LITR 5731
Seminar in Multicultural Literature: American Minority

midterm & research plan

3 parts to midterm

  • Web Review

  • Essay of 6-8 paragraphs on 1-2 objectives & 3-4 texts incl. Song of Solomon, slave narratives, poems, and/or Dr. King’s Dream Speech

  • Research plan explaining likely or possible choices of research options (may be integrated into extended essay)

Due by email within 36 hours of 2 October 2012

Submission format: Email attachment to instructor at, or arrange otherwise. No hard copy.

Submissions are posted (as is) by instructor to Model Assignments.

Weight: 20-30% of final grade

Documentation: no need for “Works Cited” or bibliography unless your essay goes beyond our shared readings, or you want to list some sources in your research plan.

  • Page numbers in parentheses are welcome but not essential unless very odd or surprising.

  • If documentation problems arise, I’ll ask about them (won’t declare war).

  • If this all sounds casual, the midterm remains an exam, not a paper for presentation beyond our course

Audience: a member of our class, someone starting the next semester of this class, or maybe even your family or other teachers, so they can know what you’re learning. Of course one audience has to be the course instructor, but my response may address how much you wrote for the seminar as opposed to talking about whatever you would have said before the class started.


Part 1. “Web Review.”

1. Web Review: Review student submissions from previous semesters (both undergraduate and graduate offerings), especially in the Model Assignments on course webpage. (60+ minutes)

Assignment: Review at least 3 submissions on the course webpage’s “Model Assignments” page and write at least three paragraphs (total) on what you learned from this review.

Requirements & guidelines:

At least one Model Assignment must be a midterm from LITR 5731 2007. You may restrict your review to midterms, but research projects, final exams, presentations, and web reviews are available from any offering of American Minority Literature (graduate or undergraduate).

“Review”: quickly describe what interested you, where, why, and what you learned. You may criticize what you found, but not required.

To identify model passages you’re responding to, copy and paste brief selections into your web review, or simply refer to them using paraphrases, summaries, and brief quotations. (You'll see both options in models.) Either way, highlight and discuss the language used in the passages as part of your review. Critique what you’re reviewing for what you learn or where it lets down.

What did you learn from reviewing model assignments that you didn't learn from in-class instruction? (Your learning may be in terms of immigrant literature, or about teaching and learning, or both.) 

Student email question & response re web reviews:

Dr. White, I am confused about how many paragraphs to write on the web reviews.  I interpret the instructions to mean one paragraph each, but that is not what reviewers are doing.  Since submissions are posted "as is" I don't know if my interpretation is right.  What say? / On the Web Review section of  assignment instructions, I read "Review at least 3 submissions on the course webpage's "Model Assignments" page and write at least three paragraphs (total) [not each] on what you learned from this review [of 3 submissions]."

Reply: . . . the main reason I wrote that description as I did is so students won’t feel locked-in to doing the standard march of “1 paragraph = 1 submission being reviewed.” Of course that’s standard, and what nearly everyone does, but it’s not necessarily the “highest order of organization.” That is, it’s at least conceivable that a person might compare two midterm essays in one paragraph, or that the paragraph organization might be one paragraph per common element in each submission reviewed; e.g. paragraph 1 = style in submissions 1,2,3; para 2 = organization in submissions 1,2,3; para 3 = content in submissions 1, 2, 3. 

But nearly everyone writes 1 paragraph per submission. What separates the sheep from the goats is whether the student makes connections or continuities between the three little reviews and then comes to a larger or comprehensive insight concerning all 3 at once. That’s sheep-like! But more are goats. They just pick up one submission at a time, review it on its own terms, then put it down, and when they’ve done all 3 they congratulate themselves on having fulfilled the assignment. And they have, but if they want it to stand out they’ll think what else they can do with it, and then connecting together the three little reviews, either in their web review’s introduction and conclusion, or internally by comparing and contrasting the three submissions with each other as they move from one to another.

