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Coming to Terms with the Semester: The Final Reflective Essay

December 8, 2015

I thought I’d start this final entry for our class blog by circling back to something we’ve read in Joseph Harris’ Rewriting. In Chapter 5, he challenges the simple, linear way we typically think about revision. Here’s how he describes the way our thinking might change over the course of working on a draft:

I have no quarrel with the need to define a clear plan of work for an essay or book. You want readers to know what your project is , to have a sense of where you’re headed in your thinking and what you see as at stake in your writing. […] But you also want to develop a line of thinking in an essay, to explore its contradictions and stuck points and ambiguities, not simply to stake out a fixed position and defend it. You want to be able to say something at the end of an essay that you couldn’t say at its start, that your work in the previous pages has made possible. (117)

As we near the end of the semester, I’ve asked that you revise one of the essays you’ve written during our class. But I also hope you’ll consider some of the ways that you might be revising your own thinking as a student and as a writer. The final reflective paper is an opportunity for you to look back over the past fourteen weeks and think about what you’ve been able to do with the concepts we’ve talked about in class. Have you found any of the ideas or readings we’ve discussed interesting or useful? Have you found yourself questioning, modifying, or flatly disagreeing with any of the sources we’ve talked about? Has anything you’ve encountered helped you to move forward as a writer and thinker? What, if anything, have you added to your own knowledge and ability as a writer this semester?

I can imagine a number of ways that you might focus your approach to this part of the assignment:

  • You might focus on a particular concept – or several related concepts – that we’ve discussed in class and reflect on how your understanding of those concepts has evolved over the semester. What are the uses and limits of those concepts?
  • You might focus on a particular assignment or project and describe how your thinking about that project changed or evolved as you worked on revising it.
  • You might identify some of the choices you made in putting together the materials for the final portfolio (Why did you revise your essay as you did? What decisions did you make about your blog?) and explain how those choices connect to the ideas we’ve emphasized in class.
  • You might identify a problem that you had with one of our readings or assignments and describe how you worked through that problem.
  • You might describe the way you applied something we discussed in our class to an assignment or project you worked on in another one of your classes.

Of course, you may discover other options for approaching this assignment, so feel free to talk with me if you have another idea. As a starting point, however, I’d suggest that you think about some of the key words and concepts we’ve covered this semester. On the Key Words page of this blog I’ve listed some of the most important terms from Rewriting with page references. Also, please check the Writing Projects page for detailed information about the due date for the final portfolio (next Thursday, December 17th, at 12:30pm) and submission details.

Good luck as you reflect on your progress this semester, and best wishes for the winter break!


Preparing For Your Blog Presentation

November 24, 2015

During our last class meetings, you’ll each have the opportunity to present some of the ideas you have for your final blog project. I’ve asked you all to rethink your blogs for two reasons: 1) I’m hoping that you’ll be able to connect the kind of academic thinking we’ve been doing this semester with some of your own personal interests. 2) I’d like you to consider some ways that you might make writing a consistent and deliberate part of your day-to-day life. For your presentation, I’d suggest that you think about the four questions I listed in the assignment description:

  • What purpose will your blog serve? What will it help you to do?
  • How will your blog offer a critical perspective on your topic or thematic focus? In other words, how will it help you to reflect on and question the idea or activity you’ve chosen to focus on? How will it help you to pay attention to your own thinking or development in the area you’re focusing on?
  • What role does writing play in your blog concept? What rhetorical situation are you responding to? (Even if your blog is intended to be private — just for your own use — you should still be able to identify things like the exigence that motivates you and the constraints you are working within.)
  • How have you taken advantage of the possibilities that a blog offers? What have you done with your blog that you wouldn’t be able to do with another form of expression

Although you may not address each one of them in detail in your presentation, thinking about these questions will help you to organize your thoughts . The most important point, however, is for you to think about how the blog might help you to approach the activity or idea in question in a new way. How will it help you to take a critical perspective and to add to what you already know?

You can get some general ideas for organizing your blog by looking at what others have done. I’d recommend looking around online for other blogs to see what’s out there. You could start close to home by checking out the social media page for our own Admissions Office. There, you’ll find blogs by a number of student writers here at Washington College. (A general search for “blog” on the college website will also turn up blogs for a number of offices and programs here.)

Finally, I’d also suggest that you consider your presentation as an opportunity to practice speaking in front of other students. Our final presentations can be informal, but they shouldn’t be unprepared. Think about how you are representing yourself to your peers, and plan accordingly. Don’t simply answer the questions I listed above mechanically. Bring some of your own personality and energy to what you do. There are plenty of guides to giving presentations online, like this one, so look there for some tips.

