The faculty at UNO encourages first-year students to take three foundational courses: composition, speech, and mathematics. These courses make a natural starting point for a university education because, in almost every discipline, knowledge is expressed through language or numbers. So mastery of these symbol systems is the bedrock of a university experience. The more effectively you can manipulate language and numbers, the better equipped you are to acquire, communicate, and create knowledge in any field you might pursue.
Learning to write is a continual process. It began when, as a child, you picked up a pencil or crayon in order to make meaning on paper, and with any luck, it will continue throughout your adult life. At crucial transition points—when you begin a new stage of your education, start a new job, take on new roles in the community—you adapt to the communication practices of the new contexts, so the learning curve is steep. First-year composition courses will help you make the transition to college writing, and I hope you’ll find that the skills and habits of mind developed here will provide a firm foundation for the writing and the learning that lie ahead.
Maggie Christensen, Ph.D.
Acting Writing Program Administrator
From the Heartland: Critical Reading and Writing at UNO. 2nd Ed. Eds. Maggie Christensen and Tammie M. Kennedy. 2014.
Writing Arguments: A Rhetoric with Readings. 9th Ed. Eds. Ramage, Bean, and Johnson. 2012.
Practical Argument: A Text and Anthology. 2nd Ed. Kirszner and Mandell. 2013.
Everything’s An Argument. 6th Ed. Lunsford and Ruszkiewicz. 2012.
Attendance at Class Meetings, Workshops, and Conferences: Because instructors share important information and advice during class, and because composition courses generally rely on a collaborative workshop approach, the success of individual students and the class as a whole depends upon students’ regular attendance. Do not enroll in a composition course unless you expect to be available for every class meeting. Instructors in first-year courses are encouraged to articulate an attendance policy. Excessive absences may result in a lower final grade or failure for the course. For the policy that applies to your section, see the course syllabus.
Participation: Students are responsible not only for being present but for actively participating in the work of the class. Come to class prepared to contribute to discussions, and do your part to make workshops effective.
Respectful Behavior and Communication: Students are expected to behave respectfully toward their instructor and classmates. See the Student Code of Conduct in the Undergraduate Catalog. Additionally, important announcements may be distributed via email or Blackboard. Check both the course Blackboard site and your Lotus Notes email account regularly (at least once before every class meeting). Communicate with your instructor if you are having difficulties with the class or understanding your assignment(s).. If your instructor’s response is unsatisfactory, bring your complaint to Dr. Nora Bacon, Writing Program Administrator, at 554-3318. You can also leave a message for Dr. Bacon with the English Department office (ASH 192, 554-2635) or send an email to email@example.com.
Academic Integrity: The Undergraduate Catalog explains the university policy on academic integrity. It identifies eight varieties of academic dishonesty and spells out the procedures for addressing them.
The misconduct of greatest concern in composition classes is plagiarism, which the University of Nebraska at Omaha Undergraduate Catalog, 2009-2010, defines clearly on page 56; the sanctions for plagiarism are severe, ranging from a failing grade on a paper to expulsion from the university.
Likewise, don’t put your name on any paper that you have not written. If you have any questions about whether or how to cite a source, ask your instructor.
Class Meetings: Instructors are expected to arrive on time for every class meeting. In the event of illness or emergency, the instructor will (1) post an announcement on the class Blackboard site as soon as possible and (2) notify the English Department secretary so that a note can be posted on the door.
When instructors schedule conferences, they sometimes cancel class for one or two class periods. In this case, the students are advised of the class cancellation when they sign up for conferences.
Office Hours: Instructors are required to schedule one office hour per week for every course they teach. If an illness or emergency makes it impossible to be present for office hours, the instructor will notify students and the English Department secretary.
Communication with Students: Every UNO instructor has a mailbox in ASH 192 and a Lotus Notes email account. Instructors will provide their email address on the course syllabus and will check both their departmental mailbox and their email regularly (at least once before every class meeting).
Blackboard: The course syllabus should be posted on Blackboard. Instructors may use other Blackboard features such as online discussion and grading or not, as they prefer.
Grading: Instructors are responsible for returning graded papers in a timely manner and for keeping students informed of their progress in the course. Graded papers should be returned to students before the next paper is due.
Policies covering any matter that might affect a student’s grade—attendance, penalties for late papers, rewriting papers—should be spelled out on the syllabus and uniformly enforced.
As you work on your essays, you will get feedback from the teacher and classmates. The specific nature of the feedback will depend on your progress through the writing process. In response to early drafts, readers focus on global issues such as these: Is the thesis clear and appropriate to the assignment? Is the paper well organized and easy to follow? Is the argument supported persuasively? Are examples well chosen?
In response to later drafts, readers focus on local issues such as sentence structure, wording, punctuation, and documentation.
Teachers have many options for organizing feedback. You may encounter one or more of these structures:
Individual conference with the instructor
Conferences are scheduled outside of class time, so you’ll need to clear 20 or 30 minutes from your schedule.
Workshop (also known as “peer response group” or “peer review group”)
Working in pairs or small groups, students share their impressions of each writer’s draft and offer suggestions for revision. The instructor may schedule workshops outside of class time, when he or she can also participate.
The class offers a thorough critique of one draft, giving all or most of the class period to a discussion of the paper’s strengths, its weaknesses, and directions for revision.
Working in pairs or groups, students exchange papers electronically, using Blackboard or email, and give each other written feedback.
Although it can be unnerving to have your work read and critiqued, feedback is an essential part of a composition course: there’s really no way to know whether a text will have the desired effect except to try it out on readers. Workshops in composition classes are good preparation for the writing practices of professional workplaces, where important documents are routinely circulated for comments and criticism.
Your grade in a composition course should reflect the quality of your writing. The grade may be affected by effort or good citizenship (attendance, participation, etc.), but for the most part, your grade will be determined by the quality of your papers. Grades of A and B are awarded only to students whose papers are consistently above average.
You have a right to understand your grade. If you have questions about the grade on a paper, schedule an appointment with your instructor. Be sure that your expectations about grades are realistic. Remember these points:
Most students do not earn the same grades in college English classes that they earned in high school. The assignments in college are more challenging, and the expectations are higher.
You are responsible for the quality of your papers. Feedback from the instructor or classmates is just that – feedback, intended to guide your work on revision. The decision about how to act on feedback is up to you. When instructors and classmates give feedback, they cannot predict what your next draft will look like or what grade it will earn.
Working hard in a composition course—taking assignments seriously, starting papers early, writing several drafts, seeking help in the Writing Center, making friends with The St. Martin’s Handbook, being receptive to feedback—will serve any student well. But a semester is short: even the most diligent effort may not take a student to college-level competence in fifteen weeks if his or her skills were seriously deficient from the start. Sentence-level problems are particularly stubborn, so a student with weak control over sentences may need more than one semester of practice and instruction.
Students with any grade below C- in Composition I or II must repeat the course. If you take a course twice, earning a higher grade the second time, the higher grade will replace the first grade in your Grade Point Average (though the first grade will remain visible on your transcript).
Composition teachers are strict about the standard for passing. They are careful not to pass a Comp I student if he or she isn’t likely to succeed in Comp II, and they are equally careful not to pass a Comp II student if he or she cannot meet the demands of upper-division writing-intensive courses. Consequently, some students repeat their composition courses. There is no shame in repeating a course, and it is a far better fate than trying to struggle through college without the requisite writing skills.