May 04, 2012

English Composition textbook has Saluki flavor

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- English Composition is one of those classes nearly everyone in college takes, and nearly everyone who takes it does so as one of the first classes. 

At Southern Illinois University Carbondale, the course is an opportunity to bring new students together and to give them a shared, unifying experience.

To that end, a group of graduate students, with the help of Tara Hembrough, assistant director of writing studies, assembled a text book with a uniquely Saluki flavor. 

It’s a project SIU Carbondale has seen through the past several years.  More recently, the compilation reflects the theme of the Saluki First Year Common Reader.  The Common Reader theme for the 2012-2013 academic year is “Sustainability,” and the readings in the English Composition textbook for the year will revolve around that theme. 

Handpicking a textbook in this way also ensures the relevancy of all the readings in the text, which makes the book a better value for students.

“Students only pay for the essays and readings we are going to use in class,” Hembrough said.  

Pearson, a higher education publishing company, makes the customized textbooks.  The cover of the book is always an image of the SIU Carbondale campus or of its students.  Hembrough said she and the students who make the readings selections want composition students to know the book is created for their class.

The team has gone a step further for the next academic year by enlisting campus sustainability experts to help students negotiate some of the readings.

“An advantage to this reader and the sustainability theme is that it can involve so many different departments and majors,” Hembrough said.  “That’s important because we have many different majors taking this class. And by involving faculty and graduate students from other areas, we highlight the expertise we have here.”

Some of the campus experts will write questions and answers to help students approach the readings, including the fiction readings, with a critical and analytical eye.  They’ll be looking to see how the writers use language: are they seeking to deliver facts, or do they use alarmist language to provoke a reaction?  Do they appeal to emotions or memories to make their points?  Some readings are quite recent, some are 40 years old: the students will look at how time and new information influences the way writers approach the same subject.

Hembrough said she also seeks to make the class a multi-media approach, in keeping with the way students are becoming accustomed to gathering information.  Some of the interviews with experts may be available as podcasts.  She and the students on the text book project are also looking for films to present that follow the theme, and for which students will write analytical critiques and essays of their own.

Some of the faculty members consulted for the development of the composition textbook are: Jim Zaczek, Matthew Therrell, Leslie Durham, Justin Schoof, and graduate student Laura Williams.

Graduate students on the textbook project include: Christopher Field, Andrew McSorley, Richard Stapel, and Marie Thompson.

Each student tackled a particular topic, such as the local food movement, global warming and climate change, sustainable practices or water conservation. 

“The students do seem to respond to having a common theme, and to having a customized text book,” Field said.  “This approach helps them think about what it means to become part of a community.”