Part 2. Essay Assignment

Write a focused essay connecting 1-2 objectives and 3-4 texts that track and extend your learning in our seminar.

By “learning,” I mean not only your base of understanding or knowledge when you entered the course but the challenges and progress you’ve made in our subject(s).

You may develop your own topic, but it must connect to our seminar’s main content so far concerning African American literature as an example of minority voice and culture.

Within that range, your topic might resemble earlier midterm essays in Model Assignments.

Among past topics:

African American women

The Dream

Assimilation or resistance


Color Code

Family patterns

Double Minorities


Flying Africans or Flight

DON'T fear duplicating an earlier subject!


Texts, required or otherwise (3-4 texts total across essay):

Song of Solomon (required)

at least 1 slave narrative

poems, Dr. King’s Dream Speech as helpful

You may also refer briefly to relevant texts from beyond this seminar’s assigned readings.


Potential default assignmentThis adaptation from the undergraduate LITR 4332 American Minority Literature exam could help students who don't come up with a particular angle on their own:

  • How does this course define minority literature and culture in terms of its differences from the dominant culture, and what different stories result from the meeting of the minority and dominant cultures?

  • How does African-American literature and culture exemplify minority status, as distinct from the immigrant culture?

  • How does “the Dream” of African American culture resemble and differ from “the American Dream” of the dominant culture?

(Don't regard these bullets as a necessary organization or checklist; they only indicate materials that might naturally cohere in a midterm essay on our semester thus far. I'll read what you write on its own terms.)

Part 3. Research Plan

Length: 2-3 paragraphs, or incorporate or add a couple paragraphs to your essay.

Title your research plan, if separate. Most people just write “research plan,” but better if you give more.

Common problem: students limit themselves to what we've already covered. Look ahead to American Indian and Mexican American literature as possibilities.

Research options

Model Assignments

Common problems in midterms:

Students don’t write enough—they write what they have to, then stop, instead of pushing their ideas another step.

Students ignore the class and blah-blah as they would have whether they took the class or not, recycling old ideas from other classes or hallway conversations (which you can use as long as you connect to this class with them).

Students think I’m going to bust them on “picky stuff” like documentation or double-spacing instead of content, organization, and surface style.

Forgetting or ignoring objectives and course terms

Forgetting or failing to proofread and edit before submission

Midterm models from LITR 5731 Minority 2007

Prep time and writing time for midtern:

Prepare by outlining, note-taking, re-reading as much as you can or like.

Welcome to visit Writing Center for help.

Write your research plan whenever is best, but keep going back to it.

Spend at least 3-4 hours drafting your exam.

Take time for review & revision: Rest, edit, review, revise before sending.

Instructor's Reaction & continuing dialogue:

My response to your essay, plan, and review will be less on right or wrong ideas than how to develop your ideas with better organization and emphasis.

A week or two after submission, you'll receive an email from instructor including your grade report with a midterm grade filled in and notes on your essay, web review, and research plan.


Reply to instructor about your midterm & note?

Graduate students and faculty are somewhere between colleagues and master-apprentice.

Discussing graded work can be a starting point for learning to interact with other professionals.

If we don't communicate in this way, look for other opportunities before semester ends.

Professors can be intimidating, unpredictable, and annoyingly like your parents, but I cooperate if you take your chances.



Evaluation standards:

general guidelines for exam grades

Quality of writing as evidence of learning is a criterion for distinguishing excellent work from competent work in Literature. Most written assignments aren’t judged on whether they’re right or wrong, but how well they develop their ideas

Surface quality & style: At the graduate level, competence with surface issues like spelling, punctuation, and grammar is taken for granted. An occasional careless error won't kill your grade, given time pressures, but repeated or chronic errors are remarked and factored as part of your grade. If you have trouble with spelling, word endings, punctuation, etc., get help from a mentor or tutor (as long as they explain their suggestions).