Critical Methods Assessment (Coursework Sample)
What is a portfolio?
A portfolio is just a collection of exercises rather than one single essay. You don't need to present it or bind it in any particularly special way. You should just combine all exercises into one computer file and upload it via blackboard, by following the ‘assignments' link.
The elements of the portfolio:
- Essay evaluation exercise (300 words)
- Research and referencing exercise (equivalent of 100 words)
- Bibliographic exercise (300 words)
- Dictionary exercise (300 words)
1. Essay evaluation exercise.
This part of the portfolio tests a number of things:
* your ability to use blackboard
* your awareness of the main elements of an essay
* your understanding of what is rewarded in English essay writing
There are three parts to this exercise:
a) First, you need to locate the student essays which I have put in blackboard. You can find this by going to: http://www(dot)ble(dot)ac(dot)uk. Inside you should find links to your modules. Click on ‘critical methods'. You will find the essays under ‘learning materials', in folder marked ‘student essays'.
b) You will also need to find the department's marking criteria. These are on p. 49-50 of your course handbook.
c)I would like you to read all these essays and to choose one to mark. You should write 300 words which compares the essay you have chosen against the marking criteria. You can assign a grade if you like, but the main thing is to try to evaluate the different elements of the essay, considering what is most successful as you go. Don't worry if you don't know about the subject of the essay. You are not expected to engage with the content of these pieces but instead to consider form, style and argument.
All these essays are presented exactly in the form that the students submitted them; no changes have been made. They are given to you not as blueprints for you to imitate, but rather as pieces of writing for your evaluation. I hope that you can see what is successful in them but also what could have been done differently.
Bibliography on essays and essay writing:
Fabb, Nigel and Durant, Alan, How to Write Essays, Dissertations and Theses in Literary Studies (Harlow: Longman, 1993).
Greetham, Bryan, How to Write Better Essays (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001).
Orwell, George, Essays (London: Penguin Classics, 2000), see especially ‘Politics and the English Language'. You can also find this essay on-line:
Stott, Rebecca, Anna Snaith and Rick Rylance, eds, Making Your Case: A Practical Guide to Essay Writing (Harlow: Longman, 2001).
Turley, Richard Marggraf, Writing Essays: A Guide for Students in English and the Humanities (London: Routledge, 2000).
And a handful of other historical essay writers to investigate: Francis Bacon, Michel de Montaigne, Jonathan Swift, Virginia Woolf.
2. Research and referencing exercise.
This part of the portfolio is designed to test:
* your ability to find and use online bibliographic databases / journal collections.
* your ability to present your research in a way which conforms to scholarly conventions.
There are three parts to this exercise:
a) first, you need to perform a ‘literature search'. This is a search to see what secondary criticism is available on a particular topic. For this exercise you should do your literature search on either MLA or JSTOR. To find out what these resources are and how to find and use them, you should refer to the guide ‘Using the MLA and JSTOR', which is appendix 1 here. The topic of your literature search is up to you, although it should be a literary one. You could choose a text which you are working on for one of your other modules, or just a text that interests you. You should include a page of your literature search in your portfolio, instructions are in appendix 1.
b) secondly, you should take three of the references from your search results and reorganize them, presenting them as you would for footnotes in an essay.
c) thirdly, you should take one of those references and present it as you would in your bibliography at the end of the essay.
Details of the style of presentation required for b) and c) can be found in the first-year course booklet (pages 40-45). You should use as many words as you need for this exercise; however many you use, this exercise is considered to be equivalent to 100 words.
Part of this week's work is to complete the Avoiding plagiarism module on-line. Please see appendix 3 attached for further information.
Bibliography on referencing and plagiarism:
MHRA Style Guide (London: Modern Humanities Research Association, 2002) This is really interesting and will give you a very clear sense of the precision that is demanded in professional writing.
