ENGL 300 Texts and Contexts

Texts and Contexts

ENGL 300-01

Tuesday and Thursday 11:30 to 12:45 p.m. Location: Janet & Walter Sondheim  112

Instructor: Earl Brooks Ph.D.   Email: earlb@umbc.edu    Office: PAHB 407

Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.

Analyze, Historicize, and Problematize! These three words capture what this course is all about. This course introduces students to critical traditions and techniques in the analysis of a wide variety of texts, including those produced in professional, academic, and domestic settings. Central to this analysis will be consideration of the historical contexts in which these texts are created and experienced, and the people and tools involved in these processes. In response to President Donald Trump’s comments about the city of Baltimore, and the current controversies surrounding race, students will read canonical texts that explore the history and discourse of race in the United States with an emphasis placed on rhetorical analysis. Students will gain insights into the rhetorical dimension of communication by examining how authors use texts to respond to urgent social and political issues. We will read texts composed in various modes – oral, written, visual, blended – and explore how they were produced, responded to, circulated, and adapted to new purposes.

(Follow this link to view weekly course schedule)

Required Books:

What Writing Does and How It Does it by Charles Bazerman and Paul Prior.

Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Race Matters by Cornel West

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S. by Geneva Smitherman and H. Samy Alim

(These books will be placed on hold at the library for any student that needs access)

Purchase or print up the assigned texts early—do not wait to try to purchase books (online or at the bookstore) at the last minute.

Grading Contract

This semester, we will be using an evaluation method called “contract grading.” This method entails an agreement between students and the instructor about the work necessary to achieve a minimal guaranteed final grade. My goal is to use this contract as a way to empower you as a writer who has an authentic public audience for your writing outside of this class. Therefore, the dimensions of the contact are designed to help you succeed for the specific goals and context of this course.

If you participate fully in all the activities, assignments, and behaviors that follow, you are guaranteed a ‘B.’ The dimensions of the contract are designed to introduce you to writing strategies that will help you produce work of a high caliber.

To this end, I will not be judging the quality of your writing at each step to assign a grade. Instead, I will act as a guide to help you make smart informed decisions about how to improve your writing and assign a grade based on your fulfillment of the contract. This assessment method is designed to decouple grading from the finished draft; this is to help you focus on improving your writing and not simply think about completing an assignment for a grade.

Throughout the semester, you will receive a great deal of feedback about your writing from peer reviewers and from me. To achieve the level of distinction necessary to earn an A for the semester, you will be required to draw from the feedback you receive and apply the strategies we develop in class (such as thinking about the audience’s needs & expectations, different arrangement strategies, making strong claims and supporting them with compelling, relevant and suitable evidence, etc.) to improve your own writing and demonstrate your growth as a writer over the course of this semester. In other words, the decisions you make about your writing, based on feedback from your reviewers and from me, are as important to your final grade as what you actually write. In terms of the group project, groups who exbibit an exceptional quality of work will also increase their ability to receive an A. If you believe you have earned an A in course, you are required to send me a small petition summarizing your progress over the semester and a rationale for the grade during the last week of classes.

My standards will be high: five pages means five pages; significant revision means rethinking and rewriting key parts of your text not rewording what you have already written. Through this method, you are invested with the power and opportunity to succeed.

Keep in mind that you will receive a unit grade lower than a B if you fail to fulfill any parts of this agreement.

The Grading Contract is as follows:

