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Term Paper and Proposal/Abstract assignments

Assignment instructions

Short response paper

You are asked to write a short essay, of about three pages, that constitutes an initial critical response to one of the poems (or a small handful of short poems, if needed) on our course reading list. The essay must be about a poem (or poems) that has not yet been discussed in class; thus, the essay is due at the beginning of the class during which we are scheduled to discuss that particular poem or anytime before that class.

Note that this is a “critical” response, not a “personal” response essay.

The approach you take to this assignment is open; however, your essay should be an argumentative essay. You should propose a theory (or thesis) and argue for it. You may talk only about the poem at hand; you may compare the poem to another poem (or other poems) on our course; you may discuss the poem in the context of a critical essay or a literary theory; or you may choose another viable approach.

The paper cannot treat a poem that is scheduled for discussion the same day as your in-class presentation, nor the same day that you are the designated seminar leader. It may treat a poem scheduled for the same day you are the designated respondent to a presentation.

As with any essay, value will be awarded based on the depth of the analysis, the complexity of the discussion, the solidity of the writing, and the thoroughness of the support to the thesis.

In-class presentation and essay

In-class presentations should be about fifteen minutes in length. You risk being cut short if you go significantly past fifteen minutes (i.e., past twenty minutes).

Ideally, you will talk or lecture to the class (usually, using notes you have prepared for yourself). If you are not comfortable with this, you may read out your presentation to the class. A presentation that is read out should be about six pages in length (typewritten, double-spaced), assuming you don’t read too quickly or too slowly.

An in-class presentation, whether read from a paper or not, is less formal than a term paper. You should ideally have a thesis, but the thesis can be more broad than one for a term paper. Your presentation should have a structure, but the structure does not have to be as rigorous as with a term paper. You should keep in mind that it is always more difficult for your audience to follow your train of thought when listening to you than it would be when reading something you have written: this is even true when you read out a clearly-planned, easy to follow paper.

Remember that we, your audience, will want to enjoy listening to you. You do not have to be funny or put on a show, but you should be able to keep our attention for the duration of your presentation.

Your presentation is centered on summarizing and responding to an academic essay. The essay you choose should be from a reputable academic venue. (Most essays you will find on JStor should fulfil this requirement.) The essay should be substantial: I would expect essays of fewer than eight published pages (depending on the printing) might not be substantial enough. You should look for essays of about fifteen to twenty pages.

The essay you choose should treat one or more of the poems scheduled for class discussion the day you present. You are welcome to choose an essay that compares a poem from your day to another one, especially if it also is on our reading schedule and especially if we have already discussed it in class. The essay should approach the poem(s) from the perspective of elegy, pastoral elegy, the elegiac, mourning, treatment of death, etc. For example, an essay treating Darwinian science in In Memoriam or an essay comparing Hardy’s poems to Tess of the d’Urbervilles would probably not be appropriate.

Alternatively, the essay you choose does not have to treat any poem scheduled for discussion if it treats the elegy as a genre (from a theoretical perspective). If your essay is more of a genre study, then you will probably want to show how the genre theory applies to the poem(s) scheduled for discussion that day.

In your presentation, you will demonstrate a solid understanding of the essay, including what it has to offer to the academic study of elegy. Your presentation should briefly summarize the main argument(s) of the essay, especially as it relates to your assigned poem(s). Your presentation should also respond to the essay. This may involve some criticism of the essay’s argument(s), but should ideally involve building upon the argument(s). You should take what is said in the essay and offer an extension, an alternate perspective, or perhaps a new application of the theories and/or methodologies.

Your presentation does not need to explain the poem(s) scheduled for that day: your goal is to explain the critical essay. You should, however, demonstrate an understanding of the poem(s). You might be asked about them in relation to what you say in your presentation.

Your presentation should have a thesis — at least, a preliminary thesis. You should formulate a theory or a critical position about your critical essay.

This presentation requires a written component: you must hand in a written version of your presentation one week after you present. The written version can and usually should be a revised version of your presentation: your revisions will usually be a result of reactions to your presentation. The written essay should be no less than four and no more than six pages in length. It should be a well-structured, well-argued essay. It is a chance to perfect your argument and make your exposition clearer and more precise. Avoid making reference to class discussion with phrases such as, “As said in class.”

Response to an in-class presentation

As the designated respondent to an in-class presentation, your role is to be the first to respond to the presentation of your peer. You should thank the presenter for her presentation and perhaps mention one or more of its good qualities: what about the presentation did you like? what seemed useful? what was particularly funny or interesting? etc.

You should then ask questions of the presenter. The questions should be based directly on the presentation: they should not go too far afield from what the presenter discussed. You can ask for clarifications (of a particular point or two the presenter made). You can ask if the presenter could apply one or two things she said to one or more poems (from our course that we have seen in class already or are scheduled to see in class that day). At a more advanced level, you can challenge what the presenter said by offering alternate perspectives on the theory/theories being offered. This could be as simple as saying something like, “When I read this poem, I got the impression that it was more about X than Y. Your presentation suggests that Y is the more important reading. How does what you say change if you accept my reading of X?”

Note that you will not be the only person to ask questions of the presenter. Others in the class are encouraged to ask questions as well. But as the designated respondent, priority will be given to your questions, before discussion is opened up to the rest of the class.

You should consider it your duty to read (carefully) the essay upon which your peer will be presenting. If you understand the essay well, you can then ask questions relating to anything in it that the presenter did not spend time on or glossed over. Perhaps you felt the presentation did not do full justice to the essay: in which case you can cross-examine the presenter a bit.

You may be in a situation where you disagree with most (or all?) of a presentation. If this is the case, you should feel free to say so, but to say so in a kind and professional manner. It then becomes your duty not to tear apart the presenter and her presentation, but to help the presenter come to a better understanding of the theories and poetry at hand.

You will be graded on how well you are able to respond to the presentation: how pertinent and fair your questions are, how well they reflect your own understanding of the presentation, and how good they are at provoking an academic exchange of ideas.

You are free to consult with the presenter before she presents in class. She may or may not be able to offer you any indication of what her presentation will be about. Remember that most students do most of their work for such assignments the night before they are due. The presenter is under no obligation to help you in your role as designated respondent.

Seminar leader

As seminar leader, your duty is to direct and promote class discussion around the poem(s) and topic(s) for the class. You are not expected to interact with any formal presentation that might occur (that day or earlier), though you are welcome to do so if it is pertinent.

You should come to class with a very solid understanding of the poem(s). You should prepare topics for discussion, topics that your classmates might want to reflect upon and debate. You are welcome (and encouraged) to scan through some of the critical statements about the poem(s), to see what scholars have been debating. You should introduce such statements by saying such things as, “So-and-so has identified the theme of such-and-such in this poem ... He says it contributes to a subversion of the genre ... Do you think his theory is valid?”

I do recommend that each seminar leader spend a few minutes (probably no more than five minutes) introducing the poem(s) to the class. Keep in mind, of course, that everyone will have read the poetry and have already thought about it. You can give a bit of biographical background where pertinent, summarize what the poem is doing, and highlight some of its interesting features. After the brief introduction, discussion should take over.

You are not responsible for the liveliness of class discussion, but you are responsible for bringing topics to class that might result in lively discussion. You can be a little controversial and creative in what you introduce for discussion, but try to keep the discussion pertinent to our course.

Your role/duty as seminar leader should last from about thirty to forty-five minutes.

Marc R. Plamondon, Ph.D. Department of English Studies Nipissing University