Above all, be creative and think of how your blog might be useful to you. Good luck!



Tuesday, December 8: Aaron Compton, Jessica Dixon, Laiken Harrigan, Patrick Jackson, Erik Whitcomb

Thursday, December 10: Jon Cooper, Hannah Foster, Jamison Jensen, Kevin Sawyer, Charles Yang

Saturday, December 12: Ashutosh Aryal, Mia Jackson, Reanna Sherman, Kendyl Walton, Jungwoo Yun

Doing Feedback: Third Writing Project

November 19, 2015

Because of the campus closure over the next week, I’d like us to conduct our peer review discussion for the third writing project online. Just as I did with our previous peer reviews, I’ve divided you all up into groups of three (see the listing below). By this Friday morning, you should be able to access your partners’ drafts online through Canvas. Between now and this coming Sunday, please take time to read your partners’ drafts and consider the reflective paragraph they have posted at the top of the documents.

Now, here are the details about how we will handle the new online element of the peer review:

1) I have set up working groups for all of you on Canvas. To access your group discussion page, please do the following:

  • Click on the “People” link in the left hand column of our course Canvas page.
  • Click on the “Writing Project 3: Peer Review Groups” tab at the top center of the page.
  • Find your group number, and click on the small cog wheel icon on the right hand side of the page. From there, you’ll be able to select “Visit Group Homepage.”
  • Click on the “Discussions” link in the left hand column.

2) This will allow you and your group members to have an ongoing discussion over each individual draft. My hope is that you will take advantage of this as an opportunity to have a substantial exchange with your group members, but at minimum, you should do the following:

  • Please leave one substantial comment on the discussion board of each one of your group members. You might respond directly to the concerns the writer brought up in the reflective paragraph for his or her draft, and you might also consider how well you feel the writer has drawn on the Foreword to The Bluest Eye as a starting point for the essay.
  • Once you have received feedback on your draft from other group members, please respond on the discussion board with a comment that indicates how you plan to incorporate the feedback and what other steps you plan to take in finishing your draft.
  • Please make sure you have submitted comments to your group members by no later than 5:00pm on this Sunday, November 22.
  • You should then post your response to the feedback on your own draft by the final due date for the essay.

You may, of course, feel free to go beyond these minimum expectations I’ve outlined here. Feel free, for instance, to use the comment tools to mark your partners’ drafts if you wish—but other substantive comments should be shared on the discussion board.

I will also post a comment on each your drafts through the discussion board by 5:00pm on Sunday.


Group 1: Kevin Sawyer, Kendyl Walton, Reanna Sherman

Group 2: Jungwoo Yun, Charles Yang, Hanna Foster

Group 3: Mia Jackson, Jessica Dixon, Laiken Harrigan

Group 4: Jamison Jensen, Aaron Compton, Erik Whitcomb

Group 5: Patrick Jackson, Jon Cooper, Ashutosh Aryal


Reading The Bluest Eye with Dick and Jane

November 9, 2015

Toni Morrison begins The Bluest Eye with what might be an unfamiliar reference. The first page of the novel starts with the following abrupt sentences: “Here is the house. It is green and white. It has a red door. It is very pretty. Here is the family. Mother, Father, Dick, and Jane live in the green-and-white house.” Those lines–and others like them–reappear from time to time, often at the beginning of major sections of the book. With each repetition, the words become increasingly garbled and indistinct.

The lines are meant to echo a series of children’s books that was popular during the 1940s and50s. The books were primers, intended to help young children learn to read, and they featured a “typical” family–a mother, a father, and three children. Dick_and_JaneBecause they reflected the wholesome values of mid-century, mainstream America, the adventures of Dick, Jane, and Sally were a common feature of early education for many students.

Given the nature of the images here, it probably isn’t difficult to see how Morrison, an African-American author, is working against some of the assumptions about American life that are evident in the Dick and Jane readers. I think it’s useful, though, to consider how we might read The Bluest Eye in light of – or in response to – these children’s books. How does Morrison use this text as a source in constructing an argument with her novel? How does Pecola’s narrative problematize the version of reality we get in “The World of Dick and Jane,” and what is the result when those problems go unacknowledged?

You can read more about the Dick and Jane books here at the Wikipedia page:

Or here, at the web site for a past rare books exhibit at the University of Virginia:


Rewriting “Beauty” and “Ugliness”

November 1, 2015

To continue our discussion of The Bluest Eye this week, I’d like us to consider two of the terms at the heart of the novel: Beauty and Ugliness. The children in the MacTeer and Breedlove families, in particular, seem baffled by the way that grownups use these words, and their confusion leads them into distinctly different kinds of behavior. We’ll spend some time figuring out what’s happening for these characters, but I’d also like us to consider what Morrison herself might be up to in crafting this narrative.