  1. Engage actively during every class period, and always use classroom time productively.  Everyone has an off day from time to time, but your brain should be consistently working and focused on the task at hand.
  2. Participate actively during every workshop and push yourself to provide your groupmates with consistently thorough, thoughtful, helpful feedback. Taking their work seriously enough to think hard about how it can be improved is crucial for their success in this course, as well as for your own.  When you can provide exceptional feedback to another writer, you can critique your own writing with greater depth and judgement.
  3. Use the feedback provided by your instructor and your groupmates to improve your writing.  You do not have to make every change suggested by your readers, as readers will sometimes disagree.  But you must take all feedback seriously, and your drafts should show evidence of your careful consideration of your readers’ suggestions.  Be prepared to explain your decisions and why you think they are more effective than other options.
  4. Work with your groupmates to complete group assignments, to the satisfaction of everyone in the group. Divide group assignments fairly and complete, on time, all the work you agree to take on for your group.
  5. Produce complete, thoughtful drafts of every assignment, and turn all work in on time.  Post every assignment to Blackboard by the deadline.
  6. Revise thoroughly and thoughtfully after every workshop.  Revision means substantially clarifying your ideas, reorganizing your argument, rethinking your claims, strengthening your evidence, deepening your research, adjusting your style, and/or re-imagining your relationship to your audience.  Even if you have not received thorough feedback during a workshop, make at least one substantial revision before the next workshop and before turning in the final draft.
  7. Proofread final drafts to eliminate distracting surface errors and typos.  Final drafts do not have to be perfect, but you should learn any grammar rules that consistently cause you trouble, by talking with a classmate, and/or meeting with me.
  8. Attend all scheduled conferences with me and come prepared to use the conference time productively.  If I indicate on a draft that I would like you to schedule an appointment to talk with me, do so within the week.
  9. Avoid plagiarism by (a) taking careful notes to help you distinguish between your own ideas and language and those you have borrowed from sources, (b) attempting to cite all sources correctly even in first drafts, (c) mastering citation conventions and citing all sources correctly in all final drafts, and (d) never attempting to disguise another’s work as your own, never purchasing essays online, and never engaging in any other act of academic dishonesty.  New ideas only come about because we are all constantly borrowing ideas and sharing our work with others; be generous about attributing and citing those whose work has influenced your own.
  10. Show respect for your classmates and your instructor.  See the decorum section in the syllabus for specifics.
  11. Be on time for class consistently and avoid absences. Two tardies equals one absence. More than three absences will break the contract.
  12. Be prepared for class consistently. Complete the required reading, print any required handouts, and bring your laptop and all drafts, revisions, or research required.
  13. Submit a complete, fully revised essay that meets all outlined requirements by the due date.
  14. Participate in the final presentation of the group project and complete all the tasks assigned to you with accuracy and thoughtfulness.

If you break the contract, your contracted grade for the course will be lowered as follows:

  1. For minor breaches (a tardy or a slight drop in the quality of your workshop participation, for example): I will permit you one “Mulligan”—one minor misstep that will not break the contract. But two minor breaches will lower your contract grade to a C and subsequent breaches will continue to lower your contract grade. *These lowered grades can still be improved by an exceptionally strong work.
  1. For major breaches (missing a draft workshop without an approved/documented reason, failing to participate actively in group activities, or failing to turn in or revise an assignment, for example): no Mulligans; your contract grade will immediately be lowered to a C after the first major breach, and so on. *These lowered grades can still be improved by exceptionally strong work.

Note: You are responsible for being aware of and following the contract stipulations.

Class Participation:

I expect that each of you will be here on time and prepared to engage with the course readings, workshops, and/or other activities we have scheduled on a particular day. To earn a passing (C-level) mark for participation, you need to do more than prep for class and show up for class each session. This course has been purposely designed to afford you all the opportunity to exchange ideas, to discuss the readings, and/or to discuss your own work as it progresses. I expect each of you to be here, ready to share your ideas on the course materials with others. Again, anyone arriving late, unprepared for a class session, and/or who makes a habit of leaving the classroom while the class is in session will be marked as absent.


Please make sure cell phones are turned off and computers powered down at the start of class. Anyone checking email, text-messaging, getting up to leave class, etc. will be marked as absent.

Attendance Policy:

Simply put, I expect you to be here for each class session. For simplicity’s sake (and in

fairness to others enrolled in the course), I DO NOT distinguish between excused and unexcused absences. (Do not approach me with doctor’s notes.) Each person is allotted 3 absences, no penalty. For every additional class session, you will incur a breach to the contract. If you feel that you may have an extenuating medical circumstance that requires special attention in conjunction with UMBC policy, please discuss this issue with me directly.

