This section is an ongoing creation filled with material aimed at answering the usual Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that often arise. In addition, contained in here is information and advice aimed at helping students understand and hopefully succeed.
Tips for Succeeding in First Year Composition
Read the syllabus. This document is the most important success tool that you will receive all semester. It provides information on course expectations, how grades are tabulated, and advice on coping with issues that may arise. When in doubt about an assignment deadline or course policy, your first step should be to check the syllabus.
Pay attention to any possible syllabus changes. This document is subject to change. It may be necessary to modify portions of this syllabus (particularly the calendar of assignments) to adjust to issues in the classroom, learning needs of students, availability of resources, changes in university or department policy, or other pedagogical reasons. When changes occur they will be announced on the class Blackboard site and an amended version of the syllabus will be made available on Blackboard for upload. Handouts and assignment prompts distributed to students during the term, physically or virtually, are considered extensions of this syllabus. Always refer to the most recent version of the syllabus.
Purchase your textbooks. The course textbooks were carefully chosen to provide you with resources to develop your writing skills over the semester. If you can’t do the required reading, you are placing yourself at an immediate disadvantage in the classroom.
Pay attention to the schedule. The schedule is done in advance to give you an opportunity to be prepared for class each day. Pay careful attention to assignment due dates as well as your homework each day. One tool that can be helpful for your success is a calendar. At the beginning of the semester, place all of your assignments and homework on those calendars. If you do this for every class, you can begin to see when your difficult weeks are likely to be and you can plan your work in advance to manage your work more effectively.
Attend class regularly. Student success in this program depends a great deal on whether a student shows up and participates: Missing a writing class isn’t like missing a lecture, where a friend who takes good notes can help you get caught up. Missing a writing class is more like missing team practice or a workout: Someone can tell you that everyone ran laps or practiced batting or did drills, but that isn’t going to help you get caught up on the workout that you missed. For the most part, what happens in writing classes benefits only the people who fully participate in them: the act of giving an effective peer review sharpens your own ideas of how to write better; the act of analyzing and discussing a text in class teaches you a process you can use on other texts; the pre-writing, researching, and sentence strategy exercises in a writing class help students write better papers.
For this reason, if you miss a class, you need to understand that you will probably not be able to make up the missed experience, and there will probably be consequences in terms of your understanding or performance later, even if the absence is excused. (Note: We assume in this class that you have read and understood the Claflin Student Handbook, which will tell you that the Office of Student Life only approves absences due to illness, hospitalization, official school activities, recognized holidays, or death in the immediate family. It will also tell you that having excused absences doesn’t absolve you from having to make up the work you missed and that you may fail a class due to excessive absences even if they are excused.)
Unexcused absences hurt more: If your absence is unexcused, you will not be able to make up anything you missed, including pop quizzes or point-bearing activities. Disruptive behavior that makes teaching or learning difficult or a pattern of non-participation or lack of preparation can lead to you being marked absent even if you are here physically. If you miss the equivalent of two weeks of classes (2 class sessions for a class that meets once a week, or 3 class sessions that meets twice a week), you can be failed in this course.
Absences do not exempt students from academic requirements. Excessive absences, even if documented, may result in a student failing the course. An incomplete may be granted if the student has a passing grade, but only if the instructor determines that it is feasible for the student to successfully complete remaining assignments after the semester. Pursuant to university policy, such determinations are within the discretion of the instructor.
Contribute in class. The best learning is collaborative learning. The classroom is a space where everyone from the instructor to the student can learn from each other. To achieve that optimal learning environment, you need to contribute to the class. Contribution doesn’t involve merely showing up to class, however: pay attention to the work being done in class, take assignments seriously, provide support and feedback to others in class, and contribute meaningfully to class discussion.
Complete the course assignments. This syllabus provides a list of assignments for this class, along with their respective weights. Pay attention to the percentage that each assignment is worth.
Essay and final grades will follow an A-F grading system. Letter grades can be interpreted as follows: A-Excellent; B-Good; C-Average; D-Below Average (but passing); or F-Failure.
To receive credit on a completed paper, you must have completed and submitted on time (or with excused delays) – Late work, will NOT be accepted unless you hold a conversation with me or provide proper documentation for an excused absence.
Turn your assignments in on time. As a rule, the first-year composition program DOES NOT accept late assignments. Absence is not an excuse for late work. If you must miss class when an assignment is due, turn it in prior to the due date. I may accept a late assignment, but only in extremely extraordinary circumstances and with prior approval. However, even with approval, your grade on the work may be reduced half a letter-grade for each class day the assignment is late.
