Based on a thirteen-week semester, the model syllabus recommends a set of four reading assignments and one writing assignment associated with each of three major projects. Each project takes approximately four weeks to complete. The first two weeks involve discussions of the reading and planning for written analyses and arguments. The second two weeks are devoted to drafting and revising supported by peers and the professor’s critique.
This model is built on a sequence of four reading assignments followed by a single major writing assignment. The exact number of reading assignments can be adjusted to meet the reading demands of a particular course and the nature of analytic activities assigned for each reading. Assignments 1-4 are reading assignments that either invite students to engage with multiple texts, or (in the case of complex scholarly work or book-length analyses and arguments) ask them to read subsequent sections of a dense or long text. Questions for a day’s discussion often accompany these reading assignments. Some faculty ask students to compose short responses to these questions that get posted to a public site on Moodle or another digital sharing space so that the professor and students may review these responses before the day’s discussion begins. Others ask students to make private notes in response to those questions in preparation for class conversation.
On reading discussion days, faculty often highlight some principle related to the practice of strong reading, or feature some practical work on styling sentences, formulating claims, identifying evidence for potential arguments, or may offer a mini-lecture and/or hands-on activity on rhetorical practices such as qualification, identifying foundational assumptions in others’ assertions, the use of topoi, the use of metadiscourse, the contextualizaion of evidence, etc.
The writing assignment associated with each project (Assignment 5 in this model) asks students to make use of the reading in order to respond to some significant question or to weigh in on an issue or controversy that has been unveiled in the reading. Papers are often fashioned as traditional arguments (claim-based, with reasons and supporting evidence), but also may taker the shape of reports or substantive explanations. Papers are typically 1250-1500 words in length, which facilitates revision and requires tight (rather than sprawling arguments) and urges students to weigh the logical, stylistic, and persuasive relevance of each sentence.
Draft Review to Support Revision
Assignment 5’s draft is not a rough draft or outline, but a full first draft. A class day is devoted to a round of peer review. Groups of three students critique their colleagues’s drafts using a peer review guide. These groups rotate membership throughout the semester so that every student has an opportunity to comment on every other student’s work-in-progress. Faculty decide how to organize these groups and distribute drafts. Some faculty prefer to give a peer review group their own drafts. Others prefer to remove names from papers, label each draft with a unique number, and give each group of peer reviewers papers not their own. (The professor keeps a master list of names associated with with paper numbers). Often, the peer review group decides which one of the three drafts they’ve critiqued would be useful for the rest of the class to review (that paper might, for example, use a technique to good effect that the rest of class will praise, or it may reveal a trouble spot or sticking point worthy of the class to strategize about).
These four drafts are circulated to the entire class, who reads them in preparation for the next day’s discussion of revision. The peer review groups who recommended a paper be reviewed leads the class in a discussion on strategies for revision. (Realistically, a MWF schedule permits only 1 or 2 drafts be collectively discussed; a TR schedule typically allows for 2-3 drafts to be discussed).
In the following week, two class days are cancelled so that each student can meet with the professor for thirty minutes to develop a workplan for revision. If these meetings are scheduled during regular class time, then every student can find an available time to meet. Students often praise these individually-tailored meetings as the most supportive feature of the course.
Writing Fellow Meetings
At the end of the first and second weeks of each project, the Writing Fellow assigned to the course convenes a videoconference with the entire class. The first meeting is devoted to discussing the reading done so far, with special attention given to the particular challenges of analyzing and interpreting the reading. Students process their understandings of the text, correct misreadings, and the Fellow guides them toward fresh approaches, formative questions, ambiguities, and initiates deliberation about issues the text provokes. The second meeting is devoted to planning how to make use of the reading in service of one’s argument for the writing assignment. This planning is typically nascent and preliminary in nature. The Writing Fellow helps students anticipate challenges ahead. For a description of Writing Fellows’s work, please consult the Davidson Writing Fellows Guide.