ENGL 300 Texts and Contexts

Texts and Contexts

ENGL 300-01

Monday and Wednesday 2:30-3:45 Meyerhoff Chemistry 256

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

Office Hours: Tuesday and Thursday 2:30-4:30


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. Students enrolled in the course will gain insights to the rhetorical dimension of communication by examining how texts composed in various media – oral, written, visual, blended – are produced, responded to, circulated, and adapted to new purposes. Students will be required to produce texts using various sorts of media.

Required Books:

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

Levy, David. Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital Age.


!!!NOTE!!!!: You will find additional required course readings on the Blackboard course site. I expect that each of you will print up copies of these texts and bring them to class, as you will be referring to them in class. I strongly advise that you make copies of files marked with an * on the syllabus at least a week in advance to guard against any last minute printing, computer, or access to internet problems. Folks who arrive to class without having hard copies of the assigned texts/readings in hand, not having read, or who are otherwise unprepared for class discussion will be marked as absent. I will be checking at the start of class to make sure everyone has with them HARD copies of the assigned pdf readings. If you are without hard copies of the assigned texts more than 2 times, your final grade will be lowered one full letter grade per each occurrence. 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 Structure

Participation/Blog Posts/Reading Questions: 20%

Summary-synthesis reports: 30%

Individual Project: 30%

Group Project: 20%

Final grade/percentage breakdown:

90-100% A

80-89% B

70-79% C

60-69% D

Individual task or project grade/point breakdown:

A+ = 99

A = 95

A- = 91

B+ = 88

B = 85

B- = 81

C+ = 78

C = 75

C- = 71

D= 65


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, the blog posts, 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 2 absences, no penalty. For every additional class session, you miss or arrive unprepared for, your final grade for the course will be reduced one full letter grade per extra absence.

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. NOTE: Anyone who adds the class late will need to produce summary/synthesis reports for EACH of the assigned readings he/she missed.


Late Work Policy:

All due dates are firm (this includes deadlines for blog postings) 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 (i.e. if the due date for a major project and group presentation response coincide), 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.”] Any/all late work, summary-synthesis reports or postings will be docked a letter grade per calendar day that the work is late.


Blog Posts

Why Blog?

Many cultural observers have heralded the great democratizing possibilities of the Internet, arguing that those who were once silenced by power and resource inequities can, at least theoretically, broadcast their voices and harness new media to organize and advocate. In this age of communication, rhetoric seems a powerful tool, indeed.


Blogging is one such way rhetors can get their message out there, whether they are advocating for political change, building interest communities, sharing experiences and information, or just having fun. Since most blogs are meant for an audience, blogging is an implicitly civic action. Because blogging intimately connects rhetorical practice to civic life and brings together written, oral, visual, and digital media, it’s an ideal activity for this course.


But enough about the world and this course–what about you? If you find yourself asking “Why am I blogging so much?” another pressing reason is–quite simply–that it improves your writing. The more you practice reading and writing, the better you become. It’s also a more creative way to engage our course writing assignments.


For this course, you will create and maintain a blog where you will post your writing assignments. We will also use the blogs as a place to post materials for our in-class workshops. Like most blogs, your blog should be well organized and present a theme. You should not post anything you would not want a future employer or your parents to see. This blog should be suitable for public viewing at all times. This means that you should avoid profanity or any other inappropriate material.


Discussion Leaders:

Each group will rotate leading discussion on the reading assignments. These discussions will comprise a large part of your class participation points. If your group fails to be prepared to lead a discussion, all group members will have their final grade lowered one full letter grade. The procedure for leading class discussion will include:

  1. Emphasize key points from the readings
  2. Provide 3-4 examples from current events, pop culture, etc. that relate to the readings in a meaningful way. Consider this as a more advanced version of the classic show-and-tell presentation.
  3. Provide 3 discussion questions for the class to work through. Your questions should be thought provoking and engaging.
  4. Coordinate with your group members in advance of your presentation.


Summary/Synthesis responses 

To earn a passing [C-level] grade on these responses, you must compose a single-spaced, type-written text that is at least 600 words and integrates quotes and ideas from at least three previous readings.   B-level reports need to be at least 700 words and integrate quotes and ideas from at least four previous readings, and A-level reports will be at least 800 words and integrate quotes from at least five of our previous readings.  Responses will be due at the start of class.  [See policy on late work should you arrive after these have been collected.]

