Policies & Syllabus
Come prepared, obvious basics
Bring your notebook, a pen, your iPad, and your book. Your book is essential. You can't examine or annotate a book you don't have in front of you, nor can you deeply follow or participate in conversation. Come essay time, you need to have your recorded thinking of the text at hand, ready for use. Your memory cannot hold what we do in class, especially for textual examples. So learn to take good notes and to annotate your text in smart, helpful ways. Good notes and annotations are fundamental to doing well.
Developing a Growth Mindset
Dr. Carol Dweck,
Nature of Assignments
The work isn't of the multi-choice, fact-for-fact-sake kind. Facts and details matter, of course, They're how writers create meaning and how readers understand it. So you need to know facts and details, certainly. Thinking, after all, depends on memory. Without facts, you can't think and without remembering those facts you can't think either. Writing demands evidence and good, interesting thinking about that evidence. I want you to engage our reading in smart, sophisticated, personal ways. You can't do that well without evidence and thought. Which takes time and trust and patience.
English class means writing. Writing means discovering what you think, a process like discovering anything else. Writing is a means of thinking, as Michel de Montaigne, the "inventor" of the essay, discovered himself. You think to write and write to think. A good essay cannot be a mere formula or a mere series of box ticks. A good essay is an attempt to explore an idea, to discover what you think. Que sais-je? What essays are all about.
Essay grades reflect content, style, and mechanics. You'll know the expectations, have models to follow, be encouraged to have conferences with me, and see how writing assignments will be read. Here's a rubric that lists the qualities I look for and how I think of them gradewise.
The surest way to do well and to improve is to begin work early and to bring drafts by my office. Seriously. Writing takes times, imagination, an open mind, courage, and patience. Discovering what you think is a delicate endeavor. It needs cultivation, and fortitude.
You should never submit a final essay without having talked with me at least once. Come by and discuss your argument, show me a thesis, a draft, a rewrite—anything. These conferences are—bar none—the best way to improve your writing, your grade, and your confidence.
Nevertheless, remember that all writing is practice and that no writing is perfect. Improvement, not perfection, is the goal. Writers must learn to follow Hamlet and "Let be" (Hamlet 5.2.237).
Your printed essay is due in class on the due date. The paper copy is the official copy. Your essay must also be uploaded to turnitin by 15:30 of the same due date.
Format the essay according to MLA guidelines and style, using Times New Roman font size 12 and naming the file something you'll recognize.
Miss the first deadline and you have one week to turn in the essay, for a onetime 20-point penalty. Miss that second deadline and you're out of luck. You receive 0 for the assignment. Miss the turnitin deadline and lose 5 points. Same 5 point penalty for late upload to peergrade.
A word about extensions. I'm a reasonable man. If you encounter trouble, talk to me. I will consider extensions only after we talk. And if you do something stupid, really come talk to me. We all succumb to stupid sometime or other. No need to be embarrassed. Truth by told, we all have red faces. As Hamlet says to Ophelia: "I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me" (1.3.)
What to do with a returned essay
I intend my comments to be targeted and helpful. So at your convenience, read through the essay once to register your current thoughts about your work—and be honest with yourself. Good writers are stern critics of their work and fresh reading usually spotlights new faults. Then read the essay again, line by line, reading my comments and understanding my notes. Each of them should give you insight into how to improve. If they don't, let's talk. Once you've read the essay through twice, you should have a clear and concrete understanding of what you did well, what you need to improve–and how to go about improving next time. I try to converse with your essays as if I'm talking to you; so think of the comments not as criticisms but as conversation starters.
Revise, rewrite an essay
for grade replacement
Revising is one of the best ways to improve your writing skills, and your grade. To encourage and reward that effort, you can rewrite any full-length, outside-of-class essay for a grade replacement.
To qualify for a revision, you must submit the essay on time; the essay must meet the assignment's minimum requirements; and you must have at least one meeting with me during the rewriting process. We can talk about your marked essay, about your draft. Or both.
Before you come by for a conference, read my comments and get as clear a sense as you can of what I see and what you should do. I will begin the conference by asking you, "What do I say?"
Revisions are due two weeks after the date graded essays are returned, in the same fashion as regular essays: paper copy in class, upload to turnitin by 15:30. Miss any of these requirements or deadlines and miss the chance to replace your grade.
See essay submission above.
Other than essays, late assignments lose ten points per day late, unless other arrangements have been made in advance. In any event, all outstanding work must be made up before 15:00 of the last class day of the quarter. I will not accept work after this stated deadline. Really. Use Dropbox, Google Drive, something. No excuse for not having access to your work. Always have a backup copy of every writing assignment on Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, whatever. No excuse for losing work.
