Engaged Reading Assignments

All students in this class are required to submit no fewer than four (4) and no more than seven (7) Engaged Reading Assignments (ERAs). In order that you might get the maximum amount of feedback and preparation for the term paper, it is strongly recommended that you plan on doing at least one per week. The best four grades will be used for calculating the course grade for ERAs. The others will be used to calculate a modest bonus to the ERA portion of the grade. All will be given feedback in the same way. You may write ERAs on any of our readings from the Talisse and Cahn volume, Political Philosophy in the Twenty-first Century. ERAs are due on the same day we discuss the reading in class. The discussion dates for all readings are given in the course plan. ERAs are NEVER accepted late for any reason. Turning in your ERA early is permissible but you MUST see me well beforehand so that the proper arrangements can be made. ERA's submitted by e-mail, faxed, left under the door, carried in by another student. etc. without a pre-existing arrangement will NOT be accepted. Because there are more opportunities to write ERAs than are strictly required for the grade, there are no exceptions to these policies.

Part of the point of these assignments is to get you to do a different kind of writing than you may normally do. Thus, these assignments focus on clarity, precision, efficiency, logical consistency, and display of your analytical and other critical thinking skills. Though you may find them difficult at first, you will also find that this type of writing serves you well in professional problem-solving contexts. The requirements are specific because very often writing in professional settings requires similar levels of specificity and attention to detail. If you learn to work within such frameworks now, you will have no problem adjusting when you meet them in professional life.

Following are the substantive, stylistic and format requirements for these assignments.

Substantive Requirements

The purpose of the ERA is for you to demonstrate your independent engagement with the readings. They are NOT reflection assignments. Neither are they subjective evaluative essays such as you might write for a literature class. In order to do these assignments correctly, you will be required to call on your critical thinking skill set for interpretation, analysis and argumentation.

The first step in completing an ERA is to select a particular point, a concept or idea, or an argument used by the author of the reading in the selection to be discussed in class that day.

Based on your choice in the first step, every ERA must contain at least three parts:

  • A concise, explanatory re-statement of the concept or argument you selected. This shows that you have understood what the author says.
  • A well-thought out, original response to the concept or argument you selected. This could be critical, e.g. a counter-example that challenges the author's concept, a criticism of the author's argument, or even a counter-argument. It could also be an extension of the concept that shows its usefulness in a particular case. It could also be the posing and answering of a potential objection to the author's point of view. This shows that not only have you understood what the author says, but that you have engaged with it in a critical and analytical way appropriate for a philosophy class.
  • A concluding section where you make a judgment as to what you think the result of your engagement with the reading should be for your audience. This shows that you can draw appropriate conclusions from your analysis and express them to others.

Stylistic Requirements

  • For purposes of these assignments, your audience is a well-educated group of strangers who is unfamiliar with the reading. The setting is formal. Your audience does not speak slang and cannot be addressed in the conversational style you would use when speaking to a friend or family member.
  • Correct grammar, punctuation and spelling all count.
  • Word choice counts. Make sure that you are using words that accurately convey the ideas you are trying to express. Do not assume that this is happening. Check your work with a dictionary and/or a thesarus.
  • Organization counts too. Be sure you have a coherent plan. Outline if you wish, but no matter how you do it, have a plan. Do not simply sit down and start "free styling" at the keyboard.
  • Avoid rhetorical tactics that play on emotion, or that rely on flowery verbiage or devices like the rhetorical question. Instead, focus on persuading your audience by giving them sound reasons to believe your judgments. Do not try to "move" your audience. Convince them by appealing to their reason.

Format Requirements

  • ERAs are to be absolutely no longer than 1000 words. It would be difficult in the extreme to do an ERA in less than 700 words.
  • Pages should have 1 inch margins on all sides,
  • The font used should be Times New Roman, 12 point sized.
  • Double-space your lines.
  • Use black ink on plain white paper.
  • Your name should appear at the top left, along with the date of the class meeting at which the paper is submitted. Underneath your name and the date should be one line that says "ERA" followed by the title of the article in quotation marks, a comma and then author's last name. Underneath this line should be your word count (i.e., if your paper is 897 words long write "Word Count: 897")
  • All pages should be numbered, with the page number in the center of the footer.
  • All pages should be stapled.
  • No cover sheet should be used.
  • No folders, portfolio covers or anything else of the sort should be used. If submitted, they will be thrown away. Such are not an acceptable substitute for stapling your pages.

Help with writing software programs such as MS Word is available in the computer labs or in the library. Help with technical and stylistic aspects of writing is available in the Writing Center. Please use these resources. The College provides them to help you succeed.

