Living in (and with) the World Arguing About Sustainability

Riki Thompson
University of Washington Tacoma

Summary


This intermediate expository writing course is designed for students with previous college-level expository writing experience and focuses on writing critical analyses of a range of texts in the arts and sciences as preparation for upper division writing tasks. In this course, emphasis will be placed on close reading, critical thinking, and managing the writing process to developing well-supported arguments within give time constraints.
For this course we will consider the theme of living in the world and sustainability. According to UNESCO, "sustainability is a systemic concept, relating to the continuity of economic, social, institutional, and environmental aspects of human society. It is intended to be a means of configuring civilization and human activity so that society, its members and its economies are able to meet their needs and express their greatest potential in the present, while preserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems, and planning and acting for the ability to maintain these ideals indefinitely. Sustainability affects every level of organization, from the local neighborhood to the entire planet." Generally sustainability encompasses three intertwined ideals: a healthy economy, a healthy society and a healthy environment.
On the surface this may appear to be a class focused on environmentalism; however, the goal of this course is to use the complex concept of sustainability as a focal point to discuss persuasion and argumentation about timely—and often divisive—topics. We will read and consider multiple perspectives about the complexity of sustaining healthy and economically productive societies—locally and globally—while sustaining healthy ecosystems and conserving natural resources. As we read these often contradictory texts, with the intention of uncovering how language is used to persuade, we will improve our abilities to cope with complexity and practice critical thinking. Daily writing assignments and discussions will provide a foundation for everyone to synthesize ideas and make connections about how language is used to persuade others in debates about living in and with the world.

Course Size:
15-30

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs

Course Context:

This intermediate expository writing course is designed for students with previous college-level expository writing experience and focuses on writing critical analyses of a range of texts in the arts and sciences as preparation for upper division writing tasks. In this course, emphasis will be placed on close reading, critical thinking, and managing the writing process to developing well-supported arguments within give time constraints.

Course Goals:

It is not my goal to make students expert writers for all writing situations in 10 weeks because that would be impossible. Rather, my goal is to provide students with rhetorical tools, opportunities to practice, and feedback on their writing so that they can gain a greater awareness of how writing is used as a tool of persuasion so that they may write more effectively in a variety of rhetorical situations. In order to help them we focus on close reading, researching, and the writing process.
Close Reading
Succinctly summarize the central point of texts and analyze texts for credibility and persuasive techniques.
Synthesize readings to see common themes and understand the critical debates in a given subject area.
Research
Determine probable accuracy of texts and research by questioning the source of the data, the limitations of the information gathering tools or strategies, and the reasonableness of the conclusions.
Conduct independent primary and secondary research specific to their particular area of interest.
Identify subject areas related to research topic, use relevant databases available through the library, and integrate appropriate sources.
Assess quantity, quality, and relevance of search results to determine gaps in information retrieved and revise search strategy as necessary.
Writing Process
Use appropriate pre-writing strategies to brainstorm, analyze, and research subject matter before writing.
Give in-depth feedback on others' writing.
Utilize feedback from readers to improve your own writing through revisions that entail changes in content and structure as well as sentence-level editing.
Writing
Incorporate research into analyses.
Write one short (3-4 pages) and one longer (6-8 pages) thesis-driven critical analyses that are well-organized and clear, using in-text and bibliographic citations in MLA.
Complete two formal assignments (approx. 9-12 pages total) and do a major revision of at least one assignment.

Course Features:

Schedule of Writing Activities (see attachment "A": Attachment A (Microsoft Word 27kB Oct9 12))
Week 1: Reading - Listening to Earth selections
Week 2: Summaries, Response Papers
Week 3: Proposal - Rhetorical Analysis
Week 4: Rough Draft - Rhetorical Analysis, Writing Conferences, Peer Reviews
Week 5: Essay Due – Rhetorical Analysis
Week 6: Annotated Bibliography – Documenting Research for Argument Essay
Week 7: Argument Essay (or Literature Review) – Proposal & Claim, Claims Workshop
Week 8: Argument Essay (or Literature Review) –Rough Draft, Writing Conferences, Peer Reviews
Week 9: Presentations, Peer Reviews – Presentations
Week 10: Argument Essay (or Literature Review) – Revised Draft, Final Writing Workshop
Finals Week: Argument Essay (or Literature Review) Due

Writing A Response Paper (see attachment "B": Attachment B (Microsoft Word 37kB Oct9 12))
Learning Goals:
- To use writing to demonstrate close reading skills
- To practice writing concise summaries while responding to a central idea
- To practice using direct quotations and paraphrasing the ideas of others
- To enter an academic conversation about a sustainability problem through writing
Task: Approx 400 words, double-spaced, typed, 12 pt. serif-font (e.g., Times New Roman)

Writing A Rhetorical Analysis Essay (see attachment "C": Attachment C (Microsoft Word 37kB Oct9 12))
Learning Goals:
- To practice using analytical tools to evaluate a text's credibility and persuasive strategies
- To get acquainted with genre conventions of a thesis-driven essay in the humanities
- To deepen understanding of critical in relation to the course theme of sustainability
- To use library databases and resources to improve research practices
Task: 3-4 pages, double-spaced, typed, 12 pt. serif-font (e.g., Times New Roman)


Writing An Argument Essay (see attachment "D": Attachment D (Microsoft Word 40kB Oct9 12))
Learning Goals:
- To use writing as a tool for learning about a sustainability topic of personal
- To learn to make reasoned intellectually rigorous arguments about a complex topic
- To practice independent research and critical thinking
- To practice writing a thesis-driven analytical argument through a draft and revision process
- To practice using textual evidence appropriately for a college-level writing course
- To use peer review to give and receive feedback that informs the writing process
Task: 6-8 pages, double-spaced, typed, 12 pt. serif-font (e.g., Times New Roman)
After practicing critical reading and synthesizing arguments about topics related to sustainability, you will produce a critical thesis-driven essay. You will produce multiple drafts and utilize the peer review process to gain feedback before submitting the final essay for evaluation.

