English 201: Intermediate Composition (Spring 2018)

Rhetoric and Public Problems

Instructor: Stephanie Larson
Email: srlarson5@wisc.edu
Office: 6157 Helen C. White
Office Hours: Thursdays 11:00-1:00
Course List: engl201-8-s18@lists.wisc.edu 

Course Description and Objectives

English 201 is a 3-credit, intermediate-level writing course that satisfies the university’s Communications B requirement for enhancing literacy skills, specifically writing. This section of English 201 explores the role of rhetoric in constituting public problems. The driving question of this course asks how a problem becomes a public problem, and in answering this question, we will uncover the rhetorical forces and strategies that shape, frame, and mobilize a public’s recognition of difficult problems. We will use a series of case studies on topics ranging from homelessness, climate change, contemporary race relations, the opioid epidemic, gender inequality, and rising mental health rates, among others, to practice skills in analyzing, evaluating, and producing communication, images, stories, and artifacts of public life. We will read a range of texts including editorials, Twitter feeds, memoirs, websites, infographics, songs, public performances, Facebook posts, position papers, maps, and films, among others, paying particular attention to the rhetorical nature of genres and writing related to public problems. Writing assignments will ask students to engage with narrative writing, information gathering, glitching, and writing in public. Taken as a whole, this course aims to deepen our understanding of the social dimensions and public consequences of literacy, rhetoric, and writing.

We will be asking:

  • What is the constitutive power of language in defining and discussing a “public” problem?
  • What are the available means that contribute to justifying public attention?
  • How have digital spaces changed how we argue and deliberate publicly?
  • By analyzing public problems, how might we better understand the norms and practices of public culture?
This course aims to help you develop:
  • critical thinking, careful reading, and effective communication skills
  • an increased awareness of your writing ability, process, style, and strengths
  • an understanding of how writing and speaking vary according to contextual factors such as situation, audience, a speaker or writer’s purpose, and genre
  • strategies for adapting your communication skills to respond to such contextual factors
  • effective and appropriate use of evidence and research in relation to community and responsibility
Access and Inclusion Statement:

This class is committed to providing equitable access to the learning opportunities for all students who may learn, participate, and engage in different ways. If formal, disability-related accommodations are necessary, it is important that you register with the McBurney Center and also notify me of those accommodations. We can then work together to best coordinate your accommodations for this course. Whether or not you have a McBurney VISA, if you anticipate any issues related to the requirements, structure, or format of this course, please reach out to me so we can discuss ways to ensure your full participation and success in this course. Finally, this class welcomes a range of different perspectives related to factors such as gender identity and expression, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, geographic location, socio-economic status, and other relevant cultural identities. Because we will read and discuss the experiences of people from a range of identity groups, mindfulness and respect are expected in your language choices and communication styles when participating in class.

Required Texts/Materials:
  • Course Reader available on Canvas
  • Online Materials Listed on Course Site
  • Notebook
  • Printer Availability
Units and Assignments

Our exploration of public problems over the course of the semester will proceed in three units. For each unit, you will produce a portfolio of work consisting of assignments (completed in class or at home) and drafts of papers ranging from preliminary to polished.

Unit 1: Publicizing Problems

This first unit introduces students to a series of public problems and specifically asks students to consider the role of narrative in publicizing problems. We will explore what rhetorical tools or strategies are useful for specific audiences in specific locations. Readings and discussions will familiarize students with key concepts and questions at stake in arguments about public problems. Writing assignments will help students analyze, engage, and ultimately formulate arguments by exploring and narrating their views on and experiences with a public problem of their choice.

Unit 2: Networking Problems

Building upon our exploration of the role of narrative in publicizing a problem, Unit 2 asks students to consider the following question: how does information about a problem circulate and garner widespread attention? Students will conduct, synthesize, and report on both secondary and primary research regarding a particular public problem. Readings will help students explore how reasoning, research, and data are used to support and authorize claims, as well as how claims and arguments might require different types of research or data to persuade a particular audience. Written assignments in this unit ask students, in small groups, to collect, analyze, and comment upon research.

Specifically, groups will choose an issue, problem, or concern relevant to our local community. This issue may have regional, national, or transnational implications, but it should have a local dimension. In conducting both secondary and primary research—including archival, observations, interviews, site participation, media analysis, etc.—students are asked to trace and make visible the networks that shape how publics come to know a problem as such.