Your responses must accomplish the following three objectives:

Part 1. To briefly, concisely summarize in a sentence or two an important idea/point/argument presented in one of the readings assigned for that day. (Remember to include a significant quote from the author/s and a sentence explaining the importance of that quote or idea.  You need to illustrate that you have a command of what the author is arguing.)

Part 2. To make connections between (or synthesize) the main ideas treated in part 1 of your response to texts we have previously read in class. Do not refer back to the text you have quoted in your summary (Part 1) or any other readings assigned for that same day—think of this as a backward-looking activity, the goal of which is to demonstrate how you are connecting a point from a new reading to as many of our prior readings as you can.  In this way, you’ll want to think about common themes or ideas expressed in our previous readings as you engage each newly assigned text. The synthesis part of your report should comprise the bulk of your text (at least 450 words for C-level responses, 550 for B-level and 650 for A-level).  Refer to specific ideas and quotes from previous readings (include page numbers) as you make these connections.

!!!Note!!! You may not continue making connections to the same quotes used in previous SSRs throughout the course of the semester.  You are expected to make (new) connections between as many prior readings as you can.  A synthesis report that references 5-6 readings will earn a higher mark than one that only references 3, even if they are of equal length or if the one that references only 3 readings is much longer.

!!!Note!!! Do not make your own argument/s or provide your own examples here.  The goal of the SSR is to demonstrate how you put into dialogue or conversation points made by the readings/authors we are engaging with.  Think of this as a conversation between the authors we are reading. If you bring up your own examples or arguments here, it will not count toward your overall word count.

Your response must conclude with a series of questions (2-3) that get to the implications or further applications of the ideas contained in your response.  Please do not include here definitional questions: “What does _____ mean by _____?”  [This is the kind of question that should frame your response as a whole.]  Focus on what you understand about or take from the readings and draw implications from there.

Finally, make sure that you proofread your responses.  This means attending carefully to the names of authors, titles of readings, page numbers and correct citation methods.

In terms of formatting the reports, put ONLY your name, the title of the course, and date on the left side of the page.  Titles of responses should be centered and refer the particular SSR you are composing (SSR #1.)  Use the headings “summary,” “synthesis” and “questions” to structure your response to avoid wasting space on needless anecdotal introductions.  Don’t forget to include a word count.  Again, single-space these texts.    Please bring a hard copy of each response to class, which will be switched with, and commented on by, other members of the class. If you do not have your hard copy, your SSR will be marked as late. If your work is not properly formatted, well-written, proofread or stapled, it will be marked down at least one letter grade. 


Classroom Etiquette:

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 harm your grade.

Graded Essays and Projects:

When I return your work to you, I ask that you wait 24 hours to contact me about the grade. Please use those 24 hours to review your work and read my comments carefully. Once you’ve done that and 24 hours have passed, I will be happy to meet with you to offer further comments or answer questions. Please keep all graded material until the end of the semester. 

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. I strive to be fair and transparent at all times. 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.




Individual Project

This I Believe Audio Essay (Podcast) and Webpage (Posted on Blog)

In the ancient polis, opinions were considered public, not private. They came from and were held by the community. NPR’s long-running “This I Believe” series adopts that ancient understanding of opinion. To introduce ourselves to one another, establish our own beliefs, to move this class from analysis and context into persuasion, deliberation, and advocacy, and to combine written and oral performance in another format, we will be composing, recording, and performing our own “This I Believe” audio essay. The end result will be a 6-8 minute podcast that you will upload onto your blog on a separate page that provides a correlating visual narrative. You are free to choose your own topic; however, there are some requirements when it comes to structure and content:

Requirements-  Our approach to “This I Believe” has one caveat

  1. The challenge of this essay is to connect your belief to a current event, your future goals in life (personal or professional), and literacy and/or communication (the topic of this course). Obviously, the goal here is to make connections between your experiences, a larger social context, and the ideas propagated in this course.

Goals of this assignment include

  1. To narrate a belief in an accessible, compelling way
  2. To develop skill at composing for the ear.
  3. To improve performance of a written (scripted) text:

Tell a story: Be specific. Take your belief out of the ether and ground it in the events of your life. Consider moments when belief was formed or tested or changed. Think of your own experience, work, and family, and tell of the things you know that no one else does. Your story need not be heart-warming or gut-wrenching–it can even be funny–but it should be real. Make sure your story ties to the essence of your daily life philosophy and the shaping of your beliefs.

Be brief: Your statement should be between 1000 and 1500 words. That’s about six minutes when read aloud at your natural pace.

