KT Torrey’s 1105 Syllabus

Introduction to College Composition: Critical Reading, Writing, and Thinking

“Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.” ~ Jeanette Winterson

“Don’t wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.” ~ Esther Freud


  1. Composition at Virginia Tech 2011-2012 textbook
  2. A hardcover composition notebook for use only in this class
  3. A large folder or binder to hold all of the writing that you do for this course
  4. Many of the readings for this course will be posted in PDF format on the course Scholar site. You will be responsible for printing copies of the readings and bringing them with you to class.


  • Monday, August 22: Last day for students to withdraw from Fall Semester to avoid tuition and fee charges.
  • Friday, August 26: Last day for students to add classes and to add or drop audit option.
  • Friday, September 30: Last day for students to drop Fall 2011 classes without grade penalty.
  • Monday, October 17: Last day for students to resign without grade penalty.

Academic Integrity

The Virginia Tech Honor System Constitution states: “Every student has the right to live in an academic environment that is free from the injustices caused by any form of intellectual dishonesty.” As a student of Virginia Tech, you are expected to follow the school’s Honor Code. This is the standard to which I will hold you and your work in this course. You are responsible for reading the Code and abiding by all of its policies and guidelines. You can find a link to the Honor System website on our Scholar site. I will not tolerate any form of academic dishonesty. Any suspected violations of the Code will be reported to the Honor System.

Special Needs and Accommodations
Please talk with me about your need for accommodations within the first week of classes. If you seek accommodation based on disabilities, you must provide me with documentation from the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) office, located at 150 Henderson Hall.

Principles of Community
Virginia Tech’s Principles of Community are reprinted on the inside front cover of your textbook, Composition at Virginia Tech. You will also find these principles posted in most classrooms on campus. You can find a link to a PDF version of the Principles on the Scholar site for this class. The Department of English and its faculty support these principles as a statement of inclusion, tolerance, and community.

The purpose of this course is to introduce you to the critical reading, writing, and thinking skills that will be central to your becoming a part of the Virginia Tech community. No matter what you are majoring in, the rhetorical, analytical, and narrative skills that you learn in this course will be crucial to the writing that you will do in your discipline.

In this course, you will be asked to engage with a wide variety of written, visual, and auditory texts. These texts—and the opinions, perspectives, or ideas they present— won’t mark the end of a conversation; rather, as a writer, your job will be to analyze how the texts are talking to one another, and to add your voice and your perspectives to those ongoing conversations.

You’ll also engage with your own writing and that of your peers’ at all stages of the writing process. Ultimately, this course will be what you make it: to get the most from the experience, you will need to take your thinking and writing–and that of your peers—seriously; that is, as something that can be of value not only to the writer, but to the world beyond.

All writing, however strong, can benefit from a careful reader’s response. In addition to feedback from your instructor and your classmates, writing assistance is available in the Writing Center, located in Shanks 430. The Center offers in-person tutoring and holds several free writing workshops throughout the semester. Writing tutors can help at any stage of the writing process, from getting started to final editing. They can help you figure out an assignment, overcome “writer’s block,” or discover your thesis.

Remember, however, that tutors are not allowed to revise or edit students’ papers for them. All changes, revisions, or corrections must be your own work. You can find a link to the Writer Center’s website on Scholar. Take advantage of this excellent—and free—resource.

