Author: Ben Rifkin
Description: Professor Ben Rifkin introduces goals for his course and the writing assignments specifically tailored to help students learn the subject matter of the course. The writing assignments include drafts, revisions, a cover letter, a WebCT page, peer review, library instruction, and a conference with the professor. Students are divided into two "tracks": the "Moscow track" and the "Petersburg track."

*As you read, please note that Professor Rifkin has offered thoughtful commentary throughout this syllabus. His comments are in grey.

Comm-B Literature in Translation 236 Syllabus

Literature in Translation 236: Spring 2000
Contemporary Russian Literature and Film
Professor Benjamin Rifkin

This course is a Communication-B course. The prerequisite for the course is successful completion of or exemption from a Communications A course.

No knowledge of Russian is required for this course. All readings are in English; all films are subtitled.

This course is a web-based course. You will HAVE to use the web to complete your daily question quizzes and for peer-editing work. Access our course through the web site:
https://uwmad.courses.wisc.edu/SCRIPT/littrans236_001_sp00/scripts/ serve_home

OR

webct.wisc.edu

click on course listings, spring 2000, Literature in Translation 236

Instructor Comment: I used WebCT's quizzing feature to set up a quiz for each class session. The quiz consisted of multiple choice questions on the reading or viewing assigned for each class session. Each quiz was accessible for students for the 24-hour period prior to the given class session; moreover, the quiz could be taken only for 8 minutes (preventing students from looking up answers while taking the quiz.) The quiz did not give the students' their score until after the students completed the entire quiz; they could only take each quiz once. The questions were designed to be very easy as long as the students had read the text or watched the film in question; typical questions asked about the names of major characters, the nature of the primary conflict in the plot, an important or pivotal scene in the narrative, and something about how the story or movie ended. Students had to get the majority of questions correct in order to get credit for the quiz. Students had to get a certain percentage of the quizzes credited for their course grade. The purpose of this quizzing was to ensure that most of the students had done the reading or viewing for each class session; at first, the students balked at the WebCT quizzes and felt that they were being treated without respect. Within two weeks from the start of the semester, they realized that the WebCT quizzes were easy if they had done the assignment and –lo and behold! – more of the students were coming to class prepared to DISCUSS the assignments than in other classes they had taken. The discussions in class were much better than they had been the previous year because of the quizzing.

Course Description: Students in this course will read a wide range of literary and critical texts and view films from before, during and after the Perestroika Era (1985-1991) in Russia in order to gain an understanding of Russian cultural history and trends during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The cultural texts of this period consist of texts written long ago but buried in the more repressive periods of Soviet rule, texts created more recently that led to the exile of their writers, texts written exclusively “for the drawer” (not intended for publication), current texts by writers who achieved prominence in the “era of stagnation” (the period preceding the Perestroika era), and texts created by writers who first achieved prominence in the Perestroika era itself. The texts of the Perestroika era grew out of a reaction to the dictates of socialist realism; many of the texts feature violence, a focus on physiological details, the use of vulgar language, a focus on the inner world of human experience, the scrambling of time and space that “decenters” narratives, emphasis of the ironic, adventures in the fantastic and absurd, and moral ambiguities. Class discussion will explore these and other traits of cultural texts of the period in order to explore the recent history of Russia and possibilities for its future, while comparing Russian cultural trends with the development of culture in the US. Many of the texts are written by individuals or feature characters who have not traditionally figured centrally in Soviet prose before Perestroika, including women, Jews, and homosexuals. In class discussions students will consider these new perspectives as an important phenomenon in contemporary prose fiction.

