The study of the rich heritage represented by literature in English is an indispensable part of a liberal arts education at Kenyon College. The variety of critical orientations of the Department’s faculty models for its students a wide range of possible approaches to literature; this variety reflects both a sensitivity to the current state of literary studies, and to the needs of a large body of students with diverse interests and divergent reasons for enrolling in English courses or pursuing the major. The plurality of approaches to literary texts and the variety of reasons students cite for pursuing the study of English are also reflected in the Department’s rich array of courses, emphases, and programs. In all instances, the Department takes care that students pursue their interests in classes whose size remains pedagogically effective.
The Department supports the College’s commitment to general education by providing a series of introductory courses which are designed to help first- and second-year students improve their skills as readers, writers, and thinkers, while generally familiarizing them with the methods of literary study. The Department’s curriculum exposes English majors to the variety of critical approaches constituting contemporary literary studies. We are at once committed to immersing them in the broad heritage constituted by literature written in English, and also to helping them develop deep knowledge in individually selected, specific areas of literary discourse. Throughout their course of study, students are instructed in attentive close reading, critical thinking, effective speaking, and skillful writing. As they progress through the major they encounter courses requiring independent research and promoting greater degrees of critical and theoretical self-consciousness as well as increasingly sophisticated understandings of historical and cultural contexts, theoretical issues, and stylistic and generic subtleties.
Kenyon students interested in creative writing receive instruction in workshops in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction prose. The Department offers them the option of completing the English major with an Emphasis in Creative Writing. Majors interested in international education are encouraged to participate in the Department-sponsored Kenyon Exeter Program or in other JYA options approved by the College. The Department provides an opportunity for advanced students to engage in independent research in its Honors Program.
The Department of English recognizes that its responsibilities do not end simply with its curriculum and program, but rather extend to the greater Kenyon College community and to the discipline as a whole. Consequently, we commit ourselves to an ongoing scholarly investigation of new developments in the field, both for their own sakes and for their effects on the conduct of our classes, just as many of us commit ourselves to the production of creative works as well. Similarly the Department collectively involves itself with various administrative responsibilities and initiatives consistent with a program of academic advising, student support, and faculty governance at a small liberal arts college.
The English Department employs two different sets of strategies to measure the achievement of its students, both majors and non-majors. The most detailed analysis of the net effects of its program, curriculum, and instruction for the individual achievement of English majors comes during a student’s senior year, as the total accumulation of his or her work as an English major manifests itself in, first, the two parts of the independently-completed Senior Exercise and, second, in the information documented in the Graduation Inventory and Self-Evaluation. At the same time, the Department evaluates student achievement in individual courses (as these manifest the goals of various “levels” of our curriculum) through the annual “General Education Assessment” exercise. This latter exercise allows us to measure the outcomes of both majors and non-majors, at various developmental moments.
A. EVALUATION OF MAJORS AND MAJOR PROGRAM (“Department Outcomes Assessment Report”)
1. Senior Exercise. As a culmination of his or her course of study, each English major must successfully complete both parts of the Senior Exercise, evaluated according to the following criteria. All of the work undertaken for the senior exercise is completed independently; it thus functions as a measure of each student’s autonomous capacities as a student of literature, as these have been developed over the entire course of study as an English major.
Part I. Essay or Creative Project. Each English major must submit a 9-12 page critical essay, or a creative project of commensurate scale for those completing the major with an Emphasis in Creative Writing, in partial completion of the senior exercise requirement. Each essay submitted shall be evaluated according to a rubric developed to assess the level of student performance in goals 1, 3, 4 and 5 above. Each creative project shall be evaluated according to a rubric developed to assess the level of student performance in goal 1, 4, and 6 above. (Rubrics are attached as an appendix to this document. In 2008-09, the standard departmental rubric—the “Outcomes Assessment Checklist for Senior Exercise”--was replaced by a college-wide rubric (“Checklist of Basic Writing Skills”) focused on composition (for critical essays) and a new, departmentally-developed, rubric (“Outcomes Assessment Checklist for Creative Senior Exercise Projects “) to assess creative writing achievement.)
Part II. Examination. Each English major must sit a 4 ½ hour exam focused on a set list (revised annually) of works by 12-15 Anglophone writers spanning a wide chronology and multiple genres and traditions. Each senior exercise examination shall be assessed for its demonstration of the student’s level of achievement in goals 1-5, with a particular focus on goal 2.