If you miss, arrive late and/or unprepared for 5 classes, you fail this course. If you foresee yourself having problems getting to class on time, please see me ASAP. Lastly, while I welcome emails and/or office visits that focus on the readings and/or the work you are doing for the class, I will not respond to emails that detail why you won’t be in class, why you weren’t in class, etc. If you must miss a class session, please make sure that you contact a classmate to get class notes, to find out what we did, etc.

Late Work Policy:

All due dates are firm and all major assignments (your individual and group project) must be turned in to pass the course. I may consider granting extensions in some cases but you must contact me about the extension requests at least one week in advance of the due date. [Otherwise, please do not email me the night before something is due and ask for an extension—the answer will be “no.”]

Classroom Decorum:

During this course, we will discuss a wide range of topics, some of which may be sensitive or even alienating for you; I urge you to keep in mind that we all have different personal experiences, diverse beliefs, and opinions about such topics. We will learn a great deal through discussing various views and perspectives if we make a commitment to listening to each other and to honoring each other’s backgrounds, values, and feelings. We will treat one another with respect and dignity at all times. Whenever someone is speaking, I expect you to provide them with your full attention. Distractions (talking, laughing, etc.) can be problematic for me as well as for your fellow classmates. Such behavior will breach your contract and harm your grade.

Statement on Nondiscrimination

The University of Maryland Baltimore County is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to programs, facilities, admission and employment without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by University policy or by state or federal authorities. It is the policy of the University to maintain an academic and work environment free of discrimination, including harassment. UMBC prohibits discrimination and harassment against any person because of age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or veteran status. Discrimination or harassment against faculty, staff, or students will not be tolerated.

Note: UMBC encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any kind of accommodation in this course or have questions about physical access, please tell the instructor as soon as possible.

UMBC’s formal stance on academic integrity:

By enrolling in this course, each student assumes the responsibilities of an active participant in UMBC’s scholarly community in which everyone’s academic work and behavior are held to the highest standards of honesty. Cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and helping others to commit these acts are all forms of academic dishonesty, and they are wrong. Academic misconduct could result in disciplinary action that may include, but is not limited to, suspension or dismissal. To read the full Student Academic Conduct Policy, consult the UMBC Student Handbook, the Faculty Handbook, or the UMBC Policies section of the UMBC Directory: (www.umbc.edu/provost/integrity/faculty.html).


WARNING: I have high expectations for you. When this semester ends, you will not be given your grade—you will have earned it. This syllabus shows you how it is possible to earn a competitive grade in this course. Turning that possibility into a probability will entail a lot of reading, writing, listening, and speaking; above all, it will involve a lot of thinking. You will have to possess (or quickly develop) intellectual curiosity and a capacity to engage enthusiastically with complex material. You will also have to work hard. However, as I hope you have already discovered, hard work can be satisfying, not only when it is rewarded but also when it is directed toward a worthwhile goal. If you make an active intellectual commitment to the class, if you are eager to learn, and if you persistently hone your abilities, you will do well.

Now, you know something about what I expect from you. What can you expect from me? I am here to help you learn to think critically. If you ask me something that I don’t know, I will work with you to discover the answer. I will show you why learning to think and write critically is important. By challenging you to reach high standards, I shall help you to educate yourself. The workload will be demanding, but I shall never give you busywork: everything I ask of you will be aimed at making you a more accomplished writer, a more discerning reader, a more effective speaker, a more perceptive listener, and a more astute thinker.

Class Discussions and Reading Assignments

Our class discussions have three important purposes:

  • They facilitate the examination of ideas for their merits and applicability which supports the learning processes
  • They prepare students for careers that require strong communication and critical thinking skills
  • They provide students the opportunity to ask questions about the material explored within the course

Class discussions will be supported by the assigned readings. To ensure the quality of our discussions, each student will be required to complete a brief post to Blackboard about the following prompts. You must answer all three prompts to receive full credit.

