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Senior Exercises

Senior Exercises (ENGL 405) is a one-credit capstone course English majors take the spring semester of their senior year. Designed to allow graduating seniors to demonstrate their mastery of foundational concepts and skills in the major, English 405 consists of two parts:

  1. Preparation of an e-portfolio
  2. An oral presentation at the Senior Symposium:  for last year's (2016) symposium schedule

The Goals for English Senior Exercises

  • Celebrate the academic accomplishments of our seniors
  • Encourage intellectual dialogue and community across the department
  • Assess the core critical thinking and research skills of the English major

Class meetings are scheduled by the instructor (see schedule below): Spring 2017 instructors are Drs. Lori Askeland and Rick Incorvati.

The E-Portfolio

The Senior E-Portfolio will include the following:

  • A brief (2-3 pages) description of the portfolio, including a list of the English courses you have taken (number, title, semester, professor) and an explanation of why you chose each of the pieces you have included.
  • Vita or resume (we will have a workshop to help you shape this)
  • A paper from an English class that best demonstrates your critical thinking and research skills
  • A paper from an English class that best demonstrates historical and social context skills
    • N.B. You must identify one of the above two papers to represent your close-reading skills. Be sure to identify which one you wish to be assessed on this criterion and which passages you wish the reader to specifically attend to.
  • A paper, preferably from an English class, that best demonstrates your ability to write in varied forms and for varied audiences
  • Letter (2-3 pages) describing the value of the major. This letter can take a variety of forms and can be addressed to a variety of audiences. The following are some examples of the direction you can take in this letter, by addressing it to:
    • a future employer - identify skills and aptitudes acquired in the major
    • a graduate school - identify courses that have prepared you for further study
    • your parents - identify why the English major was the right major for you
    • a prospective English major - identify what they will learn in the major and its value

The portfolio will be submitted and stored electronically for purposes of departmental assessment and for future reference as needed (future letters of recommendation, for instance).

The Senior Symposium

On Friday, April 21, 2017, senior English majors will each give a 20-minute oral presentation based on an essay originally written for one of their 300-level literature classes. The audience for each presentation will be a panel of three Wittenberg English professors, at least two other seniors who are also presenting during their session, and any other Wittenberg students who would like to attend. We assume that all senior English majors will be in attendance at panels other than their own. Majors can earn up to two colloquium credits for attending, one for each session of three presentations attended.

The faculty panel will have a chance to ask questions after the presentation and discuss ideas and reactions with the student presenter before assigning a grade. Although the choice of the essay is up to each student, the English department has set the following guidelines, listed below.

The presentation must:

  • be based on a critical analytic essay (rather than a work of fiction, poetry, journalism, professional writing, or autobiography)
  • pose an arguable thesis about a work of literature
  • include some close attention to specific passages in the literary work that support and illustrate the thesis
  • include at least three scholarly sources discussed within the presentation itself

Frequently Asked Questions:

How do I decide which of my essays to present?
Think of an essay you’ve written in a 300-level literature class at Wittenberg that you have strong feelings about and would enjoy revising and polishing for the Senior Symposium. Your professor’s response to your original essay can help you judge its quality (although the grade on the essay will not be disclosed to the faculty panel at the Senior Symposium). You may decide to present an essay based on a class you’ll be taking the spring semester of your senior year, but keep in mind that the Senior Symposium falls several weeks before the end of the semester (when most research essays are due). You'll meet with the coordinator of 405 to make a final choice on which paper to present.

May I use an essay from a 200-level literature class?
No. We want the Senior Symposium essay to reflect the research and critical thinking skills that develop in upper-division literature classes.

How about a portion of my Honors Project?
Absolutely. But remember that the length of the presentation is only 20 minutes, so you’ll need to present only a portion of your project.

What do I do once I’ve decided on an essay?
The title and abstract will be included in a booklet announcing the topics of the senior presentations as well as their times, locations, and the names of the faculty panel members. Wittenberg English classes will be canceled on the day of the Senior Symposium to accommodate the presentations and allow interested students to attend.

What’s an abstract?
The presentation abstract is a carefully written summary of your essay that captures the main point you want to make about a work of literature and includes a correctly formatted Works Cited page. Although brief (no more than 150 words), the abstract provides a written snapshot of your project for your audience.

Do I just read my essay at the oral presentation?
Probably not. The Senior Symposium is designed along the lines of an academic conference where scholars from various fields share their research. A conference presentation is based on a written text (rather than an outline or series of note cards) but not slavishly tied to that text.  This means that presenters at the Senior Symposium should bring a more or less complete essay to the podium (which helps relieve some performance nervousness). But they should know their manuscripts well enough to look up from the page, make eye contact with their audience, and use voice and body language to make ideas come alive in the room. Think of it as a teaching opportunity, a chance to draw your audience in to the excitement you feel about the text you’re studying. There will be a required run-through of the presentations, and students are encouraged to visit the Oral Communication Center, too.

Will there be accommodations for students with special needs?
Yes. We’ll work with you (and your academic advisor) to make reasonable accommodations for any documented disability.

Can I invite my friends?
Absolutely, your friends are welcome. So are your family members, other faculty, and anyone else you would like to invite.

Will I be the only presenter for my faculty panel?
No. Once we know the topics for the Senior Symposium, we’ll organize presentation groups based on similar themes, national literatures, or literary periods. In most cases, each presentation group will consist of four student presenters, three faculty members, and several other interested students.

What if I fail the oral presentation?
This is very unlikely—given that you’re presenting one of your best essays as an English major—but it could happen. The grade for English 405 is based on the average of the portfolio and the oral presentation. In the oral presentations, each of the three faculty members will fill out a grading rubric and assign a score to each presenter. Those three scores will be averaged to establish the grade for the presentation. That grade will then be averaged with the grade of the portfolio (itself a combination of the smaller pieces within) to establish the final grade for English 405—which will appear as a one-credit letter grade on the student’s transcript. Remember, for every colloquium credit you fall short of the required eight, your 405 grade drops by a third of a letter grade—so get your colloquium credits in before the end of the semester.

Where can I get help with my presentation?
You are required to work with the professor of the course in which you first wrote the essay. In most cases, that professor will be an excellent resource for you as you consider how best to revise and develop your original essay. You may also talk with the coordinator of 405, or any other faculty member you feel comfortable meeting with.

How much revision should I do?
The amount of revision necessary varies by student. In some cases, students will need to revise aggressively to fit a longer essay into the time limit of a 20-minute oral presentation (that translates to a 10-page manuscript). Some students may need to re-stage or reposition the essay’s thesis to make it more accessible to an audience that’s hearing (rather than reading) the essay for the first time. Some may choose to take the end comments of the professor who originally read the essay to heart and strengthen weak points, tighten loose transitions, develop new insights, or refine lumpy prose.

Am I required to meet with the professor for whom I originally wrote this paper?
Yes. Moreover, you are encouraged to meet with your professor before midterm.

Am I required to turn in a copy of my paper?
Yes, you must submit a copy of the paper you plan to read to your 405 professor one week in advance of the actual Symposium (or by the due date the professor sets in the schedule, if that is different).

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