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In-Class Writing / Digital Midterm

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Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality, book cover
Image Credit: 

Cover of Against Health, NYU Press 2010

Brief Assignment Overview: 

Give an essay exam as a midterm — using classroom computers — so students can synthesize course content, advocate a position, and revise as they write.

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

This assignment allows students to synthesize course content and employ rhetorical strategies, and it gives instructors a way to check in and monitor progress through the course.

Required Materials: 

Individual copies of assigned reading. Individual computers.

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

This assignment uses the occasion of an in-class midterm to prompt students to synthesize course content, and to give them a chance to make an original argument. As a midterm, this assignment is indicated and scheduled on the course syllabus. However, the assignment could be used on shorter notice as an extra-credit assignment, or as a lower stakes writing assignment to be assessed by peers.

Students are given an assignment prompt (see below) that asks them to take and argue a position in relation to formative article for our class. Students are permitted to prepare outside of class and to use the primary source(s) in class for reference. They are required to compose their essay on word-processing software on a class computer, and to use that software to proofread and revise their writing on the fly.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

This assignment should be introduced at least one week before it will take place. The instructor should answer student questions and be aware that if this is the first formal assignment in which students are asked to make an original argument and employ the rhetorical stratgies they have previously analyzed, students will need help understanding that this assignment focuses on making, rather than analyzing or summarizing, an argument.

Instructions For Students: 

Midterm: “Against Health?”

[The following prompt appeared in our course syllabus and on our class website.]

You have one class period to write an essay responding to the assigned article, “Why ‘Against Health.’” [We read this article in the second week of our course, and all students were required to summarize it in their first writing assignment. In the article, Jonathan Metzl argues that health has become a "new morality" and that the term distracts from and conceals logics of sexism, racism, and capitalism when used in argument. The article was foundational for our course.]

Your essay must take a position in relation to Metzl’s position and must make a convincing argument using the rhetorical strategies you have learned and using at least 3 assigned readings. Your essay could potentially

  • agree with Metzl’s position and extend it using the 3 sources as further evidence;
  • complicate Metzl’s position (that is, begin by agreeing with Metzl’s position but modify it to make it more complex) and introduce the 3 sources as new evidence which your more complex position accounts for;
  • take issue with Metzl’s position or one of his claims, develop an alternative position or claim, and show how your alternative is supported by evidence in the 3 sources, while Metzl’s is not.

No matter the relationship between your position and Metzl’s, your essay must fairly and accurately summarize Metzl’s position (this should be easy, since you already did it in your first essay) and must argue a position that is as sophisticated and as convincing as the one in the original article.

For this in-class writing assignment, you may use the 4 sources (Metzl’s article and the other 3 sources you choose) for reference. You are welcome to prepare outside of class, but the midterm you submit must be written inside of class during the allotted time period. To receive a passing grade, your midterm must include the required sources, cite them properly, and include your name and class information. You have 1 hour, 15 minutes to write the midterm during the class period.

Evaluation Suggestions: 

I scored the midterm using the rubric below. If not used a s a midterm, this assignement could be evaluated through peer review, with this rubric as a guide.

Midterm Rubric

The midterm is scored from 0 to 2 on each of the five criteria below. This adds up to 10 possible points.

1. Rhetoric

How well does the student make use of rhetorical strategies we have learned? Does the student go beyond logos? Is there a credible ethos? Is pathos used appropriately?

2. Summary / Counterargument

How well does the student engage Metzl’s argument? Is it fairly and accurately summarized?

3. Use of Sources

How well does student make use of the three required sources? Are they used to support the student’s argument? Are the quotations appropriate and correct?

4. Organization / Editing / Persuasiveness

How well is the essay organized? Is it free of errors? Is the student’s argument persuasive overall?

5. Requirements

Did the student include name, date, and course? Is there complete citation information? Does the student use Metzl’s article and at least three other sources?

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

This assignment was a success. It foramlized the kind of in-class writing I often use to encourage student synthesis of material — and actually gave me a chance to read that writing. The assignment's status as "midterm" gave it a lot of weight in students' mind and they took it very seriously. The use of classroom computers resulted in polished essays and word-processed documents that students printed at the end of class and I could grade without the usual bias introduced in written exams by messy handwriting.

Course Description: 

Health Rhetoric

What is “health”? The goal of this course is not to answer this question (you probably already have an answer), but to understand the available answers. You will enrich your understanding of “health” by expanding your understanding of health rhetoric, that is, the different answers people have, or the different arguments people make about health. You will find that the complex concept of “health” takes on very different meanings in different contexts, for different audiences, at different times, and within different communities. We aim not to decide the ultimate meaning of health, but to pay attention to the different ways the concept is employed in argument.

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