Essay #1: Learning Narrative

Overview: In this essay you will

  1. Tell a Story: You will relate a significant (positive or negative) learning experience (or series of connected events) that have been important in shaping the kind of reader/writer you have become (“good,” “bad,” “bookworm,” “Anti-Reader,” etc.)
  2. Analyze Your Experience: After you relate your narrative, you will ANALYZE your experience using one or both of the texts from English 101 (Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk “Changing Educational Paradigms” and/or Paul Tough’s essay “Is Failure the Secret to Success?”)

Purpose: To explore, through writing, this key experience in order to gain insight in to who you are as a writer and reader– and possibly transform/expand your current understanding.  Often, we tell ourselves stories that are not true based on immediate REACTIONS to painful life experiences—and then we KEEP telling ourselves that same story, over and over.  Through writing, you might

  • re-read what you thought was a failure as a success;
  • deepen or complicate a claim you make about yourself as a reader/writer from a generalization (“good” or “bad”) to something more complex;
  • CONTEXTUALIZE something that has happened to you (Sir Ken Robinson’s talk is good for this) in order to understand that the judgement you made about yourself (or that someone else made about you) was perhaps not entirely (or ever!) correct.
  • Re-Vision an event from your past (especially one from your primary years) from an adult perspective.

Content: For this assignment you might

  • choose a discrete learning event that was somehow important in your thinking about yourself as a writer and reader,
  • describe a series of related events,
  • re-visit a phase or period of your life in which certain literate activities figured prominently.

You might, for example, tell the story of an especially important moment in your life that profoundly shaped you as the college student you are today; that moment could be related to a specific school assignment or a specific text that you read or wrote (e.g. a book that deeply influenced you or an important letter that you had to write) that was significant to you for some reason.  By contrast, you might focus on a time period during which you had experiences that affected you as a writer or a reader. For example, you might have taken a specific college course that shaped you as a writer or met a teacher or faculty member who became an important influence in your life as a writer or reader. Or you might write a narrative that is some variation of all these.

Whatever experience(s) you choose to focus on, keep in mind that your finished draft should focus on an event or events central in some way to your thinking about yourself as a reader and/or a writer.  If you think of yourself as “not a good writer,” then WHY?  What happened to you in your previous experiences, inside or outside of school, that made you feel this way?  Was it a specific interaction with a teacher?  Another classmate?  A group experience?  A humiliation?  A failure?  A series of interactions?

Audience: Your primary audience is the other members of this class who do not know you yet (therefore, you cannot assume they know your past experiences and/or your thinking about that history).  Your secondary audience is the English faculty here at Clark College, who would read your narrative with interest (as they are interested in knowing more about your literacies in specific and literacy in general).  Your tertiary (third) audience is Jen, your instructor, who cares deeply that the stories you tell yourself about your past may negatively impact your success as a college student now.

Your essay should

  • Tell your story in a way that not only conveys a clear sense of the event or experience about which you are writing, but also communicates a sense of the significance of that event or experience.
  • tell the story of your experience effectively, so that your readers understand the experience and are sufficiently engaged in your narrative to feel its importance to you.

A Note on Narrative: Although this essay will be autobiographical, it is not to be an autobiography. In other words, you are not trying to tell the comprehensive history of your development as a literate person; rather, this should be a narrative of a specific experience or set of LINKED experiences that helped transform you into the literate person you are.

Style, Length, and Related Matters: Although this is an academic assignment intended for an audience of your classmates, it is somewhat less formal than other assignments in this course. So you have some latitude in adopting a style and approach that feels appropriate for your subject matter, your audience, and the intended purpose of the assignment (as explained above). In short, adopt a style that fits the needs of this specific rhetorical situation, but of course be mindful of the conventions of written English and the expectations of your audience (your classmates as well as the course instructor).

Your finished essay should be 4 to 5 pages in length.

Format: This paper will give you your first exposure to MLA format.  While we will cover the basics of this in class (namely signal phrases and constructing a works cited), we will be covering this material in more depth when we write Essay #2 (keep in mind that Jen cannot teach 8 weeks’ worth of material in only two, and that you will get a deeper exposure during the process of writing Essay #2.  Because this is a portfolio class, you will be able to return to this essay AFTER you have written Essay #2, and revise Essay #1 with your new and more complex understanding.

You will need to refer to your handbook, Rules for Writers, for instructions on MLA Format in terms of heading, page numbers, margin, etc.  In particular, look to 60a: MLA Manuscript Format (524).  This paper will also need to have a works cited (again, we will go over the basics of this in class, but you will need to refer to your handbook and/or visit the writing center for more information. Remember—you need to spend 12 hours a week outside of class—this sort of work is part of those 12 hours!)

Deadlines: A complete draft of this assignment is due in class on Monday of Week Four (July 29th).  Your final revision, for a grade, will be submitted in your final portfolio (due on the last class day of the quarter).

Grading: You will not receive a grade on the first draft of this assignment.  Instead, you will be given full points (see the syllabus) if it

  1. is fully 4 to 5 pages (i.e. not 3 and ¾’s).
  2. is formatted using MLA guidelines (visual learners look at 527 in Rules).
  3. Contains a Works Cited (visual learners see 523 in Rules AND the sample student essay).
  4. Is submitted on time (i.e. PROMPTLY at 8AM).  Late is defined, by the syllabus, as one minute past 8:01.

During the class period on Monday of Week Four, you will sign up for a conference with Jen.  During that fifteen minute conference, she will

  • Give your essay a “soft” grade with a rubric
  • Tell you one major strength of your essay that reflects a truth about you as a writer
  • Tell you one major aspect of your essay that needs revision for the final portfolio (also that helps you understand something about writing in general).

You will then have the rest of the quarter to REWRITE the essay for your final portfolio.  Jen recommends you

  1. Rewrite the essay using her feedback AS SOON AS POSSIBLE (otherwise, you will forget what she said and you may not understand her comments any more).
  2. Take the revision to the writing center.
  3. Rewrite the essay as soon as possible using that feedback.

One thought on “Essay #1: Learning Narrative

  1. Pingback: Intellectual Challenge | Jennifer Whetham's Summer Courses at Clark 2013

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