  1. Head Scratcher– Identify a quote that you find challenging or inspires your curiosity about something. State the quote and two questions you have about the quote that would expand your understanding of the text.
  2. Double Take– Identify a quote that you find to be provocative, controversial, or attention-grabbing. Describe why you found this quote so thought-provoking.
  3. Words to Live By– Identify a quote that you feel speaks to your daily life, personal goals, or career ambitions. The idea here is to make it personal. Describe why this quote stands out to you and how you understand its application beyond the scope of the text.

This post will be due before class on days when there is an assigned reading. You must also bring your post to class to support our class discussion. I will usually begin class by asking you about what you wrote in your responses.

Peer Review Workshops:Please bring a hard copy of your drafts for peer review with other members of the class. If you do not have a full and complete draft, you will be in violation of your contract. I will not accept any work that is not properly formatted and proofread by a class peer.

Course Essay Assignment


Compose an essay on a topic related to themes and/or ideas that arise from course readings and class discussions. I will work with you to select a topic that serves your interests and goals. We will approach writing this essay in a methodical and efficient way that maximizes the amount of peer review and instructor feedback you may receive before turning in the final draft, thus ensuring a final product of higher quality and rigor. Each checkpoint on the course syllabus is designed to promote incremental progress and earnest revision.

Your essay may take on the conventions of the following genres:

Position Argument

Purpose: Argue a point. Take a stand. Change a behavior. Correct a misconception. Refute an argument or belief. Launch a manifesto! Identify an interesting problem or issue that merits your taking a stand; translate your stand (or position) into a thesis statement; support the good reasons for your position with specific details and examples; and marshal your reasoning and appeals to persuade others to accept your position by modifying their thinking, behavior, or influence. Whether the issue you choose is serious, light-hearted, or something in between, it must be debatable and lend itself to genuine disagreement.

Directions: Your argument should (1) open by defining the situation or problem that calls for your attention and establishing an audience who is (or should be) invested in this situation or problem; (2) provide a thesis that states your purpose (to express or defend a position, to question or argue against a belief or action, to invite or convince an audience to change an opinion or practice); (3) marshal rhetorical appeals, good reasons, details and examples to enhance your points; (4) acknowledge and respond to opposing viewpoints; and (5) supply a clear, identifiable conclusion that you want your audience to reach or reconsider. As you consider your audience and the possibilities for productive disagreement, be mindful of your tone. You can hold an opinion and advance an idea without being confrontational. In fact, sophisticated debaters concede points to each other and search for common ground. This behavior shows a willingness to engage in genuine dialogue, and it also creates a positive atmosphere for disagreement.


Purpose: Evaluate an object, phenomenon, policy, or individual that interests you and merits your attention.

Directions: As you introduce the subject, explain why it merits evaluation. Place the topic in a precise category, and then create and defend the criteria by which you will make your key evaluative judgments, negative and/or positive. Throughout the body of your paper, you should use concrete evidence and examples that illustrate the ways in which the object/phenomenon does or does not meet each evaluative criterion.

Rhetorical Analysis

Purpose: A rhetorical analysis examines and explains how an author attempts to influence an audience. That is, rhetorical analyses use specific evidence from the text to establish a generalization (thesis) about the text’s rhetoric (in short, how it persuades its readers by employing the rhetorical appeals, using good reasons, constituting a fitting response, and using the available means to reach an audience).

Directions: Find a visual, a traditional printed argument, a website, or some other type of text that you deem to be interesting and that has a persuasive aim. By “interesting,” I mean that the text in question must have some sophistication about it: it should be tantalizing and effective at reaching its audience. (There is no point in analyzing the obvious; pick something that makes an interesting argument to which  readers might be resistant). Your analysis should not simply paraphrase or summarize what the author/creators assert. Assume your audience has already read the text you are analyzing and is aware of what it contains. Your purpose is to provide a way of understanding how the text persuades its audience. Throughout the body of your paper, use specific examples from your chosen text to support your claims. Conclude by making a judgment about the text’s rhetorical effectiveness.

Assignment Goals:

  1. Build research and project organization skills
  2. Increase the clarity, depth, and acumen of student writing
  3. Produce a document that may aid future opportunities (graduate applications, fellowships, scholarships, publications, etc.)

