ENGL 204: Core II: Renaissance Literature
Dr. Debora B. Schwartz

Discussion Forum Mini-Essays and ClassmaIte Responses

Each student will be assigned to a Polylearn Discussion Board group of 6-8 students.  You will practice your analytic writing and close reading skills by posting a series of ungraded, two-page Polylearn Discussion Group Mini-Essays [= "MEs"] and ungraded, 1-2 paragraph Classmate Responses [= "CRs"] to MEs posted by your peers.  Ungraded MEs and CRs count towards your participation grade AND are REQUIRED in order to receive credit for the two GRADED REVISED MEs that together count for 30% of your final course grade. Both MEs and CRs will require close reading of supporting quotations from assigned texts. 

MINI-ESSAY LOGISTICS:  Each student will be assigned to a Polylearn Discussion Group of 6-8 students.  You must post six two-page MEs to your Polylearn Discussion Group by no later than midnight on the dates indicated on the Calendar of Assignments (three MEs before and three after the midterm exam).

Based upon Discussion Group CR feedback, optional visits to the Writing Center, conversations with your instructor during an Office Hour, and/or peer editing sessions, you will revise TWO MEs, one before and one after the midterm, and submit them in hard copy for instructor feedback and a grade.   

-- MINI-ESSAY SPECIFICS: These short assignments are designed to make you attentive to details in the works under discussion.  They should be narrowly focused on topics that can be covered within the two-page target length.  The two-page target length will also oblige you to get to the point (lead with your conclusion; articulate your claims fully and explicitly; avoid broad statements and generalities; no "hook!"); to cut out unnecessary wordiness ("dead wood"); and to express your ideas clearly and concisely. 

MEs may be a response to a study question, an analysis of how a specific aspect of a work helps communicate an author or director's message or intentions, or a comparison of a specific element with an analogous element in a previously assigned work.  Regardless of the topic you choose, mini-essays MUST include analysis and interpretation of carefully chosen citations from the text.   An effective ME uses close reading of carefully chosen textual evidence to support an interpretive claim about the text or film.  You will need a narrow focus so that you can really "unpack" the language and/or images in the scenes and passages you discuss without exceeding the two-page target length.  Careful analysis of a single character, a specific relationship, a key image, or an important scene or speech may be enough to fill two pages.

MEs should present a logically organized argument to demonstrate the validity of an explicitly stated interpretive claim; don't simply describe elements in the text or summarize plot.  You have freedom to explore an aspect of an assigned text that interests you, but you must keep your focus on the text itself, not background information or the way in which the text speaks to you on a personal level.  You may find it helpful to begin by brainstorming in response to a question on an online Study Guide; to explore how a key image or theme is presented in a limited number of passages within your chosen text; or to analyze an author's use of a literary device that is of interest to you.   Whatever topic you choose, your ME must be grounded in close readinginterpretive analysis of specific passages and scenes.  You will discover that close attention to specific imagery, word choice, etc. in a single descriptive passage or significant scene may be enough to fill your two-page target length! 

 NOTE: You should familiarize yourself with the Essay Evaluation Checklist. before you start to write, and take care to avoid the issues and errors that are included on the Checklist and in the Grading Codes!

POSTING GUIDELINES:  Mini-Essays are due no later than midnight on the Sundays indicated on the Calendar of Assignments. The text of your Mini-Essays must be pasted into the message field of your Discussion Group posting so that classmates can respond to it in a Discussion thread.  Additionally, you must attach your ME as a .docx file so that I can easily access the first draft of the MEs submitted for a grade and evaluate the changes made during the revision process. 

-- IMPORTANT: in order to receive credit for each ME, you must post at least two short (but thoughtful) Classmate responses [= "CRs"] to MEs posted by two members of your Polylearn Discussion Group (with whom you may agree or disagree, as long as you do so respectfully and back up your response with your own textual support).  CRs must including at least one ADDITIONAL quotation from the text (i.e. a quotation that was not included in the ME to which you are responding) in support of your observations.  CRs are due no later than midnight on the Mondays indicated on the Calendar of Assignments.

Your twelve CRs submitted over the course of the quarter will not be graded as Written Work, but they are required to get credit for your six ungraded ME postings AND for the two ME REVISIONS you will submit for a grade; additionally, CRs, like MEs, factor into the participation component of your final course grade. You must post two CRs to receive credit for each of your MEs. Each missing ME and each missing CR counts as an Unexcused Absence.

Start a new "thread" for each Personal Response.  The SUBJECT LINE for a Personal Response should begin with PR1, PR2 etc. and should include the title of your essay, e.g. the work and topic you are writing on.

