Composition as Critical Inquiry

Department of English Studies

Illinois State University


Instructor: Ryan Edel

E-mail: See Print Copy

Cell Phone: See Print Copy

(please, no calls after 9pm)

ENG 101, Sections 004 and 012


Office Hours: Stevenson Hall 424E

Tuesday and Thursday 12-2pm

Office Phone: x2077


Philosophy and Purpose

Our focus in this course is to give you the tools to research, understand, and adapt to any writing assignment you may face in the future.  We will follow the Genre Studies Model in our writing pedagogy, which is a very different model from the one you probably experienced in high school.  Rather than “master” a single style of writing (e.g. the Five Paragraph Essay), you will experiment using many, many modes of written expression.  Although we will address some of the more “standard” genres such as essays, poetry, and fiction, we’ll also be examining how writing has been adapted for movies, social media, and professional communication (among other genres).

It would be impossible to teach you about all forms of writing - or even all forms of academic writing.  But the tools you’ll learn here in ENG 101 will help you adapt your learning to meet a variety of writing styles and conventions.  My goal is not only to help you improve your writing, but to help you mature as a writer.  Whether or not you choose a career in writing, I hope that you will come away from the course knowing that you are nonetheless a writer, and that your words can and will make a difference in the your own life and the lives of others.

The “Quick” Overview

Our course is divided into four units of four weeks each.  The first three units will center around our major projects, and the fourth unit will be used for revisions, reflection, and preparing your portfolios.  You’ll be working in groups for your major projects, and we’ll collaborate using Google Docs, Facebook, and Blackboard.  In addition, you’ll be sharing much of your work with the public domain via Facebook, Blogger, and possibly YouTube.  As writers in the Information Age, one of our primary goals is to make our work both relevant and accessible to a large audience using all the tools at our disposal.

Each week, I will ask you to write a brief discussion of what you have learned (or plan to learn) during the week.  These discussions can be as long or as short as you like - I recommend writing at least 250-500 words, but you may certainly go longer.  These should not take long to write, but they should incorporate a fair amount of thought.  These are due to Blackboard by 8pm on Thursday every week, including the weeks that major projects are due.

The “Typical” Day

There is no “right” way to write - there are dozens and dozens of “good” and “correct” ways to write.  Each one depends upon the context of the situation, the needs of the writer, and the intended audience.  Likewise, there is no such thing as a “typical” day in our course.  Each day will bring a new selection of readings, activities, and assignments - we will be continually adjusting our focus in order to better address the day’s subject and learning goals.  To complicate this, much of our work will be experimental not only for you as a writer, but for myself as a teacher.  As a class, we will be attempting new approaches to learning.  Some of these will involve the internet, and some will depend upon physical movement within the classroom.  I will be asking you to express your innermost feelings, and I will be sending you out to explore the community-at-large.

Although there will be no “typical” day for us, each day will have a certain pattern you should expect.  We will almost always have either readings or group work you’ll need to complete in order to prepare for our next class.  Before class, we’ll have online discussions - some on Blackboard, and others on Facebook - in which you share your thoughts with your classmates.  These online discussions are an important part of your participation, and I expect everyone to take part frequently.

During class, we will frequently rearrange into groups to conduct research and discussions.  Please do not become too attached to your chair - we’ll be changing groups often so that you have a chance to meet and interact with all of your classmates.  In addition, we’ll have weekly writing assignments due by 8pm on Thursdays.  These regular assignments are primarily to serve as updates and reflections on your progress as a writer.  These are also an important part of how I gauge our progress as a class - based on your experiences as a group, I’ll adjust the discussions and activities to better fit your needs.

