As you can tell by the weight given to Discussion (50%) in determining your Final Grade, I place a high value on Discussion. I believe Discussion is the critical learning activity you perform during the semester that synthesizes what you've learned from the assigned readings and watching the films. In addition, I’ve found that truly engaging in the Discussions is the best predictor of your success in the course.
So how do Discussions work?
Generally, you will have a Discussion due each week. The discussion deals with the screenwriter, the screenplay, the additional materials on the syllabus for that week, and, the film whose poster is shown on the left of the syllabus for that week. Additionally, at the top of each week, you will see that I’ve noted a theme for that week such as Character or Dialogue. Those are starting points for the discussion; however, you can also discuss other relevant topics of interest.
The Discussions will take place on blackboard in the discussion forum. You are required to post a minimum of two posts per Discussion:
an original post
a response to another student’s post
I encourage you to post as early in the week as you can. Then to check the Discussion each day and keep abreast of what others are posting and to engage in discussion with your classmates. So, while I am only requiring a minimum of two posts per discussion, I am hoping that you will be posting more often.
What are you looking for in an original post?
I am looking for critical analysis not mere plot summary. State your opinions, pose questions, and provide us with your insights. As noted earlier, I have listed topics for each week that can serve as starting points for the discussion, but you are not limited to those topics. Be insightful, be opinionated, be reflective. Take advantage of this opportunity for sharing your observations and thoughts about the material we’re studying.
What makes a good Response post?
Students typically have more difficulty writing a good response post than a good original post. The best response posts do one or more of the following:
(a) further develop the topic,
(b) take the topic in another direction, and/or
(c) disagree with the original poster and support their view
The key point being that in each case they expand upon what was originally posted with solid analysis that furthers the discussion in some way.
How are Discussions graded?
Here is the Grading Scale I use:
A+ = 10 Points
A = 9.5 Points
A- = 9 Points
B = 8.5 Points
B- = 8 Points
C = 7.5 Points
C- = 7 Points
D = 6.5 Points
D- = 6 Points
E = under 6 Points
When grading your posts, I classify them into one of the following three categories:
Substantial Posts are outstanding posts that represent the best posts in the discussion. These posts provide detailed, in-depth analysis. Since Discussion is the only regular weekly activity you have to demonstrate to me that you are engaged in the course and doing the work necessary to learn the material, you need to make sure that your posts reflect the effort you are putting into the class.
Meaningful Posts are quality posts that do not go into the depth or level of detail that merits a Substantial Post rating. Nevertheless, they do make a solid contribution to the discussion. While they typically are shorter than Substantial Posts, it is not mere length that determines the difference between a Substantial Post and a Meaningful Post. Shorter, particularly insightful posts may well be judged as a Substantial Post, while a long plot summary post may not even achieve a Meaningful Post rating.
Unsatisfactory Posts are just that. They are posts that provide little or no meaningful content. For example, a post that is mere plot summary would be an Unsatisfactory Post because there is no analysis. After all, presumably, we have all watched the film and don't need you to tell us what happened. Similarly, a post that merely says I agree with someone's post is fine, but it won't earn you any credit in the discussion.
In order to earn an A for a discussion, you must have a minimum of three posts in each discussion (that’s right to earn an A, you must go beyond the two post minimum requirement)
you must demonstrate that you are truly engaged in the Discussion and are not just a hit-and-run poster.
Among those three posts, you must have at least one Substantial Post and two Meaningful Posts (for each discussion). If you do that and demonstrate that you are engaged in the discussion by responding in a meaningful way to other students’ posts, you will receive a 9, the lowest possible A. Should you do better than that, then you could earn an even higher A.
To clarify, in order to show you are engaged in the discussion, at least one of your posts in each discussion must be a response to another student. And that post must be considered at least a Meaningful post. So simply saying you agree or disagree with someone, without furthering the discussion in a meaningful way will not count as being engaged in the discussion.
In summary, I want to see that you are not only posting Substantial and Meaningful posts but also reading your classmates’ posts and responding to them. This is how you will gain the most from the class.
Perhaps the easiest way to differentiate between a Substantial and a Meaningful Post is to give you a couple of examples.
Sample Substantial Post 1:
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was one of the most enjoyable films I have seen in a long time for the reason that it is one of the more 3 dimensional movies to exist. The movie is renowned for its characters, as it should be. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are fashioned as tragic heroes. They are indeed outlaws but they have heart and bravery and wit. It is one of the thrills of the movie that the heroes are outlaws and that the audience buys into this message is the triumph of the screenwriter.