Name your belief: If you can’t name it in a sentence or two, your essay might not be about belief. Also, rather than writing a list, consider focusing on one core belief, because six minutes is a very short time.

Be positive: Please avoid preaching or editorializing. Tell us what you do believe, not what you don’t believe. Avoid speaking in the editorial “we.” Make your essay about you; speak in the first person.

Be personal: Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. Read your essay aloud to yourself several times, and each time edit it and simplify it until you find the words, tone, and story that truly echo your belief and the way you speak.

What Images and Objects support your belief?

You will use the corresponding webpage to both present your podcast and provide a supporting visual component. For example, if your essay focused on your belief in the power of theater to communicate diverse human experiences, you could include photos of theaters you have visited in the past. Whatever you choose to do, any images you use should not violate copyright law and be suitable for public viewing.

For this project, we are also guided by the original This I Believe series and the producers’ invitation to those who wrote essays in the 1950s. Their advice holds up well and we are abiding by it. Please consider it carefully in writing your piece.

In introducing the original series, host Edward R. Murrow said, “Never has the need for personal philosophies of this kind been so urgent.” We would argue that the need is as great now as it was 50 years ago. We are eager for your contribution.

Here are some sources you may use

Open Source Podcast interview with Jay Allison

Radio Open Source

NPR Press Release for This I Believe Series



Check Points


  1. Propose topic and receive acceptance
  2. Gather Sources and Complete Research
  3. Complete Script
  4. Complete Recording
  5. Complete Editing




Group Project

Paradigm Shift Multimedia Project


Working in small groups, students will create an 8-minute multi-media text that explores, depicts, and makes an argument about a “paradigm shift” you recognize in our cultural past or contemporary moment. In addition to recognizing a certain kind of change and analyzing its potential meaning(s), you might trace the significant “moments” of this shift as well as discuss possible ramifications in terms of where a particular culture is “heading” and how we have come to view or value certain things.


The change you recognize might be a shift in civic life or consumer practices and attitudes. You might consider rhetorical or philosophical shifts–how the way we talk and think about an issue, phenomenon, or group has changed over time. Maybe you see changes in the representation of different groups of people (in terms of ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, etc.) in film, television, art, and literature as particularly significant.


The point is that you will want to identify something new(er). Tell your viewer how it evolved out of and/or is different from something older and explain how this portends a new set of ideas and values that are brought to bear on our collective cultures. While you can certainly support your arguments with your own observations, you should bolster your arguments with at least four dynamic examples and no less than ten credible, authoritative sources. Depending on your topic, you may require more sources.


This project should have a distinct thesis and should be rich in evidence that “proves” the shift, as it were. Be sure that you select a reasonable set of historical moments with which to work (e.g. the dawn of time until 2018 will probably not work) and that you are not merely describing a technological change without careful consideration of its implications. One of our textbooks for this course, Scrolling Forward, performs this kind of analysis well.


The multi-media text could be created using iMovie or another multi-media platform.


The objectives of this assignment are:


  • To identify (through research, perceptiveness, and discussion) a subtle but significant shift in cultural values, practices, attitudes.
  • 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.
  • Your first task as a group will be to settle on a paradigm shift that you will research. I would recommend selecting a topic that relates to Baltimore. A topic that contains a local connection would expand your potential research methods to include interviews, field work, observation, as well as the local historical archives. However, this is only a suggestion.
  • The main goal of the multi-media text is to analyze this paradigm shift in a lively, compelling, and well-organized way by asking and addressing compelling “framing questions” that give this issue enduring heft and dimension (we will discuss framing questions in class).
  • The text your group produces should incorporate more than one medium–e.g., voice-overs, video, photographs, graphics, and/or written text.

Check Points


  1. Propose topic and receive acceptance
  2. Gather Sources and Complete Research
  3. Complete Script
  4. Complete Story Board
  5. Complete Recording and/or Filming
  6. Complete Editing


Weekly Schedule

Week 1

Date Day Topic of the Week Reading Due Writing Due
January 29


M Course



January 31


W Narratives and

Rhetorical Analysis


What Writing Does and How It Does It: Introduction, Chapter 2

Scrolling Forward: Introduction, Chapter 1



Week 2

Date Day Topic of the Week Reading Due Writing Due
February 5


M Rhetorical Analysis and Critical Literacy



What Writing Does and How It Does It: Chapter 10


Scrolling Forward: Chapter 2


Discussion Leaders: Group 1

 “This I Believe”

Check Point 1

Project Proposal



February 7


W Composition and Cornel West:

