Oklahoma State University, ENGL 1213: Composition II–Special Exercise

Below appears an authoritative version of the guidelines for the Special Exercise assignment (SpEx), superseding any previously published information regarding the SpEx.


The First-Year Composition Program at Oklahoma State University offers no description of the SpEx; it is an activity entirely restricted to Prof. Elliott’s classes, and is usually used to pilot ideas about assignments and materials that may be used in future terms. During the Spring 2016 instructional term at Oklahoma State University, the SpEx is being used as part of a University initiative to assess instruction in critical thinking in the arts and humanities. To that end, students were asked about ideas for assessment activities; the ideas were sorted and reviewed, and a selection of them was presented to students for their selection. Of 40 responses submitted, a plurality of 14 selected the student-proposed prompt of “Would you rather fight 50 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck? Why?” to address on the SpEx. It is that prompt, therefore, that is to be presented.

Students in Prof. Elliott’s sections of ENGL 1213 in the Spring 2016 instructional term at Oklahoma State University will need to perform several tasks to successfully complete the exercise:

Information about each follows, along with a copy of the relevant grading rubric and notes.

Self-Assess Combat Prowess

For students to determine what they would rather fight requires that they understand how they themselves fight. Preparation for the SpEx will therefore oblige students to assess their own abilities, considering such factors as strength, perception, agility, awareness, reflexes, endurance, willpower, and training. Honest self-assessment will be welcome; despite the humorous situation presented by the SpEx, it is an exercise in critical thinking, and effective critical thinking relies upon accurate information.

Students will do well to record the results of their assessment. Having a record thereof will make composing the SpEx easier, as the process of setting down a record generally helps the thing recorded remain in the memory of the recorder. Since the SpEx will be an open-book, open-note exercise—synthesis and assessment being more “critical” thinking than simple recall, de-emphasizing the last in favor of the other two seems appropriate—the record will be of direct benefit to the completion of the exercise.

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Assess the Combat Prowess of 50 Duck-Sized Horses

For students to determine what they would rather fight also requires that they understand how their hypothetical opponents fight. Preparation for the SpEx will therefore oblige students to assess the abilities that 50 duck-sized horses might deploy, considering such factors as strength, perception, agility, awareness, reflexes, endurance, willpower, and training. Honest assessment will be welcome; despite the humorous situation presented by the SpEx, it is an exercise in critical thinking, and effective critical thinking relies upon accurate information.

Students will do well to record the results of their assessment. Having a record thereof will make composing the SpEx easier, as the process of setting down a record generally helps the thing recorded remain in the memory of the recorder. Since the SpEx will be an open-book, open-note exercise—synthesis and assessment being more “critical” thinking than simple recall, de-emphasizing the last in favor of the other two seems appropriate—the record will be of direct benefit to the completion of the exercise.

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Assess the Combat Prowess of a Horse-Sized Duck

For students to determine what they would rather fight further requires that they understand how their hypothetical opponents fight. Preparation for the SpEx will therefore oblige students to assess the abilities that a single horse-sized duck might deploy, considering such factors as strength, perception, agility, awareness, reflexes, endurance, willpower, and training. Honest assessment will be welcome; despite the humorous situation presented by the SpEx, it is an exercise in critical thinking, and effective critical thinking relies upon accurate information.

Students will do well to record the results of their assessment. Having a record thereof will make composing the SpEx easier, as the process of setting down a record generally helps the thing recorded remain in the memory of the recorder. Since the SpEx will be an open-book, open-note exercise—synthesis and assessment being more “critical” thinking than simple recall, de-emphasizing the last in favor of the other two seems appropriate—the record will be of direct benefit to the completion of the exercise.

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Compare Combat Prowess

For students to determine what they would rather fight yet further requires that they understand how they fight in relation to how their potential opponents fight. Preparation for the SpEx will therefore oblige students to compare their own combat prowess to that of 50 duck-sized horses. It will also oblige students to compare their own combat prowess to that of a single duck-sized horse. Honest assessment will be welcome; despite the humorous situation presented by the SpEx, it is an exercise in critical thinking, and effective critical thinking relies upon accurate information.

