Position: Halftime Faculty
Institution/Department: Montclair State University, English Department, First-Year Writing Program
Term: Fall 2008, AY 2009-10, AY 2010-11
Student: Undergraduate
No. of Students: 17, 16 (Fall 2008); 15, 16 (Fall 2009); 18, 18 (Fall 2010); 15 (Spring 2011)

Full Course Title: College Writing I: Intellectual Prose, Expository Writing.
Designed and taught with the approval of Montclair State University English/FYW Department.
Syllabus available in PDF format in the image above.


The focus of this course is pop culture and identity: what we claim about ourselves; why we claim what we do; what we disclaim; how we represent ourselves and how we are represented by others; and the significance of these claims and representations.  We will explore identity by questioning assumptions about race, gender, and sexuality as they occur in various media, such as music videos, children’s culture, cyberculture, and film.  Pop culture is a way for us to understand ourselves and the world we live in, and it informs us on a daily basis from childhood to adulthood, on MTV and YouTube, Twitter and other social media, the participatory culture of the Internet, horror movies and their promo posters, and so on.  As such, you will be asked to observe the media around you and note how it is contextualized and constructed, and examine—in writing—the influence of such media on us with regards to individual and collective identity.  Course readings will examine identity constructs in different types of media.  Each unit consists of a series of class activities and reading and writing exercises that will better prepare you to write college-level essays.  Our emphasis will be on the writing process itself: pre-writing, drafting, and revising.

As stated on their website, Montclair State University’s basic curriculum proposes a workshop course intended to develop thinking and writing abilities through frequent writing assignments based on critical response to intellectually challenging questions.  Emphasis  is on the writing process—prewriting, drafting, revising, utilizing peer-to-peer feedback in workshops as well as teacher critique, editing, and proofreading.  The department requires a minimum of five essays, including an extensive documented essay that requires research and facility with MLA citation.  Evaluation is partly based on a portfolio of revised writing.


The department asks for five essays but allows the instructor to select the readings and design the assignments and prompts building up to each of those essays.  This was my first opportunity to freely design each of my essay progressions and incorporate material beyond the required textbook, and I thoroughly enjoyed crafting the curriculum and teaching the course.  My courses focused on race and gender portrayals in popular culture.  My essay units ranged from children’s culture, such as animation and toys; music video interpretations; participatory culture; and Internet culture. and horror film.  I had students analyze scenes and videos in class, play through segments of Ecco the Dolphin and I Wanna Be the Guy, and analyze Internet subcultures in light of politics, sociology, and interactionism.

Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog”

Prodigy: Smack My Bitch Up

Juvenile: Get Ya Hustle On

Gamification of discourse and Anonymous culture on 4chan

For the Documented Essay, MSU’s moniker for the research writing component of the course, I modified some of my curriculum from the Undergraduate Writing Program at Columbia University: the class read a “seed text,” in this case J. Cohen’s “Monster Culture,” and students then independently selected an exhibit—a particular film from a shortlist I provided—and branched out from the central text by looking for argument sources, background information, and sources that provided a method of analysis or examination.  The shortlist was updated each year, as newer films were released, and for students who were squeamish I included films like The MatrixJurassic ParkeXistenZ, and District 9.


Jurassic Park

The learning objectives of the specific essay progressions I designed were to compel students to think critically about popular culture, as they are constantly inundated by objects of pop culture: advertising, MTV and music videos on YouTube, film, and children’s culture, such as Disney, which as a cultural disseminator and purveyor of innocence is particularly untouchable.  My goal is to teach them to think critically about the objects and influences in their lives that might seem sacred, untouchable, or unworthy of analysis: Disney and Hollywood, news corporations, the ordinariness of logging onto Facebook or using Google.  Each of these (transparent) constructs orders our way of thinking, and even if my students leave my classroom and never write another word, unlikely as that is, they will at least leave with the ability to reflect on the world.  This reflects on my philosophy that writing is only one of the skills that students acquire in Composition & Rhetoric; they also leave with the ability to think, reflect, and edit.  In short, the revision process models thinking as well: just as writing is never done, observing and thinking is never finished either.


I taught this course multiple times at MSU, and it was a pleasure every time.  I learned how to incorporate interactive elements into my classroom time, such as class gaming, and I also experimented with using Blackboard as a supplement to classroom discussion by having students write and upload “second-time-around” workshop feedback on their peers’ middle drafts.  I also experimented with multimedia resources in the classroom, such as using a projector to illustrate revision: that is, I projected both a creative piece I was drafting and used Track Changes to concretize my writing process for the students.  Students not only produced drafts analyzing exhibits (more or less) of their choosing, but also were asked to reshape their ways of looking at the world.


If I were to go back and do anything differently, I think I would encourage student participation via digital media in the classroom, particularly during the progression on Internet culture.  Collaborative feedback delivered in both written comments and Tweets with hashtags particular to each workshop group, for instance, could benefit the entire class; it may also give writers a sense of a larger audience.  Also, while perhaps unfeasible, I wish I had allowed more room for culture jamming and creative work in their final portfolio materials, in addition to their revisions, earlier drafts, and outside academic work.

For more on what goes into a portfolio, refer to ENGLC1010.

Creative Commons License
This work by V. Manivannan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.