Open Communication Helps Us Learn and Experiment

Know that much of this course is experimental, and that some of the experiments will not work.  Some activities may not help you learn as much as they should.  Conversely, some activities may lead you to see writing in an entirely new light.  It is my hope that you’ll keep an open mind, and that you’ll share your thoughts both with myself and with your classmates.  If you ever have any questions, comments, or concerns, please let me know.  You may e-mail me anytime, and I’ll respond promptly.  My door is always open during Office Hours, and I’m happy to schedule meetings at times which are more convenient for you.  I have included my cell phone number at the top of the page - if you have a question you need answered right away, please call or text.  I simply ask that you not call after 9pm, and that any requests for extensions be sent via e-mail.

The Class Experience 

Our class will involve a great deal of writing combined with response to the writing of fellow students.  Throughout this course, each participant will be expected to treat other students and their work with respect.  Positive and negative feedback are essential for writers to improve – it is expected that all criticism will be constructive and limited to the works submitted.

Throughout the semester, unexpected events are to be expected.  I will notify you in a timely manner of any change to the syllabus or course expectations.  Throughout the course, I will meet with students individually to discuss progress in the course and the quality of writing submitted.  If you face any difficulty meeting a course requirement, please let me know so we can ensure your success in the course.


The course is divided into four units - the first three units are for our major projects, and the fourth unit is reserved for revision, open reflection, and discussion of what we’ve learned.  Grades for each unit will depend on your submitting the homework assignments, taking part in the class discussions (both online and in-class), your contributions to the group projects, passing the reading quizzes, and your personal reflections on the nature of writing.

Because the course is somewhat experimental, I do not have a pre-defined rubric with percentages for each assignment and project.  Instead, I will adjust the grading systems to reflect the needs of the course.  My aim is to maintain a good balance between reading and writing, between absorbing genre and producing it.  Although each of the four units will be worth approximately 25% of your grade, the grading system may change from one unit to the next.

A note about grades: writing, by its very nature, is a subjective art.  Much of the grading in this class will be based on your effort and progress.  For the major projects, some of the grading will be based on how effectively your work communicates to the reader, the sophistication of the message, and the depth of insight revealed.  Success in writing is largely measured by how well a writer illuminates the human experience through the page.  I do not grade based on whether I “agree with” or “disagree with” a given work, but rather by how well it conveys the theme described.

However, this is only a portion of the grading.  In evaluating your work, I will focus more on your discussions on writing.  I will be looking to hear what you’ve learned about writing, how you’ve applied it to producing your project, and how well you feel you’ve succeeded.  I am not looking for perfection in any of our production - instead, I am looking to see that you are actively engaged in learning how to understand and produce the given genres.


You will also note that this is a very writing intensive course.  Given the importance of experimentation in writing, none of the regular assignments will be graded for content - as long as you submit a valid piece, you will receive full credit.  In these weekly assignments, I want you to use these assignments to take risks with form and subject, so feel free to write whatever is on your mind regarding the assignment prompt.

Assignment Format Requirements

We will be working with several different file format during the course.  However, I do have some general guidelines you should follow in all your assignments, particularly with file names.  If I cannot identify who submitted a piece, I won’t be able to credit your grade.

Rules to live by:

Why this is important:

As we study genres, you should cultivate the genre of interpersonal online communication.  Think about what you would do with an attachment that had no name and no context.  If you were a television producer at ABC, you’d probably delete the file labeled “Lost.”  You’d be like “What is this?  Why am I looking at it?  Why is this thing taking up space on my hard drive?”  Now if the file was labeled “J.J. Abrams - My Awesome New Television Series - Lost,” then that would be a different story altogether.

For Major Projects, an archival PDF file is required.  Simply “Save as PDF” or “Print to PDF” and upload the new file to the STV 250 server.

DOC, DOCX, RTF, and ODT are acceptable but discouraged.  I cannot open Pages files.

Filename: First and Last Name – Assignment (e.g. C:\William Shakespeare – Sonnet.doc)

Margins: (1” all sides, max 1.25” on left and right),12pt font, Double Spaced

Header: Name, Assignment, Title, and Page Number (e.g. Will Shakespeare, Sonnet, “How Do I Love Thee”, page 1)

Project Two may incorporate images and video - please see me regarding specific question about formatting your group’s work.