However maybe more intriguing than the characters of Cassidy and Kid themselves, is the relationship between the two. During one of the first scenes in the movie, where a fellow member of Cassidy’s and Kid’s gang The Hole in the Wall, challenges the significantly disadvantaged Butch to a duel, unarmed Butch beats his knife welding rival with ease due to his wit, his banter, and his coalescence with Kid. This scene reflects much of the rest of the movie. Cassidy and Kid succeed as outlaws not because of their brutishness but because of their wit, and their harmonizing relationship. The same can be said about the movie itself; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is indeed a western but it does not rely on action scenes to excite. Instead it relies on the audience’s interest in the title characters. Through screenwriting Cassidy and Kid are developed into characters that the audience cannot not only sympathize and relate to but root for as well. Furthermore this development is portrayed not through the actions of these characters but rather through their dialogue. We see Butch as scheming pseudo intellect and Kid as an earnest, take-action independent through the conversations Cassidy and Kid have with each other. Whether it be bouncing ideas off each other on how to rob a bank or hijack a train or on how to escape, or their opinions on their future as outlaws or their relationship with women, Cassidy’s and Kid’s banter is always witty. However this witty dialogue differs from mere bickering as it reveals not only the motives of the characters but also their strengths and weaknesses and consequently their reliance on each other. One of the more revealing moments for the characters is their interactions with Etta. Etta has a sexually intimate relationship with Kid but she has some very emotionally intimate moments with Cassidy through conversation. In one particularly revealing scene Kid wakes up one morning to find Etta and Cassidy sharing one of their intimate moments and asks Cassidy what he is doing. Cassidy responds “stealing your woman” to which Kids rebuts “you can have her”. This moment reveals several things about the characters and their relationship. One is that Cassidy and Kid do not have a jealous relationship and that they trust each other or presumably Kid would not have responded this way, as it was, despite his unromantic comment, clear that he had real feelings for Etta. Also it further established Kid as the more take-action character and Butch as the humbler, more intellectual one, being as Kid’s relationship with Etta was a physical one and Cassidy’s a mental one.
Another instance that I felt was very reflective of the characters was when they first returned home to Etta after being hunted and discovered why. Butch’s outrage at the railroad man spending more money in hunting him than he would’ve ever lost from them robbing the railway and Butch’s comment on how this man should’ve just paid him to stop robbing him furthers him as a tragic hero. Butch is rational and reasonable, he honors his profession in spite of it being a dishonorable one and he reveals that he would not be too proud to stop robbing the man if they came to some deal. In fact Butch doesn’t seem to view being an outlaw as dishonorable at all but rather just as his chosen profession. Ironically Butch kills the first and only man he has ever killed after a brief stint where he “went straight” and was working inside the law.
I felt the way women were portrayed was another great attribute to the screenwriting in this film. The movie did not pander to stereotypes and gender roles. Etta was multidimensional and an equal to Cassidy and Kid. Her personality, her wants and needs, strengths and weaknesses were not defined by her gender but rather her life experiences; she was as developed as the two title characters and furthermore her role was crucial to lives of Cassidy and Kid and therefore the movie. However her relationship with Kid and Cassidy was not merely sexual and certainly not defined by sexuality as she didn’t even (as far as the audience was aware) have a sexual relationship with Cassidy. To have a supporting female role to two men be anything more than sexual is rare and was refreshing and reflected the value of the script. Furthermore even the common prostitutes that Butch came in contact with were portrayed as human beings and not merely as sex objects. Memorably Butch’s character is furthered developed as a moral and sensitive one through an explanation from a prostitute on why she likes Butch and how her inclination towards him is because of his personality rather than because he has a lot of money.
Of course there are many examples of how the dialogue in the film is used to develop the characters in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and how this development goes on to define the film as a brainy, creative rebuttal to a genre most often dominated by brute and sex. One of the most key and definitive examples of the excellent quality of the script was during the final shoot out. Amidst the most action packed scene in the film, Cassidy and Kid reveal their strengths and weaknesses, their vulnerabilities and wants, there true identities, through their banter. Yes it says a lot in any genre if a conversation is truly exciting and riveting, but to be able to make an audience more interested in the dialogue of the characters than a shoot out that is simultaneously happening is a very difficult task. It is one of the many small triumphs of screenwriter William Goldman. And the screenwriting is of course what not only sets Butch Cassidy apart from other westerns, but what elevates it from being a mediocre film, to an outstanding one.
