Spring 2015 Syllabus

Niteo Writing Seminar Syllabus

Spring 2015

Sarah Satgunam, ssat@bu.edu, 617.358.7734 (office)

Marjorie Jacobs, mljacobs@bu.edu

Kim Bovell, kbovell@bu.edu

Wednesdays, 10:30AM, LCR


Essay. Writing.

As you read those words, what goes through your mind?  Some of you, aspiring writers perhaps, feel a sense of anticipation and excitement.  Others, perhaps preferring to spend your academic time with numbers, may feel a sense of drudgery when seeing those words.  Love them or loathe them, you will be asked to write essays in college.  The question then is, how do you make the most of it?  If you love essay writing, how do you hone your craft?  If you are not so fond of this particular kind of assignment, how might you be able to come to enjoy it?

Kurt Vonnegut, one of America’s most well-known modern writers, lends insight into the question of how we can all write better – whether it’s essay writing, email writing, or love letter writing.  He says:

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about.  It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.  I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something.  A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.”[1]

[1] Vonnegut, K. (1985). How to Write with Style.

According to Vonnegut, writing well is not about your expansive vocabulary or stylistic choices; it’s about your own investment in the subject matter.

You may say that, in college, when it comes to essays, you don’t usually have a choice of topic.  You are usually given a specific assignment and are expected to respond appropriately.  Agreed.  In fact, assignment parameters can be helpful – they can serve as a springboard for your creative thinking.  The (exciting) challenge is to find an angle (within those parameters) that you care about.  But how?

This class is about helping one another find our angles; to identify what it is we care about in each of the course readings so that we can better enjoy the writing process.  We will make the practical skills involved in essay writing work for us, using them to capture and clarify points of interest that we can then explore in more detail in the form of an essay.

Course Overview

The word essay is derived from the French verb “essayer” meaning “to try” or “to attempt.”  We can think of writing an essay as just that: an attempt to communicate our ideas in response to a prompt.  We might achieve different degrees of success with each writing attempt, but as with any learning process, the more we make attempts (i.e. practice), the more we develop our skills.

The purpose of this class is to help you approach the essay writing process with confidence.  Even if you already feel confident in your ability to write an essay, this course can serve as a way to enhance your skills.  To help you do so, instructors will review the stages of the essay-writing process, from pre-writing to peer-editing.  We will read academic journal articles and excerpts from literary works; however, the majority of our course materials will be derived from popular (rather than scholarly) sources.  We will use these sources as the basis for thoughtful, engaging discussion and writing assignments.

The organizing theme for the course content is “success” – what is it and how do we achieve it?  We will explore perspectives from a range of disciplines that attempt to address these questions (e.g. genetic science, psychology, philosophy).  This course is not meant to be a comprehensive examination of what it means to be successful; rather, it is meant to stimulate and inform your ongoing thinking around these questions and complement the material you will be working on in other classes and your coaching sessions.

Another important element of this class is practicing mindfulness-based relaxation exercises.  Writing – for school, work, or fun – is a creative process, and relaxation is key to promoting creative thinking.  Practicing mindfulness can help you to approach assignments with increased focus and ultimately improve your productivity.

Objectives of the Writing Seminar

Students will:

  • Annotate a text with summary, descriptive outline, and synthesis commentary
  • Recognize different methods of analysis and practice applying methods to readings
  • Determine a paper topic appropriate to the given prompt
  • Develop a manageable and compelling thesis statement using a step-by-step method
  • Construct a sketch to improve the conceptual organization of an essay
  • Write a three to five page essay using the skills presented in this course
  • Practice mindfulness-based relaxation and movement activities exercises to increase creative thinking, concentration, and productivity

Online Access to Course Materials

Students can access all course materials online via the Niteo Writing Seminar blog.  Each week, a recap of the class session will be posted, along with assignment instructions and links to readings and additional resources.  The blog address is: https://niteowriting.wordpress.com/  (If you are reading this, congratulations, you have arrived!)

Click on the image below for a full-size version of the course schedule:

course schedule


Basic Expectations of Our Time Together

Coming to class and completing assignments are crucial to earning a college degree.  This program is designed to help you develop the habits and skills you will need to meet your education-related goals.  Believe us when we say we know, we are all adults, and life happens.  We will work with you to troubleshoot any issues that arise.  The policies and expectations below, therefore, are not meant to be Draconian rules; they are meant to help you successfully engage in this course and in your future college courses.

Student Responsibilities

  1. Attend all class sessions. Students are expected to attend all classes.  When you anticipate being absent from or late to writing seminar, please notify one or more of the Niteo staff members. Again, life happens, and we will work with you to troubleshoot any issues that arise.  After two unanticipated/unexcused absences, one of the instructors will request that you work with your coach to 1) identify what is getting in the way of coming to class and 2) create a plan to address those challenges.
  1. Come to class on time. Students are expected to be seated and ready for class at 10:30AM.  Every class, there will be a two-minute window (10:30AM – 10:32AM) where you will be asked to respond to a prompt written on the board on a 3×5 notecard.  Handing in that notecard serves as documentation of your arriving on time. If you know you are going to be late for a class, let us know ahead of time via email, text, or phone message.  If you are running late, even very late, we encourage you to come anyways.  Showing up is much better than not coming at all.  Please note: Three times late to class (w/o prior notice) = one unexcused absence.
  1. Complete all assignments. Students are expected to complete all in-class and homework exercises.  If you don’t understand an assignment or are having difficulty completing an assignment, please don’t hesitate to ask one of the instructors for help.  If you are concerned about being able to make an assignment deadline, please talk to one of the instructors ahead of time (anytime except during class – before or after is OK).  Again, life happens, so you get one “free pass” where you will be allowed to submit an assignment late.
  1. Participate in discussions. Students are expected to participate in class discussions and to allow space and time for others to participate.  It is important that everyone has a chance to be heard, so please listen when others are speaking.  To avoid people talking over one another and interruption, please make sure others are finished speaking before starting to share your thoughts.
  1. Treat others with kindness and respect. Treat others as you wish to be treated (i.e., with politeness, patience, empathy, etc.).
  1. Keep all electronic devices on silent or vibrate and out of sight. If you have a learning-related need to actively use an electronic device in class, please inform one of the instructors.
  1. Practice writing and mindfulness skills at home. In addition to required assignments (which do not start until March), we will give you optional exercises to practice your writing and mindfulness skills at home. We encourage you to practice as much as you can.

Responsibilities of Instructors

  1. The class instructors will teach and support students to the best of their ability.
  2. The class instructors will treat students with kindness and respect.
  3. The class instructors will provide extra help (including one-to-one tutoring sessions) to students who need instruction or support.
  4. The class instructors will meet the responsibilities described for students in the class.

Grading Policy

This class is a safe space where making mistakes along the way is a part of the learning process.  To help you focus on the process, we give you a choice as to whether you wish to receive a grade for your work.  For each assignment, you will be given a cover sheet where you can indicate whether you wish to receive a grade.  Regardless of whether you opt for a grade, you will receive encouraging, constructive feedback on your work.  If you do request a grade, your grade will be reflective of what you could expect to receive in a college-level writing course.


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