Leaving Normal (Honors)

Syllabus: Leaving Normal (Honors)

Have you ever questioned society’s promotion of “normalcy” as something desirable? Are you interested in the ways that social groups respond to difference, physical or otherwise? Do you want to consider ways to bridge critical reading and social activism? Then this course, themed “Leaving Normal,” is for you. Together, we will explore representations of difference in various genres, including autobiographical writings, novels, short stories, poetry, and film. Coursework will challenge students to appreciate different ways of perceiving the world, to probe the construction of difference as inferior and/or deviant, to question the idea of “normalcy,” to resist stereotypes of and biases against people with illnesses or disabilities, and to better understand the barriers—linguistic, intellectual, etc.—that prevent universal access to different landscapes, physical and otherwise.

Class Facilitation

To encourage students to engage with the course material on their own terms and to decenter authority in the classroom, I created a discussion leading assignment that counted for 15% of students’ total participation grade. Students signed up to present on a text or text pairing and to manage class discussion for at least twenty minutes on the “Class Facilitation” wiki page.  They were allowed to collaborate with their peers on a group presentation or could choose to tackle the material individually. Students were asked to produce some physical material to accompany the verbal presentation such as handouts, PowerPoint slides, a Prezi presentation, or something else. It was mandatory that each presentation include (1) some brief introductory material about the text and/or author being discussed, (2) close reading of at least one passage in the text, and (3) at least 5 open-ended, thoughtful discussion questions that were not solely plot-focused. Optional components to consider included the following: (1) some brief historical information about the period in which the text was written, (2) introduction of a scholar’s take on the text, (3) a digital or creative element to the presentation, and (4) a brief in-class activity to emphasize the theme of your presentation.

Sample Student Presentations

A PowerPoint on H. G. Wells’s “The Country of the Blind”

A PowerPoint on selected poetry by Jim Ferris and accompanying small-group activity

A PowerPoint on the 2011 Jane Eyre film adaptation and Elizabeth J. Donaldson’s “The Corpus of the Madwoman: Toward a Feminist Disability Studies Theory of Embodiment and Mental Illness”

Reading Responses

To help students develop their writing strategies while also strengthening their critical thinking skills (which, in my opinion, often go hand in hand, for students learn to work through complex ideas through writing and revision) I assigned reading responses throughout the semester as part of their homework grade. Specifically, these responses, only a paragraph in length, were meant to hone their abilities to develop a focused argument and were intended to improve their paragraph-writing skills. These responses also help students build toward their two formal papers, both of which can emerge out of a student’s response paper. For each reading response, students were given a prompt with options for different questions to answer and submitted two drafts, a rough draft and a final draft. After students submitted their rough draft, I gave a mini-lecture on a revision or general writing technique (examples include introducing/integrating quotations, crafting focused topic and concluding sentences, eliminating wordiness, and avoiding passive voice) that students were then supposed to apply to their revisions. Students workshopped their responses in class after these mini-lectures and revised their paragraphs based on peer and instructor feedback.

Formal Papers

For this course, students write two formal papers about the course readings. A rough draft and a final draft are assigned for each paper. The paper prompts are written in such a way as to enable—and indeed, encourage—students to develop their reading responses into a longer project.

  • Paper 1 Assignment Sheet
  • Sample Student Paper 1: Rough Draft and Final Draft
    I selected this student’s rough and final drafts as examples of this assignment because she excelled at implementing revisions, global as well as local, based on feedback received from her classmates during peer review and from myself.
  • Paper 2 Assignment Sheet
  • Sample Student Paper 2: Final Draft
    I chose this student’s final draft for inclusion in my teaching portfolio because his paper shows evidence of growth in his understanding of disability studies. His paper demonstrates that he engaged with the disability studies theory we read in such a way as to enable him to successfully employ it as a methodology for critically reading Jane Eyre.


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