Unit 3: Remediating Problems in Public 

The third unit moves our attention to the public dimensions of writing and asks students to participate in deliberation over a public problem, to intervene in public issues, and to influence action. Specifically, the final unit asks how, given the complex networks of public problems traced in Unit 2, ought we proceed and attempt to solve a problem. We will explore and ultimately compose arguments for policies, actions, or practices that can make meaningful interventions.

Writing assignments will ask students to compose effective arguments concerning public problem by remediating the work they completed in Unit 2 and suggest a solution to a public problem to a local audience. In the process, students will also be asked to consider the role of glitching, or failure, in writing. While failure and revision are central to all writing tasks, remediating an argument for a particular public audience acutely draws our awareness toward writing’s precariousness. Readings, class discussions, and writing workshops will ask students to consider effective remediation strategies, the role of audience in argumentation and public deliberation, and glitching as a theory of revision.

Reading and Course Site

Please consult the course calendar to see what reading and writing assignments are due on a given class day (http://stephanieraelarson.com/index.php/courses-2/english-201-rhetoric-and-public-problems/schedule/). Also, a course reader for this class will be available online at Canvas. I utilize the course site after nearly every class in order to specify and clarify assignments for the next class day on the homepage. Students should take notes and prepare for our next class session by reading through your own notes and annotations. In reading you will want to pay careful attention to form, style, content, organization, and argument and come prepared to discuss these in depth. We will always focus our reading with questions posed by student discussion leaders, your own questions about both content and form, and finally, questions posed by me. Much our daily discussions succeed due to the reading preparation done before hand, and your participation grade relies heavily on your engagement with the material during class discussions. All writing assignments will be submitted through Canvas, and we will discuss this in more detail for during the first assignment.

Contacting Me

Please contact me if you have questions about course materials, assignments or class policies. I will be happy to answer your questions or discuss any area of concern you may have. The best way to handle substantive issues, or to get extra help on your writing or assignments is through a face-to-face meeting with me. Each students should plan to meet with me at least once a semester. I love to meet with students and you are always welcome to see me without an appointment during my office hours. I can also work to schedule an appointment to meet at a specific time if my office hours do not work for you. I will try to be as flexible and available as my schedule allows. The best way to contact me for an appointment or to ask a clarifying question about assignments is through email, and I will try to get back to you in 24 hours.

Participation & Attendance

Much of class time is spent discussing course materials and working in groups to share and respond to each others’ writing. These activities give you multiple ways to engage with others, formulate and express your ideas, and ultimately help you improve your ability to write, think, and communicate. Hence, your regular attendance and active participation in class is required, and each student should plan to speak at least twice a class.  If you are someone who has trouble speaking in class, please let me know and we can talk about how you can make sure you shine in other aspects of class participation. We are a community of learners, and it is important for each of us to learn and to connect with one another. I value the input of each of you and will work to encourage you to establish relationships with one another.

You are allowed two absences for whatever reason with no initial penalty. There are times when nearly everyone must miss class for some reason: illness, weather, travel, family issues, etc. This policy allows for such absences without penalty, though you should try not to miss class even once. Each absence after two will drop your participation grade a full letter. Missing more than five classes for whatever reason will result in a failing grade for the course. Missing a scheduled conference with me or coming to class excessively and frequently late will count as an absence. If your schedule may pose attendance problems, I recommend adding another section of English 201 or a different Comm-B course.

While I do remain firm in this attendance policy, I am flexible to extreme circumstances. Please get into contact with me if you encounter one of these. I do take attendance every day, and it is your responsibility to check in with your peers and me regarding class material. You will get to know your classmates, so please reach out to them for the homework and make sure to check the course site or me for additional details.

Leading Discussions

Large group discussions foster important communication skills that will benefit not only your experiences in the college classroom but well beyond the classroom and into the work you do after college. By posing intriguing, thought provoking, timely, pertinent, and even debatable discussion questions, you will have an opportunity to drive the conversation, while negotiating tangential topics that enter into the discussion. In other words, you will strive to balance your own interests and questions alongside those of your peers. You will have 10-15 minutes to open up the discussion by posing questions to the group. Also, you are welcome to bring in outside information that you find relevant to the assigned reading. As preparation, you will have to read ahead and analyze the readings and then prepare 2-3 discussion questions. These questions should be a balance between breaking down what the argument is in light of the rhetorical situation (synthesizing the material) and extrapolating from the text issues worth debating (complicating the issue). You will email me your questions before 5PM the day before your discussion, so I can prepare a handout with those questions listed. This assignment will fulfill 25% of your participation grade.