Works which do not meet format guidelines may require resubmission.

Guildelines for Acceptable Behabior

In Class

Respect for your classmates depends upon respect for the course itself.  When present in class, please focus your attention on the discussions at hand.  I will strive to make our discussions fun and educational - I prefer that you not check Facebook or personal e-mail during class time unless needed for collaboration.  Anyone who repeatedly violates this policy may be marked absent and asked to leave.

No food or drink (except water in a container with a cap) is permitted in the computer labs.  If you do have water, please place it in your bag or on the floor to prevent any from spilling on the electronics.


Daily, on-time attendance is essential for the learning process.  Please note the following attendance policies:

Illness and Family Emergency: Your physical and emotional health is very important, and absence due to illness and/or family emergency will be excused.  Except in cases of hospitalization, please e-mail me before class time if you will be absent due to illness.  In cases of serious illness (missing two or more days of class or assignments) please visit the Student Health Center.  Arrange with your academic advising office to notify your instructors regarding extended absence.

Other Excused Absences: Religious holidays are excused absences – please notify me at least a week beforehand if you will be absent for religious observance.  Academic conferences, graduate school interviews, and ISU-sanctioned varsity sporting events may also be excused at the instructor’s discretion.  Notify me as soon as possible regarding these events.  You must provide documentation of the event and transportation arrangements (e.g. e-mail from coach, letter from graduate school).

 Unexcused absences: Two unexcused absences are unpenalized.  For each unexcused absence after two, your final course grade will be reduced by half a letter grade - eight unexcused absences will result in automatic failure in the course.

Tardies and Late Arrival:  I do believe in “better late than never,” but arriving late is somewhat disruptive for your classmates and your own learning.  I understand the difficulty of being on-time for early morning classes, but we must make use of every minute we have available.  If you arrive late to class, I will record the number of minutes you are late.  During the course, these missed minutes will be added together.  If the total minutes missed begins to approach half of a class period, this may adversely affect your grade as an unexcused absence.

 Notification: It is the responsibility of the student to notify me of unavoidable absence due to illness, family emergency, religious holiday, or other extenuating circumstance.  Students remain responsible for all assignments due during absence.  Failure to notify me beforehand may result in an excusable absence being counted as unexcused.


The Standard Make-Up Assignment is a three-page write-up regarding the day’s in-class activities, and this is required for all absences, both excused and unexcused.  Please see me for specific details for each make-up assignment.

Rule of Thumb: If you will miss class or be delayed, e-mail me as soon as you can.  Even if you oversleep and class is already over, e-mail me.  There is nothing so terrible that it cannot be fixed through the assignment of make-up work.  Unless I never see or hear from you, of course, in which case I can’t assign work to make sure you’re keeping pace.

Deadlines and Copies 

As much as is practical, this will be a paperless course.  Deadlines are specified for each assignment to be posted online.  All regular assignments must be posted online in PDF (or .doc, .docx, .rtf, .odt) by the date and time specified.  If you are unable to post an assignment to the website, you must e-mail the assignment by the deadline.  In cases of workshop pieces, please send me a text message if you are unable to post your workshop piece to the online forums.  Except in the event of extenuating circumstances, requests for extensions will only be accepted 24 hours before the assignment deadline.

Citation and Plagiarism 

Creative work is by definition original.  All works submitted for class are to be the sole creation of the student.  Themes and literary devices from other writers will likely influence your work, and open discussion of works-in-progress is encouraged.  When you reference another source, proper citation (in keeping with the standards of the genre) is required.  In cases where sources are not properly cited, the final grade for a project may be lowered by up to one letter grade.