Course Goals: The course will focus on the development of critical reading and writing skills. Students will write two short analytical papers (5-7 pages each) and a research paper (8-10 pages) with a prospectus and an oral presentation. All the papers will have required polished drafts which will be reviewed by the writing fellow, by a peer review committee, and by the professor. In addition, the class will feature writing activities conducted during class meetings to draw students’ attention to the writing and revising process. The writing assignments will be an integral part of the course,a primary means by which students will learn about the culture and chaos of contemporary Russia. Writing assignments will build on the skills students developed in the Communications A course and will help prepare students for more challenging writing courses in their major fields of study. Students will be required to attend an individual conference with the instructor at least once during the semester to discuss progress in the development of writing skills; conferences will be held after the submission of the the first paper. Students will write responses to daily questions on the reading (a kind of “mini-quiz”) to encourage reading of the assigned texts in accordance with the syllabus. Daily questions are accessible ONLY on our WebCT website (see URL above); they become available at 12:05 pm on the day preceding the class for the given reading and they become unavailable again at 11:55 am on the given class day. You have only 8 minutes to complete each daily question “quiz.” Spelling and punctuation do NOT count for these quizzes; I’m just looking for proof that you have completed your assignment. You must complete these quizzes by yourself without referring to anyone else or any books or notes for help. If you spend more than 8 minutes on the assignment, the computer will report this and you will NOT get credit for the daily question.

Course Readings: Many of the assigned readings will be in either the Glasnost anthology or in a coursepack (see below). Students will be required to read Russian Talk: Culture of Conversation during Perestroika by Ries (see below). The MLA Handbook is the required source for documentation and formatting. Students are recommended to consult Rules for Writing by Hacker (see below).

Course Reading Texts:
Coursepack of Readings. Available for purchase ($11.78 incl. tax) at Social Science Copy Center (Social Sci. Bldg.) and on reserve at College Library (call number RB LITTRANS 236 1)
Glasnost: An Anthology of Russian Literature under Gorbachev, ed. Goscilo and Lindsey. Available for purchase at University Book Store.Rules for Writing, by Hacker. Available for purchase at University Book Store as a recommended text.
Russian Talk: Culture of Conversation during Perestroika, Ries. Available for purchase at University Book Store as a recommended text (also available on reserve at College Library, call number P 35.5 S65 R54 1997.)

All items on reserve at College Library are on 3-hour reserve!

Instructor Comment: Unfortunately, students complained that they couldn't get the items on reserve because other students took them out overnight or over the weekend. I encourage students to buy the coursepack and the anthology, as we use those readings quite a bit.

Course Viewings: The films assigned for viewing are all available in the Media Library of Learning Support Services (2nd floor of Van Hise Hall) and may be viewed there without charge; videos in the Media Library do not circulate and students should plan to view films there during the week as the Media Library closes early on Friday afternoons and is closed all weekend. Each of the assigned films will be put on reserve for one week prior to the date on which we will discuss it in class. This means that even instructors won't be able to check the films out during that period. If you go to the Media Library to see a film and you are told it is not available, it means that someone else -- probably from our class -- is currently viewing the film in the Media Library. Please join your classmate(s) at that time and view the film with him/her/them! Some of the films assigned may be available in video rental stores, but plan carefully since most stores that have copies of some of these films may only have one copy. Students are encouraged to view the films together in groups, whether in the Media Library or at some other location with a rented videotape. In some weeks, two films are listed for viewing. In those weeks, students will be assigned to watch one or the other of the two films and to prepare a discussion about the film they have seen with a partner who hasn’t seen that film.

Instructor Comment: It was difficult to work with films that were not available for video rental. Students did not want to view the films in LSS, but in many cases that was their only option. In the future I may try to work with some of the video rental stores in the downtown area to see if I can encourage them to purchase some of the films I will show in the course.

Course Assignments: Students will elect or be assigned to one of two groups, the “Moscow Group” or the “Petersburg Group” for those reading or viewing assignments that are split (i.e., half the class reads one text or watches one film, while the other half the class reads another text or watches a different film.)

