Class Descriptions

You’ll find information about policies and curriculum for my three classes below. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me at nathan.stearns@shorelineschools.org.

  • AP Language and Composition
  • Debate
  • Senior Composition

AP Language and Composition (Syllabus)

Rhetoric

AP Language and Composition is a junior-level class that focuses on rhetoric–how we persuade others. The class culminates in a internationally administered test that includes a multiple choice section and three major essays. Scores on the AP test can give students class credit at their university, depending on that university’s policies. Click here for more information on credit. Click here for more information about the test.

Major Units of Study

These are tentative but typically these are the areas we cover:

  • Introduction to rhetoric–logos, pathos, ethos.
  • Introduction to writing for college–ideas, word choice, sentence fluency, organization, voice, conventions, research.
  • Personal Essay
  • Rhetorical analysis
  • Huckleberry Finn: literature as rhetoric
  • Persuasive speaking
  • Argument writing
  • Research writing: synthetic essay
  • Multiple Choice strategies and skills
  • AP test Prep
  • American playwrights
Ongoing Projects
  • Summer Homework: Students are asked to watch a number of episodes of Michael Sandel’s Justice lectures and write a short essay about their implications.
  • Rhetoric in the wild: Students are asked to attend at least 4 lectures or other persuasive events and relate their observations and analysis to the rest of the class.
  • Semester Nonfiction: During short Mondays (I’m not sure what we’re calling them now), students will read non-fiction works of their choice and prepare a short report and speech for the end of the semester on what they learned.
Home Communication

My goal this year is to do a better job of communicating with families. I aim to create and send a minimum of one e-newsletter every month that will explain what the class is up to and ask for suggestions and ways that parents/guardians can contribute. Soon, I’ll ask students to provide me with email addresses both for them and the ones who are in charge.

Also, my commitment is to contact parents/guardians any time a student has a grade of D or lower. Email is always the best way to reach me, but I’m open to have a face to face communication if that’s the best way to address issues and create plans.

Meditation

One of my primary goals as both and English teacher generally and as a rhetoric teacher specifically has been to help students learn how to focus effectively and think critically. There are a number of way to encourage this: practice, creating calm distraction-free spaces, and encouragement come to mind. However, I’ve often found–for myself–one of the best ways to train my mind is mediation. I don’t need to secret myself away on a zen retreat; 10-15 minutes of quiet focus is usually all I need. So, this year, I want to try a regular practice of short (5 minutes or so) concentration exercises to help students improve their executive function and to reduce anxiety.

If you’re interested in some of the research that has been conducted around mediation and school, please take a look at this study and a few more examples of the literature. Also, Vox has an interesting write-up of the effects here. Please email if you have any questions or concerns about this.

Policies

Technology

I’m a fairly tech-dependent teacher, so I usually require students to have either a school-issued iPad or a personal laptop every day. We often avoid using photocopies articles in favor of online links and most homework never sees a dead tree throughout its life.

On the other hand, I’m pretty strict about how technology is operated in my class. I don’t allow cellphones to be visible at any time before, during, or after class. Similarly, I don’t allow any games to be played at all inside my room. Distraction is a great obstacle in learning and in developing focus, and therefore I try to help create an environment where all students can concentrate. If students have a hard time maintaining separation from devices, I might need to confiscate them for short periods of time.

Tardies and Absences

At Shorewood, the school policy is that after the 9th absence, a formal letter is sent to parents informing them that there is a possibility of a loss of credit. Similarly, my policy is to contact parents have a direct conversation about what needs to happen for the student to receive credit in my class. We’ll create a contract that will spell out the requirements for credit. Let’s all hope that never happens.

Major Projects/Homework

This class uses an 80/20 split when it comes to how grading calculations. Major projects include papers, speeches, quizzes and other important assessments of knowledge and skill. In total, they make up 80% of the grade. Late work is docked 10% for every school day missed. Homework is only accepted on the day it is due and is given full credit if it’s sufficiently fulfills the requirements. Still, because a 0 can completely torpedo a grade, I give 50% credit for missing homework. Students who have an excused absence are responsible for completing the homework and having it ready to go the day they return. All homework instructions are available on this website.

Plagiarism

Copying either the direct words from from professional or student works is a major violation of the school’s honesty policy. Officially, the consequences are for a first violation a 0 on the paper or project. The second violation may result in losing credit for the entire class. This includes re-submitting work done in other classes for this class. In this class, we require all major papers to go through the turnitin.com database for plagiarism detection. Click here for more information on plagiarism.   Click here for more information on Shorewood’s Honesty Policy.

 

Debate

Debate3Class Purpose

This is a valuable, demanding, and energetic class that will enable you to become a better speaker, a better writer, a better listener, and—most importantly—a more active, critical thinker. Your ability to argue and persuade will be enhanced as you strengthen your ability to engage in refined, sophisticated reasoning. Your skills as a researcher will also be developed, allowing you to do well not only in this class but in many other personal and professional arenas as well.

Students will be doing a great deal of writing in this class. In fact, students will be doing as much – if not more – writing and researching than speaking. That being said, public speaking (focus, composure, intellectual flexibility) will be strongly emphasized in the context of individual editorial.

Major Units of Study

This class concentrates on only two debate styles: Public Forum and Lincoln Douglas. Public Forum is a two-on-two debate that argues for or against a resolution that centers on a current event topic (e.g. War in Gaza, Affordable Care Act, Slavery Reparations). Students research and construct prepared speeches while anticipating the opposing lines of attack in order to counter them in cross-examination. Lincoln Douglas debates also involve resolutions, but they are more philosophical in nature (Resolved: Civil disobedience in a democracy is morally justified. (September/October 2013)). Students also engage in one-on-one debate here.

Policies

 Attendance Policy

First off, I don’t take late homework unless the situation is particularly special (e.g. your family moved to Borneo yesterday and “forgot” to bring you along). For larger papers and projects, I subtract 10% off for every day you’re late. When you are absent—excused—it’s your responsibility to find out what the homework was (it’s on my website) and get it to me the next school day. If your absence is unexcused, you get an automatic 0 for the assignment. Students who are tardy more than 10 minutes are considered absent for that class period and if you are absent more than 9 times in a semester (for any reason) you may not receive credit for my class. I also reserve the right to decrease your grade by 10% for every day you are absent over 9 days. Tardies beyond 10 minutes will be considered absences.

Senior Composition

Purpose

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This class has one major purpose: to give you the knowledge, experience, and opportunity to practice skills you need in order to write well in college and beyond. Therefore, this class is probably a bit different from other English classes you’ve taken. We care almost exclusively about writing and what we need to get better at it.

Due Dates

The grading system might be different than what you’re used to. When you give me an essay, I’ll either look at it and ask for changes (almost always when I first read it), or I’ll give it a grade. You can edit and strive for a higher grade up to a specific end date. The final result should be a system that focuses only on what makes you a better writer and avoids the tendency of letting grades rather than artistic vision drive our writing choices.

As for due dates, this semester I’m using a staggered system. You’ll be in either Group A, B, C, D. Your due date will be based on which group you are in and for each day your essay is late you’ll have 10% deducted from the final score.

Major Essays

  1. College Essay: Let me into your fine institution
  2. Definition: What does X really mean? (example)
  3. Persuasion: Rebuttal of an established argument
  4. Reviews: Movie, Books, TV: How good is it and what does it mean?
  5. Research-based:
  6. Event Journalism or Creative Nonfiction (example)

 

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