As a college student, you are ultimately accountable for the progress that you make in this class. In this course, some of your responsibilities include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Take charge of your learning in this course. If you have any questions about the coursework, about your writing, or about your progress in the class, come talk with me during my office hours. I can’t address your concern or question unless you tell me about it; don’t wait for me to come to you.
  2. Attend class. 20% of your grade in this course is based on your attendance and participation in class activities. Several conferences with me will be also required this semester: failing to attend a scheduled conference is the same as missing an entire class meeting.
  3. Turn your assignments in on time. If you are absent from class, you are still responsible for handing any work that’s due that day on time (i.e., by the beginning of the class in which they are due). If you are ill or you if know that you will be absent from class, give your work to one of your classmates to turn in for you. If I don’t receive a hard copy of your work on the day that it’s due, you will receive a zero (0) for the assignment. I do not give partial credit for assignments that are turned in late.
  4. Turn in your assignments in hard copy. I do not accept work via email. There will be times when I ask you to turn in an assignment electronically via Scholar; in such cases, your electronic submissions to the Scholar site will count as “hard copies,” and I will not accept your assignment via email.
  5. Come to class prepared. Complete your homework assignments and come to class ready to discuss them. If you miss class, it’s up to you to find out what you missed. Do not ask me to give you a copy of any readings that I distributed or a copy of the homework assignment. Instead, talk to your classmates and check Scholar to find out what assignments are due at the next class meeting. If you ask me, I will direct you to speak to your classmates. Do not rely solely on Scholar for information about what we did in class. There will be times when I give an assignment or distribute a reading in class and do NOT post it on Scholar. Again, if you miss class, talk with your classmates to find out what you missed.
  6. Check your VT email daily. I will often communicate with you via email. Therefore, it’s critical that you check your VT account on a daily basis.
  7. Send emails to me that are formatted according to Appendix A of this syllabus. See also the “Communication Policy” on page 5 of this syllabus for more information about this format.
  8. Give yourself enough time to type, save, and print out hard copies of your work. Failures of technology—be it of a computer, a printer, software, etc.—are your responsibility. Because you will have plenty of notice regarding the due dates of your written assignments, I won’t accept technology problems as an excuse for late work. Don’t wait until the last minute to print out your work.
  9. Save all of the work that you do on a computer to more than one location. The failure, destruction, or disappearance of your computer is not an excuse for failing to turn in an assignment on time. Back up your documents by saving them to more than one place: on a portable flash drive, for instance, or to your Drop Box folder on our Scholar site. Once you’ve saved a document to your Drop Box, you can access it from any computer—on campus or off—from your smart phone, or from your iPad.

1. Attendance
Your attendance is required. You cannot pass this course if you do not attend class. Much of our work this semester will be collaborative, conversational, and spontaneous: if you’re not in class, you won’t be able to participate in (and earn credit for) this work.

I will not withdraw you from the course if you stop attending—it’s your responsibility to withdraw yourself. See the withdrawal deadlines on page 1 of this syllabus. If you simply stop attending class, you will fail the course.

If you arrive 10 or more minutes after class begins, you will be counted absent for the day. The same rule applies for early departures. However, remember that it’s better to attend at least part of a class than to miss it entirely. If you know that you’ll be late on a given day, let me know ahead of time.

There can be other serious consequences for failing to attend class. For example:

  • If you miss a class when a quiz or exam is given, you cannot make up that quiz or exam. Instead, you will receive a zero (0) for that assessment.
  • This also applies to your midterm exam and to your oral presentation—if you don’t show up to take exam or participate in the presentation on the appointed date and time, you cannot make it up, and you will receive a zero (0) for that assessment.

However, there are circumstances in which an absence might be excused. In the case of a medical emergency, you must provide documentation of that illness from a physician in order to have your absence excused, and to be allowed to make up any work that you have missed. Without a note from your doctor, your absence will not be excused and you’ll receive a zero (0) for any work that you have missed. I’ll review these situations on a case-by-case basis.

If a dire circumstance develops which makes it impossible for you attend class, contact me via email as soon as possible.

2. Plagiarism
Virginia Tech does not tolerate plagiarism in any form. As a student, you are expected to conduct your scholarship, research, and writing in accordance with the university’s Honor Code.

Plagiarism is the use of facts, opinions, data, and/or the words of another writer as your own. Acts of plagiarism include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Copying someone else’s assignment or paper and submitting as your own;
  • Buying and submitting another student’s work or a professionally prepared paper;
  • Copying writing or parts of writing found on the Internet and submitting it as your own;
  • Copying or paraphrasing words, phrases, sentences, passages, dates, or statistics without proper attribution;
  • Using someone else’s ideas without giving them credit; or
  • Collaborating on an assignment without the permission of the instructor.

If, at any time, you have questions about what does or does not constitute plagiarism, talk to me—but you must do so before you turn in the piece of writing that you’re working on. Confessing to plagiarism after the fact won’t help you; you’ll still be subject to the consequences as determined by the university’s Honor System.