Graded Writing Assignments

First Paper: Consider Katerina Clark’s notion of the master plot of the socialist realist novel and the examples of socialist realism we have read and viewed in the class. Write a paper of 5-7 pages in length elucidating the master plot of a North American cultural genre, setting forth your own principles for the master plot of a work of this genre in North American culture. For instance, you might look at the genre of “teen dramas” or “legal suspense novels,” in which case you could provide examples from Melrose Place, Felicity, and Dawson’s Creek or The Client (John Grisham), Reasonable Doubt (Philip Friedman) and Personal Injuries (Scott Turow). In any event, you must provide examples from at least two, and preferably three, different texts from the genre to support your argument. It is preferable to draw your examples from the works of different authors or directors to support your argument. Be sure to read the sample papers in your coursepack.

Instructor Comment: This assignment worked very well for most students. By the time we got to this assignment, they understood the notion of the master plot. Students were very pleased to have sample papers from previous years in their coursepack. I have gotten some of the most creative papers I have ever read for this assignment. (I ran the same assignment in 1999.) My goal for this assignment was to get students thinking analytically about plot and to have them write a paper in which they worked form a given thesis statement ("XXXX is a kind of masterplot in North American Culture.") From the thesis statement, I wanted them to craft an argument, drawing on examples from material they knew well and, presumably, enjoyed. Student response was very positive: this was a creative assignment for them and they got to write about things they enjoyed, from science fiction films of the 50s to soap operas, while constructing a well-supported argument. As a first step in the writing agenda of the course, it worked well because they were beginning the work on writing from an area in which they were experts (the subject matter they selected.)

Second Paper: Write a 5-7 page paper explaining how one of the texts we’ve read or films we’ve seen from week 6 or later fits into the ideas described by Ries in Russian Talk: Culture and Conversation during Perestroika and how elements of the text are characteristic of Russian culture and “Russianness” as defined by Ries for the Perestroika era.

Instructor Comment: This assignment was more challenging for the students because it was more analytical than the first one. In the future, I'd like to spend more time working on how to structure an argument before analyzing some sample papers from previous courses in the coursepack. The goal of this assignment was to get students to structure in argument in the subject area of the course, building on the rhetoric skills they built in the previous assignment.

Research Paper: Write a 10-page paper exploring how a text we have not discussed in class meets or fails to meet the criteria for “perestroika literature” described by Goscilo in the introduction to the Glasnost Anthology. (These criteria are cited below in this syllabus packet.) You may choose texts for this paper from the Glasnost Anthology (choosing only from texts we have not discussed in class), a Russian film, or a text from one of a number of other anthologies listed here (all of which are on reserve at the library, boldfaced numbers are the call numbers for College Library Reserves):

Immortal Love. Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. Tr. Sally Laird. London: Virago, 1988, 1995. PB 3485 E72 B3713 1995.
Lives in Transit: A Collection of Recent Russian Women’s Writing. Ed. Helena Goscilo. Dana Point, CA: Ardis, 1995. PG 3213 L58 1995.
Out of the Blue: Russia’s Hidden Gay Literature. [Only texts from Part IV, “Gay Life Reborn in the New Russia” may be considered for this paper.] Ed. Kevin Moss. San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press, 1997. PG 3205 H65 094 1996.
The Penguin Book of New Russian Writing. Ed. Victor Erofeyev. London: Penguin Books, 1995. PG 3266 P454 1995.
The Talisman and Other Stories. Viktoria Tokareva. Tr. Rosamund Bartlett. London: Picadore, 1993. PG 3489 O414 A22 1993
The Times of Turmoil. Tr. Arkady Yanishevsky. Compiled by Inna Broude. Tenafly, NJ: Hermitage Publishers, 1993. PG 3277 T56 1993.

