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FAQ sheet for ENGL 252

Q: What is the purpose of this course?

A: English 252 is the first course students take as English majors. Practically, the course should prepare students to be English majors, to do the work of upper-level courses, and to think critically about what we do in literary studies. Capaciously understood, the course explores what to do (and how and why) with a text (and just what constitutes a text), when you get it in your hands (or on your screen). On the one hand, then, 252 is a skills-based course in close reading, research methods, and critical approaches to literary studies. In this sense, the course should help students to develop the tools necessary to their success as English majors. On the other hand, and idealistically, 252 instructors should work to create an environment of intellectual curiosity, sustained engagement, and inspiration.

Q: What are the differences between English 252 and English 220 (Introduction to Writing about Literature) and English 306 (Introduction to Literary Theory)?

A: In short, English 220 has a set curriculum and course structure, while 252 asks you to teach in the field, period, and subject of your choice (i.e., your expertise and interest). Unlike 306, 252 should not focus on literary theory. Rather, 252 should link a small number of related primary texts to critical texts, introducing students to scholarly discourse in the field in all its diversity. In this sense, 252 is a crucial bridge between the writing courses that serve the general population and the 300-level seminars that assume basic familiarity with disciplinary questions and methods.

Q: Must the course cover three genres?

A: No.  It is best practice to continue the emphasis on genre study from 220 by including at least two genres, but instructors have successfully taught the course with a single genre (see, for example, Matthew Knip’s syllabus, which uses poems by Dickinson and Whitman) and especially with genre-busting texts (e.g., Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La frontera) that raise crucial questions about genre.

Q: How much latitude do I have in developing my own course theme/organization? In choosing historical periods and critical/theoretical approaches?

A: Wide and wide. You should teach to your expertise and interests. If your field is Victorian studies, you should tailor your course as such, as long as you ensure that students are exposed to a variety of critical approaches to the texts, questions, and contexts of your field or period of study. In other words, your course shouldn’t be titled “Psychoanalytic Approaches to Victorian Studies.” The last part is fine, the first part is too narrow. The course shouldn’t focus on any single theoretical lens. Your course can also be theme-based, either within a period or field of study or across them.

Q: How many primary and secondary readings should I assign? Is there an ideal ratio between primary texts (and close reading) and scholarly/critical sources (and approaches)?

A: 3-4 primary texts is about right, though a section with a single primary text might work, as might a section with 5-6 short primary texts. For instance, in one unit you might assign a novel, 3-4 articles/book chapters on the novel, and 1-2 contextual readings. It is also often useful to have students grapple with the differences among secondary sources (book reviews, scholarly articles, monographs, edited volumes, magazine articles, and so on).

Q: How many (and what type of) student essays should I assign? Is there a required cumulative page count for the semester?

A: You should assign a variety of types of writing over the course of the semester (informal and formal, analytical and research-based, short and longer, etc.). There is no required page count, but you should aim to have students write regularly all semester.

Q: Must I assign a final research paper?

A: Not necessarily, but you should assign a rigorous, in-depth final project based on original research, supported by a librarian. That may be a conventional research paper, or it could be an extended annotated bibliography, a series of précis on scholarly articles/book chapters, or an intellectual autobiography with a research component. Regardless, the final assignment should include an academic research dimension, and each class should visit the library for a session devoted to research methods with a librarian.

Q: Does the course require a final exam?

A: No! Nor should you give one, unless you really, really want to and have a good reason for doing so. The focus should be on developing critical reading and writing skills rather than mastering a content area.

Q: Who is required to take English 252? And when?

A: All English majors are required to take English 252, ideally within a semester of declaring the major. Most of your students will be new English majors, though some late-major students will have slipped through Hunter’s dozens of little bureaucratic cracks into your classroom. Unlike 220, all of your students will be English majors (though a few may be minors).

Q: Are there specific policies that must be incorporated into my syllabus?

A: Yes, please check the sample syllabi on the Academic commons group page. You must include the “Learning Outcomes” for 252 along with the “Accessibility” and Plagiarism policies.

Q: What resources do I have access to as an instructor?

A: Please visit the 252 instructors’ group page on the CUNY Academic Commons, where you will find sample syllabi, course units, and so on. I encourage you to post your own helpful documents to this page, and contact me if you have problems joining or using the group. ACERT, Hunter’s center for teaching and learning, is a lively hub linking instructors, librarians, ed tech specialists, etc.: their site has a wealth of teaching resources, and they host scores of events on pedagogy each year.

Q: What are my options in terms of “learning management systems” (LMS)? Do I have to use BlackBoard?!

A: You are free to use whatever you’re comfortable with. By default, all courses get Bb shells, which you are free to customize/use. But there are many alternatives, including free/open options based on the WordPress blogging platform. Instructors can now host course materials on CUNY Academic Commons sites like this one: here’s an example from a recent honors course in our department. And here is an example of a section of 252 on wordpress.com (also free in both senses).