STUDENT COMPOSITION HANDBOOK
This pamphlet provides basic information about the Composition courses provided by Penn Valley Community College, including faculty information, essay format guidelines, classroom expectations, and the Metropolitan Community College composition grading standards.
Several sections of Penn Valley's composition offerings are taught by our professional adjunct faculty. Please consult your syllabus for information on phone numbers, office locations, and office hours for your teachers.
Further assistance is also available at the Humanities Division Office (ST302; 604-4272).
Composition Courses: Brief Overview
ENGLISH 30. This course is designed for students who need to review or improve their writing skills. Placement in English 30 is based upon ASSET or ACT scores. English 30 students concentrate on writing paragraphs that have a clear focus and specific supporting details that develop the main idea. They also work on writing clear, correct sentences and on improving reading strategies and skills. Students write 6-8 paragraphs and perhaps a short essay. In order to pass with a grade of C or better, students must demonstrate that they can successfully produce college level writing. Students required to take English 30 may not enroll for English 101 until they have earned at least a C in English 30.
ENGLISH 101: COMPOSITION AND READING 1. This college level composition course focuses on the fundamentals of the writing process, including the writing of multiple drafts. Students will write four or five complete thesis-oriented essays of various types. At least one essay will involve research and correct MLA documentation of sources. In addition to various writing-oriented skills, this course also emphasizes skills related to reading and responding to reading. Students must pass English 101 with a grade of C or better before they can enroll in English 102.
ENGLISH 102: COMPOSITION AND READING 2. This second level college composition course emphasizes persuasive (or argumentative) writing, research, MLA documentation, and critical reading and thinking. Students will write at least three essays, at least two of which should be persuasive essays. One of these essays must be an 8-10 page research paper that is correctly documented according to MLA guidelines. A minimum of 6-8 sources is required. Students are expected to continue writing multiple drafts and working on all elements of the writing process. In addition, students should expect to undertake a significant amount of reading for both in-class assignments and during individual research.
The Importance of Writing
Writing and reading are at the core of the college experience. Most of your college courses will demand large amounts of reading, and numerous courses also require various kinds of writing assignments. Further, employers of all sorts increasingly expect employees to have communication and writing skills far beyond what was expected just a few years ago. One important purpose of the writing courses at Penn Valley is to help students learn and utilize a broad range of academic and professional communication skills.
Composition courses are designed to do something more than provide basic college and employment skills, however. Composition courses seek to improve "critical thinking" abilities. Critical thinking refers to the analytical and problem solving skills expected in college courses, but it also refers to larger issues of seeing and questioning the world around us and seeing and questioning our place in that world.
Given these varied and serious goals, students who come into composition classes with energy and seriousness of purpose will likely find the experience much more rewarding than those students who grudgingly force themselves to take a required course that they dread.
The Writing Process
When asked about the secrets to their success, professional writers almost invariably respond "revision." Writing is a process that must play out through several stages, sometimes called "prewriting," "planning," "drafting," "revising," and "editing." Whatever terms are used, the main point is clear: writing is an ongoing process that takes time and effort. No one can sit down and write a paper off the top of his or her head, print it out, and expect it to be his or her best work. You can expect to have multiple drafts of your main essays built into your courses, but you should write even more drafts, get more feedback, fuss more over your work than is required. Plan ahead so that you have time for second and third starts, extra drafts, another trip to the library, or whatever it takes to do your best work and get the most out of the writing process. And always leave time to carefully proofread your work; neatly write in any last minute corrections.
The appearance of an essay makes a strong first impression, for better or worse. All of the main essays must be typed, and even handwritten assignments must follow acceptable guidelines. Please follow the following formats carefully, unless specifically told otherwise by your instructor. The use of a cover page and/or a folder are optional unless required or disallowed by your particular instructor.
Typed/Word Processed Essays
Handwritten Assignments (when permitted)
Note: All assignments should have your full name, instructor's name, date, class, and class time on the front page (or cover page).