Students will do well to record the results of the comparisons. Having a record thereof will make composing the SpEx easier, as the process of setting down a record generally helps the thing recorded remain in the memory of the recorder. Since the SpEx will be an open-book, open-note exercise—synthesis and assessment being more “critical” thinking than simple recall, de-emphasizing the last in favor of the other two seems appropriate—the record will be of direct benefit to the completion of the exercise.

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Compare Relative Statuses

For students to determine what they would rather fight still further requires that they understand how they fight in relation to how their potential opponents fight. Preparation for the SpEx will therefore oblige students to compare how their prowess compares to that of 50 duck-sized horses to how their prowess compares to that of a single horse-sized duck. Honest assessment will be welcome; despite the humorous situation presented by the SpEx, it is an exercise in critical thinking, and effective critical thinking relies upon accurate information.

Students will do well to record the results of the comparisons. Having a record thereof will make composing the SpEx easier, as the process of setting down a record generally helps the thing recorded remain in the memory of the recorder. Since the SpEx will be an open-book, open-note exercise—synthesis and assessment being more “critical” thinking than simple recall, de-emphasizing the last in favor of the other two seems appropriate—the record will be of direct benefit to the completion of the exercise.

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Compose the SpEx

The prior five sections can be taken collectively as comprising a sequence of prewriting. That is, they do not generate independent texts for assessment, but they do stimulate discussion and guide thinking along the way towards texts for assessment. For them to contribute to an effective SpEx, however, their results must be consolidated and set down in a form accessible to the expected audience; that is, they must be arranged to present a solid claim and well explained evidentiary support of that claim in relatively polished prose that can be taken in quickly and easily by readers.

Doing so will require students to draft an introduction that articulates the situation being presented and a response thereto, indicating preferences in the fight—the thesis. After indicating the preference, the justification for that preference needs to be explained in detail, demonstrating that the students have considered the situation and their response thereto. The explanation needs to provide evidence in its support and to demonstrate how that evidence serves to support and validate the thesis. Following the explanation needs to be a conclusion that motions toward some broader implication of the thesis and its explanation.

The SpEx will be composed as an in-class exercise on 1 April 2016. The entire class meeting that day will be given over to the completion of the exercise. A form will be provided, on which students will be asked to compose their SpEx. Students are asked to confine their responses to that form, which will be scanned in for reporting to the University before being assessed as an emphatic minor assignment (one worth thrice what the other minor assignments in the class are; the score will be multiplied by three for entry into D2L).

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Grading Rubric

The rubric that will be used to assess the SpEx can be found here: G. Elliott Spring 2016 ENGL 1213 SpEx Grading Rubric.

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Notes

Owing to the ad hoc and specific nature of the SpEx, no targeted example thereof is available, although it is possible that one will be generated as the students compose their own. That said, the SpEx is, in essence, an essay exam, with which students are presumed to be generally familiar owing to the instructional climate of “accountability” prevailing in the United States since the early 2000s.

As a minor assignment, albeit one receiving particular emphasis, the SpEx cannot be made up. Students absent from class on University business or in response to legal obligations will be excused from it, as normal. Other absences will be treated normally. Students who anticipate being absent from class on the assigned day need to make arrangements to sit for the SpEx early.

Students entitled to accommodations for such exercises as the SpEx must arrange for them in a timely manner and must advise the instructor as to those arrangements in a similarly timely manner so that the appropriate materials may be created and delivered where they need to go.

No outside information need be deployed in completing the SpEx. In the event that outside materials are deployed in supporting the SpEx response, they will require informal citation—although that informal citation must still be sufficient for a readership that does not share the authorial/narrative background, experience, and expertise to clearly understand the piece being referenced. Failure to provide appropriate informal citation may be treated as an academic integrity violation.

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Geoffrey B. Elliott
24 March 2015

Updated to include assignment information.

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