Keep a professional attitude. This comes down to respecting your classmates and your instructor. When you use electronic devices or do work that is unrelated to the course, you are potentially infringing on the educational opportunities for others in class. Turning off or silencing cell phones, using the class printer before class, putting away ear-buds, saving your text messaging until after class is over, and keeping your computer screen focused on class-related activities all help everyone else around stay focused, too.
Professionalism also means that when you communicate with your professor by email that you use professional standards, which includes crafting a subject line that reflects the main purpose of your message, using appropriate language, and signing your first and last name to the email as well as your class section day and time. I do not normally answer emails on weekends and I am unlikely to respond to emails that use profanity or other inappropriate language. For group assignments, consider other students your professional colleagues: do them the courtesy of addressing them respectfully when you communicate with them, and honor any promises to meet or complete work.
Communicate with your instructor. To get the most from the classroom experience, you should communicate to me any issues that you may be having. Attend my office hours or make an appointment if those hours do not work for you. I cannot always know you are having trouble understanding something if you don’t communicate it – keep me informed!
Use The Write Site or Writing Center. Services are free to all students. Any student can schedule up to two hours of appointments per week to work one-on-one with a writing consultant, who can assist you with any phase of the writing process. As you meet with a consultant, you’ll discover ways not only to improve the assignment you’re currently working on, but also realize how to improve as a writer.
Remember that writing is public. Even when writing is in draft form, professional writers circulate copies of what they are working on for feedback. Even when writing is meant to be private, it leaks into the public realm with startling regularity. For this reason, writers need to become comfortable sharing their writing with others and hearing, seeing, or reading reactions to it. In this class, you can expect to share your work with your peers, either face-to-face and one-on-one or, at times, with the entire class at once. This sharing is intended to provide you with models of effective writing, feedback to improve your writing, and give you experience offering feedback. It is imperative we all respect this process and come to class prepared to share writing and comment constructively.
Follow the assignment directions. Every assignment has a specific set of instructions. Be sure to check the assignment sheet when you receive it, before you begin working, and before an assignment is due to ensure you are meeting the criteria for the assignment. In addition to the assignment-specific criteria, all major writing assignments should be printed from a digital file (double-spaced) in black ink using a Times New Roman font (no larger or smaller than 12pt). Use MLA guidelines for spacing, margins, heading, and page numbering. Print a hard copy of your work before closing the program you’re using. Always save your work on your hard drive and email it to yourself. You should also save your work on a separate flash drive.
Simple Rules for Writing Your Professors:
- Use your college or university email. This marks the message as legitimate and not spam. It also gives the professor an idea of who’s sending the message. It also saves you from looking uncouth to your professor because of your off-color personal email username. (Using an email address like ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ is not a way to make a positive impression on your professor or anyone else for that matter.)
- Always use subject lines. When filling the subject line, make sure that you mention what the email is for or in regards to. You don’t want it to seem like a randomly generated subject and end up in your professor’s spam folder.
- Address your professor directly; don’t just launch straight into a request. Examples: ‘Dear Dr. Smith’, ‘Hi, Dr. Jones’, ‘Dr. Zimmerman, I hope all’s well with you…’
- If your college or university email address doesn’t use your full last name (in other words, it uses your initials or some other abbreviation of your name), then make sure your first sentence identifies who you are by name. If your class is large, or taught in multiple sections, you may want to include your class and meeting time as well. Example: ‘This is John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt from your American Literature class.’ – identify your class section (this can be done in the subject line too).
- Be polite: Don’t make demands, don’t accuse, remember to write please and thank you.
- Be succinct: Keep your message short and to the point. Your professor is going to have probably hundreds of email messages to wade through each day. Just get to the point and politely, respectfully, ask your request.
- Be specific: This may seem to conflict with the previous step, but it needn’t be. Make sure you are as clear as possible about what it is you need to ask of your professor without writing a novel.
- Do not use your email to argue and never send an email when angry. You want to be sure that you maintain a professional demeanor.
- If you’re going to have to miss class, offer to bring written proof up front, don’t make your professor have to ask.
- Close your email with something polite like ‘Thanks’, ‘Thanks for your time’, ‘See you in class Wednesday’, ‘regards’, etc. Then re-type your first name
- Grammar and Spell check. Prior to sending your email, be sure that you proofread your message. You shouldn’t write your email as though you are texting your friend. Make sure it’s got full sentences, proper grammar, and real spelling. DON’T USE TEXTING ABBREVIATIONS OR JARGON.
- Do not write in all capital letters. This is generally interpreted as SHOUTING.