One of the more difficult steps of putting together my syllabus was coming to terms with the theme of my class. On one level, I knew I had to choose a theme that would contain readings in the public domain, but I also want to choose a topic that would fit well into a collection once edited together and uploaded into Manifold. All things considered, I decided to go with what I call “short-form prose,” which allowed me to include a multigenre selection of readings ranging from fiction and poetry, to letters and essays, to aphorisms and satire, to sundry blends of social media. When I came to the course schedule, though, I suddenly realized that I would have to bring together a broad range of readings in order to properly represent each of these genres of prose. More than anywhere else, this is where I spent the vast majority of my time, combing the internet for readings from authors like Franz Kafka and O. Henry, William Carlos Williams and Jean Toomer, Simone de Beauvoir and Oscar Wilde, Michel de Montaigne and Jonathan Swift, if only to name a few. I even decided to include koans, which serve to counterpoint aphorisms by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The process was long and onerous. It was also intensely gratifying.
Additionally, I structured the first major writing assignment of my syllabus, the Close-Reading Analysis, so that students will have an opportunity to peer-review each other’s essays before handing in their final copy. Even then, each student will have as many chances as they please to revise and submit their paper once they receive back their initial grade. Indeed, with the second major writing assignment, the Research Paper, they are required to revise and resubmit their first draft, this time receiving feedback from their peers prior to their second submission. In both cases, only the grade of their last and final submission will count. Beyond the confines of the traditional academic essay, I also designed my syllabus to include low-stakes writing assignments by way of formal emails and self-reflective blogs. It is of no small importance that these writing activities enable student to scaffold their rhetorical identity on the page, while also preparing them for public-facing writing practices that are essential to their future academic success.
I had a blast with this final project. It was challenging and time-consuming to the point of exacerbation, but the process was also surprisingly redemptive once I saw that final product sitting there in front of me. Mind you, one lesson I can almost certainly promise to have learned: I’ll never skim another professor’s syllabus ever again.