Advice for students in comp -from other profs part 1

Prof. Mathew Schmeer writes:

 A Few Important Notes About This Class & How I Teach It

  • You are required to do every last iota of the reading and writing assigned, exactly in the format requested in this syllabus, and it needs to be totally done by the time class starts. There is no such thing as “falling a little behind” in the course; either you’ve done your homework or you haven’t. Chronic lack of preparation (which is easy to spot) will affect your participation grade, as mentioned elsewhere in this syllabus.  Education is not about merely showing up—any skinjob with an alarm clock and a ride to campus can show up.  No, education is a lot like scouting: you have to be prepared for whatever you might face in the classroom that day.


  • The majority of work in a college class takes place outside of the classroom (see #1, above). The common ratio for college study is 1:2, which means that for every hour you spend in class, you should spend at least two hours outside of class in preparation.  That means for a three-credit-hour course, you need to be spending at least six (6) hours outside of class in preparation, for a total of nine (9) hours devoted to the study of the course subject.  But this is a writing-intensive class, so tack on another three (3) hours because writing is hard.  So, you should be spending about nine (9) hours a week outside of class reading, writing, and revising, for a total of twelve (12) hours total time per week.  Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? I’ve had students tell me they spend significantly more than that, too.


  • This is a class about learning through writing as well as learning to That said, it’s important to remember that success in writing isn’t measured in grades, but in whether the written piece accomplishes what the essay sets out to do (notice I said essay and not writer).


  • This isn’t really a writing course; it’s a revision course. Many writers believe that a piece of writing is never finished, but only “due.” But before it’s due, that piece goes through the wringer to make sure it’s everything it’s supposed to be. Revision is part of the writing process—perhaps the most difficult part, maybe even the most essential part. And learning to revise is what this class is all about. Revision is hard work. But, like breathing, it’s something you should get used to doing if you want what you put on the page to succeed.


  • Please keep in mind that you can’t get a good grade by trying to figure out “what I want” because usually I don’t know what I want until I see the words on the page. Often times, students believe that if they revise a piece of writing based only on my suggestions and then submit it for evaluation they will automagically receive a higher grade. This isn’t true. Sometimes I make dumb suggestions and don’t realize it until after I’ve read your essay. Sometimes you don’t realize that you need to go beyond my suggestions and make more thorough changes to your essay. Sometimes changing one thing in the first paragraph of an essay necessitates changing twenty or thirty other things elsewhere in the essay—or deleting or adding content to the essay. Your task is learning to assess what needs to be done, and then learning to do it so that the words say what they need to say—not what you think they say.


  • You should get used to the questions “so what?” and “so your point is?” Good writing avoids the reader’s need to ask those questions. So get used to going deeper without prompting. But be aware that going deeper also means avoiding obvious BS and hyper-generalized wheel spinning that only takes up space.


  • Good writing breaks rules, but good writers know the rules and when to break them, and competent readers can deduce whether a writer broke a rule on purpose or is just a sloppy writer. Don’t be a sloppy writer. I expect and assume that you already know the basic rules of written grammar—you might not know the fancy names that grammarians use, but you know what sounds right and what makes sense when you see and hear it.


  • That said, this course does not focus on grammar and mechanics, but grammar and mechanics still count. This class is College Composition I; it is assumed that you already have a firm grasp of the basic grammar and mechanics of the English language (see #7, above). After all, you do not enter a college algebra course not knowing how to construct mathematical equations and use mathematical operational symbols; the same goes for a college composition course. If you don’t know the difference between their, they’re, and there or between definitely and defiantly, then it is up to you to learn the difference. Likewise, if you find you have consistent problems with grammar & mechanics, it is up to you to seek tutorial assistance. Saying you “just don’t get” how to use commas or semi-colons or how to avoid writing sentence fragments is like having a broken leg but trying to walk anyway—you won’t get far, and the results will be painful.


  • You are here of your own free will because you want to learn to write better. To me, that means you want to be here (after all, you paid good, hard-earned money to attend!), so no bellyaching and moaning about the assignments and due dates. If you don’t want to learn to write better, you are free to leave and not come back. Otherwise, make the best of your time here.


  • You might want to familiarize yourself with the JCCC Student Code of Conduct, which you can find by using the search function on the college’s website.


  • If you are currently enrolled in high school and taking this course for dual credit (both to satisfy a high school graduation requirement and for college credit), you need to know the risks involved. This goes for traditional high school students as well as students who are being homeschooled. My colleague Dr. Mary Pat McQueeney has graciously allowed me to adapt a handout she has prepared for those students, and I urge you to read this and take the information under consideration.  You can find the handout in Appendix [2].


  • Examine the rest of this syllabus carefully. Keep this syllabus; it contains all the course policies and procedures and will come in handy to answer many of your questions over the term.


  • I think it’s fairly obvious that I have high standards for the written work you turn in.  I know many professors come across as hard-asses at the beginning of the semester but don’t actually mean it or enforce it as the course wears on.  I, however, do mean it, and I will enforce it—feel free to verify this with students who’ve taken other classes with me. If you want to improve your writing and are willing to put extra time and effort into it, then I am a good teacher to have.  But if you’re used to whipping off papers the night before they are due, running them through the computer’s spellchecker checker, and handing them in full of obvious errors and sentences that make no sense and having a teacher accept them “because the ideas are good,” then please be informed that I draw no distinction between the quality of one’s ideas and the quality of those ideas’ verbal expression.  I will not accept sloppy, rough-draftish writing in place of a finalized, polished draft.  Again, I am absolutely not kidding. If you can’t devote significant time and attention to your writing, why should I?
  • The absolute worst thing you can do on the page is frustrate the reader. Or, as Daniel Handler has written, “If writers wrote as carelessly as some people talk, then adhasdh asdglaseuyt[bn[pasdlgkhasdfasdf.”
  • Writing a list is the laziest form of writing, but sometimes the most effective.