A Cooperative Syllabus

I started teaching a summer class this week on expository writing, a course that has few required departmental policies and no real strictures on how content or organization. So, I thought this was a great opportunity to allow my students to build the course around their own interests.

On the first day, I asked students what they wanted to learn to write. Here's the list we brainstormed together, with stars next to the 4 genres they chose:

Students Choose Genres of Writing

Job Letters*
Reviews (of music, food, books, video games, etc.)
Narratives, stories from our lives*
Blogs (on any topic of the student's interest)
Analyses of political speeches*
Analyses of short articles
Analyses of advertisements*
Analyses of political cartoons


Students Choose Grading Distribution

I am also trying out a new grading distribution. I went into this class with the guiding question: How can I arrange my grades so that the most students can earn the highest grade they are capable of?

I decided to have two different grading distributions. I will determine all students grades by both calculations and then assign them the highest of the two.

In the first 50% of the grade is made up of group work, daily work, notes, and low-stakes writing. The other 50% comes from the major essays. In this distribution, students who keep up with their smaller work could boost their grade and help themselves build toward larger papers in the process.

In the second, the grade is made up only of the average of the major papers. I had many working students in the course, and several chose this option because they were juggling multiple commitments. If they learned to write well, it didn't matter if they followed every assignment I had created.

When I was a college student, some of my teachers in other disciplines created similar grade structures--in accounting, my professor gave an A to anyone who made an A on the final. In a calculus class, we had the option of whether to do homework or not and to have it averaged in with our test grades.

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