Late Work

Assignments submitted late will be dropped a full letter grade for each day late. In-class assignments and activities missed because of absences cannot be made up. Work that is more than a week late will not be accepted. You will do a lot of writing and revising in this course, much of which will be completed alongside conversations with your peers. Please communicate with me and let me know if you are having a personal issue getting work completed on time. While work completed successfully and on time is important, I will always work with you to ensure that you are getting the most out of this course, but it is usually best to be upfront about any challenges you’re facing.

Plagiarism and Academic Honesty

The University of Wisconsin and the English 201 program consider plagiarism a serious violation. Plagiarism is:

  • using someone else’s words or ideas without proper documentation when quoting and paraphrasing;
  • copying some portion of your text from another source without proper acknowledgement;
  • borrowing another person’s specific ideas without documenting the source;
  • turning in a paper written by someone else, an essay “service,” or from a World Wide Web site (including reproductions of such essays or papers);
  • turning in a paper that you wrote for another course or turning in the same paper for more than one course without getting permission from your instructors first.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has established a range of penalties for students who plagiarize, including a reduced grade on a redone assignment, a failing grade for the assignment, a failing grade for the course, or even suspension or expulsion from the university. All instances of plagiarism are reported to the English 201 Program Director. For more information, see http://students.wisc.edu/saja/misconduct/academic_misconduct.html.

Feedback and Assessment

A central philosophy and practice of English 201 is that writing is a process. Improving your writing requires experimentation, planning, drafting, feedback, revision, and above all else, practice.  These activities are built into each unit, and your learning depends on engaging fully in them. In this course, you can expect to write drafts for your longer writing projects, to share your writing with other readers, and to respond to the writing of others. In paying attention to this process as both writer and reader you will hone your ability to provide useful feedback and advice for others and for yourself.

Individual assignments and drafts will not receive individual letter or numerical grades, but I nonetheless require your best effort. Throughout the course, you will receive feedback from fellow writers as well as from me. To help you focus on your writing process as well as what you produce, all assignments will be checked off for credit. For some of the smaller assignments I may write a brief response. I’ll provide detailed written comments on major drafts of unit projects and final comments on each portfolio. Portfolios will be turned in at the end of each unit and will be assessed as a whole. If you have specific questions about any piece of writing, you are welcome to meet with me during office hours.

Your portfolio will receive a traditional grade. These grades will take into account your development as a writer and your ability to meet course expectations, including the expectation that you will take part in writing workshops, participate consistently in other ways, and complete work on time. Unit portfolios will receive letter grades according to the university’s point system as follows:

  • A (Excellent) — 4
  • AB (Intermediate Grade) — 3.5
  • B (Good) — 3
  • BC (Intermediate Grade) — 2.5
  • C (Fair) — 2
  • D (Poor) — 1
  • F (Failure) — 0

An A is assigned to outstanding work that fully exceeds expectations and evaluation criteria; a B is assigned to work that exceeds most expectations and evaluation criteria; a C is assigned to work that meets expectations; a D is assigned to work that struggles to meet expectations; and an F is assigned to work that fails to meet expectations. Expectations and criteria are explained with each assignment introduction.

Your final course grade will reflect my assessment of your work over the course of the semester as well as the level of your conscientiousness in meeting course responsibilities and requirements. All of these factors will be reflected in your final course grade, weighted as follows:

Unit 1 Concluding Portfolio: 15%
Unit 2 Concluding Portfolio: 20%
Unit 3 Concluding Portfolio: 30%
Participation (writing workshops, large and small group discussion, reading preparation, attitude, one conferences, in-class activities, homework): 25%
Final Presentations: 10%


McBurney Center. Students with disabilities should contact the McBurney Disability Resource Center for assistance: If you have a disability that affects your performance in this class, please let me know as soon as possible so we can make accommodations.

University Health Services. Students should familiarize themselves with UHS for assistance regarding a range of services including mental health, victim advocacy, support groups, and medical services.

Writing Center. The Writing Center does not schedule appointments for students with English 201 assignments, but it offers a variety of useful resources, including handouts and writing classes. On occasion, we’ll meet in the Writing Center’s computer classroom or in adjacent rooms for writing workshops or presentations.

See schedule.