Course Syllabus

* To see what we're up to in and out of class, click on the -Weekly Agendas- button to be taken to the Engage! Page.   Weekly Agendas

Language Acts

Dr. Jamila Lyiscott quotation

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And now let's look beyond the resumé, which is what I hope you all will do this year!

Our unofficial course title: Language, Literacy, and Power will shape the way we explore, interact with, and discuss texts. This class revolves around the truth that language—whether written or verbal, private or public, aesthetic or practical—possesses real power in the world. That truth, ironically when put into language, doesn’t sound so meaningful or revelatory, I know. So our project as members of this class will be to study what’s meaningful and revelatory about myriad examples of language in action, to analyze the rhetorical techniques of writers and speakers so that we can adopt those techniques in order to become more adept writers and speakers ourselves. I’ll ask you every day to take a curious approach to the texts surrounding us. By year’s end, I hope that you have discovered for yourselves yet another truth about language: that on the other side of a well-phrased sentence, or a thought finally clear, lies your agency and self-efficacy.


Some Nuts & Bolts

1. Active Reading

  • Always read with a pen in hand and a paper at your side. Jot down notes not just on important characters and plot points, but on observations and inferences you’re making about the text.
  • RE-read. A successful reader knows that the full message of a text is discovered in the second or third reading of it. So don't be afraid to re-read that poem, paragraph, even chapter, again!
  • Think independently. Substituting online guides such as Shmoop will provide you with only the most common and boring interpretations of a literary work. What’s more, it’s cheating and will not be tolerated. Always know: you and your ideas are way better. For more on these aids, see “On Integrity.”

2. Written Work

This course seeks to equip you with skills that will serve you well in your senior year and beyond. As such, the course will require you to write frequently. I also believe that one improves as a writer by reading the work of others, so we will engage in peer workshopping. Unless otherwise specified, all writing should be typed, proofread (twice! thrice!), MLA formatted, and submitted through

3. Participation + Studentship

I expect you to exercise respectful participation and studentship by: 

  • Being consistently engaged
  • Listening attentively
  • Contributing thoughtfully and respectfully at all times.

Ideal in-class participation should not merely echo the ideas of a classmate; nor should it boil a reading down to simply “liking” or “disliking” it (although I do welcome these reaction as starting points!). Instead, effective participation will carry our discussion further by deepening the class’s collective interpretation of a text, drawing connections to other relevant information, and/or contributing different ways of thinking to our discussion. Your thoughtful participation and studentship is necessary for our class to run smoothly and for you to grow as a risk-taker and communicator!

4. Grading

We have all been there: you earned a lower grade than expected on a paper, and now you feel this weird mixture of sadness, anger, and inadequacy. Yet always remember two things. First, a grade is not a reflection of who you are as a person, but of how well your work reached certain standards. Second, much of the emphasis in this course will fall not on the final product but on the process of composing and improving your work. Therefore, success in this class is measured not by perfection, but by progression toward clearly communicated (by me!) core skills.

My Grading Philosophy

Teachers don’t give grades; students earn them. This means that when I grade an assignment, you can only gain points—not lose them. Instead of beginning with a perfect score from which I subtract points for what you don’t know or do, you’ll start with no score and earn points for how you explore your own ideas and interpretations. I do not discuss grades with students through email, nor do I discuss them on the day they are given. If you would like to have a conversation about that grade you earned today, let’s set up a time to chat tomorrow.