To submit a Classmate Reponse, hit the "reply" key from within the text of the ME posting to which you are responding so that your response is directly linked to the PR of your classmate.  (Do NOT start a new discussion thread when submitting a Classmate Response.)


A literary analysis mini-essay should consist of a succinct introductory paragraph which clearly explains the claims you make in the mini-essay; 2-3 well-developed, edited, thoughtful body paragraphs of argumentation based on close reading -- textual citation and analysis -- to back up each point in your argument; and a conclusion.  These compact mini-essays should be focused, highly structured (i.e. well organized), written in grammatically correct prose (no sentence fragments; no slang; watch punctuation and word choice!), and supported by appropriately detailed textual evidence (i.e. you must CITE THE TEXT to back up your ideas in every support paragraph).  Document your textual support with NA page numbers for works in prose or with the numbering found in works in verse and/or in plays (e.g. canto, act, scene and/or line numbers) in parentheses immediately following the quotation.

A literary analysis mini-essay should engage the primary reading in a way that demonstrates you have thought about the study questions and read the text closely.  Your personal response MUST include citation from the primary text(s) (include appropriate documentation in parentheses following the quotation).  Do NOT quote secondary sources (e.g. text introductions, footnotes, or online readings).  The information they contain is now "yours," and for the purpose of these assignments, you can mention it as relevant to your argument without specific documentation.

The study questions provided for each text are a way to jump-start your thoughts, but you are not required to respond to one of them.  Other possibilities include the following:


Create your MEs using your normal word processor (so that you can use  the spell check and grammar check functions), and using standard practices for a short essay: your name, the date, and the class number and section should appear at the top left, and your essay title should be centered immediately below that information.  Save the document under the filename "[yourlastname]ME1" (or ME2, ME3, etc.).  You will upload this document to the discussion board so that your graded MEs can be easily compared with the first draft of the ME.  

Click on "Add a new discussion topic" to start a new "thread" for each of your MEs.  The SUBJECT LINE for each ME posting must begin with the ME number (ME1, ME2 etc.) followed by a colon and the title of your ME (abbreviated if necessary). The subject line should NOT include your name, since the posting will already be listed as yours.

Click on "attachment" and upload the document "[yourlastname]PR1" for your grader to print out and respond to.

In the "Message" field, use the copy and paste function to post the ME itself exclusive of the personal identifying information and title.  Note that formatting (underlining etc.) may not transfer from your Word Processor, so you will need to proofread your posting carefully and use the formatting tabs in the Discussion Forum as necessary to format your response. Please be aware that there is a limited time window in which you can make changes to your posting, so proofread your posting carefully before you submit it to the Discussion Forum!


MEs revised and submitted for grading will be graded on a 4.0 scale using the usual values (4.3=A+, 4.0 = A, 3.7 = A-, 3.3 = B+, etc.)


Every time MEs are submitted, you are expected to read through ALL the MEs posted by the other members of your discussion group and post brief CRs to two of them. You are in conversation with your classmate, so address her/him by name.  Your classmate responses should consist of at least one thoughtful and substantive paragraph and should address both your classmate's ideas and the text(s) written on, WHICH YOU SHOULD QUOTE AT LEAST ONCE, using a citation which was NOT included in the ME to which you are responding.  You must post two CRs for each ME assignment.

After reading through ALL MEs posted by the other members of your Discussion Forum group, choose the two to which you will be able to respond most substantively and fruitfully.  (This will usually be the MEs which you find strongest / most interesting -- but it might also be one with which you disagree, provided that you do so RESPECTFULLY and that you back up your assertions with textual support.)

Remember: the best CRs are neither mean-spirited nor lazy ("I agree with everything you said").  It's not about criticizing your classmate's thoughts, nor is it about praising them.  The best classmate responses build on your classmate's ideas or offer additional insight into and/or another way of understanding the the issue/work which your classmate wrote about.  Be sure that you address BOTH your classmate's ideas AND your own thoughts about the text (which you should cite at least once, choosing a citation that was NOT quoted by your classmate in the PR to which you are responding).

Note:  Classmate Responses are due by midnight the Monday after the Personal Responses were due; for the specific due dates, see the class Calendar of Assignments.

Both your initial ME postings and your CRs factor into the participation component (rather than the written work component) of your final grade.  Please note however that you will NOT RECEIVE CREDIT FOR YOUR GRADED MES UNLESS YOU HAVE ALSO SUBMITTED ALL REQUIRED ME AND CR POSTINGS.