Wolff, Tobias, Old School (London: Bloomsbury, 2005). A brilliant and short novel about writing, plagiarism and literary influence.
Two recent plagiarism cases:
‘Media Doctor Hit with Suspension', . There is a 4 minute audio file on this page to which you should listen.
Zhou, David, ‘Student's Novel Faces Plagiarism Controversy', Harvard Crimson, April 23 2006. < http://www(dot)thecrimson(dot)com/article.aspx?ref=512948>
3. Dictionary exercise
This part of the portfolio is designed to test:
* Your ability to find and use the Oxford English Dictionary
* Your awareness of the historical contingency of language
Below are a number of five word lists. You should choose one of these lists.
There are then two parts to this exercise:
a) first, find and access the Oxford English Dictionary and look up the words in the list that you have chosen. To find out how to do this you should refer to the guide ‘Using the OED', which is appendix 2 here. You should include one page of your search with your portfolio, see appendix 2 for instructions.
b) secondly, you should write a commentary of not more than 300 words on what you have discovered from the OED about the words in your list. You should compare and contrast words within your list. You don't have to consider them all necessarily, but ask in what ways they might inform us about language change.
The third lecture: ‘Words: their history and politics' may also give you some starting points for this task.
Word lists (choose just one of the following):
A) chocolate (n.), coffee (n.), sherbet (n.), tea (n.), marmalade (n.), candy (n.1).
B) harlot (n.), shrew (n.), gossip (n.), bawd (n.1), slag (n.1), spinster.
C) pretty (a.), sad (a.), happy (a.), lewd (a.), trivial (a.), kind (a.).
D) prestige (n.), bachelor (n.), dunce (n.), holocaust (n.), shambles (n.).
E) drench (v.), appal (v.), transpire (v.), glance (v.), want (v.), starve (v.).
Connor, Steven, ‘Writing the Lives of Words', . A lecture from our own Steven Connor on the OED and words.
Winchester, Simon, The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Oxford English Dictionary (London: Penguin, 1998).
Johnson, Samuel, A Dictionary of the English Language (London: Times, 1983). Have a look at the preface in particular.
Look at lots of different old dictionaries at British Library, ‘Dictionaries and Meanings', http://www(dot)bl(dot)uk/learning/langlit/dic/meanings.html
4. Bibliographic exercise
This part of the portfolio is designed to test:
* your awareness of the importance of the material form and appearance of books.
* the literary market and the way that books are branded and sold.
For this exercise you should choose an interesting looking book from the library or from your home. In not more than 300 words you should consider how the book's material form affects your expectations about its contents. Don't just describe your book, reflect instead about how the physical form is part of a marketing strategy, designed to connect up a book and a potential audience. How are particular authors and topics packaged and ‘branded'? How does the book physical form relate to its genre, its subject and its cultural place?
The first lecture: ‘What is a book?' will give you some help with this task.
Some further reading on the history of the book:
Eliot, Simon and Rose, Jonathan (eds.), A Companion to the History of the Book (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007). [available in the Senate House library]
Finkelstein, Daniel and McCleery, Alistair (eds.), A Book History Reader, 2nd edn (New York: Routledge, 2006).
Finkelstein, Daniel and McCleery, Alistair, An Introduction to Book History (New York: Routledge, 2005). [available in the Senate House library]
Fraser, Robert and Hammond, Mary, Books without Borders (New York: Palgrave, 2008). [available in the Senate House library]
Fraser, Robert, Book History through Postcolonial Eyes: Rewriting the Script (New York: Routledge, 2008) [available in the Senate House library]
Squires, Claire, Marketing Literature: The Making of Contemporary Writing in Britain (New York: Palgrave, 2007). [available in the Senate House library]
Appendix 1: Using the MLA and JSTOR
Doing a literature search:
This is a very important research skill which will allow you to create your own research bibliographies and to follow your own interests when researching and writing essays. You should experiment with search terms in order to get the most relevant references. You can do a search on any library catalogue or bibliographic database.