3. Communication Policy
Email Communication. Email is the best way to contact me. For emails that I receive Monday through Friday, I will respond to you within 24 hours. I will respond within 36 hours

to emails I receive on Saturday, Sunday, or over a holiday. Keep these turnaround times in mind when you email me. For example, if you send me an email about an assignment the night before it’s due, you will probably not receive a response from me before the assignment is due.

As members of the university community, it’s crucial that you present yourself professionally, be it in person, on the phone, or via email. To that end, I will respond to an email only if it follows the appropriate business format; see Appendix A of this syllabus for more information. Appendix A features a model of the format that I’m looking for, along with an example that illustrate the kinds of errors of content, form, and tone that I want you to avoid.

If I receive an email from you that does not follow the format outlined in Appendix A, I will return the email to you without responding to your question and point you to Appendix A.

Office Hours. Meeting one-on-one with me during my office hours is the most effective way to ask me a question, discuss a piece of writing, or to address any concerns you might have. While you will have several scheduled conferences with me during the semester, you can also meet with me at any time during my office hours each week.

If possible, please let me know if you’ll be coming to my office hours; doing so ensures that we can make the most of our time together. Drop-in visits are also welcome; however, students with appointments will come first and you may have to wait to meet with me.

4. Grading Policy
As a college student, you are ultimately responsible for your success or failure in a given course. You are responsible for all of the material that we cover during the semester, be it in the textbook, in class, on Scholar, or in other writing and reading assignments.

You will not earn a numerical or letter grade for all of the work that you do in this course. However, for those assignments for which you earn such a grade, the following grading scale applies:

90-100 A
80-89 B
70-79 C
60-69 D
50-0 F

If you have questions about your grade on a given assignment, make an appointment to see me during my office hours. I will not discuss your grades with you during class or via email.
Your final grade in this course will be determined by your work in four distinct areas:

Portfolio…..…………………..……….….….…………………………40% of final grade
Participation and Attendance………….……….…………………….20% of final grade
Green Notebook………………………….……………………………..20% of final grade
Average of Midterm Exam and Oral Presentation……..…..…….20% of final grade

A. Portfolio (40% of final grade)
A large component of your grade in this course will be based on a portfolio, in which you’ll keep multiple drafts of each of your writing assignments. Buy a large folder or binder to hold all of your writing, and bring it with you to every class and to each conference that you have with me.
At the end of the semester, you will create a final, electronic version of your portfolio in which you’ll present polished, proofread copies of at least four pieces that you’ve created for this course.

At the end of the term, you will earn a final grade for all of your portfolio work. This grade will be a holistic assessment of: a) the your drafts’ progress throughout the course; and b) the content and quality of the final, electronic version of your portfolio that you’ll submit at semester’s end.

In assessing your written drafts as a whole, I’ll consider a logistical questions—such as, did you turn in drafts on time? did your work meet the requirements of each assignment?—and content-orientated questions, like: how did your pieces evolve from draft to draft? How did your readers respond to your work? How did you respond to their comments and criticisms?

In addition, your final grade will also reflect my assessment of the final, electronic version of your portfolio you’ll submit at the end of the term. Here, I’ll again assess whether or not your submission meets the requirements of the assignment, and I’ll look carefully at the content, quality, and polish of the 4 (or more) final drafts that you choose to submit.

Because we are working with a portfolio system, you will not receive a letter grade for the drafts that you create during the semester. However, you will receive a detailed evaluation from me—and often from one or more peer reviewers—on each draft that you create. You can find a copy of the evaluation form we’ll be using on our Scholar site. You will have a strong sense of how successful your drafts are—and how you are progressing in the course—even without a letter grade.

B. Participation and Attendance (20% of final grade)
You’ll have several different opportunities to participate in and contribute to our class’ work this semester:

• In-class participation. During our class meetings, I expect you to fully participate in and contribute to whatever activity we’re engaged in, such as: discussion, small group work, improvisation/brainstorming, in-class writing and revising, peer review, etc. If you’re not in class, you can’t participate or earn credit for doing this work.

I will also give quizzes that relate to the content of your reading assignments. Your grades for those quizzes will be reflect in the Participation and Attendance portion of your grade.

