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WR 101: Syllabus

The first day of class is often the most boring, as far as I’m concerned. Yup. Syllabus day.

Here at VMI, that means reading every word of the Syllabus out loud to my students – and, more importantly, the Work for Grade policy. Needless-to-say, this day is no where near as fun as some others. Like next Tuesday, when I will talk with my students about fantasy and science fiction (post about this soon!).

The two main courses that I teach, WR 101 and 102,share a syllabus, course goals and textbook regardless of instructor, although the individual assignments and essays we teach are up to us. In 101, our course description and goals are as follows:

In WR 101, you will study the fundamental principles of rhetoric, develop the ability to think, read, and write critically, and refine your writing strategies and behaviors.  You will be introduced to writing as a process, including such essential practices as invention, arrangement, and revision.  You will write primarily expository essays to practice advancing ideas logically to a particular audience for a specific occasion to achieve a clear purpose.  By defining these elements of the rhetorical situation for writing, you will cultivate a clear voice and presence in your writing as you strive to communicate your ideas to others.

As part of the core curriculum, first-year composition courses encourage active learning and are conducted as writing workshops in which you will regularly meet in small groups to discuss and respond in writing to challenging readings, as well as drafts of one another’s essays.  In addition to participating in these workshops, you will frequently meet with the instructor in individual conferences to discuss your writing at various stages of the drafting process.  Such training helps prepare you not only for successful academic and professional lives but also for full participation in your lives as educated citizens.

The goals of the first-year composition sequence are:

  • Analyze the audience, occasion, and purpose of a rhetorical situation in order to formulate a response to an idea or problem.
  • Generate ideas through both discovery and consultation of a variety of sources.
  • Develop ideas fully, offering compelling support and evidence for assertions or conclusions.
  • Organize ideas coherently, integrating sources effectively and documenting them appropriately.
  • Edit writing for clarity, precision, and stylistic effectiveness.
  • Proofread writing to ensure grammatical and mechanical correctness.

After explaining (and reading) this information to my students today, I then shifted into a discussion of an Institute policy: the Work for Grade policy.

At VMI, the Honor Code is very simple:

“A cadet shall not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do.”

Things are never as black and white as they might seem, however, and since VMI operates under a “one strike and you’re out” system, the faculty has adopted an academic policy to help explain and abide by this Honor Code. I will include it here for anyone interested, since my own course must fall under these boundaries and within these rules. (Plus, I just read this four times in one day – I feel like sharing).


VMI Work for Grade Policy, 2012:


Development of the spirit as well as the skills of academic inquiry is central to the mission of VMI’s Academic Program. As a community of scholars, posing questions and seeking answers, we invariably consult and build upon the ideas, discoveries, and products of others who have wrestled with related issues and problems before us. We are obligated ethically and in many instances legally to acknowledge the sources of all borrowed material that we use in our own work. This is the case whether we find that material in conventional resources, such as the library or cyberspace, or discover it in other places like conversation with our peers.

Academic integrity requires the full and proper documentation of any material that is not original with us. It is therefore a matter of honor. To misrepresent someone else’s words, ideas, images, data, or other intellectual property as one’s own is stealing, lying, and cheating all at once.

Because the offense of improper or incomplete documentation is so serious, and the consequences so potentially grave, the following polices regarding work for grade have been adopted as a guide to cadets and faculty in upholding the Honor Code under which all VMI cadets live.

A Cadet’s Responsibility:

Work for grade” is defined as any work presented to an instructor for a formal grade or undertaken in satisfaction of a requirement for successful completion of a course or degree requirement. All work submitted for grade is considered the cadet’s own work. “Cadet’s own work” means that he or she has composed the work from his or her general accumulation of knowledge and skill except as clearly and fully documented and that it has been composed especially for the current assignment. No work previously submitted in any course at VMI or elsewhere will be resubmitted or reformatted for submission in a current course without the specific approval of the instructor.