To make up a quiz, simply come by my office anytime before 15:00 of the last class day of the quarter and say, "I'd like to make up...." Best to make up work as quickly as you can, though.
When you have a missing assignment, I'll place and X if you needn't make it up or an M if you do. The X has no grade consequence; the M does. An M factors in a 0 for the assignment to show your grade without it. That 0 stands until you make up the work.
Since you can see all of your assignments, you're responsible for them and for making them up. When you have a question, just ask. See my thoughts about grades under Grades.
As T.H. White said, "education is experience and the essence of experience is self-reliance."
I expect you to be a man of integrity. Reread Community Life to refresh your knowledge of definitions and penalties for cheating. I follow those guidelines. Be honest. Be true to yourself. Be the good man God intends you to be. Reading and writing—thinking for yourself and learning to establish and defend a point of view—is a risky and fear-inducing business. Don't let fear tempt you. See Essay submission.
From Latin plagiarius, literally plunderer or kidnapper. Plagiarism is the use of another's thoughts, ideas, words, phrases, argument outline, etc., without acknowledging the use and the source. It is "to give the impression that you have written or thought something that you have in fact borrowed from someone else" (MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers 21). Plagiarism is a big deal in the academic world. Everyone expects you to think and write for yourself. How else do you expect to grow? Read more here.
Or in the words of Michel de Montaigne: "As for doing what I have discovered others doing, covering themselves with other men's armour until they don't show even their fingertips, and carrying out their plans, as is easy for the learned in common subjects, with ancient inventions pieced out here and there–for those who want to hide their borrowings and appropriate them, this is first of all injustice and cowardice, that, having nothing of their own worth bringing out, they try to present themselves under false colors; and second, it is stupid of them to content themselves with gaining deceitfully the ignorant approbation of the common herd, while discrediting themselves in the eyes of men of understanding, whose praise alone has any weight, and who turn up their nose at our borrowed incrustations." ("On the Education of Children")
The easiest way to avoid plagiarism? Do no Googling for your essays. (That's why I formally forbid Googling.) Stay off the web before and during the writing of your papers. Whatever analysis the writers of Sparknotes have to offer will do you no good. (Yes, even for Bob Dylan.) No one but you knows what you think and why. And what you think and why is exactly what I'm after. I care what you think and I care how and why you think it. You, therefore, need only your class notes and your annotated primary text. And the knowledge that struggling is OK and to be expected, as is uncertainty.
Learn to build a point of view, to examine it, understand it, defend it, believe in it. That ability is one of the most important skills the humanities offer. Whatever you do, don't impede that process. It will hurt, it will frustrate, but it will benefit you in ways rich and unpredictable.
Per school policy, you are not to use your phone in any classroom. I see your phone, I take your phone. Period.
Your iPad is a tool in your backpack, not a panacea for your school ills, and should certainly not be the center of your existence. No Facebook post is that interesting. The iPad makes quiz taking, writing and especially peer editing very convenient. So the device used responsibly is pretty great.
But there's the rub. Responsibility. Too few of us have it when we need it most, making the iPad a temptation few of us can avoid.
Bring your iPad to class in case you need, but also bring your book and a notebook for class discussion and notes. If you have cause to need the iPad to take notes, talk to me. Otherwise, keep it in your backpack until I tell you to take it out. Lots a research suggests that serious notetaking and reading are better done with paper, anyway.
The world needs more face to face conversation. So do you. Email's for emergencies, when I need to know something you can't tell me in person. Otherwise, practice talking to real people. If I don't respond to your email—and I probably won't—then talk to me in person. Check my schedule or come by my office. Read this article by Jonathan Safran Foer about how technology is diminishing us. He makes interesting observations.
What I promise, what I expect
No one ever grew, acquired knowledge, or developed skill without some sweat. Like you, I have my foibles, but I'll be as interesting as I can be, as helpful and fair as I know how to be, and as enthusiastic as any teacher you've ever had. I expect you to be a good student, which means exercising your mind, your spirit, and your imagination, which means talking the Grad at Grad seriously. Do the reading well, take time writing the essays, come to me for help. Take part in class discussions. Be active. And be courageous. What's at risk, really?
Too many of you live in fear. Of what I'm not sure. But you do. And you know it. Let that fear go, and engage your classes. Take risks. You have no idea how much you'll be rewarded. And not just in grades. No one can learn for you, and you make a great and terrible mistake when you think that some subjects don't matter. They all do, whether by teaching you skills, wisdom or both. And more, every class you take, every assignment you do, every decision you make contributes to building your character and determining the man you will become. Strake Jesuit wants you to become the kind of man who will set the world on fire. To do that you have to set your self aflame first. Let all you do be a spark to your flame.
As Montaigne said, "The gain from our study is to have become better and wiser by it."
Let that be our motto.