Presenting the work of another as your own is plagiarism.  All instances of plagiarism will be addressed according to the policies set forth by ISU’s Community Rights and Responsibilities Office.  Their website is  Plagiarism will result in grade reduction, possible failure of the course, and possible additional sanctions.

Personal Conduct 

Creative work requires a safe atmosphere for all participants.  All students will be treated equally and fairly.  Behavior counter to a productive professional environment will not be allowed (e.g. name-calling, personal insults, threats).  Per university regulations and standard ethics, no acts of discrimination, sexual harassment, or violence will be tolerated.  Students who violate these principles may be marked absent and asked to leave.  In cases of repeated or blatant violations, students may be referred to the Community Rights and Responsibilities Office or other appropriate campus offices.

Artistic Freedom versus Classroom Appropriate Material

Genre studies is a very broad field, and we can potentially draw material from not just written works, but other cultural modes of expression (e.g. fashion, politics, and pornography).  However, our freedom as artists must coexist with our responsibilities as members of the academic community.  During this course, we must confine our public projects and examples to materials which are appropriate for the classroom.  For the regular weekly assignments (which will only be read by me), you may consider and discuss any material of interest.  Materials to be shared in class or online must be acceptable to a larger, PG (possible PG-13) audience.  No works which exhibit or promote pornography, explicit violence, or illegal activities may be shared in the classroom without explicit instructor permission.  When in doubt, please check first - I’m happy to review any material to let you know if it’s suitable for the classroom atmosphere.

Course Schedule: A General Overview

Here’s a general overview of our schedule for the semester.  Since I’ll be updating the schedule regularly with discussion topics, readings, and other items of interest, you’ll want to refer back to the detailed copy online.  I recommend referring to the ENG 101 tab in the course blog ( regularly for updates to the schedule.

Or you can find a detailed “planning” copy of the schedule directly at:

Each week, regular assignments are due to Blackboard at 8pm on Thursday night.  Since I will be updating these assignments to adjust for the needs of the course, please see the blog for up-to-date descriptions of each assignment.

There will be quizzes in-class for all scheduled readings, so be sure to read and comment on readings online before each class.

Note: This schedule is subject to change.  You are responsible for all adjustments which are announced in class or via e-mail.

Week        Discussions        Writing Assignments - Due Thurs. 8pm        Reading Assignment

Unit 1        Community, Style, and Syntax                

Learning to identify the boundaries between genres


8/23/2011        Syllabus, Expectations, Online Resources        Introductions: Five facts about you;

8/25/2011        The shifting norms of grammar and syntax        Letter to Three Different People        Stouffer (GWRJ p89)


8/30/2011        Cultural Aspects of Genre - Oral Tradition        What are your thoughts on writing?        Williams (GWRJ p49), Parish (p57)

9/1/2011        Parody vs Satire, Groups for Project 1        What are you afraid to learn?        Lee (GWRJ p75), Snodgrass (p105)


9/6/2011        Groups for Project 1 - Select Your Event        Describe Examples of Genres

9/8/2011        Fiction, Poetry, Memoir        Project 1 Rough Draft due Friday


9/13/2011        Workshops: Peer Review        Did research change your project?        

9/15/2011        Reflection: What Does Genre Mean?        Project 1 Second Draft due Friday


Unit 2        Plot, Causality, and Transition:

Learn to express a coherent story through the interplay of "facts" and motive.                


9/20/2011        Specialty Groups: Narrative, Plotting, Visuals        

9/22/2011        Visual Components of Genre - Movies, Comics        Kniss (GWRJ p15)


9/27/2011        Groups for Project 2: Documentary        What will you learn during Project 2?        

9/29/2011        Fiction vs Documentary: Are Memories Reality?        


10/4/2011        Project 2 Groups: Genres and Social Media        Describe your role in Project 2

10/6/2011        Group Dynamics, Music Videos, and Shooting Schedules        


10/11/2011        Group Work: Editing/Organizing        How does writing complement the visual arts?

