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FFYS 197CR4, Fall 2014

Orange is the New Black:
A Semester in the Life: Writing Your Way into College

University of Massachusetts Amherst

  • INSTRUCTOR: David Fleming, PhD
  • CLASS MEETINGS: T 2:30 - 3:20 pm, 219 Bartlett
  • OFFICE: 267 Bartlett Hall
  • OFFICE HOURS: W 1:00 - 2:30, Th 12:30 - 2:00, & gladly by appt.
  • PHONE: 545-2972 (o)
  • EMAIL:

  •  Description  |  Assignments  |  Texts  |  Grades  |  Calendar  


    A Semester in the Life: Writing Your Way Into College is a Faculty First Year Seminar (FFYS). For more information on the FFYS program at UMass Amherst, click here (faculty can find more information here). This particular FFYS is themed to the University's Common Read for 2014-15, Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman.

    As any journal-keeper or blogger knows, writing can be a good way to work through major changes in your life.  And starting college is a major change!  For most of you, you’ll be leaving home for the first time in your life, moving into a dorm with hundreds of strangers, and beginning a phase of your education that will be more demanding, and more dependent on your own initiative, than ever before.  With Piper Kerman’s Orange is the New Black as inspiration, you’ll use writing in this course to work your way through your first semester in college: recording, describing, narrating, analyzing, interrogating, trouble-shooting, and communicating your experience for yourself and others.  We’ll do lots of writing, some reading, and a good bit of sharing.  You’ll not only produce a non-fiction record of your first semester here; you’ll get a good introduction to the intellectual and creative life of college itself.

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    Work in the course will include:

    Reading and discussion.  Reading is important for writers: as inspiration, as model, as material to center reflection and discussion.  We’ll do some reading every week, most of it from Orange is the New Black.  There may be occasional supplementary readings, for inspiration and discussion; and you’ll also read a lot of each other’s texts.

    Writing.  The main work of the class will be your own writing.  The goal is to do as much writing as we can, as frequently as we can, in as many different conditions as we can.  Writing is hard work; but regular practice, along with regular feedback from supportive fellow writers, is the best way to improve.  Your writing for this course will be organized in the following three categories:

    1. journaling: short, informal, low-stakes writing, for you alone (mostly) – to record your observations and thoughts and work out your ideas.  I’d like you to write at least three entries per week, each entry around one-half page, about 100-200 words.  If you can write longer and more frequently – even better!  We’ll talk about topics in class: the important thing is to be regularly observing, exploring, and reflecting on your first semester in college – and writing those thoughts down, without excessive attention to grammar, form, or other readers.
    2. blogging: a bit longer, a bit more formal, a bit higher-stakes, and now with readers in mind – a place to take an idea generated in your journal and shape it into a brief essay that others will find interesting, entertaining, or provocative.  I’d like you to bring to class (or post to Moodle) one such essay per week: about 2-3 pages long, typed, double spaced, and edited for others to read.
    3. composing: medium-length papers that have been more extensively revised and more carefully proofread.  At two moments in the semester, weeks 5 & 10, I’d like you to take one of your short essays and expand on it, shaping it into a somewhat longer piece (4-6 pages, typed, double spaced) that represents work you’d be willing to share with an audience beyond our class.

    Obligations to our writing community.  We will do much of our writing and reading together; and we’ll be sharing our work often in class.  Your active and sympathetic participation in our classroom community will be important.  Regular attendance is thus required.  If you must miss class for an unavoidable, legitimate reason – serious illness, death in the family, religious observance, etc. – let me know as soon as possible, and remember that you are responsible for any missed work.  Beyond one unexcused absence, your final grade may be affected.  Coming to class excessively and/or repeatedly late, or turning in work late, may also result in penalties.  Finally, I’d like to meet with each of you one-on-one at least once during the semester.

    Final portfolio.  At the end of the course, in lieu of a final exam, you will turn in a final portfolio with a selection of your work from the semester, along with a brief reflective piece in which you talk in general about your writing for this class.

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    Our main text will be Piper Kerman’s Orange is the New Black (Spiegel & Grau, 2011); you should have your own copy and bring it to class every meeting.  Other readings will be provided via Moodle.  You should also have a journal for this course.

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    Your final grade will be based on the following formula:

    Journaling (occasional checks)


    Blogging (10 brief essays)


    Composing (2 papers)


    Semester portfolio 25%



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    Calendar (tentative)

    day topics and assignments
    1 T 09/02 introduction to class
    2 T 09/09 brief essay 1 due
    3 T 09/16 brief essay 2 due
          Sept. 15 is last day to add or drop the course with no record
    4 T 09/23 brief essay 3 due
    5 T 09/30 paper 1 due
    6 T 10/07 brief essay 4 due
    7 Tu 10/14 no class: Univ. on Monday schedule
          mid-semester: Thurs., Oct. 16 is the last day to drop with a "W"
    8 T 10/21 brief essay 5 due
    9 T 10/28 brief essay 6 due
    10 T 11/04 brief essay 7 due
    11 W 11/12 Univ. on Tuesday schedule; paper 2 due
    12 T 11/18 brief essay 8 due
    13 T 11/25 brief essay 9 due
    14 T 12/02 brief essay 10 due; last day of class
    15 T 12/09 semester portfolio due

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