Academic Computer Lab: The ACL (LR 204) is open long hours for student use. Both PCs and Macs are available. Microsoft Word is the main word processing software. You must save all work to a floppy disk; make sure you have a properly formatted (IBM/PC or Mac) disk with you. Lab attendants can help you get started if you are unfamiliar with computers or word processing. Self-guided tutorials are also available; just ask an attendant. Call 759-4094 for information.
ATTENDANCE. REGULAR ATTENDANCE IS REQUIRED. While specific policies vary, all English instructors maintain strict attendance policies. Students who miss several classes can expect to fail the course; students who miss two consecutive weeks or 1/3 of all classes can be dropped from the roster without their knowledge or consent.
Teaching-Learning Center. The TLC (LR 202; 604-4292) provides tutoring on a walk in basis. There is no charge for this tutoring. Trained writing and reading tutors can help with all parts of the writing process, from thesis generation to revision strategies to grammar instruction. Bring with you the class assignment and any drafts, outlines, or other work you have done. Also be prepared to share with your tutor any of your instructor's comments about your writing. Tutors will not do the work for you, but will work with you on identifying and solving any problems you have in your own writing. Because the TLC staff can work with you on a one-to-one basis, dramatic improvement in writing can be made by students who put forth the necessary time and effort. If your teacher asks or requires you to go to the TLC do so as soon as possible. However, a teacher referral is not necessary and even superior writers often report that visits to the TLC help them take their writing to the next level. For TLC assistance to be most effective, plan to make several visits for each assignment. Do not wait until the last week or two of the semester and expect to salvage a poor grade.
Project Success. Project Success (LR 207) provides tutoring and other assistance to first generation college students and other students with special needs. Call 604-4313 to find out if you qualify.
Many writing teachers believe that one-to-one conferences between teacher and student can be very valuable. In some cases, teachers might require such conferences in addition to or instead of regular class on a particular day. Please take these scheduled conferences seriously. Be sure to show up on time, and if you have to postpone your conference for any reason be sure to call as far in advance as possible. Not all teachers require conferences.
Plagiarism is using the ideas, research, or language of someone else and claiming or implying that the work is your own. It is the high crime of academic life and will entail severe sanctions, ranging from an F on the assignment, to an F for the course, to expulsion from the Metropolitan Community Colleges for repeat offenders.
Plagiarism is never acceptable under any circumstances. However, to judge the severity of the offense, the English department recognizes a distinction between intentional and unintentional plagiarism.
Note: In addition to defeating the purpose of education, an incident of plagiarism can ruin a college career, which in turn can have a harmful impact in many other ways. It's not worth the risk. Teachers have no tolerance for plagiarism, so don't look for mercy. Just don't plagiarize.
Early in the semester, students should not be overly concerned with grades. College work demands rigorous discipline on the part of the student, but improvement is possible when students are willing to put forth the effort and time necessary. It is particularly essential that struggling students follow their instructor's advice carefully.
Certain criteria distinguish superior papers from average and below average papers. The members of the English Departments within the Metropolitan Community College system have established six criteria that they will use to evaluate student essays. These criteria are:
Characteristics of an "A" paper
Thesis/Central idea. Imaginative and thoughtful thesis, neither too broad nor too narrow in scope. Sustained central idea that reflects the assignment.
Organization/logic/coherence. All sections of the essay are logically and coherently related to the thesis through an organizational strategy. Sound principles of critical thinking are used throughout. Effective transitions contribute to the logical progression of ideas. The introduction and conclusion are particularly effective.
Development. There is a convincing amount of proof for the main points. The development is original and thoughtful. There are enough concrete details so that the essay "shows rather than tells." Paragraphs are relevant to the thesis, structured with topic sentences, and developed with adequate evidence.
Style. Sentences are clear, fluent, and varied in length and structure. Diction is accurate, direct, specific, fresh, and vivid. The active voice is used effectively. The tone is consistent and suitable for the topic and audience.
Mechanics. The essay is virtually free of errors in punctuation, spelling, and usage.