This is Water
David Foster Wallace
8106 Zinnamon Hall. Stop by anytime. I will be excited and delighted to see you.
My schedule. Open periods Day 1, periods 3, 4, 7.
Do the reading when it's assigned, and always read slowly, attentively, annotating to record your thoughts and questions. Expect to have questions, gaps in your understanding. All good readers do. In fact, not knowing is, paradoxically, a sign of good reading. Literature is art, not science. Art raises questions, it provokes. Learning how to ask good questions is an important skill, as is learning how to respond to them by wrestling with evidence.
Any time you have reading–and that's most days–you should expect a quiz in some form. That might be a short answer, one question, an annotation check, a write-your-own-question assessment. Quizzes take many forms.
Take the reading seriously, in a fun, life-affirming way. Read to discover meaning and how language creates that meaning. Read to understand literary art. Read to ask big questions. Read to understand yourself and the world. See the two videos atop the reading page.
For English 4, the final exam is a final essay.
For AP English Literature fall semester, the three essays from the written section of the AP exam, using one of the works we read during the semester for question three or a longer essay. In the spring semester, an essay.
Let's put grades in perspective. Yes, they matter. No, not every grade matters. Struggle and failure are learning's fire. As Herman Melville famously said, "But it is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere,
that man can not be great. Failure is the true test of greatness" ("Hawthorne and His Mosses").
Don't be ruled—and ruined—by numbers. Let learning happen as it must, with struggles and slips. If you're not taking risks, you're not learning—or growing. See Developing a Growth Mindset video in the left column.
I follow the scale published in Community Life. I calculate your semester grade as a running average according to this formula:
Major work/essays 70%
The above, in total, counts as 80% of the semester grade. The remaining 20% is taken from the final essay.
When assigning final grades I consider the whole of your work and put special emphasis on your improvement and the effort I have seen you put into the class.
A final average of 78 might not reflect the whole of your learning. Maybe you struggled on the first couple of essays only to then find your groove. That 78 doesn't look like the 78 of the guy who never struggled and never found—or really looked for—his groove.
Work and effort. Learning. Character, in other words, matters. And is to be rewarded. So the 78 becomes an 80.
A word about participation. Since the class is discussion-oriented, your readiness for that discussion matters. A class full of unprepared students quickly becomes boring and pointless, or a lecture.
And remember that participation is my impression of your presence in class along with some assessments of your readiness. Those assessments might be a participation quiz asking you to recall something from the previous day's discussion, using your notes; or an annotation check; or a write down an interesting question from last night's reading.
Be prepared, be alert, be active. Make us better.
To gain top credit for participation, you're prepared for class and an active and informed part of class discussions. In essence, a beneficial class presence.
As part of the participation grade component, you are encouraged to meet with me outside of class at least once each quarter. Come with an essay, a question about a draft, something substantial and individual.
Participation grades are updated at least every three weeks.
The importance of kindness
Begin by mastering the basics—reading well, annotating your text, and taking good notes. Reading well takes time, lots of attention, imagination, and patience, qualities strongest when you're fresh. No one reads well fast, and no one can read well and do anything else. Multi-tasking is a vicious myth. Pure bunk Put down that phone and pick up your book.
Poor attention in class and especially poor reading are two reasons students struggle in English. To get an A on an essay demands A-quality reading and writing. As you read, mark your text. Consider this marked passage from Forster's "The Wood." The student hasn't just skimmed that passage. He's read it, really read it, interacting with the text in thoughtful ways. You can't always mark your books that heavily (and you don't always need to), but annotating is a sure-fire method to improve your reading.
So what makes good reading? Read like a human, experiencing the rich reality literature shows you and thinking about human truth. Then, in a more literary way, noticing what matters, how the work means and how its language creates meaning, how literary devices work. That might sound fancy—or vague—but it's really not. Pay attention to what develops theme, character, mood, and the like. Ask why questions as you read. Why the first-person point of view, for instance, or why does this character always respond harshly? When you notice the editing in a movie or lighting or any other aspect of film making you're reading just the way you should when you read for English. Reading is a creative activity. You discover/make the meaning as you read. And never forget that all the literary stuff, all the art is there to convey human truth.
Or, as Bela Tarr said, "Don't be too sophisticated. Just listen to your heart and trust your eyes. That's enough."
But maybe Virginia Woolf says it best:
"The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions....After all, what laws can be laid down about books? The battle of Waterloo was certainly fought on a certain day; but is Hamlet a better play than Lear? Nobody can say. Each must decide that question for himself. To admit authorities, however heavily furred and gowned, into our libraries and let them tell us how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read, is to destroy the spirit of freedom which is the breath of those sanctuaries. Everywhere else we may be bound by laws and conventions—there we have none."