I don’t care whether you like the film or not (but it’s fine to express your opinion). What I like about this post is that it isn’t mere plot summary but rather an in-depth analysis of why the film works for her. And she gives examples to back up the points she makes.
Sample Substantial Post 2 (from a Literature into Film class):
I have in my past posts shared my small disappointments with film adaptations of the books we have read, but with Presumed Innocence, my disappointment has overfilled and I see the adaptation as such a pale imitation of such a great story.
The story was great because it gave less of the cop investigation and more of court litigation. I found that I enjoyed the story much more in this sense. The character of Rusty and the inner turmoil he faces when hit with this trial bring the whole story to an amazing depth. I very clearly perceive the characters like he does. I feel betrayed when Raymond crosses Rusty, and experience the friendship with Stern as he works through Rusty‘s case meticulously. The way the book was written, from Rusty’s point of view, was a way to truly well-integrate readers into his experience, but at the same time served well in the mystery, as Turow states, because he holds back information too.
But the movie to me was truly a shortfall to such a great piece of writing. It seemed like the filmmakers were trying too hard to keep in things from the book such as dialogue or characters, so the overall movie seems rushed. The exchange between Nico and Rusty at the funeral for example, fires off such rapid dialogue that the words almost lose their meeting. One second Nico is mentioning Carolyn, then the case, then how hard it would’ve been to beat Rusty politically, all in the same breath. The same proves for certain events, like the political race or even the extent of Rusty and Carolyn’s relationship. These events are strived to be included that they almost seem smashed into the film and most scenes serve to be quickly forgotten.
A couple scene examples would be those with Carolyn and Rusty in her bedroom and during the “break-up.” While in bed with Rusty Carolyn talks about getting the prosecuting attorney job and then is abruptly angry that Rusty tells her to go for it. It just seemed like they were slipping this ‘double motive’ into the scene to fill up space, instead of the very sparse (and creepy, in my opinion) dialogue the two have in the book about Rusty’s wife in comparison to Carolyn. Overall the film’s attack on the plot almost made the role of Carolyn unneeded for anything more than a victim to the crime Rusty is being accused of. So when scenes started up that included her, I was so surprised that she was being included at all.
This may be chalked up to tackling the story from a third-person limited view instead of the first-person view that served the book so well. We can’t understand what Rusty thinks when he is with Carolyn or what subtext is to the words of DellaGuardia at the funeral, simply because Harrison Ford doesn’t narrate the entire movie (if he did, I think it would make things worse). So the jilted new scenes of Rusty creepily stalking Carolyn at her apartment and seeing her with a new guy or Raymond asking Rusty if “a judgeship would be enough to satisfy” Carolyn are definitely poor in the movie, but serve to give the audience something that they don’t have the luxury of automatically getting in the book: inference and foreshadowing.
All in all I think the book of Presumed Innocent is an amazing piece of courtroom and crime drama that I was very glad to have read, but I feel that the decision to make an adaptation of it was probably worst that could be made. Despite its “easier” elements (I.e. it takes place in a city, in a courtroom, the people are normal and not androids or something crazier) I still think Presumed Innocent is the hardest story of all that we have read to fully grasp. I know I struggled with certain pieces (especially Barbara’s motives) and I feel that that struggle is exactly why the film just didn’t resonate well with me.
What about everyone else though? Am I alone here in my distaste for the film or should I be ashamed for ridiculing such a great movie? I’d like to know what everyone’s take was on both. – Christian Bejar
What I like about this post is that it is not a mere summary of what happened in the book or film (that's boring), but analysis. He states his opinion and then attempts to convince the reader through specific examples. He also analyzes how point-of-view affects both the book and the film. That's an A quality substantial post. As you will see below, a Meaningful Post is not as in-depth or detailed as a Substantial Post, yet it still has something to say.
Here are two Meaningful Posts. The first is from a Studies in International film class, the second from a Literature into Film class.