You must clear your selection of text(s) with the instructor in the paper prospectus. Some of the texts in these and the anthologies we are using in class are quite short and would not, by themselves, provide enough “data” for you to write your paper, so you would have to use more than one short text. You must also prepare a 7 minute presentation of your paper for class discussion the last week of classes. Your paper and presentation should refer to the critical texts we have read this semester (including Eagle, Goscilo, Lawton, Ries) and to at least 3 articles in the English-language Russian press (regarding cultural context) or scholarly journals, such as Russian Review, Slavic and East European Journal, or Slavic Review (regarding issues of interpretation or authorial background). We will hold one class session in the library in order to acquaint students with these resources (see syllabus). Students will be required to make references to these articles in the research paper and presentation in accordance with the formal system for citation and reference presented in class (MLA Documentation).

Instructor Comment: In 1999 I ran the course with an open research paper assignment; in other words, in 1999 students could pick their own research topic. The results were disastrous and I had to assign a topic for about 30% of the students in the class. The students just didn't have enough sense to start working on the paper well in advance of the first deadline and didn’t have enough sophistication to think about narrowing their topic quickly enough. The revised assignment for Spring 2000 worked better in that it focused their attention on a thesis statement without requiring them to come up with the thesis statement. I had a much higher success rate in 2000 in terms of students' ability to identify an appropriate text and structure an argument using critical texts and resources as defined above. The goal of this assignment was twofold: (1) for students to write a research paper with a well-defined thesis statement and argument supported by evidence of their choosing from texts they selected; and (2) for students to give an oral presentation based on their written paper. All the previous writing assignments and in-class writing exercises built to this assignment (which was the summary assignment for the course – i.e., no final exam.)

Course Grade:


Papers 1-2: 30%
Prospectus for Research Paper: 10%
Research Paper: 30%
Class Presentation (based on research paper): 10%
Daily Questions (WebCT Quiz): 10%
Class Participation: 10%


Class participation will be graded on a daily basis as follows: 5 points for present, on time and fully prepared (including credit for the WebCT quiz); 4 points for present, on time, and partially prepared (may or may not include a correct response to the daily question); 3 points for present, on time, and unprepared (incorrect or no response to the daily question); 0 points for absent. Lateness to class will be penalized by one point for class participation. If you know that you will have to miss class on a day that an assignment is due, hand it in in advance of the class session (or turn it in with a classmate) and you will earn 1 point for class participation that day AND you will incur no penalty for the assignment.

Instructor Comment: Note that the WebCT quiz scores are counted twice in the course grade, once under daily questions (10%) and once under class participation (students couldn't get full credit for class participation if they didn't get the quiz credit.) This really helped improve the quality of discussion because I had virtually 100% of the students participating in every class discussion.

Grading scales for each paper are appended to the syllabus. Note that there are late penalties for each day a paper is late to any deadline (in any stage!) and there is a late penalty for missing your writing conferences with the writing fellow or the professor.

Instructor Comment: It was very useful to spell out late penalties in advance. I had higher rates of timely submission than in the past and I had no quibbling with students who submitted their papers late.

Class participation will be graded on a daily basis as follows: 5 points for present, on time and fully prepared (including credit for the WebCT quiz); 4 points for present, on time, and partially prepared (may or may not include a correct response to the daily question); 3 points for present, on time, and unprepared (incorrect or no response to the daily question); 0 points for absent. Lateness to class will be penalized by one point for class participation. If you know that you will have to miss class on a day that an assignment is due, hand it in in advance of the class session (or turn it in with a classmate) and you will earn 1 point for class participation that day AND you will incur no penalty for the assignment.

Instructor Comment: Note that the WebCT quiz scores are counted twice in the course grade, once under daily questions (10%) and once under class participation (students couldn't get full credit for class participation if they didn't get the quiz credit.) This really helped improve the quality of discussion because I had virtually 100% of the students participating in every class discussion.

Grading scales for each paper are appended to the syllabus. Note that there are late penalties for each day a paper is late to any deadline (in any stage!) and there is a late penalty for missing your writing conferences with the writing fellow or the professor.

Instructor Comment: It was very useful to spell out late penalties in advance. I had higher rates of timely submission than in the past and I had no quibbling with students who submitted their papers late.



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