Evaluation Rubric

Excellent (4) Good (3) Adequate (2) Poor (1) Unacceptable (0)
Substantive Content A thorough, detailed and accurate understanding of the subject matter of the reading is evident. All technical terms are defined and all explanations are clear and coherent. An basically accurate understanding of the subject matter of the question or topic is evident. There may be lapses in terms of completeness, undefined technical terms, minor explanatory gaps or the like but these are minor. A basic familiarity with the subject matter of the question or topic is evident, but it is unclear whether or not a sufficiently deep or detailed understanding of the ideas at work has been achieved. There may be minor substantive errors in recall of some details. Coverage of the relevant portion of the reading may be partial. Important technical terms, though used correctly, may be undefined. An incomplete or partial understanding of some points of the subject matter of the reading may be indicated. Serious errors in recall of important points or major explanatory gaps may be present. Technical terms may be absent or used incorrectly. Centrally relevant parts of the article may go unaddressed. The student's essay os overly subjective, or suggests that invention has been used to mask inadequate recall of basic facts, or shows significant gaps in comprehension, or otherwise leaves room for doubt that the student has bothered to become acquainted with the material at all.
Relevance The paper is highly efficient: No extraneous information is included, and no necessary information is left out. The paper is reasonably efficient: Some irrelevant information may be included or details omitted but such lapses are minor. The paper is moderately or unevenly efficient: Irrelevant information may be included, or relevant information omitted, in a way that casts doubt on the student's understanding of the material. There may be digressions or sections of the paper that do not seem connected to the main ideas at issue the paper and so present a minor distraction to the reader. The paper is problematically inefficient: Irrelevant information may be included at the expense of relevant information. It may be unclear whether or not student has understood the question. The line of thought in the paper may be derailed at times by digressions or disconnected sections of writing. Relevance seems not to have been attempted. The student's writing may be irrelevant to the reading in a substantial way, or indicates that the student has entirely failed to understand it or has simply ignored it.
Critical Thinking An objective and fair-minded approach to the assignment has been taken. The paper is logically consistent. Any analyses given are insightful; any argumentation presented is at least cogent and is rationally persuasive. All critical thinking skills implicated in the assignment are demonstrated to an exemplary degree. An objective and fair-minded approach to the assignment has been taken. The paper is logically consistent. Analyses may be pedestrian, shallow, or too focused on minor points. Argumentation may be cogent but rationally unpersuasive. The critical thinking skills implicated in the assignment are clearly in evidence, though their execution may be wanting to some degree. The answer may show an uneven approach to the question in terms of objectivity or fairness. The paper may be open to question as regards its logical consistency. Analyses may be shallow, trivial, or clumsy. Arguments may lack cogency or be misdirected. Though an attempt has clearly been made, an unskillful or incorrect application of critical thinking skills is in evidence. An unfair or overly subjective approach to the question may be taken, or the student may show an inability to escape his or her own point of view with respect to the question.The answer may demonstrates a preponderance of "pop-psychology" or speculation, or unstructured thinking over attempts at analysis or argumentation. The essay may exhibit problematic internal inconsistencies. No discernible attempt at objectivity has been made. The answer consists mainly of unsupported assertions of opinion, or demonstrates uncritical dismissiveness towards disliked positions and arguments, or consists entirely of "pop-psychology", speculation, or personal narrative. Avoidable, pernicious contradictions are present.
Organization The structure of the paper is clear, concise and efficient, presenting a continuous, logical line of thought. The structure of the paper, for the most part, displays a continuous, logical line of thought. The paper may follow a conversational format, lack the sort of transitions that indicate an organized passage between thoughts, or similar flaws. The paper may ramble, become incoherent, or exhibit a free-association/ "stream of consciousness" sort of pattern. More than one of the flaws listed under "Poor" may be in evidence, or it may be an incoherent ramble with no discernible structure to the answer at all.
Writing The writing exhibits clear, competent English appropriate to a collegiate level of study. The writing exhibits competent English appropriate to a collegiate level of study, but may contain minor, inconsequential errors in structure, word choice, etc.. The writing exhibits flaws in sentence structure, word choice, etc. that hinder uptake of meaning are present. Problematic ambiguity or vagueness may be in evidence. The writing may be overly conversational in tone. The writing, while generally understandable, contains serious stylistic errors or infelicities in word choice that obscure meaning. Problematic ambiguity or vagueness is in evidence. The tone is conversational or otherwise employs language inappropriate to academic writing tasks, e.g. slang, idioms from colloquial speech, texting shorthand ("2" in place of "to") etc. If handwritten, the writing may be illegible. The writing displays any combination of two or more of the flaws listed under "Poor" to a severe degree, is fundamentally incoherent, or is otherwise inappropriate to a collegiate level of study.
Format All instructions and formatting criteria for the assignment have been observed. The appearance of the work is clean and readable. All instructions and formatting criteria for the assignment have been observed. The papers may be wrinkled or stained, or torn, or show minor lapses in formatting that do not distract from overall readability. More than one of the errors listed under "Good" is present, but it appears that there has been an attempt to follow instructions and formatting criteria. The minimum standard for acceptability in a professional setting has been met. Some instructions and formatting criteria have been observed or have been observed inconsistently. Pages are not stapled. The work is shoddy and presents a poor appearance that would be inappropriate in a professional setting. Instructions and formatting criteria have been ignored altogether.

Relative Weights

Relative weights for each area in the rubric are provided to give you a sense of how the factors line up in terms of their importance. Think of the weights as a ratio—much as you would think about the ratio of one ingredient to another in a recipe. A cake recipe may require more flour than sugar, but that does not mean that the sugar can be left out without consequences for the cake! In the same way, it may well be that substantive content is weighted more heavily than organization, but poor organization will have carryover effects on other areas of evaluation. Structure your work accordingly, keeping each of the areas and their inter-relationships with each other equally in mind.

Substantive Content 4
Relevance 3
Critical Thinking 3
Organization 2
Writing 2
Format 1

Note: In accord with Marygrove College's academic honesty policy, any instance of plagiarism or cheating on any assignment of any kind will be met with a failing grade for the course.

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