What I Learned in English Class Is…

English 181 with Professor Morgen, honestly, has been one of the academic highlights on my Freshman first semester. The sum of my experience in the class can be represented in many way best of which is the anthology of work I produced but because it need stating, I have indeed met the learning outcomes for this class.

The Halfa Kutcha assignment was one of the class’s major assignments that applied the Critical Thinking and Reading Resulting in Writing learning objective. I gave a three minute and twenty second presentation comparing the ways Spinning by Tillie Walden and the comic adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred. The assignment required consideration of all the rhetorical strategies used in comics.

For this assignment I had to manage audience in my writing process. I was presenting to my classmates all of whom had read both texts. Therefore, I had to present familiar information in a way that is interesting and new. This includes seeking insights from the text that were not obvious. For instance, I pointed out how in scenes of sexual assault, “[the main character’s] recollection of her trauma intersplices afterthought and in-the-moment action, in the same fragmented form memory weaves past with present and opinion with event.”

Professor Morgen’s structuring of the class made it so that nothing stood in the way of continual work on a project. With no assignment being graded until the semester’s end and intermittent one-on-one conferences, the class culture allowed for the ongoing evolution of ideas in my writing. The entire literacy narrative project helped me view my writing as an ever-evolving process. The process of writing, drawing, and writing again necessitated re-imagining my narrative with every new rendering. Thus, I was given the opportunity to develop my original idea more than I initially thought was possible.

During a conference to discuss Part 1’s essay, Professor Morgen gave me one main critique: address the subtext. In my original Literacy Narrative, there were points at which I drew back and made my narrative about one thing when another was more readily apparent. I fluctuated between descriptive realism to abstraction depending on my level of comfortability with the subject at hand, staring my literacy narrative with descriptions like “rich and busy brown and green walls ornamented with storied knick-knacks and photographs, a worn armchair in the front of the room beside a small table for grading papers after hours” and finishing with musings about my writing style. Without even realizing it, I obfuscated the central topic behind my story. Professor Morgen had to point this out to me and advise me to fix it for further editions of my Literacy Narrative. This was a tall order for me. The problem lied in the concept not the execution. To fix it I would have to go back to the drawing board and dig deeper into the memory my Literacy Narrative was about and address directly what I, at the time, felt was unrepresentable; the issue of lacking racial representation in my English education  the subtext of my original draft.

Returning to the alphabetic narrative from having created a comic was much easier than writing from scratch. Drawing the comic after the original alphabet essay added more depth and meaning to my essay that I could pull from for the redraft. My narrative began as what I thought was a story about my anxieties around English. Upon revisiting, I realized just how superficial my first draft was – how it failed to address its subtext strongly enough to be clearly understood and deeply felt. My hesitance and need to convey a story clearly struck a balance in my comic; I could represent what was hard to say without using words, and I could spell out the ideas that would guide interpreting my illustrations. In the draft of my alphabetic narrative I took all the ideas from both drawings and text to tell my story again, this time with a bolder voice. For my literacy narrative, the three parts were practice in exacting and amplifying my writing voice, riding it of fear of saying exactly what I want to say. I went from discussing Toni Morrison’s effect on me in the abstract to directly confessing that “I’ve been forced to centralize male and/or white voices all throughout my academic career.” Having the progression of my literacy narrative occur over three stages throughout the entire class made my narrative more straightforward.  

This class made me “write” through many mediums – from hand drawn illustrations to photo editing. Outside of the books we read, our Sunday Sketch assignments which required us to experiment with a new way of storytelling each week taught me how to interpret images and think visually. Our eighth Sunday Sketch the “Human Document” especially reinforced the poetic superimposition that can be made when images are paired with words.

In the process of creating this Sunday Sketch, I felt like I grasped the concept of the symbiosis between images and text. Adding illustrations to text imbues a text with new meaning. With the addition of an illustrations (especially one so interwoven with the text), augments the meaning of the piece beyond what is apparent from the text alone. Blackness and color, the inner and outer self are juxtaposed clearly in the image while points of communication, lips and eyes, connect two seemingly opposite figures. The text alongside this image reveal that there is but one subject and the figures can be understood as the duality of one individual who understands both aspects of herself through a bright, direct connection, thus balancing identity with honoring its multitudes.

Tracing Spinning and Stitches was also a practice in visual thinking. Redrawing a page from each memoir was doing a close reading of a picture rather than an alphabetic text.

The assignment required taking in all the information from a page and analyzing how they make an argument about trauma through their organization. Tracing over a page from each book and adding annotations in the gutter areas were practices in visual analysis. The above picture is the annotated sketch of a page from Stitches.  In it I analyze the choices the writer made in the individual panels as well as addressed his organization of the whole page. In tracing this page, I disregarded the text written and focused on what was readily apparent from the visuals themselves.

The entire class revolved around studying rhetorical composition either with our own writing or the books we read as a class. Studying comics meant studying rhetorical composition techniques both familiar (like diction and syntax) and new (like framing and pace). The collection of Sunday Sketches exemplify the variety of genre and medium this learning outcome best. For example, Sunday Sketch 10 “Tell a Ture Story” required an illustrating an original comic much like the books we read in class while Sunday Sketch 11 “Recreate a Movie Scene” involved staging a photo with featuring ourselves.

Me – a recreation of a scene from Us
Last Friday Night

Comparing the two sketch assignments demonstrates the range of topic and medium regularly utilized in the class.

               The Digital Citizenship/Digital Identity learning objective is likely the learning objective that I can most frequently apply to future endeavors. From the start of our class, Professor Morgen had each student create their own website where we post all of our assignments. In this way, what we accomplish in our English 181 class does not stay in our English 181 class. It is published for the world to see, and it stands a digital portfolio of our writing available whenever we need it as proof of our abilities.

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