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English 706, Spring 2002, Special Topic in Rhetoric


University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • INSTRUCTOR: David Fleming, PhD
  • CLASS MEETINGS: R 2:30 - 5:00, 7105  H. C. White Hall
  • OFFICE: 6187D  H. C. White Hall
  • OFFICE HOURS: T 10:00 - 11:00; R 1:00 - 2:30; & gladly by appt.
  • PHONE: 263-3367 (o), 218-9143 (h)
  • EMAIL:

  •  Description | Texts | Assignments | Calendar | Supplementary Readings | Rhet-Comp Links on the WWW


    That writing is a neutral tool of communication and the teaching of writing, the neutral transmission of that tool, are ideas deeply embedded in contemporary rhetoric and composition studies.  And for good reason: our awareness of the flexibility of writing, the way its resources can be deployed in so many different ways, for such widely differing purposes, makes us skeptical of any attempt to "discipline" it in one direction.  In addition, academics on the left have been hesitant of late to speak of discourse practices in normative terms since such projects open them up to charges of foundationalism, essentialism, and ethnocentrism.  Finally, from a (post)modern standpoint, we are wary these days of efforts to infer from the qualities of a written text to the qualities of the person who wrote it.  For these and other reasons, we often think of skill in, and knowledge about, writing as independent of such things as character, virtue, and progress.

    And yet norms intrude on nearly everything we do, not only as readers and writers but also as researchers and teachers.  We discriminate, criticize, praise, model, prefer, assess, and revise; and all of these things involve us in projects of valuation and evaluation.  Writing is not neutral for the simple reason that it is so powerful; and as teachers we have a certain responsibility to that power.  But what do we mean when we value writing, when we praise one text and criticize another, when we celebrate some discourse practices and denigrate others, when we talk about writers in terms that suggest our access to their character?  In this seminar, we will examine some prominent vocabularies of "goodness" used in composition instruction and research to talk about writers, written texts, and writing processes.  Despite the ubiquity and force of such vocabularies, we are often, I believe, unreflective about them, incoherent in our use of them, and sometimes uncomfortable about their very existence.  Terms of value seem to be unavoidable in our work, and yet they raise more questions than they answer.

    The course is divided into two parts.  In the first half, we will read books and articles that should provide us with helpful perspectives on the problem of writing evaluation.  I present these readings in five units, organizing them by whether they focus our gaze on the character of writers, the responses of readers, the qualities of texts, the nature of writing processes, or the social practices in which writing occurs.  The second half of the semester will be devoted to individual research projects concerning the seminar topic broadly construed.  I see the course fulfilling three main goals: helping us as scholars better understand the place of value in the study of discourse; helping us as readers develop more reflective practices of text evaluation; and helping us as teachers become more thoughtful evaluators of student writing.

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    2. TEXTS

    Readings in the class will come from the following texts, all on sale at University Book Store and the Underground Textbook Exchange. There is also a coursepak of readings available at Bob’s Copy Shop at University Square (257-4536).  A list of these readings is available by clicking here.

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    Graded work in the course will include
    1) Reading and participation.  There will be some lecture from me and occasional presentations by students, but much of the first half of the semester will be centered on active discussion of class readings and the issues and problems raised therein.  To that end, I ask that you prepare for class not only by carefully reading the assigned texts and doing your own voluntary background reading but also by sending to the class discussion list (, sometime before the relevant meeting, a question, problem, or comment raised by the reading.  This should be no longer than a few sentences.

    2) Problem paper.  Before Spring Recess, you will turn in a brief paper (3-5 pp, typed, DS) laying out some problem you would like to pursue for your final project in the course.  The paper should address in provisional terms the nature of the problem, its significance, what about the problem is "known" in the field, and what you would like to learn during, and as a result of, inquiry.

    3) Research project.  At the end of the semester, you will turn in a research paper of about 12-15 pp (typed, DS) concerning some problem relevant to the course topic.  In addition to the paper itself (due May 16), you will also participate in a class-wide (and possibly public?) symposium, sometime during the last week of the semester (or thereabouts), reporting on your project in a 20-minute oral presentation.

    Final grades will be based on the following rough formula:
    Reading & participation 50%
    problem paper 10%
    final project: oral 20%
    final project: written 20%
    Final Grade 100%


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    4. CALENDAR     (tentative)

    Part A: Reading and Discussion

    Jan 24 Th White Assigning Responding Evaluating

    Unit I: the character of writers

    31 Th MacIntyre After Virtue

    Stotsky "Conceptualizing Writing as Moral Thinking"
    Feb 07 Th Berkowitz Virtue and the Making of Modern Liberalism

    Dietz "Context is All"

    Faigley "The Ethical Subject"

    Unit II: the responses of readers

    14 Th Smith Contingencies of Value

    Crosswhite "Audiences and Arguments"

    Unit III: the qualities of texts

    21 Th Wall & Hull "The Semantics of Error"

    Haswell "Minimal Marking"

    Olson "From Utterance to Text"

    Farr "Essayist Literacy"

    Bourdieu "Production and Reproduction"

    28 Th Elbow "Ranking Evaluating and Liking"

    Lloyd-Jones "Primary Trait Scoring"

    Cooper "Holistic Evaluation of Writing"

    Charney "Validity of Using Holistic Scoring"

    Hillocks "Criteria for Better Writing"

    Unit IV: the processes of writing
    Mar 07 Th Yancey Portfolios in the Writing Classroom

    N. Sommers "Responding to Student Writing"

    J. Sommers "The Writer's Memo"

    Daiker "Learning to Praise"

    14 Th Zak & Weaver Theory and Practice of Grading Writing

    Part B: Individual research

    21 Th No class meeting (CCCC)

    *Problem paper due

    Spring Recess

    Unit V: the practices of communities
    Apr 04 Th Robert's Rules of Order

    Popper "Science: Conjectures and Refutations"

    Garver "Teaching Writing and Teaching Virtue"

    11 Th research writing conferencing & workshopping

    18 Th research writing conferencing & workshopping

    25 Th research writing conferencing & workshopping
    May 02 Th research writing conferencing & workshopping

    09 Th *Symposium on the Evaluation of Writing

    16 Th *Final paper due

    Final grades due



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