Sample Meaningful Post 1:
Christine, I really like how your post focused on the witty dialogue of the film. I felt that this was the driving force behind the development of the characters of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and therefore of the movie itself. I also agree with you that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is not your typical western. Indeed it was not really an action movie or even a thriller but more of a character study. Also the reliance on comedy furthered the distinction of Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid from other Westerns. I also was intrigued at how developed and multifaceted the women in the movie were. Even the prostitutes who only had bit parts seemed more 3 dimensional than most women (even leading ladies) are portrayed in blockbuster films, especially in such a male dominated genre such as a western. I thought a memorable part was when Butch was with the blonde prostitute while Cassidy and Kid were initially hiding from their pursuers at the tavern while Kid was in the room on look out. The blonde was explaining why she liked Butch and how it differed from the other girls monetary driven favoritism of him. Her speech shed humanity on her and also on Butch. I felt this was a good example on how the dialogue of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was the most crucial part of the film; even in such an inconsequential part as Butch being with a prostitute the screenwriter was able to use to add considerable dimension to the characters and to the movie itself. There are of course countless examples of pieces of dialogue in the film that serves the same purpose. I would even go as far to say as the whole movie would be pointless without the witty dialogue. The movie is titled Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; it is a film about these to people, the historic events are merely a backdrop and the action and excitement of the outlaw lifestyle is a consequence of these characters rather than the subject itself. The audience has to be at least interested if not relate to Cassidy and Kid for the movie to be of any value and this was done through the screenwriting. Even the end, one of the more action packed sequences, was overshadowed but the dialogue of Cassidy and Kid. In that last sequence the characters, more so than ever, revealed there vulnerabilities and strength; showed their true personalities and identities. That unveiling of the characters was more riveting than the gunfight that was simultaneously happening and it was that riveting because of how developed the characters were and continued to be. This movie really showed the importance of words and screenwriting. For the most exciting part of an action movie to be the banter of the characters says a lot about the skill of developing characters.
Okay, what I like here is that it isn't just a post that merely says I agree with you. Instead, it engages with what the other writer wrote and expands upon the point the other writer made. Clearly, this response furthers the class discussion.
Sample Meaningful Post 2 (from a Literature into Film course):
What does it mean to presume? When I think of the word "presume," it connotes a certain sense of assumption, or a blind overconfidence. Certainly, then, in reading Scott Turow's novel "Presumed Innocent," I committed one of the gravest follies of readers: I presumed I knew who had committed the murder.
I was tricked. Tricked by a simple literary device and complex plot. "Where did I go wrong?" I ask myself. I decided to trust my guide, the narrator of the journey, someone I believe to be telling me everything I needed to know. Mistake number one. Never trust the first person, present tense narrative. They are always unreliable!
The second pitfall was presuming Barbara to be innocent. There is a certain kind of irony to the title of the book. My overconfidence in the narrator and in my own ability as a reader left me completely bereft of the subtle clues that the author left along the way. The revelation of Turow's complex plot was magnificent: Sabich's discovery of Carolyn's bar set (a complete set of twelve glasses), the fact that the murder was committed on April 1st (April Fools' Day), the third fingerprint on the glass. etc. I was completely oblivious to even entertaining the idea that it could have been Rusty's wife. Why? Because I was so caught up in believing, overconfidently, that Turow was leading me to the conclusion of a setup. But the question remained, "Who killed Carolyn?" Then, when you throw in the discovery that Carolyn had her tubes tied and the hypothesis of the diaphragm went out the window, I was left guessing and taking shots in the dark. But considering Barbara as the assailant never crossed my mind.
…If you are keeping score, Turow is up by two, now.
As I contemplate my casual mistakes, I am reminded not so much of the follies that I made as a reader but of Turow’s amazing ability as a writer to command the characters and plot. The author knows that we as readers will follow and trust Rusty-- skeptically, of course--and thus Turow, through his use of rhetoric and plot, capitalizes on that presumption in a remarkable way.
In the end, and as the novel comes to a close, I greatly enjoy Turow's philosophical ending, "What is harder? Knowing the truth or finding it, telling it or believing it?" That was our narrator's internal conflict for the second half of the novel. Rusty knew the truth: he was innocent; he didn't kill Carolyn. He knew something was out of place when he noticed the complete set of the twelve glasses in Carolyn's apartment. How his seed ended up in Carolyn the night of the murder. And Rusty had no problem telling the truth. The conflict was finding the truth and then believing it. – Laura Johnson
Here we see a writer analyzing how she was fooled. Again, the key point is that she doesn’t merely say she was fooled, but analyzes why. And the fact that she writes in a very entertaining manner doesn’t hurt either.
Be creative in your Post subject lines. It’s more fun for the reader and shows off your wit and creativity.
I hope this clears up any questions you may have regarding Discussion. If not, please email me.