion: Lenora Smith poem

Week 8: Standards and Writing Alternatives to the Essay

March 7
• discussion of standards and testing alternatives to the essay
writing outcomes discussion of genre

March 9
SAT, ACT, and MCAT writing discussion of Miller

March 11
• infographics discussion; read Nicholas Feltron for today

Week 9: Cheating as Literate Activity

March 14
• discussion of cheat sheets and other literate forms of cheating
• READ FOR TODAY: Engestrom article pp. 18-22 @
• DUE: written response

March 16
• discussion continued
• discussion of mid-term cheating exam

March 18
• preview of mid-term cheating exam

    S P R I N G     B R E A K

Week 10: Cheating and Plagiarism cont.

March 28
• read post @
• avoiding plagiarism in writing classes
• midterm exam review

March 30
Cheating Midterm Exam
• short reflective essay assigned

April 1
• DUE: short reflective essay
• discussion of cheating midterm

Week 11: Remix and the Author

April 4
• cheating midterms returned
• discussion of "The Cheating Project"
• activity on remix

April 6

April 8
• review links @
• in-class activity on remix
• response paper in your voice assigned

Week 12: Personal Writing and Voice

April 11
• READ FOR TODAY: Miller @
• DUE: response paper

April 13
• discussion continued
• teaching about the words fag, bitch, and "the n-word"

April 15
• discussion continued
• discussion of the pedagogical strategy called "walking out"
• visual response paper assigned

Week 13: Visual Composition

April 18
• what is visual composition?
• READ FOR TODAY: Drucker @
• DUE: response paper

April 20
• discussion continued
• group visual composition activity (4-voice mini-books)

April 22
• group visual composition presentations

Week 14: Documentation as Composition

April 25
• view: YouTube videos tagged "angry teacher" and "my English teacher"
• discussion of student videographers
• groups form to develop documentation-based assignment sequences
• note: draft of final project due soon

April 27
• view: YouTube videos tagged "yelling teacher"
• discussion of documentation-based assignment sequences
• discussion of YouTubed teachers continued

April 29
• DUE: draft of five-paragraph essay on theories of composition (bring two copies)
• peer-review workshop: anonymous model
• comic response paper assigned

Week 15: Teaching Graphic Narratives

May 2
• READ FOR TODAY: Frey/Fisher @
• DUE: comic response
• activity: making mini-comics
• course evaluations

May 4
• DUE: final draft of five-paragraph essay on theories of composition
• wrap up

site online 1.8.2011