• Scholar participation. Your participation grade will also reflect your participation in any discussions or activities posted on our Scholar site.

You are responsible for checking Scholar on (at least) a weekly basis, and for checking your VT email account for messages from your colleagues or I that have been sent through Scholar.
C. Green Notebook (20% of final grade)
In this course, you will be required to keep what I (via the artist Marcel Duchamp) call a “green notebook.” The notebook is an informal journal in which you can take notes, ask questions, and record ideas or sentences—either your own or something that you read or hear–that appeal to you in some way. In this way, your green notebook will become a record of your thinking to which you can return.

I will give you many opportunities to write in your daybook during class. However, I will also expect you to write in it outside of class. Indeed, several of the pieces that you write in this course will be inspired by, or the product of, thinking that you’ve begun to do in your notebook.

Plan to always carry this notebook with you. As author Will Self observes: “The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea forever.” Look at the notebook as a chance to, as PD James argues, “[o]pen your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other ¬people. Nothing that happens to a writer – however happy, however tragic – is ever wasted.” Take this advice from Michael Morpurgo: “record moments, fleeting impressions, overheard dialogue, your own sadnesses and bewilderments and joys.”

Don’t let ideas or impressions or hallucinations or emotions or theories slip away: they are prime materials for your thinking and writing. Capture them in your notebook. You can decide what to do with them—or not—later.

At first, the notes and ideas that you jot down in your notebook may seem to be
unconnected. In re-reading your thoughts some time after you’ve written them down, you have a chance to locate connections, or interesting divergences, in your thinking. Your notebook will become a kind of incubator for your thoughts; some of your musings will hatch into larger, more structured compositions, some will not. You will be the arbiter of their fate.

Three times during the semester, you will be required to turn your notebook in to me for a check-in. Each time, you will select a particular entry or series of notes or two that you want me to read and respond to. The first check-in will be in person, during a required conference with me. The second and third check-ins will be at your discretion; you will decide when to turn the notebook in to me, or you can choose to meet with me again in person. We will discuss the specifics of these check-ins in class later in the semester.

D. Average of Midterm Exam and Oral Presentation (20% of final grade)
Midterm Exam

The midterm exam will give you an opportunity to demonstrate your mastery of the key concepts that we will examine during the first half of the semester. You will earn a letter grade for your work on this test. The date and time of your exams are below:

MIDTERM EXAM DATE: Monday, October 3
2:30 – 3:20 pm

The date of the midterm exam is listed above. Make your Fall Break travel arrangements accordingly. No student will be permitted to take either the midterm early unless necessitated by a special need or accommodation. For more information about accommodations, please see page 1 of this syllabus. Make-up exams are given rarely and only at the discretion of the instructor.

Group Oral Presentation
During the semester, you and a small group of your colleagues will give an oral presentation to the class. In this presentation, you will analyze and discuss a series of advertisements. More details about the assignment and my expectations for your work will be distributed and discussed in class.

The class schedule below notes which topics that we’ll be focusing on each week during the semester; the dates on which class will not be held because of a holiday; and the dates of the midterm and final exams. For the first half of the semester, the schedule also notes the due dates of many (but not all) of the reading and writing assignments you will need to complete.

You will have specific reading and/or writing assignments due for each class meeting.
I will announce assignments in class and I will also post many on Scholar.

The schedule is subject to change. I will announce any changes in class and update the copy of the syllabus that’s posted to our Scholar site to reflect these changes.

NOTE: After the midterm exam, I will post a detailed schedule of our work during the second half of the semester on our Scholar site. I do this so that our class schedule can respond to your progress and your interests as a class. Please speak with me if you have any questions about the schedule.