Writing A Literature Review Essay (see attachment "E": Attachment E (Microsoft Word 40kB Oct9 12))
Learning Goals:
- To acquaint you with multiple genres engaged in arguments about a sustainability topic.
- To practice independent research and critical reading/thinking about an issue.
- To practice evaluating the validity of a text's credibility and persuasive strategies.
- To practice summarizing and synthesizing the ideas of others in preparation for writing a thesis-driven argument.
- To begin to deepen understanding of critical issues in preparation for putting forth your own claims about a sustainability problem in the final essay.
Audience: Your classmates, as well as the instructor

Basic Essay Checklist (see attachment "F": Attachment E (Microsoft Word 40kB Oct9 12))

Course Philosophy:

On the surface this may appear to be a class focused on environmentalism; however, the goal of this course is to use the complex concept of sustainability as a focal point to discuss persuasion and argumentation about timely—and often divisive—topics. We will read and consider multiple perspectives about the complexity of sustaining healthy and economically productive societies—locally and globally—while sustaining healthy ecosystems and conserving natural resources. As we read these often contradictory texts, with the intention of uncovering how language is used to persuade, we will improve our abilities to cope with complexity and practice critical thinking. Daily writing assignments and discussions will provide a foundation for everyone to synthesize ideas and make connections about how language is used to persuade others in debates about living in and with the world.

Assessment:

Graded Work
Essays (50%)
Students will be required to produce two analysis essays (3-4 pages) that them to examine and discuss rhetorical strategies and persuasive writing in course readings. They will also write a thesis-driven critical analysis (6-8 pages) that makes original, intellectually rigorous, and well-researched arguments. Students will be required to utilize peer review—both giving and receiving feedback from peers—to work through the writing process. These papers will be graded on the complexity of the argument, use of textual evidence to support arguments, rhetorical use of language and conventions, and the comprehensiveness of revision between drafts Students thinking about graduate school, should save samples of their writing.
Reading Responses (20%)
Reading responses are essential to fostering discussions in which each student contributes original, informed ideas about the text. Ranging from no credit to a check plus for excellent work, these writing assignments will be graded on the thoroughness of their engagement with the text and rhetorical control. Students will be allowed to revise two to turn in at the midterm.
Multimedia Project (10%)
At the end of the quarter, students will develop a PowerPoint presentation related to their final essay, at which time they will be able to orally and visually share what they have learned. The project is intended to compliment their research and writing process, by providing an alternative approach to work through ideas and make arguments with different media.
Participation (15%)
Intellectually rigorous engagement during discussion is vital to this class's production of valuable knowledge; therefore, classroom discussion—in additional to writing activities—will be a vital part of this class. Members of the class will also participate on a Web-based discussion board and in which they required to post thoughtful responses to the board. The board is meant to locate our class's writing in a network that is readable by all and is also meant as an occasion for socially active student writing; posts will be evaluated based on critical insight and productive use of "comments." Finally, thorough and insightful peer reviews, as well as thoughtful participation in the peer-review writing workshops, are important components of the participation grade and will be evaluated accordingly.
E-Portfolio (5%)
In order for the students to reflect on writing and demonstrate their understanding of their own writing process, they will build an electronic portfolio that showcases their writing throughout the quarter, with reflections that speak to samples of their work. In addition, the portfolio is intended to demonstrate what the students are taking away from this course in relation to the objectives as well as other things they learned "on the side".

Syllabus:

Schedule of Writing Activities (see attachment "A": Attachment A (Microsoft Word 27kB Oct9 12))
Week 1: Reading - Listening to Earth selections
Week 2: Summaries, Response Papers
Week 3: Proposal - Rhetorical Analysis
Week 4: Rough Draft - Rhetorical Analysis, Writing Conferences, Peer Reviews
Week 5: Essay Due – Rhetorical Analysis
Week 6: Annotated Bibliography – Documenting Research for Argument Essay
Week 7: Argument Essay (or Literature Review) – Proposal & Claim, Claims Workshop
Week 8: Argument Essay (or Literature Review) –Rough Draft, Writing Conferences, Peer Reviews
Week 9: Presentations, Peer Reviews – Presentations
Week 10: Argument Essay (or Literature Review) – Revised Draft, Final Writing Workshop
Finals Week: Argument Essay (or Literature Review) Due

References and Notes:

Required Texts
Graff, Gerald, and Cathy Birkenstein. "They say/ I say": The moves that matter in academic writing. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006.
Hallowell, Christopher, and Walter Levy. Listening to Earth. New York: Pearson Longman, 2005.
Lunsford, Andrea A., John J. Ruszkiewicz, and Keith Walters. Everything's an argument. 4th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2007.

Works Cited
Jack Kligerman. "I would rather Stanley Fish..." Weblog comment. May 5, 2006.
"The Writing Lesson." Stanley Fish. Think Again. March 5, 2008. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2006/05/04/the-writing-lesson/

Evergreen State College