“Just give it a try. You know there is a safety net in this class.” David’s Fall 2019 ENG181-11 is a non-traditional college course that not only focuses on reading, writing, and even drawing but also explicitly encourages bold creativity. In addition to the five learning outcomes of this class, this willingness to try is the most important thing I harvest and can be applied elsewhere, not just in academics but also generally in life.
“I have not drawn for years.”
I never expected to draw this much in a first-year writing class. I soon encountered “the hardest assignment so far in this course”, the Visual Note Taking. As one of the Sunday Sketches designed to prepare students for the following assignments, this Sketch promoted me to employ visual thinking to turn class materials into visuals, the same technique I would use later for the Literacy Narrative project. While I do know how to do visual thinking and I utilize it naturally, as I later found out in my Literacy Narrative, I had not drawn ever since my middle school. As I was searching for solutions, however, the thought of using some symbols and icons online to just finish the assignment was immediately challenged after I saw my peers’ works. Remembering David’s words, I decided to push myself and actually draw something. This Sketch, along with other assignments involving drawing, built up my confidence for the four-page Literacy Narrative comic.
“Are you serious?”
Making a true comic was the last thing that I would expect at the beginning of the semester, but I was ready to give a try when the time came after all these preparations. The text and comic of Literacy Narrative cannot be separated. The text version offered a traditional writing experience and the comic provided insights into how visual thinking could be integrated into and improve the writing process. Since the prompt asked me to analyze the way I read as well as the way I write, it was hard to organize my essay. With the help of a writing tutor and visual thinking, “I drew a graph that divided my essays into six parts, and we discussed and moved around those blocks to make the logic flow smoothly.” However, as I mentioned in the final part of the project, the structure only made sense for the written text. It was impossible to make a smooth transition in a comic. Moreover, the flow was not perfect to some readers like David. Another hour of discussion was unnecessary because the solution became obvious as I thought about visuals for my comic. The visualization of both the structure and the content is a very helpful step in the writing process. This technique is also applicable in other writing assignments and presentations to more effectively present information.
“This is not how I write.”
The level of critical thinking, another crucial part in the writing process, required to complete assignments in this course is well above the average. As a result, even though David spent an hour explaining inductive and deductive reasoning, I was still uncertain about the goal of the lecture until I followed the steps and started Tracing Pages. In retrospection, I do find myself always having a conclusion in mind based on my knowledge about the topic before the researching process. Although I always adjust my conclusions after the research, the potential of my work is limited by this deductive way of writing. However, “the inductive way of writing was hard at the beginning, like forcing a right-handed person to write with the left hand.” As mentioned in my reflection, without a clear thesis, I did not what I should look for and how to write like this. Yet I decided to trust David and just go for it. And as David expected, I found more interesting points and developed deeper arguments since I did not “first commit to one thesis and then struggle to find evidence” to support that. Having been trained and later practiced deductive writing only, this became the safest way to produce an essay. If my thesis is always valid, I will eventually find enough evidence, but I do not create anything new. It was the lecture and the willingness to try that transformed my critical thinking and writing skills to adhere to the true purpose of thinking and writing.
“What kind of presentation is this?”
In addition to written texts and visuals, presentation is another measure this course has employed to help students develop skills in rhetorical composition. Presentations are common in my course of study, but I still found Halfa Kucha very bizarre – 20 seconds per slide, 10 slides in total, and visuals only. Presenting without words on slides was not an issue, and I had been trained to do so. Rigid constraints on my time and pace, however, put significant pressure on me, forcing me to consider the rhetorical composition carefully. I had to divide my thoughts into ten pieces and make trade-offs for every 20-second period. With such a short time, visuals could not simply be entertaining illustrations but should be complements to my remarks, conveying ideas themselves. In my case, my words would form the logic chain, the skeleton, of my presentation with visuals as evidence, silent but convincing. But I still had to make concise references to the slide content to help my audience understand the connection. Unlike my peers’ presentations that mostly focused on the book content and the theoretical framework, I combined those materials with my own experiences and developed a new argument: our society does not foster a safe enough environment for recovery from trauma, but literature, especially comics, can be the place for people to start those conversations. Late in the semester, I already became comfortable with creating and experimenting with new things, and this assignment in this course was a perfect place for creativity.
“I can never…”
It is surprisingly easy for me to finish this sentence. Although I learn and become more capable, I begin to set more limits for myself. While the learning outcomes could have been achieved through more traditional ways, I would still stay within the artificial boundary in that case. This course has stretched me in all directions, pushing me to reach the learning goals by undertaking unfamiliar tasks. I made my first website; I drew a lot; I searched for visuals online and resorted to various software when I reached my artistic capability; I tried various composing techniques to improve my original critical thinking and writing process. Instead of questioning myself and backing down immediately, analyzing the problems and looking for solutions become my first reactions when I have to get out of my comfort zone. Moreover, the happiness of sharing and a sense of achievement are very rewarding. I know people are reading, understanding, and liking my works after I post them on the website as well as social media. I hope my website is just the start of the conversation. And I will carry those five learning outcomes and the willingness to try farther along the way.