Week 1: Introductions/Observations
Monday, Aug. 22: Syllabus/Introductions/Expectations
Wed., Aug. 24: Spontaneous Sensory Monologue (written in class)
Homework Write second Sensory Monologue
due 8/26:

Friday, Aug. 26: Second Sensory Monologue due
Peer Review Workshop and Discussion

Homework Read “Meditations in an Emergency” by Frank O’Hara [posted on Scholar]
due 8/29: Read chapter 3, “Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing,” in Composition at VT
Complete public observation exercise [in green notebook]

Week 2: Observations/Reflective Essay
Monday, Aug. 29: Reading people/Categorizing and Analyzing Observations
Homework Read “Not Fade Away” by Christian Bauman [posted on Scholar]
due 8/31.: Write response/analysis of Bauman’s essay

Wed., Aug. 31: Translating Sensorial Experience into Text
Response/Analysis of Bauman’s essay due
Homework Re-read your sensory monologues; decide which you’d like to transform
due 9/2: into a composition

Fri., Sept. 2: In-class writing: Composed Observation

Homework Read “That it is madness to judge the true and the false from our own
due 9/5: capacities” by Michel de Montaigne [posted on Scholar]
Write analysis/response to Montaigne
Complete second draft of Composed Observation

Week 3: Reflective Essay/Visual Literacy
Monday, Sept. 5: Second draft of Composed Observation due
Response/Analysis of Montaigne due
Reflecting on One’s Beliefs
Homework Complete green notebook exercise
due 9/7: Read excerpt from The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer [posted
on Scholar]

Wednesday, Sept. 7: Images and the Reflections of the Rhetorical Situation
Homework Read chapter 6, “Visual Literacy,” in Composition at VT
due 9/9:

Friday, Sept. 9: In-class writing: Reflections/analysis of personal images

Homework Complete full draft of reflection/analysis essay
due on 9/12: Watch assigned campaign ads on “The Living Room Candidate”

Week 4: Analyzing Visual Rhetoric
Monday, Sept. 12: Full draft of reflection/analysis essay due
Analysis of Campaign Ads
Assignment of Groups for Oral Presentations
Drawing for Presentation Order
Homework Watch the campaign ads assigned to your group
due on 9/14: Complete individual draft of written analysis
Bring your laptop to class on 9/14

Wed., Sept. 14: Written Analysis of your group’s ads due
In-class work day for Group Presentations
Homework Real chapter 11, “Oral Presentation,” in Composition at VT
due on 9/15:

Friday, Sept. 16: Wrap-up of Visual Rhetoric

Homework Prepare for Group Presentation
due on 9/19:

Week 5: Group Presentations/Compare and Contrast
Mon., Sept 19: Group Presentations
Homework Read assigned editorials
due on 9/21: Complete response/analysis of editorials

Wed., Sept. 21: Compare and Contrast
Response/analysis of editorials due
Homework Begin researching editorials for use in your compare/contrast essay
due on 9/23:

Friday, Sept. 23 Compare and Contrast
Homework Select editorials for compare/contrast essay
due on 9/26: Complete first draft of compare/contrast essay

Week 6: Compare and Contrast/Research paper phase I
Mon., Sept. 26: First draft of compare/contrast essay due
Peer Review Workshop (in class)
Homework Read through your peers’ comments
due on 9/28: Write a response/analysis to workshop

Wed., Sept. 28: Response/Analysis to Workshop due
Research Paper: Phase I discussion
Homework Read through green notebook; review work in course to date
due on 9/30: Write a first draft of possible research topics
Complete second draft of compare/contrast essay

Friday, Sept. 30: First draft of possible research topics due
Second draft of compare/contrast essay due
Review for midterm exam
Homework Prepare for midterm exam
due on 10/3:

Week 7: Midterm Exam and Fall Break
Mon., Oct. 3: Midterm Exam
Wed., Oct. 5: Research paper phase I conferences (tentative)
Friday, Oct. 7: No class – Fall Break

Homework Read assigned manifesto [posted on Scholar]
due on 10/10: Review comments on second draft of compare/contrast essay

As noted above, a detailed schedule for the second half of the term will be posted on our Scholar site after the midterm exam. What follows is a tentative schedule of topics and activities for the second half of the term.

Week 8: Manifestos and Editorials

Week 9: Editorials/Grace Paley and “yes, and”

Week 10: Research Paper phase II

Week 11: Individual Portfolio Conferences

Week 12: Peer Review Workshops

Week 13: Research paper phase III

Week 14: No class – Thanksgiving Break

Week 15: Final Portfolio Conferences/Presentations – last day of class (December 7)