Excerpt on Blackboard


Discussion Leaders: Group 2



Week 3

Date Day Topic of the Week Reading Due Writing Due
February 12


M Speaking, Listening, and Writing What Writing Does and How It Does It: Chapter 8


Do You Speak American? Chapters 1-3


Discussion Leaders: Group 3

February 14


W Rhetorical Listening:

Chapters 1-2

Excerpt on Blackboard


Discussion Leaders: Group 4

“This I Believe”

Check Point 2

Gather Sources and Complete Research

Week 4

Date Day Topic of the Week Reading Due Writing Due
February 19


M Linguistic Discourse Analysis


What Writing Does and How It Does It: Chapter 3


Bootstraps: Prologue,

Chapters 1-3

Excerpt on Blackboard


Discussion Leaders: Group 5

Summary and Synthesis Report #1
February 21


W In-class Workshop

Individual Project

“This I Believe”

Check Point 3

Complete Script


Week 5

Date Day Topic of the Week Reading Due Writing Due
February 26


M In-class Workshop

Individual Project

Meet in the Library: Room 259




Paradigm Shift

Check Point 1

Group Project Proposal


“This I Believe”

Check Point 4

Complete Recording


February 28


W Conferences

Individual Project

Week 6

Date Day Topic of the Week Reading Due Writing Due
March 5


M Conferences Individual Project
March 7


W In-Class Workshop

Group Project

Week 7

Date Day Topic of the Week Reading Due Writing Due
March 12


M No Class
March 14


W No Class “This I Believe”

Check Point 5

Complete Editing

Week 8

Date Day Topic of the Week Reading Due Writing Due
March 19


M Spring Break
March 21



Week 9

Date Day Topic of the Week Reading Due Writing Due
March 26


M Intertextuality


What Writing Does and How It Does It: Chapter 4


Scrolling Forward: Chapter 3


Discussion Leaders: Group 6

“This I Believe”

Individual Project Due

March 28


W What Writing Does and How It Does It: Chapter 6


Scrolling Forward: Chapter 4-5


Discussion Leaders: Group 1

 Week 10

Date Day Topic of the Week Reading Due Writing Due
April 2


M The Life cycle of Texts: How texts Come into Being and Where They Go What Writing Does and How It Does It: Chapter 7


Scrolling Forward: Chapter 7


Discussion Leaders: Group 2

Paradigm Shift

Check Point 2

Gather Sources and Complete Research

April 4


W A Teaching Subject: Chapters 1-2

Excerpt on Blackboard


Scrolling Forward: Chapter 8


Discussion Leaders: Group 3

Week 11

Date Day Topic of the Week Reading Due Writing Due
April 9


M Code-Switching, Reading, and Listening


What Writing Does and How It Does It: Chapter 5


Scrolling Forward: Chapter 6


Discussion Leaders: Group 4

Paradigm Shift

Check Point 3

Complete Script

April 11


W Voices of the Self: Pages 9-70


Discussion Leaders: Group 5


 Week 12

Date Day Topic of the Week Reading Due Writing Due
April 16


M Cultural Rhetoric Digital Griots: Chapters 1-2

Excerpt on Blackboard


On Rhetoric and Black Music

Excerpt on Blackboard


Discussion Leaders: Group 6

Paradigm Shift

Check Point 4

Complete Story Board


April 18


W Reading Chinese Fortune Cookie: Introduction, Chapters 1-2

Excerpt on Blackboard


Discussion Leaders: Groups 1-2

Summary and Synthesis Report #2

Week 13

Date Day Topic of the Week Reading Due Writing Due
April 23



Group Conferences


Paradigm Shift

Check Point 5

Complete Filming and/or Image Selection

April 25



Week 14

Date Day Topic of the Week Reading Due Writing Due
April 30


M Feminism in Rhetoric and Composition Feminism and Affect at the Scene of Argument: Chapters 1-2


Discussion Leaders: Groups 3-4

May 2


W Feminist Theory and Practice: Introduction, Chapters 1-2


Discussion Leaders: Groups 5-6

Paradigm Shift

Check Point 6

Complete Editing

Week 15

Date Day Topic of the Week Reading Due Writing Due
May 7


M Genre What Writing Does and How It Does It: Chapter 11


Scrolling Forward: Chapter 9-11


May 9


W Group Presentations  

Week 16

Date Day Topic of the Week Reading Due Writing Due
May 14


M Group Presentations  Summary and Synthesis Report #3


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