10/13/2011        Oral Presentations: Share Project 2        Project 2 due Friday        


Unit 3        Incorporating Reality:

Organize research, interviews, and personal experience into a coherent whole to be understood by an outside reader.


10/18/2011        Academia: Essays, E-Mails, Papers        What issue will your group address?        Meeusen (p39), Rodriguez (p95)

10/20/2011        Writing by Committee: Groups for Project 3        


10/25/2011        Sharing Your Point-of-View Online        Create a Group Blog, Facebook Page, Etc.        

10/27/2011        Group Work: Create an Online Presence        Describe the process and what you learned.


11/1/2011        Case Studies: Evidence and Belief        Has this project changed your perspective on the issue?                

11/3/2011        Group Work: Organizing Your Evidence                


11/8/2011        Student-selected topics in genre studies        How did genre affect the way you presented your argument?        

11/10/2011        Student-selected topics in genre studies        Project 3 due Friday        


Unit 4        Bringing It All Together                

        Reflecting on your experiences in Composition as Critical Inquiry


11/15/2011        Group Work: Grassroots Essays        Grassroots Project: Writing about Writing        Choose a Grassroots article        

11/17/2011        Reflections and Revisions        


11/22/2011        Thanksgiving Break        Revisions Due Online Monday 11/21        

11/24/2011        No Class



11/29/2011        Workshops: Second Drafts        How did you choose which project to revise?

12/1/2011        Workshops: Second Drafts        Grassroots Essay due Friday        


12/6/2011        Group Workshops: Portfolio Selections        Explain how your work reveals your growth as a writer.

12/8/2011        Last Class - Student-Selected Activities        Final Portfolios due Friday        


12/13/2011        Finals                

12/15/2011        Finals                

Major Projects

Our learning in this course will be focused by our completion of three group projects.  These projects are meant to allow you opportunities to work in groups while directly tackling the needs of individual genres of expression.

Project 1        Retell an Event through Multiple Genres

In your small groups, choose a very stressful and emotionally-charged situation.  Then decide which genres would naturally be used to share this event with others.  Would it be shared on Facebook?  Would there be a police report?  Would it require a telephone conversation with a loved one?

Once you've chosen the event and three-to-four genres for the retelling, research the norms of your genres.  Determine which information would be prioritized, and which would be excluded.  All members of the group will research examples of the different genres, and then each member of the group will prepare a draft for one of the selected genres.

Project 2        Visual Community Documentary

This project will consist of two parts.  In the first part, you'll divide into groups based on which aspects of the project interest you (Plotting, Visuals, Community Interviews/Research, the "Emotional" Narrative).  Within these specialty groups, you'll discuss the role this specialty plays in developing a larger visual/oral/written work.  What are the strengths of your specialization?  What are the limitations?

In the second part, the Project 2 Groups will be formed with members from each of the specialty groups.  Within your groups, choose a community issue or local point of interest (from outside of class, preferably from outside ISU) around which to base a documentary.  Using a combination of visual and oral arts (planned via writing), tell a coherent narrative about the local happening.  How did the issue become important?  How did the place become famous?  Consider the interplay of causality and transition in the telling of the larger story.  (Please note: You must create and use original images in your project while also referring to historical documents, images, and interviews.)

Project 3        Selling to a Hostile and/or Indifferent Audience

Thus far, we've focused on telling a story.  Now we're going to encourage a purposeful emotional change in a target audience.  Although your project may have components of advertising and public relations which target the emotional concerns directly, the goal is also to provide a thoughtful and logical argument to support your group's point of view.  For this, you'll need to research the facts behind your issue, draw conclusions, and then convince others that your conclusions represent the best course of action.

Before starting, here are some questions to ask yourselves.  First, do you need to know which side you'll take before you begin your research?  Second, which genres will your chosen audience be most receptive to?  Third, how do you choose which audience to target?  And, finally, how would you measure the success or failure of this undertaking?