The MLA (Modern Language Association of America) database is a bibliographic database which you can search to find the publication details of articles and books that have been written on any literary subject. JSTOR (Journal storage) is one of a number organizations which provide an archive of journals which you can read online. Both of these will help you to access secondary critical work on literary subjects.
The MLA will give you the information you need to find a particular article in the library; JSTOR will actually let you read and print out the text of the articles it lists.
The MLA bibliography. This is a resource which is peculiar to English literary studies. It is provided through the Literature Online web resource (LION) which does other things too. For example, it can give you the full text of literature which is outside of copyright and it can give you a good deal of information about authors, many of which have their own individual pages. Explore. Try for example putting the following into the search box on the MLA site: ‘Tennyson break break break'.
You can search the MLA bibliography for secondary criticism on particular subjects. You could use an author's name, the title of a literary work and / or a particular theme as search terms. You can limit your results so that you just get articles (for example). Experiment using different search terms. Because it is so comprehensive you will find that the MLA will list more items than you will have access to via the Birkbeck and Senate House libraries. You shouldn't feel that you have to read everything available on a particular topic; select those things that particularly interest you and to which you have ready access.
JSTOR is also used by researchers in other subjects as it contains journals from all disciplines. Try using the ‘advanced search' form rather than the basic one. That way you can limit your search results to full articles, excluding less substantial things like book reviews and conference announcements.
Try the following advanced search:
In the first box put ‘Gerard Manley Hopkins'. In the second put ‘Windhover'. Below the search boxes tick the box marked ‘article' and, below that, narrow the dates to 1985-2008 to get the most recent work.
There is help and information on both sites to assist you with your searches.
How to include a page of your search in your portfolio for submission:
You should be able to include an image of the first page of your search within your portfolio document by using a screengrab tool (these are free to download on the internet). I use: http://www(dot)screengrab(dot)org This will look like this:
Where to get further help:
If you find these resources difficult to access or use you should get in touch with your personal tutor, me or one of the librarians who will be able to help you. Also have a look at this website which gives you information on where you can get help in the library: http://www(dot)bbk(dot)ac(dot)uk/lib/life/wheregethelp/
Appendix 2. Using the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) on-line
1. What is the OED?
The OED is the best place to begin looking at words, what they mean, where they come from and how they've changed over time. You will find it an invaluable resource throughout your English degree. It is not to be confused with any other dictionary like, for example, the Shorter Oxford Dictionary or the Concise Oxford Dictionary; the OED is a different and much more powerful resource.
*No other dictionary will suffice for the portfolio exercise.*
Although there is a hard copy in the library, the on-line version is better as it includes the new and revised entries which have been included for the 3rd edition which is currently being prepared. It is also, of course, not as heavy as the twenty-volume hard copy and easy to access from any computer. Learn more about what the OED is by clicking on the ‘About the OED' link inside the OED site.
2. Accessing the OED.
You can access the OED from the Birkbeck e-library; you can even do this from home. This is the relevant link: http://www(dot)bbk(dot)ac(dot)uk/lib/elib/databases/arts/OED
3. Ways of using the OED.
* Look up words you don't understand. This is the most obvious use for the dictionary but is by no means the only one.
* When reading early literature you will come across words which are no longer used in modern English; the OED will help you find out what these mean.
* Find out the part of speech of unfamiliar words.
* Look at the way that words have changed their meaning over time. When reading early literature you may come across words that look just like modern words but they don't seem to make sense or look odd in their context. Try looking them up in the OED. You may also discover, by looking up a handful of words that you think you do understand, that words have different nuances in the past to those that they have today. An extra facility on the OED website is the ‘date chart'. Click on this to show you the times at which different meanings were current.
* Some words, while they continue to mean something similar, have shifted their emphases, becoming ‘strengthened' or ‘weakened', more specific or more general over time. In this category, look up, for example, ‘naughty'.