To guide our discussion, we’ll use Morrison’s Foreword to the The Bluest Eye (this should be at the front of your edition, pages ix-xiii). There, she describes some of her motivations in writing the novel, and she also explains how she feels she fell blackisbeautifulshort of meeting her ultimate goal. You might notice, especially, that Morrison’s language in the Foreword at times resembles the language that Joseph Harris uses in Rewriting. She attempts to define her project as a writer and identifies some of the motivating problems she was trying to address.

In her Foreword, Morrison also makes a subtle reference to a cultural movement that had gained popularity in the years leading up to the novel’s publication. The phrase “Black is Beautiful” became a slogan or unifying declaration for many in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s, and in some ways, we might see Morrison’s novel as a response to that phrase. We’ll talk about the implications of this in class, but for now, you might do a bit of internet research about the historical context that Morrison was working in (for instance, here’s a brief Wikipedia entry on the phrase, and an overview of the Black Power movement, with a reference to “Black is Beautiful” toward the bottom).

With this bit of historical perspective, I’d like us to consider what questions or problems Morrison is wrestling with in The Bluest Eye. If “Black is Beautiful,” for instance, then why did Morrison choose to write a novel about ugliness? What are the sources and effects of “beauty” and “ugliness” for these characters?

Reading The Bluest Eye

October 27, 2015

For the next few weeks of the semester, we’ll be spending some time with The Bluest Eye, a novel by the contemporary author Toni Morrison. If you’re familiar with Morrison’s writing at all, you might be more apt to recognize titles like Beloved, Song of Solomon, or Paradise. The Bluest Eye, however, is Morrison’s first novel, originally published in 1970. It recounts, as the first pages make clear, a devastating event in the life of a young African-American girl and the reaction of those around her. The subject matter is challenging, but Morrison’s approach in the novel is well worth our time.

I’d like us to begin thinking about the novel by using some of the terms of academic discourse that we’ve picked up in our reading of Joseph Harris’s Rewriting. This may seem strange at first. A work of literature isn’t exactly an argument – at least not tbeexplicitly – and chances are we won’t see Morrison making the distinct conversational “moves” that many academic articles do. But I would like for us to think about how Morrison is working purposefully to respond to particular questions and problems that were relevant at the time she wrote the novel. To put this another way, we need to consider the rhetorical situation at stake in Morrison’s composing process.

Here are a few questions to begin with:

* What is the problem at the heart of this novel, and how is Morrison articulating that problem? Or, in Harris’s terms, what is Morrison’s project here?

* How does Morrison make use of other texts in her novel? What specific moments of intertextuality exist in the first sections, and what purpose do they serve?

* How does Morrison choose to present this narrative? What choices has she made in organizing the story, and what difference does that make in the way we react to it?

For more information about Toni Morrison, you can start at the following websites:

The Wikipedia entry for Toni Morrison

The Toni Morrison Society website

Toni Morrison on the Nobel Foundation website

Understanding Rhetorical Situations

October 27, 2015

In our reading for this week, Keith Grant-Davie defines a rhetorical situation as any set of circumstances that is motivated by the need to communicate. The resulting communication might be aimed at “changing reality” or affecting the perception of others about a certain issue—or it might simply involve persuading an audience about a particular point.

Grant-Davie identifies four components that make up any rhetorical situation:

  • Exigence, or the motivating factors that create the need for communication.
  • Rhetor(s), or the agents who are responsible for creating and delivering the communication
  • Audience, or the people who receive the communication, and
  • Constraints, or the conditions that limit or shape the communication.

To explore these concepts, I’d like us to consider a particular rhetorical situation that has been in the news over the past year. Bruce Jenner, a past Olympic athlete and current popular culture figure, announced that he now identifies as a transgender bruce-jenner-caitlyn-jenner.pngwoman. Caitlyn Jenner debuted her new identity in a highly publicized interview and photo shoot for Vanity Fair magazine over the past summer.

For class on Tuesday, we’ll think about how we might understand Jenner’s announcement as a distinct rhetorical situation. As a prompt for our thinking, you might consider visiting the following web sites:

The Vanity Fair interview and photo shoot:

Caitlyn Jenner’s web site:

How might we understand Jenner’s act of communication in terms of the exigence, rhetor(s), audience, and constraints of the situation?