ENGL 245: Writing Rivers (Fall 2019)


WELCOME TO CLASS! This small, interactive, community-based learning seminar offers a chance for you to get to know more about the major, about writing, and about rhetoric, while collaborating with each other and a community partner—the Driftless Writing Center in Viroqua, Wisconsin—to contribute to a real-life community project: Stories from the Flood.

Stories from the Flood is a project to collect and produce thorough accounts of what people, municipalities, and the environment in Wisconsin’s Kickapoo and Coon Creek watersheds endured in the August/September 2018 floods as climate change alters their lives and landscape. The effort creates a platform for Valley residents to work through and share their collective experiences, while offering a foundation for watershed-wide planning about future flooding in the Valley. As of September 2019, volunteers from the Driftless Writing Center and its partner organizations had documented the stories of more than 50 flood survivors through individual interviews and community workshops from Wilton to Wauzeka.

Download complete course syllabus here and grading contract here.

WHAT IS ENGL 245? The course catalog says that this small, 3 credit hour seminar offers students close instruction in the principles and practices of informed, engaged, critical reading and writing. While texts and topics vary, each seminar reinforces fundamental skills taught across the English major, strengthening students’ capacities to write and speak powerfully and to build convincing, original, well-organized arguments that persuade audiences of their significance. Students will meet with the professor in individual writing conferences and will write at least 30 pages, including drafts and informal assignments spread throughout the semester.


  • Spend approximately 2.5 hours in class and 6 hours out of class on our work each week. Over the semester, at least 25 of those out of class hours will be spent participating in community-based service.
  • Think. Write. Talk. Go places. See things. Engage people. Write even more!
  • Learn about rhetoric, writing, Wisconsin, rivers, flooding, resilience, public memory, and each other.
  • Create timely, compelling analyses of personal stories, texts, river valleys, and life.
  • Complete four major related projects on behalf of our community partner, the Driftless Writing Center.
  • Contribute to the creation and preservation of Wisconsin’s history and think critically about that work.


This semester, students will:

  • Learn about writing, rhetoric, rivers, resilience, and Wisconsin history as it shapes the present.
  • Engage with Wisconsin’s aquatic ecosystems and the humans who rely on them.
  • Create original, coherent, and compelling analyses that push beyond summary to synthetic, independent, critical thinking.
  • Apply the tools of rhetoric to solve problems and take action in the public sphere.
  • Partner with others to address timely problems and create positive community change.
  • Enact the Wisconsin Experience: cultivating empathy and humility, relentless curiosity, intellectual confidence, and purposeful action.



Wednesday 9/4
Introductions to the class and each other, discussion about how water shapes the stories of our lives, syllabus review

Homework for Monday 9/9
– Create a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) in your notebook: What have you learned to this point in your education that will equip you to do this work this semester? What else do you need to know? What do you want to learn? What do you hope to get out of this?

– Take time to think about course expectations and the grading contract and make notes: What do we expect of each other in class and out? What should an “A” look like?
– Read Robin Wall Kimmerer, “Kickapoo,” from Gathering Moss
– Read Lynne Heasley, “A Dam for New Times,” from A Thousand Pieces of Paradise
– Read a a selection of news stories from the August/September 2018 floods and this September 2019 follow-up from Wisconsin Public Radio


Monday 9/9
Review SWOT analyses to come out with our shared strengths and opportunities, work through a proposed grading contract based on class input, discuss Kimmerer, Heasley, and flood coverage, prep for listening to audio files

Homework for Wednesday 9/11
– Listen to audio files of two community interviews from the Stories from the Flood project. Audio files (.mp3s) and transcripts (.docx) are available on our course Canvas site. CGD strongly recommends you listen to the interviewees in their own voices, but you may want to follow along with the text file, as well.

Wednesday 9/11
Information about the deep history of flooding in the region, preparing for community engagement discussion and identity activity with CBL Intern Catherine, introduction to field notes and reflection to prep for field trip

Homework for Monday 9/16
– Listen to audio files of three additional community interviews from Stories from the Flood. Audio files (.mp3s) and transcripts (.docx) are available on our course Canvas site. Again, CGD strongly recommends you listen to the interviewees in their own voices, but you may want to follow along with the text file, as well.