In all work for grade, failure to distinguish between the cadet’s own work and ideas and the work and ideas of others is known as plagiarism. Proper documentation clearly and fully identifies the sources of all borrowed ideas, quotations, or other assistance. The cadet is referred to the VMI authorized handbook for rules concerning quotations, paraphrases, and documentation.

In all written work for grade, the cadet must include the words “HELP RECEIVED” conspicuously on the document, and he or she must then do one of two things: (1) state “none,” meaning that no help was received except as documented in the work; or (2) explain in detail the nature of the help received. In oral work for grade, the cadet must make the same declaration before beginning the presentation. Admission of help received may result in a lower grade but will not result in prosecution for an honor violation.

Cadets are prohibited from discussing the contents of a quiz/exam until it is returned to them or final course grades are posted. This enjoinder does not imply that any inadvertent expression or behavior that might indicate one’s feeling about the test should be considered a breach of honor. The real issue is whether cadets received information, not available to everyone else in the class, which would give them an unfair advantage. If a cadet inadvertently gives or receives information, the incident must be reported to the professor and the Honor Court.

Each cadet bears the responsibility for familiarizing himself or herself thoroughly with the policies stated in this section, with any supplementary statement regarding work for grade expressed by the academic department in which he or she is taking a course, and with any special conditions provided in writing by the professor for a given assignment. If there is any doubt or uncertainty about the correct interpretation of a policy, the cadet should consult the instructor of the course.  There should be no confusion, however, on the basic principle that it is never acceptable to submit someone else’s work, written or otherwise, formally graded or not, as one’s own.

The violation by a cadet of any of these policies will, if he or she is found guilty by the Honor Court, result in his or her being dismissed from VMI. Neither ignorance nor professed confusion about the correct interpretation of these policies is an excuse.


Department of English and Fine Arts Statement of Policy Concerning Work For Grade:

The following points apply to work done for courses taught in the Department of English and Fine Arts:

  1. 1.     Tutoring

Unless directed otherwise in writing by the instructor, Cadets may receive critical comments* from tutors on written assignments provided they explain the exact nature of this assistance in their Help Received statements. Cadets may seek assistance from tutors in both understanding course material and preparing for tests, and they do not need to cite this help in their Help Received Statements.

  1. 2.     Peer Collaboration

Unless directed otherwise in writing by the instructor, Cadets may receive critical comments* from peers on written assignments provided they explain the exact nature of their assistance in their Help Received statement. Cadets may seek assistance from peers in both understanding course material and preparing for tests, and they do not need to cite this help in their Help Received Statements.

  1. 3.     Computer Aids

Cadets may use electronic spelling, style, and grammar checkers, and they do not have to cite this assistance in their Help Received statements.

  1. 4.     Documentation Format

Cadets must use the MLA (Modern Language Association) documentation format when writing essays for courses in this department.

*Definitions from the VMI Work for Grade Policy:

“Offering critical comments means giving general advice on such matters as organization, thesis development, support for assertions, and patterns of error. It does not include proofreading or editing.

Proofreading means correct errors (e.g., in spelling, grammar, and punctuation). It is the last step taken by the writing in the editing process. It addition to the corrections made in proofreading, editing includes making such changes as the addition, deletion, or reordering of paragraphs, phrases, sentences, or words. A cadet may not have his or her work proofread or edited by someone other than the instructor.”

This last part has been a bit challenging as a teacher, but the idea behind it is solid: our students should learn to proofread correctly on their own, without relying on others to do it for them.  For me, this final clause means that my students can’t let someone else proofread their essays (except me, of course), but if they want to have someone teach them about a common splice, sentence fragments, or there/their/they’re etc., that is fine by me. As long as they are learning skills they can utilize next time and making the physical changes themselves, I believe my students fall well within this policy.

Now … the next post will be more fun! (In the same way our next class meeting will be more fun – with a lot less me talking).

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