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Course Syllabus - Fall 2016

Course Description

WRTG596 Teaching Composition on the College Level (3 credits)
A course in the methods of teaching English composition, with particular attention to beginning courses on the college and junior college level. Required of all graduate assistants and open to other interested M.A. candidates.

Course Overview

Foremost, WRTG596 functions for graduate assistants as a platform for support and guidance throughout the first semester of teaching in the First-year Writing Program at EMU. But like many teaching practicums, it is much, much more than that. WRTG596 provides an introduction to the histories and purposes of college composition in the U.S., a laboratory for developing into a thoughtful, innovative teacher cognizant of contemporary practices, and a space for studying cultural shifts impacting what literate citizenship—in the academy and elsewhere—looks like now. Consistent with principles at the core of the field of rhetoric and composition/writing studies, the course balances and blends together (i.e., mixing in equal and mutually informing measure) theoretical and practical matters negotiated over several decades by composition researchers, scholars, and practitioners. Thus, the course is neither purely practical nor theoretical. It enters theory and practice into a feed-forward loop, or what Louise Phelps has described as a practice-theory-practice cycle, which manifests as phronesis, or practical wisdom. WRTG596 is designed on an assumption that theoretical and practical dimensions of teaching writing in college are best approached and enacted in the classroom as interdependent.

This course begins on August 15 with the August 596 Workshop, a nine-day workshop focused on preparing for the upcoming semester and your leading of a section of WRTG120. Throughout the workshop, we will develop syllabi, schedules, and lesson plans; get acquainted with offices and classroom spaces in Pray-Harrold;and hear from experienced instructors, administrators, and student services professionals on campus. You will also begin to gain footing with developing assignment sheets, designing and moderating in-class activities, and inventing lessons underpinned by rhetoric and composition/writing studies research and scholarship. As the semester continues, we will meet each Tuesday both to discuss your teaching and to continue learning about approaches to teaching college composition even while enacting and refining our own. Projects in the class include an ongoing teaching log, informal discussion responses, a teaching observation report, a teaching philosophy statement, and a collection of WRTG121 materials.

Course Goals for WRTG596

Course goals for WRTG596 include but are not limited to the following:

  1. Advance a working knowledge of the evolving, interdependent relationships among selected pedagogical documents and activites, histories and purposes of college composition in North America, and key concepts germane to rhetoric and composition/writing studies, including writing, literacy, genre, process, and practice.
  2. Compose a series of teaching-related texts as a distributed, recursive process that adapts to rhetorical contingencies, that responds to distinct audiences and genres, and that requires planning, circulation, and revision.
  3. Gain fluency with both theoretical and practical dimensions of teaching college writing.
  4. Prepare, deliver, and revise teaching materials consonant with the EMU First-year Writing Program's shared principles and outcomes (rhetoric, process, conventions, multimodality, and reflection).

Course Texts and Materials

Writing About Writing, Second Edition

Wardle, Elizabeth, and Doug Downs. Writing About Writing: A College Reader. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2014. ISBN 978-1-4576-3694-3. (required; provided) Bedford/St. Martin's

The Wardle and Downs textbook will be provided.

Further readings will be available to you as PDFs in Canvas (under Files). You should download PDFs for reading on the screen or, if you prefer, for printing and reading. Plan to spend as much as 30 USD on printing and photocopying over the course of the semester.


We will use a contract grading system in WRTG596. As long as you attend all class meetings and complete all projects on time, you will earn an 'A' in the course. If at any point your performance in the course falls below this standard for any reason, I will contact you and suggest meeting to discuss things.

Class projects include a teaching log, a series of informal discussion responses, a teaching philosophy statement, an observation report, and an WRTG121 materials folder. I will provide responses to your work following deadlines and at any other time you request input from me. Each of the projects will be described fully in separate prompts that I will circulate at an appropriate time in the semester.

Turning in Work

Dropbox in Canvas, Shared Folders in Google Drive
This will be a point of discussion early in the semester, because turning in work involves a couple of different options, but some of your written work in WRTG596 will be turned in to the dropbox in Canvas and some will be turned in via designated folders in Google Drive. In some cases, you will be asked to submit a .doc file by uploading it to the appropriate dropbox or folder. Responses to your work will be returned by this same method.

File Naming
When you prepare to turn in electronic files, please adhere to the following conventions. Save document files as .doc or .rtf (rich text format). Use the "Save as" option to avoid submitting work as .docx. Use the following naming formula: 596-Lastname-Assn.doc. That is, your filenames should always include the course number, your last name, and the abbreviated name of the assignment. For example, my own copy of Project One would be named 596-Mueller-P1.doc.

Late Work
All work must be submitted before the start of class on the due date to be considered on time and therefore eligible for full credit.