Saturday 9/14 (8am – 5pm) – FIELD TRIP TO THE KICKAPOO VALLEY!

Meet at the Memorial Union at 7:45am, for an 8am departure. We’ll be traveling via school bus to the Kickapoo Valley, meeting with Tamara Dean from the Driftless Writing Center for an orientation to your work, and visiting a number of flood sites with Tamara and Brad Steinmetz, a historian from La Farge. Lunch will be provided. We will return to the Memorial Union at 5pm.


Monday 9/16
CGD distributes grading contract draft to approve and in depth description of the first major writing project: the interview analysis for the Stories from the Flood celebration booklet. Reflection activity focused on Saturday’s field trip to the Kickapoo. Discussion of major themes from latest set of interviews.

Homework for Wednesday 9/18
– Listen to audio files of two more community interviews from Stories from the Flood (these are relatively short). Audio files (.mp3s) and transcripts (.docx) are available on our course Canvas site. Again, CGD strongly recommends you listen to the interviewees in their own voices, but you may want to follow along with the text file, as well.

– Type a mock interview summary of what we’ve listened to thus far, in the style of our first writing project. Try it out!
– Take a quick look at the interview prep documents from the Driftless Writing Center, available on Canvas.

Wednesday 9/18
Discussion of SFTF interview documents and practice interviewing each other.

Homework for Monday 9/23
– Read collection of flood writing on Canvas site from Brad Steinmetz

– Read Lynne Heasley, “(Re-)Enter the Ho-Chunk” from A Thousand Pieces of Paradise


Meet at the Memorial Union at 8am. Students who missed last Saturday’s trip will be traveling via Badger Bus to La Farge, Wisconsin to meet with Brad Steinmetz and Carly Frerichs for an orientation to Stories from the Flood and a historic look at flooding in La Farge. 


Monday 9/23
Update about SFTF booklet needs – quotes and time stamps needed by next Monday 9/30! Review of SFTF interview documents, discussion of best practices for interviewing, and interview practice.

Homework for Monday 9/30
Identify significant quotes (with time stamps) from your assigned interviews. Bring a printed version of that document to class Monday, as well as uploading the .doc to Canvas. *THIS IS ESSENTIAL WORK FOR THE SFTF NOVEMBER CELEBRATION!*

Wednesday 9/25 – NO CLASS MEETING!
CGD will be in La Farge for the Over the Levee, Under the Plow workshop.


Monday 9/30
Schedule SFTF interviews for the next few weekends. All students submit typed documents with significant quotes and time stamps, grouped by theme. The class will work together to prepare a synthesized document to submit to the Driftless Writing Center for early booklet preparation.

Homework for Wednesday 10/2
– Review Brad Steinmetz flood writing and Lynne Heasley’s “(Re-)Enter the Ho-Chunk” for discussion Wednesday

Wednesday 10/2
Quick visit from UW-Madison Dept. of English Counselor. Watch “The Kickapoo Valley Reserve: From Here to There” and discuss Brad Steinmetz writing and Heasley chapter about La Farge.

Homework for Monday 10/7
Complete a first draft of writing project one for peer writing workshop Monday.



Monday 10/7
Peer writing workshop of writing project one, the booklet report. (Project description here.)

Homework for Wednesday 10/9
Type a 1.5-2 pg. single-spaced reflection on the course, our community based work, and your performance in class so far. Some prompting questions are included below:

  • Look back at the learning outcomes on the syllabus. What progress have you made on those goals? What other hopes did you have for your learning this semester? How can Dr. Druschke help to support their further development?
  • How would you rate your performance in this class?
  • What concerns do you have, so that Dr. Druschke can address them now?
  • What have you been most excited about?
  • What do you hope to learn and do during the coming weeks?

Wednesday 10/9
Discussion of midterm course assessments: how are things going so far? CBL intern Catherine will be in class for a guided reflection about the community-based aspects of our work so far.

Homework for Monday 10/14
Revise writing project one (booklet report) for second writing workshop Monday.



Monday 10/14
Peer writing workshop of second draft of booklet report

Homework for Wednesday 10/16
Make final revisions to booklet report – submit final draft Wednesday

Wednesday 10/16
Final version of booklet report due in class!