Course Rationale

Rationale for Course Material

Amy Pittman

Graduate Teaching Assistant

Department of English

Weber State University

The course will begin by introducing summarizing techniques, move to having students make connections between the summaries they have written, write two literature reviews and an annotated bibliography which will all culminate in a portfolio which will require them to evaluate their own writing process and demonstrate their understanding about the course topic. Following Gerald Graff’s argument in “Clueless in Academe” for promoting visual literacy and “argument literacy” through writing summaries because “effective argument starts with attentive listening,” students can engage actively with the readings, identify the main topics, and develop a better understanding about the course readings (34). Summarizing is a valuable skill students will continue using not only in their academic careers, but their professional careers as well.

Focusing on summaries and connections not only helps the students interpret and understand the readings better, it allows them to learn “Intellectualspeak” in their writings (Graf 42). I agree with Graff when he reminds teachers that “it’s by writing the voices of others into their texts that students start learning to produce a public voice” (42). By focusing on summaries first, students will be able to learn how to add context to arguments before they join in the conversation and add their own thoughts and research. They will also be able to develop skills that are vital to academic writing such as quoting, proper attribution through in-text citations, employ MLA formatting and style, smooth transition sentences, as well as strong introductions and conclusions.

Using Graff’s textbook, that he wrote along with Cathy Birkenstein and Russel Durst, They Say, I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing, students will also gain an understanding of why summaries are vital to the university experience and how they can apply the summarizing techniques to other classes in their academic career. Students will utilize the templates provided by the authors to begin writing and perfecting their summarizing skills. The first couple of weeks of the semester will focus solely on summarizing skills. This way, students will have a solid understanding of objective summaries and connection which will be tested in an end of unit literature review that requires them to synthesize the articles and present them in an organized, objective way.

After the first guided literature review, the students will have the opportunity to practice their synthesis skills in a second literature review on the topic of their own choosing. They will be required to use their research skill to find at least six scholarly sources or news articles to summarize, connect, and synthesize.  An annotated bibliography is also required in addition to the second literature review. This will present the students an opportunity to analyze the source’s credibility, arguments, and appropriateness for their literature review.

Grammatical conventions will be addressed but not emphasized because I want the students to focus on the content. Graff articulates that “When students are asked to complete a sentence that starts, “At this point you will probably object that . . . ,” they begin to move beyond the undivided, one dimensional voice that is a surer mark of weak student writing than incorrect grammar” (42) Rather than getting a grammatically perfect copy that’s void of any actual meaningful exploration of the readings, I would prefer my students to be able to write a good summary and connections that is engaging and well thought out. This is not to say that grammar is not important in a composition classroom. Instead of devoting valuable class time to perfecting grammar and punctuation, students will be required to go to the writing center, and have one on one tutoring where grammatical issues can be addressed. Through peer reviews and trips to the writing center, the literature reviews will be well written and grammatical errors will be minimal.

My course will be designed around the theme food: food sustainability, as well as personal and societal health. I chose to focus the course’s theme around food and sustainability because it is something that every student interacts with daily, and it is a topic that every student can easily engage in. Graff mentions the importance of finding topics that students can connect with: “Students won’t become engaged in academic debates about ideas unless they have a reason to be interested in them” (42). Students come from all different backgrounds and can offer differing opinions and viewpoints about the course readings which will also engage them in multicultural discourse and develop a respect for others (Graff 34 – 35).

The textbook, They Say, I Say not only teaches students about the importance of writing strong summaries, it also offers readings about food and its impacts on the levels of the individual, community, and society at large. However, the textbook only offers nine readings for an eight week course that meets 3 times a week. Keeping this in mind, I have also identified supplementary texts that can easily be found online or through the library for students to develop a better understanding of food culture in the United States and around the world.  In addition to the readings from the textbook and supplementary texts, I have found that students, myself included, enjoy obtaining information from different sources. To fulfill this desire, I have also chosen some videos from and the film, Food Inc., to demonstrate the variety of sources students can learn from and engage with. By combining readings with media, students in my classroom can have a fun and diverse interaction with the materials of the course.

In addition to writing summaries and the course readings, students will engage in collaborative learning. Students will be required to actively participate in class discussions and activities, and help their peers gain a deeper understanding of the course material. They will be able to share their perspectives and experiences which will enrich the understanding of course readings and materials. They will also engage in multiple peer reviews, mentioned above, and go on required trips to the writing center. This collaborative will help the students feel comfortable in class and have fun as they re-evaluate their own writing process and help their peers strengthen theirs.



Works Cited

Graff, Gerald. “Clueless in Academe.” Teaching Composition: Background Readings, 3rd ed., Edited by T. R.

Johnson, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008, pp. 32—59.

Graff, Gerald et al. They Say, I Say. W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.

Amy Pittman