Discernment & Discourse

Dallas Hall

Frequently Asked Questions

What is it and what do I have to do?

Everyone enrolled at the University must provide AP credit (4 or 5) for or take and pass with a grade of C- or better one, two, or three (depending on your VSAT score) classes in the Written English sequence. You can consult with your adviser regarding initial placement in either ENGL 1300, 1301, or 1302. English Rhetoric (also known as Written English) is a pre-requisite for every program of study offered by the University because it teaches the critical reading and comprehension skills as well as the argumentative writing skills necessary for your success in all other classes offered at SMU.

What does the course entail?

All three courses in the writing sequence prepare students to read, write, and think competently, analytically, and critically at the college level. What does that mean? Well, first and foremost, you will be doing quite a bit of writing, including four to six formal papers; shorter, less formal writings; in-class essays; drafts and revisions; journal writing; etc. This is a writing intensive course.

What will I be writing?

You’ll be writing argumentative and analytical papers about texts that you have read and discussed in class. What sort of texts? In 1300 and 1301, you’ll be reading non-fiction essays , short stories, perhaps a very short novel, maybe some poems, or even movies. You will be looking for the argument in these works, discovering how the author or filmmaker makes a case, and tries to persuade the audience of something, and what techniques he or she uses. You will be constructing, drafting, and revising arguments of your own, and creating and supporting your own claims. And you’ll be drawing original conclusions about how these texts work and what they signify for our culture.

In ENGL 1302, you will be applying the critical reading and argumentative skills you practiced in 1300 and 1301 to longer, more complex sources and assignments, as well as formulating and carrying through a research project and an oral presentation component.

How is English First-Year Writing different from high school English classes?

The focus on non-fiction, argumentative essays as well as the recognition of the argumentative aspects of the various genres such as those mentioned above will be something new. In high school classes the focus is frequently on “what happens” or the hunt for symbols. Here you‘ll be examining how the author attempts to persuade his or her audience. You will be asked to articulate new knowledge; original insights and conclusions will be the goals of assignments. Source texts will be more challenging, or if they’re something you’ve already read, you’ll examine them in terms of new, more critical approaches. Teachers will assume two to three hours of preparation for each class session, even more if that assignment is a draft for a major paper. They will expect that you will have not only read the homework assignment more than once, but that you have also thought about and annotated your text and formulated questions or points for discussion. Teachers will expect your participation. Written English is not a lecture class, and you cannot just get the notes from a friend. You will be expected to voice well thought-out conclusions, collaborating with teachers and peers. In short you are joining the academic conversation, and it will be your responsibility to bring something to the table.

How hard is the grading in college?

Your essays will be graded for content, development of your assertions, critical use of sources, style, and grammar usage. We are not in the business of re-teaching the grammar rules you learned in middle school; but you will still be held responsible for knowing those rules and applying them correctly. The Written English Program has provided a more detailed explanation of our common standards for evaluation in the last pages of Criteria, a book published every fall containing the best student work from the previous academic year. It is available at the SMU Bookstore.

We’re aware that we’re asking you to do something different from high school English, something more advanced, as is appropriate when you move into the University. If you could already do it, you wouldn’t need this course. That said, you will, nevertheless, be graded by University level standards. If you are shocked at your first graded papers, DON'T PANIC. DO SEE YOUR TEACHER. Written English sections are limited to 15–16 students precisely so that you can have plenty of one-on-one work with the teacher. Review, re-think, rewrite, visit the Writing Center, use the Learning Enhancement Center. This course is different from high school English because, in many ways, it is just harder. But you are prepared to take that next step, or you wouldn’t be here at SMU. So take a deep breath and plunge in!