Reflective Essay

Self-ReflectiveEssay (or Figure of Speech Research Project)

· Worth up to 20 points

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· 500-750 words (about 2-3 pages if you follow MLA manuscript formatting conventions)

· The essay should have a thesis: a central conclusion that you reach about your work

· Assess how well you have met some of the course outcome goals. (For a list of the learning outcomes, see syllabus.)

· Look back at the progress you made during the course to improve your writing, to read and think critically about potentially difficult academic texts, and to enhance your ability to participate in academic inquiry.

· Might be helpful to focus primarily on either your writing, reading, or critically self-assess your ability to interface with course materials and perform course assignments.

· I strongly recommend actually quoting from your own writing as a way of supporting an argument about your work (that would be part of the “evidence”).

· I don’t use portfolios, but if I did, this essay could be imagined as a cover letter you would write to introduce your portfolio to a reader. Think of it as explaining to your instructor how you relate to the task of writing—for school or on your own. This essay is your chance to contextualize your writing: how would you describe the ideal rhetorical situation for your work?

· One potential danger of this kind of assignment is to fall into cheesy, navel-gazing simplistic narcissism. Try to avoid that tendency by being as detailed, realistic, and objective in your self-assessment as possible.

My suggested methodology for this essay depends on if you want to focus primarily on your writing, your reading, or to reflect on the course more generally (but using your self-reflection on your performance in the course as the primary lens through which to see the course). I would recommend NOT trying to do ALL of these. Choose ONE of the following approaches that allows you the best opportunity to reflect on your work:

Focus on Writing

1. Read EVERYTHING you have written for this course. What pieces do you remember most? Why? Is there a particular paper or project that best represents you as a writer? In what way(s)? Among your papers, do you see a variety of subject matter, style, form, difficulty, and so forth? What was the “easiest” piece to write? The most difficult? What was it about the writing experience itself that made it so? (My intention here is to get you to enter into a more “immanent” reflection on your work rather than considering from an outside, “transcendental” perspective other factors in your life that might have made a difference.)

2. Write an essay to introduce your work. Think about me, as an instructor, as your primary audience. What do thoughtful, liberally-educated adults need to know to make sense of your work? How can you direct their reading to persuade them that you are a competent writer who is ready to tackle advanced academic work involving reading and writing? This is not to say that you should chart your progress in a simple and linear way: heavily criticizing your early efforts and arguing that you have progressed to an exalted level since then—although this is a common strategy among students. Think carefully and reflectively (it’s called a reflective essay, after all) about the persona you present in and through your writing and make an argument that uses your writing to prove whatever you want to say about yourself and your writing. (Quote from your own writing.)

3. Focus, perhaps, on specific obstacles you have encountered Discuss a specific assignment you have written for a class. How difficult was it for you to match conventions of academic writing? What, specifically, is the most challenging in this regard? You might examine specific uses of language, such as avoiding “I” or “you,” or the difference between the different genres of summary and analysis.

4. Discuss Your Writing Process This essay could be a good opportunity to engage in some self-reflective and self-critical writing about the writing process you used. What (if anything) did you do in the “prewriting” stage? What was the process of drafting like? What kind of feedback did you get on it? What kinds of changes did you make in the revision/editing stages? What adjustments might you make in the future? Try to be as specific and detailed as possible.

Focus on Reading

We’ve done a significant amount of reading this quarter. Briefly look back through some of these readings and evaluate how well they helped you develop your capacity to engage in academic inquiry. In Nicholas Carr’s essay “

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

” he contrasts “shallow” and “deep” reading: “The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds” (327). What have been some of these “vibrations” for you? Do you see interesting and unexpected connections between the readings (probably mostly unintended by the authors since they didn’t know in advance they would be included together on a course reading list)? (This capacity to connect aspects of different readings together is sometimes referred to as “synthesis.”)

You might approach this task from the imagined perspective of an instructor. If you were the instructor for the course, choose 1-2 readings that you would definitely keep and explain why. Pick 1-2 that you might dump and explain why. How helpful is the “textbooky” reading from Little Seagull or the


in helping students develop their abilities to read and write better?

Ontic vs. Ontological Reading: One of the aspects of this quarter’s reading you could consider is the difference between “ontic” and “ontological” dimensions of experience. “Ontic” describes the everyday, surface-level mode of living–living from moment to moment. The “Ontological” is the attempt to get at the “deeper” aspects of our experiences–that get at the root of what it means to have experiences in the first place. It seems to me that is one of the general qualities of some of the reading we have done, and why it can be challenging. If you’re interested in this way of thinking about both experience in general and specifically about reading, I’d recommend reading the following short piece about the distinction if you’re unfamiliar with the concept (involves different modes of watching a baseball game):

In terms of readings for a course, in

the introduction to

Ways of Reading

the editors discuss why they decided to pick essays that were different from the kinds of essays usually chosen for anthologies: “If something is hard to read, it is not necessarily the case the writer is at fault. The work can be hard to read because the writer is thinking beyond the usual ways of thinking. . . . The text is not saying the same old things in the same old ways” (12). I think this is a similar concept. (Other ways of conceptualizing this distinction between “ontic” and “ontological” might be the difference between weather and climate or between phenotype and genotype?)

Focus on How Your Writing/Reading Took Place in the Context of This Specific Course

As I see it, this course focuses on four essential components:

· Writing Process (“How to write an essay” stuff)

· “Information Literacy” (using MLA conventions in citing sources and effectively using summary and paraphrase to accurately portray a source)

· Critical Reading/Thinking (a significant focus of the class—given that written arguments always occur within a given discursive context that must be thoroughly read)

· Argument (Toulmin model, claim types, question at issue, identifying assumptions)

Imagine that you are a teacher designing a course such as ours. Would you have the same priorities? Which of these four components have you seen the greatest self-improvement on? Where is there room for greater self-improvement? How would you design course materials (syllabus, assigned readings, assignment descriptions, material in the Course Packet, Weekly summaries of what to do, etc.) to help students improve their performance?

Further Thoughts . . . .

A classic example of this type of writing is Adrienne Rich’s essay “

‘When We Dead Awaken’: Writing as Re-Vision

” where she takes a look back at the different types of poems she has written. I don’t know that I would use her essay as a “model,” exactly, for this assignment, but it could give you an idea of how this type of genre works.

Yet Further Examples and Discussion of this Type of Writing from Other Schools:

How to Write a Self-Reflective Essay

Reflective Writing Guide

Second Option:

Figure of Speech Research project

, using an excerpt from the book

Metaphors We Live By

.] Sometimes students find it difficult to discuss their own writing, so this is an option. This option connects to two authors we’ve read this quarter:

Neil Postman

(see especially paragraphs 4-13) and Friedrich Nietzsche (especially Nietzsche’s essay

“Truth and Lies in an Ultramoral Sense”


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