University of Wisconsin–Madison

Short, Informal Writing Assignments in a Large Literature Lecture Course

PROFESSOR CAROLINE LEVINE
ENGLISH 177

In English 177: Literature and Popular Culture, focusing on detective fiction, Professor Levine assigns students 3, informal,1-page writing assignments that ask them to engage more deeply with the week’s readings. These short assignments lead up to a final paper. In this large introductory course with 250 students, 5 TAs give feedback on the short assignments.

Completion of the assignments counts for 20% of students’ grades.

Weekly writing assignments after the midterm

for April 2: What are THREE specific arguments against detective fiction from the readings we are doing this week?

for April 9: The reading we are doing this week suggests that fictional detectives might help us to reflect on real processes of knowledge-gathering in our world. Choose a paper or project you have done for another college class. This could be any kind of project that required you to uncover a solution or develop an answer to a question, from understanding the causes of the Civil War to learning which marketing campaigns have worked best for a particular product. Think about methods you used to come to a conclusion. What thought processes and evidence did you use? How would you describe your process of coming to a solution? See if Chadda and Wilson, Kuper or Chesterton help you to reflect on this in any way.

for April 16: This week we are building on last week’s writing assignment. Focusing on the methods you used for your paper or project in your other course, find THREE passages that refer to methods of detection in the reading we’ve done this semester that are similar to your own methods in some way. Explain how they resonate. At least ONE of your passages should come from one of the following writers: Chadda and Wilson, Kuper, Nicolson, Collingwood or “the Life and the Lab” blog post.

for April 23: Choose one of the following paper topics for the paper due May 7. For your weekly writing assignment, state which topic you’re choosing and the texts and passages you plan to use.

A. Building on the weekly assignments for April 9 and 16, you are going to imagine your assignment for your other course as a mystery story, with you starring as the detective. Write up a fictional account of your own search for truth, with at least THREE figures or writers from our course as characters who intervene: they might advise you, get in your way, or argue with you about the right way to come to knowledge. At least ONE of these should be one of the writers we read between April 9 and April 23. You will be graded on: 1) how well you show your grasp of questions about method we have been discussing in this class; 2) how seriously you reflect on your own pursuit of knowledge as a complex process; and 3) how well you write the story, including grammar and spelling.

B. Building on the weekly assignments for April 9 and 16, you will write an analytical paper about your search for knowledge in another class. In describing your methods, clues, assessment of evidence, and thought processes, you must refer to at least THREE models of detection we have read this semester. At least ONE of these should be a non-fiction writer we read between April 9 and April 23. You will be graded on: 1) how well you show your grasp of questions of method we have been discussing in this class; 2) how seriously you reflect on your own pursuit of knowledge as a complex process; and 3) how well you craft a clear and strong essay, including grammar and spelling.

C. Make a specific and persuasive argument against detective fiction as a model for gathering knowledge in real-life situations. Make sure that you have compelling examples of knowledge that cannot be gained through the detective methods we have encountered, and be clear about why and how the detectives in our course offer misleading, narrow, or unconvincing methods. Make sure to refer to at least THREE different texts we have read this semester. At least ONE of these should be a non-fiction writer we read between April 9 and April 23. You will be graded on: 1) how well you show your grasp of questions of method we have been discussing in this class; 2) how seriously you reflect on the pursuit of knowledge as a complex process; and 3) how well you craft a clear and strong essay, including grammar and spelling.