2. Graduation Inventory. Late in their senior year, the Department shall collect copies of a “graduation inventory” and a final transcript for each graduating English major and assess each of them for evidence that the student has achieved goals 2, 3, and 5, above. In particular, we shall note how the student has completed courses in particular periods, genres, or critical/theoretical modes and whether she or he has taken advanced seminars. This review shall also note whether the student has studied abroad and, if so, how the curriculum at the foreign institution fits with ours and how the student’s level of achievement there corresponds to his or her achievement here. The review will also note if the student has pursued a complementary major, concentration or course of study outside the department (eg. a concentration in AFDS, courses in MLL, etc.).
3. Student Self-Assessment. As part of the graduation inventory, students are asked to reflect upon their significant achievements as English majors, discussing the breadth of their individual course of study, considering their grown as readers and writers, and describing how coursework or independent work undertaken as part of the senior exercise has allowed them to develop a “deep knowledge” of a particular author, period, general or critical approach, or how it has led to a particular creative achievement. This self-assessment addresses goals 1-6 above and is completed in consultation with the student’s academic advisor.
B. EVALUATION OF OUTCOMES FOR Majors and Non-Majors (“General Education Assessment Report”)
Each year at a two-hour meeting, four department members will evaluate a course from each level of our curriculum (100- and 200-level courses designed primarily for non-majors and as introductions to the major; 300- and 400- level courses, primarily for majors but open to all students) in relationship to the English Department’s mission and to the general education goals identified by the College at large. Specifically, the department member shall demonstrate student achievement of the following Collegiate categories as these are relevant:
As mandated by the College’s “General Education Assessment Report,” the instructor will describe the primary goals for student achievement in each course considered, as well as the course assignments by which these achievements are evaluated, keyed to specific general education and departmental outcomes; the instructor then describes one specific assignment, the criteria used to evaluate student achievement (keyed to specific outcomes), and the level of each student’s achievement; based upon this review of his/her pedagogy and the relative success of her/his students in achieving the desired outcome, the instructor identifies possible modifications in instructional techniques based upon his/her findings. All of this is presented to the collected departmental members for further discussion.
In 2008-09, this more holistic and inclusive strategy for measuring student achievement was replaced by a collective focus on a single outcome—“students learn to formulate ideas rigorously and to communicate them effectively. . . in writing.” Instead of our usual criteria, we used a standard rubric adopted for the 2008-09 academic year by the College as a whole to provide standard data about writing achievement. Collectively, the English Department assessed writing outcomes in six different 100-level courses and five different 200-level courses, as well as on the Senior Exercise essays written by the Class of 2009. While several of us will continue to monitor student writing outcomes using the College rubric in Spring 2010, most departmental members prefer to return to the more holistic evaluations demanded by the “GEAR.”
Every year, the Department will collate the results of the Senior Exercise Essay and Creative Project assessments and the Senior Exercise exam results into an aggregate that summarizes the general outcomes of all of our majors for that year. The Department will also collect annually information from the Graduation Inventory and Student Self- Evaluations. In addition, the Department will hold one annual meeting during which the “General Education Assessment” exercise outlined above will be completed. This information will be analyzed on a semi-annual basis by the department chair and/or a small subcommittee of the department, and results will be presented to the department for consideration in future discussions of pedagogic effectiveness, curricular design, and individual instruction. In addition, the department chair will report on these outcomes each year in his or her annual report to the Resource Allocations and Assessment Subcommittee of the Faculty and the Associate Provost, in the form of the Department Outcomes Assessment Report and the General Education Assessment Report.
The English Department’s “feedback loop” is vital and valued. In recent years, information from these assessment sources has directly influenced revisions we have made or are making to our major curriculum, to our requirements for the English major, and to individual course designs and pedagogic methods. It is also the inspiration for on-going and frequent conversations within the department about successful strategies for teaching writing, reading and oral presentations, and for instructing students in the use of critical and theoretical sources and the analysis of genre and historical contexts. Significantly, the annual “GEAR” meeting—where we discuss specific teaching strategies and measure the relative success of these in affecting student outcomes-- is cited by department members as the most important meeting on our calendar because it allows us to learn from each other how to improve our teaching methods and student outcomes. In 2009, as the result of the annual GEAR meeting, we established a department “Moodle” site to share writing assignments and host on-line discussions of writing pedagogy. In 2010, in part as a result of our discussion with extra-departmental colleagues of outcomes achieved on the “Checklist of Basic Writing Skills” administered by a number of departments, several English department members have initiated a “Teachers Teaching Teachers” grant application to sponsor a summer workshop for discipline-based teaching of writing in all areas of our curriculum.