Guidelines for class discussion
I will do a fair amount of talking, but that won’t mean that you can keep quiet. I’ll expect you to speak up regularly, and I’ll also expect that your comments are thoughtful, helpful, and to the point. Here are some things to keep in mind as you look ahead to our first few discussions:
1. You’ll need to be prepared for class.
And doing the reading is just the beginning. I’ll expect you to spend at least thirty minutes with each of the poems on your syllabus—reading and rereading, breaking the poem down and putting it back together again.
2. You’ll need to take some risks.
Don’t blurt out the first thing that comes into your head. But don’t wait until you’ve come up with the perfect answer, either. It’s okay to admit that you’re not entirely sure of what you’re about to say.
3. Expect disagreement.
There will be times when others question or challenge you—and times when I disagree with you too. That’s not a bad thing. Disagreement is part of the process of testing and working out ideas, not a sign that the process has broken down.
4. Don’t be afraid to change your position—or to defend it.
Changing your mind doesn’t mean that you’re wishy-washy, and defending your view doesn’t mean that you’re stubborn. Admit where you’re wrong, but don’t just give in to be nice.
5. Treat each other with respect.
Listen carefully to what others have to say and assume that they are doing their best to move the discussion ahead. Don’t interrupt, and try not to crowd others out of the conversation.
6. Talk to each other, and not just to me.
Good comments are those that build on what others have been saying. If you’re responding to what someone else has said, acknowledge that person in some way—either by mentioning her name or looking in her direction.
Evaluating participation and discussion
Your grade for class participation will depend not only on the frequency but also on the quality of your contributions. If you’re talking for the sake of talking, not really making good points or asking smart questions, then you won’t get a very good grade.
Sometime before the reading period, I’ll try to let you know how you’re doing with class participation. I’ll provide interim grades for participation—grades that might be raised or lowered before the end of the term—and some brief comments about your strengths and weaknesses as a discussant. Your grades for participation will be determined according to the following scale:
• An "F" will indicate that you are doing failing work.
You may not be speaking at all. You may also create distractions, show up without your books, or convey disrespect for others in the class.
• A "D" indicates that you're doing below average work.
You’re speaking occasionally, but not very often and not very effectively. Your comments may seem to come out of nowhere, and you may give the impression that you haven't done the reading for the day.
• A "C" indicates that you’re doing average work.
You're speaking on most days, but not making a really significant contribution to our discussion. To raise this grade, don’t just speak up more often—though that’s important. Instead do what you can to tie your comments to passages from the text and to earlier remarks from your classmates.
• A "B" means that you're doing good work.
You not only speak, but also make a real effort to work with the rest of the group. Instead of simply chiming in with your own opinions, you respond to what others have said. It’s obvious that you’ve done your homework. You seem not only to have read the texts but to have studied them carefully and thought about them seriously.
• An "A" means that you're doing outstanding work.
You are speaking regularly, giving your full attention to others, and working with them effectively. Your command of the reading is consistently strong, and it’s obvious that you’re trying to read critically, not just taking things at face value. You may have a knack for asking good questions and for pointing out interesting examples.
mail to Mr. Spurgin
last modified 9/23/04