Use of Sources. The essay demonstrates an effective and accurate use of sources to supplement the author's points and provides correct MLA documentation.
Characteristics of a "B" paper
Thesis/Central idea. The thesis is clearly identified and neither too broad nor too narrow in scope.
Organization/Logic/Coherence. Organization: evidence is arranged in a logical and convincing fashion and all paragraphs contribute to the thesis or dominant impression. Logic: sound principles of critical thinking are used throughout. Overall unity: all paragraphs contribute to the thesis. Coherence: relationships between ideas are made clear by appropriate transitions. The introduction and conclusion are effective.Style. Sentences are clear and varied in length and structure. Diction is accurate and specific. Effective use of active voice. The tone is consistent and suitable for the topic and audience.
Mechanics. The writing is relatively free of errors in grammar, punctuation, standard usage, and spelling.Use of Sources. Paraphrases, quotations, and summaries are adequately integrated and correctly documented.
Characteristics of a "C" paper
Thesis/Central idea. The thesis or main idea is relatively clear, but may be unoriginal or lack insight.
Organization/Logic/Coherence. Organization: There is an apparent direction to the essay, but paragraphs are not always effectively arranged. There is generally competent, logical arrangement of details, illustrations, and examples; some transitions are evident but not always effective. Adequate introduction and conclusion.
Development. The use of supporting details, illustrations, and examples is generally adequate. Style. Sentences are coherent but sometimes monotonous, wordy, and lacking in emphasis. Diction is generally appropriate to the subject and audience, but may lack variety, precision, and originality. The writing usually avoids cliches, weak verbs, passive voice, repetition, and excessive modifiers. The tone is usually consistent and generally suitable to the audience.
Mechanics. Minor errors are apparent, but they do not generally impede the flow of the essay or hinder the reader's understanding.
Use of Sources. Quotations, paraphrases, and summaries are adequately integrated into the essay and are correctly documented according to MLA guidelines.
Characteristics of a "D" paper
Thesis/Central idea. There are significant flaws in the formulation or clarity of the thesis. There may be a discernible purpose, but one that is unsuitable for the assignment.
Organization/logic/coherence. Organization: the plan, purpose, and method of the essay are not apparent or are inconsistent. Logic: errors in logic undermine the essay. Coherence: paragraphs are occasionally lacking unity, or transitions are unclear or ineffective.
Development. There is little effective support for the thesis: assertions are unconvincing and unsupported, with scant use of supporting details, examples, illustrations. There may be irrelevant content and an imbalance between abstract and concrete material.
Style. Sentences are choppy, awkward, and lacking variety. Diction is inappropriate, vague, unnatural. There may be excessive use of passive voice, weak verbs, and weak modifiers. The tone is likely to be flat, inconsistent, and unaware of an audience. The introduction and conclusion are inadequate.
Mechanics. Sentences have occasional or frequent major errors and/or frequent minor errors in sentence construction, punctuation, spelling, or standard usage.
Use of Sources. Paraphrases, quotations, and summaries are inadequately integrated into the essay and/or incorrectly documented.
Characteristics of an "F" paper
Thesis/Central idea. Either no thesis is stated or implied, or the thesis is a weak or badly stated one.
Organization/Logic/Coherence. Organization: there is no overall design or structure to the essay; frequent rambling mars the essay. Coherence: paragraphs often lack unity or are incoherent. There are numerous errors in logic.
Development. Little or no evidence (details and examples)
to support thesis and topic sentences.
Style. Sentences are awkward, unclear, and lack variety. Diction is inappropriate, inaccurate, vague, unnatural. The tone is inconsistent or unsuitable for the audience.
Mechanics. There are blatant errors in sentence construction, punctuation, spelling, or standard English usage.Use of Sources. Quotations, paraphrases, and summaries are inadequately integrated and/or incorrectly documented. Papers with missing or deceptive documentation will automatically be given an F by most teachers.
Christine Howell—Coordinator and Faculty
Office: ST 310-B
Send error reports and comments to Darlene Town at firstname.lastname@example.org.