Course Policies

Attendance and Participation

WRTG596 is a graduate-level seminar. Absences or lack of preparation for class will affect your colleagues' work as well as your own. The work you do in and in preparation for each class is as important as the polished assignment you turn in for a project. In addition, our syllabus and schedule are only a projection and may be subject to occasional changes and revisions as it seems appropriate, necessary, or just interesting. That is another reason why your attendance and engagement are vital.

If you must miss a class, you are still responsible for all work assigned, including turning work in by stated deadlines. Class time cannot be reconstructed or made up, and your performance, your work, and your course grade will be impacted by absences. If you miss more than two classes without any official documented cause, you will not be able to pass the course.

We will meet this semester in Pray Harrold 608. I encourage you to bring a laptop with you, if possible, for active note-keeping and for some activities. As a rule of thumb, I ask that your in-class uses of mobile devices (e.g., cell phones) and laptop computers be focused on class-related activities. Obviously, you should silence your phones before coming to class. As long as everyone is respectfully attentive when someone is speaking, in-class technology use will not be a problem. In-class attentiveness, engagement, and preparedness (i.e., having read and prepared for each class) are what I mean by "presence."

Computer and Internet Usage

We may be interacting with online resources (e.g., the wiki) and other sites on the internet during the course. Please let me know if you have not had any experience using a browser such as Firefox, Chrome, or Safari. When using a computer, save your work frequently, always make backup copies, and plan your projects with extra time allowed for unexpected challenges.

Communication with Peers; Communication with the Instructor

While you can expect a considerable amount of leadership and direction to come from me, you should also make arrangements early in the semester to communicate with your colleagues. In other words, you are strongly encouraged to identify one or two (perhaps more) peers in the class with whom you can discuss how your class is going, consider readings and assignments, work through questions brought up in the class, and approach when you find something unclear. In short, my hope is that we all will prefer climate in which dialogue and interaction runs between the instructor and students and also between and among students when questions come up. Finally, you should always be proactive about asking questions when you have them, either by raising questions during class or contacting me or one of your peers privately.


To communicate by email we will usually use our accounts, accessible via, but I will also ask everyone to set up a account for document sharing and for making the teaching logs accessible to others in the class. You can send email to me or to classmates via the Canvas site associated with this course. You may call and leave a phone message, but you will at times find it more effective to use email to contact me about your work in the course. You can also set up an appointment to meet with me on campus, or to ask a question. With rare exceptions, I will respond to email inquiries within 48 hours.

Academic Integrity

Plagiarism occurs when a writer passes off another's words or ideas without acknowledging their source, whether intentionally or not. For example, turning another's work as your own is plagiarism. If you plagiarize in this class, you will likely fail the assignment on which you are working and your case may be passed to the university for additional disciplinary action. Because of the design and nature of this course, it will take as much (or more) work for you to plagiarize in it than it will to actually complete the work of the class. For a more detailed explanation of Eastern Michigan University's stance on academic integrity, refer to Section V.A. of the Student Conduct Code.

Disability Resource Center (DRC)

If you have a documented disability that affects your work in this (or any other) class, the Disability Resource Center can provide support for you. It is my goal that this class be an accessible and welcoming experience for all students, including those with disabilities that may impact their learning in this class. If anyone believes they may have trouble participating or effectively demonstrating learning in this course, please meet with me (with or without a Disability Resource Center (DRC) accommodation letter) to discuss reasonable options or adjustments. During our conversation, I may suggest the possibility/necessity of your contacting the DRC (240 Student Center; 734-487-2470; to talk about academic accommodations. You are welcome to talk to me at any point in the semester about such issues, but it is always best if we can talk at least one week prior to the need for any modifications.

University Writing Center

The University Writing Center (115 Halle Library) offers one-to-one consulting for both undergraduate and graduate students. Students can make appointments or drop in between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays. Students should bring a draft of what they’re working on and their assignment.

The UWC also offers small group workshops on various topics related to writing (e.g., Strategies for Successful College Reading; Peer Review; Revising and Editing Your Writing). Descriptions of all UWC workshops are posted at Workshops are offered at various times Monday through Friday in the UWC. To register for a workshop, click the "Register" link from the UWC page.

Contact Information

Derek N. Mueller, PhD
Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Writing
Director of Composition
Department of English
Virginia Tech
Office: 315 Shanks Hall
Spring 2020 Office Hours: T, 12-3
Phone: +1-734-985-0485

"It is our job as writers to create a context in which we can write, and it is our job as teachers of writing to create a context that is as appropriate for writing as the gym is for basketball" (228). Donald Murray, "First Silence, Then Paper," Fforum: Essays on Theory and Practice in the Teaching of Writing

"[W]hat we teach our students is a consequence of what we understand writing to be" (215). Mary Lou Odom, Michael Bernard-Donals, and Stephanie Kerschbaum, "Enacting Theory: The Practicum as the Site of Invention," Don't Call It That: The Composition Practicum

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