Formatting and Length:

Please use 12-point, Times New Roman font with double spaced paragraphs. At the end of the semester, the paper must exceed thirty pages.

Group Project Communication Consultancy Project

Your group has been hired as a communication consultancy firm. Your task is to select a political campaign, nonprofit organization, activist group or corporation whose communication strategy failed or requires significant improvement. Your group must explain why the communication strategy failed and propose a new one, including slogans, messaging strategies, logos, and other materials.  Your work will be presented within an 8-to-10-minute, multi-media text that explores, depicts, and makes an argument about why the previous communication strategy failed or needs improvement as well as your solutions.

I will work with your group to select a suitable organization. As your group works towards completion of this assignment, there will be a series of checkpoints to help you be successful.


  1. Group Project Proposal-

A short one or two paragraph explanation and pitch for the project. This proposal should state clearly the chosen organization and the communication strategy that will be improved.

  1. First Focus Group

You and your group will gather feedback from a focus group of your peers. This group may contain anyone who is not enrolled in the course, and the group must consist of at least eight people. The focus group should resemble the target audience of the selected organization as much as possible. For instance, if your group was focusing on the messaging of the NFL following the protests from various players and no one in your focus group considers themselves avid viewers of the NFL, it may impact the kinds of questions your group can ask.  You can conduct the focus group in either of two ways: 1. You can gather your focus group members in one place and video record the conversation. 2. You can conduct the focus group by recording individual interviews. It is critical that you record these interviews because they will help you construct your project. The subject of the first focus group is to gather public sentiment regarding your chosen organization and why they think the communication strategy failed. For example, if your chosen organization was UMBC, and your group decided to improve their communication surrounding student health, you would ask the focus group about their perceptions of UMBC’s health programs and services, what they have heard or experienced, as well as what they think would make it better. Your group would then use this information as a way to begin assembling a critique of UMBC’s communications.

  1. Second Focus Group

The same rules apply here except the purpose of the second focus group will be to get feedback on your proposed solutions. For example, if your solution to improve UMBC’s communication about student health services is to create a campaign that uses student ambassadors to lead interactive information sessions on Facebook, your group could ask questions about how such a program would be received. Would this approach reach more students? Why could it be more persuasive? What could be some protentional problems? The point is to test out some of your group’s proposed solutions before a huge amount of work is put into their development.

  1. Group Proposal on Media Strategy for Presentation

Think of this as a second proposal except the focus here is on the final presentation and how your group plans to execute the presentation. The multi-media text used to present your group’s solutions could be created using iMovie or another multi-media platform.

  1. Five Page Analysis and Critique of Communication Strategy

Your group will work together to complete a document that presents a detailed yet succinct analysis of the organization’s communication strategy and your diagnosis of the problems. This document will form the basis of your script for the final presentation.

  1. All materials and media gathered for group project:

Think of this checkpoint as a deadline for collecting all of the images, clips, sounds, music, and texts that will be used for your project. Gathering these kinds of materials can take more time than some students expect, and there also can be issues with gaining access to certain material that could be problematic if left to the last few days before the project is due.

  1. Five Page Explanation of Proposed Improvements to Communication Strategy

Similar to the critique of communication strategy, your group will complete a detailed proposal that explains your solutions to the organization’s communication strategy. This document will also form the basis of your script for the final presentation.

  1. The objectives of this assignment are:
  • To identify (through research, perceptiveness, and discussion) a communication problem.
  • To integrate the rhetorical skills you have been developing thus far in the course, especially with regard to the variety of rhetorical modes available in a digital context.
  • To conduct library and internet research thoughtfully and critically, demonstrating an awareness of sources with credibility.
  • To integrate research in a sophisticated, engaged way throughout the project.
  • To conduct research across an established time period, and to consider chronology and history in your argument.
  • To challenge, expand, and transform your audience’s understanding of your topic.
  • To work as a team researching, designing, and presenting an informative text to the class.
  • To develop basic facility with a variety of multi-media tools.
  1. The text your group produces should incorporate more than one medium–e.g., voice-overs, video, photographs, graphics, and written text.



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