Composition courses at UMaine (English 101, English 100/106, Translingual) are designed to prepare students for the reading and writing demands of academia. While no one course could prepare students, on its own, for the demands of writing in higher education, our composition program aims to begin that preparation by introducing making writing not just the activity students do but the subject that they study. With this content focus on writing, our composition courses can engage students with learning how to learn to write in the new disciplinary writing situations that they will soon find themselves in.
Three different composition courses are offered. Most students take English 101, which is the most frequently offered course. Students who would like to take more time with the subject matter of writing may take the Stretch option (English 100/106), which is essentially the English 101 course spread across two semesters. Students who complete the Stretch course receive three credits for English 101 and three elective credits. Students may also opt to take Translingual English 101. This section of English 101 focuses in greater detail on language use, and particularly work across more than one language.
Students in English 101, Translingual, or Stretch courses receive a grade for their efforts in the course. However, students do not receive a grade for individual assignments in the course, nor are they required to write to a specified page length. Instead, students focus on the demands of the assignments they are given, the nuances of the texts they are reading, and the content of class discussions about writing. Frequent feedback from their instructors, as well as regular consultation with the Portfolio Assessment Rubric (our end-of-semester assessment tool) can help students determine their progress without the high stakes of a given grade.
At the end of the semester (or, for Stretch students, at the end of the year), students submit a portfolio consisting of (1) two significantly repurposed academic essays that draw on their reading and writing throughout the semester, and (2) a critical reflection on those academic essays.
These portfolios are scored in a three-day assessment session at the end of the semester. Students’ portfolios will be read by two composition teachers who did not lead their section. Using the Portfolio Assessment Rubric (PAR)—which the students encountered on the first day of class and worked with throughout their time in the course—these instructors will determine, independently, whether the portfolio meets the PAR’s demands.
If both instructors pass the portfolio, the portfolio passes. If both instructors fail the portfolio, the portfolio fails. If the portfolio is a “split read” (one pass, one fail), the portfolio is read a third time, by a third reader, to determine whether it passes or fails.
Students who pass the portfolio are eligible for a grade of C or better in the course, depending on their participation in class, efforts on homework, etc. Students who fail the portfolio are eligible for a C- or lower in the class, depending on their participation in class, efforts on homework, etc.
Opting Out: The Challenge Exam
Some students arrive at UMaine with a wealth of experience with writing, and are already capable of meeting the demands of first-year composition. These students have the option of taking the Challenge Exam.
The Challenge Exam is offered at the start of every semester. Students who wish to take the Challenge Exam should sign up for English 101. On the first day of classes, their instructor will have copies of the Challenge Exam for students interested in taking it. The Challenge Exam is due on the first Friday of the semester.
Students who pass the Challenge Exam receive transfer credit for English 101. This does not impact GPA (as it is transfer credit), but it meets the graduation requirement and costs less than taking a three-credit course.
The pass rate for the Challenge Exam is very low. Students who opt to take it should continue to attend their English 101 course and do the required work until they are told they pass.