* Look at the dates at which words came into the English language. This can be instructive in lots of ways. Looking at the dates can help you to rule out meanings that couldn't apply to a particular piece of literature. It can also indicate particular cultural preoccupations and crises. For example, it is no coincidence that a lot of words associated with work and labour came into the language in the fourteenth century (a century of labour crisis), or that the seventeenth century (an era of civil war) saw the influx of new vocabulary associated with governance and kingship.
* Look at the etymology of words. Click on the ‘etymology' link above the definitions. Looking at how words came into the language can help us draw up a picture of the cultural connections between Britain and other cultures. In particular it is interesting in terms of thinking about influence and empire. Also keep the date in mind here.
* Look at the examples of the words you look up. Looking at the examples can tell us who first used that word in that sense and when. It can tell us, too, what sort of texts were using that word in that sense at a particular time. This might give us clues to the register of the word – whether it is high / low or associated particularly with law, medicine, religion or some other particularized discourse.
5. Where to get further help:
There is help offered on the OED website itself. In particular you may find that you need to refer to the dictionary's list of abbreviations. These can found by pressing ‘help' on the OED website. Also, have a look at the university level worksheet, on the ‘learning resources' page of the OED site. If you would like some further advice or help on using the OED you could email me or ask your personal tutor.
6. Include a page from your search with your portfolio
You will need to download a screengrab tool from the internet so that you can insert an image of the page like this:
Appendix 3: Avoiding plagiarism module.
This module is worth 10% of your final grade for Critical Methods. If you log on to the module by the deadline you will earn a full10
Please refer to the attachments for assessment description and extract related to first task.
Critical methods assessment
A review of the essay Compare and contrast the way that John Milton in Paradise Regained and Jim Crace in Quarantine treat ONE of the following themes; resurrection, miracle, evil, truth OR suffering.
In the first sentence, ‘Crace manages to use suspense (how will he survive?) and –finally- a beautifully elegant and rationally satisfying explanation of how the Christ cult originates’ use of beautifully in the same sentence as elegant is redundant as it does play a complementary role in or change the meaning of the sentence. The hyphenation is also questionable. In the first paragraph, the use of ‘confound’ and ‘satisfy’ to describe the state of the audience is at best contradictory. Confound refers to confusion and a confused person is unlikely to be satisfied.
Poor structuring of sentences is detected in paragraph two. The sentence ‘paradise regained keeps quite closely with the gospel according to Luke 4 1-13’should have ended after the word gospel. Poor choice of words is detected too. It would have been more apt to use ‘stays close’ as opposed to ‘keeps quite closely’. There is also excessive use of adjectives in describing the Persona of the man Jesus healed.
Poor punctuation is again detected in page two, paragraph two. A comma is needed after the word ‘rejected’ in the sentence, ’After Satan offers Jesus a feast and is rejected…’. Contradictory statements are made on the same matter in different sections of the essay. In the second paragraph of the first page, the writer describes the effects of starving on Jesus’ body with the statement,
‘Jesus does not starve for forty days and merely feel hungry, we are given graphic accounts of his body as it slowly disintegrates,’ , but in the third paragraph of the second page he declares, ’ He also refuses food and water for forty days with no physical repercussions.’
Overall, I find the essay fairly well written. The writer has obviously gone to great lengths to understand the message the authors are attempting to convey in the context of the chosen word. Poor sentence structure and simple punctuation errors have been the only major undoing.
2. A literature search on criticism of cigarette advertisement.
This literature search covers what opponents of cigarette advertisements that target youth have to say. A major aspect of tobacco control guidelines has been eliminating the exposure of youth to tobacco promotions (Bonnie, Stratton and Wallace 6). The same authors add that tobacco companies argue that the youth are just incidental recipients of their promotional campaigns and that no adverts specifically target them. However there is evidence that this might not be accurate. According to Shimp new e...
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