In "The Blank Syllabus" activity, the instructor leaves assigned readings blank for some of the class sessions. The second writing assignment requires students to choose a reading from the course anthology--a reading that is then assigned to the class, thus filling in the blanks on the syllabus. The students get practice in writing about a reading of their choosing in the first assignment.Goal: To give a sense of real-life stakes to a college writing assignment, and to help students gain a sense of ownership over the shape and progress of the course.
Class: Expo E-25 –Academic Writing and Critical Reading
- Students browse through the course anthology and choose a text to write about. In Expo E-25, this is typically a war poem.
- Students are required to choose a reading that does not already appear on the syllabus, and assigned to write an essay that amounts to a critical appreciation of the reading they have selected. The essay guidelines are in the handout attached. These essays are due mid-semester.
- The instructor distributes a revised schedule. Under October 25th it might read:
i.Irving, “Rip Van Winkle” (B: 980–991; Tess and Calla)
ii.Bryant “Thanatopsis” (B: 1072–1074; Jenn and Oscar)
- Students' names appear next to their selections in order to give them credit for the selection.
- To initiate discussion, the instructor might say: "Tess, remind us why you thought it would be a good idea to read "Concord Hymn." What did Emerson mean by "the shot heard round the world"?
Comments: The instructor encourages all educators to give it a try. He notes that it requires a bit of a leap of faith--in the power of the material, in the ability of the students to grapple independently with challenging texts, and in the educator’s own ability to handle a variety of text--but it's a leap worth making.
Assessment: The instructor grades the papers that students write as a crucial part of this activity.
Submitted by Christopher Walsh, Expository Writing