Hello, my name is Daniel Genzelev and I’m a freshman at Emory University. English has always been the most difficult academic subject for me. I am far more comfortable with mathematics, so I am pursuing a degree in Applied Mathematics. However, after this semester, I am much more confident in my writing ability and no longer fear writing essays. Specifically, my analytical ability and fluidity have improved significantly. This improvement is highlighted by multiple of my written works from throughout the semester.
Known-new chain: transitions and flow
Entering the course, I had competent structure in my writing. I was taught to consistently add information to the topic of the previous sentence in each new sentence, even though this concept was never formally introduced as the “known-new chain”. I never knew the initial part of the sentence as the “topic” and the end of the sentence as the “stress”, which is supposed to add to the topic. However, I still enhanced the topics of each sentence, either in the “stress”, or in the next sentence. Yet, despite my ability to formulate coherent arguments, my writing always lacked fluidity. Even while reading my own works, I could tell that my paragraphs were choppy and seemed more like multiple sentences were mashed together instead of a smooth blend of these sentences. Professor Cooke noticed the issue, and provided constructive feedback, which in turn allowed me to improve on this crucial aspect of my writing. Now, I believe my writing is easier and more pleasant to read.
Artifact 1: In-Class Writing 4: Paul Robeson
Written on September 2, my fourth in-class writing assignment illustrates my writing level at the beginning of the Semester, prior to the introduction of the known-knew chain. This excerpt exemplifies my initial problems regarding the known-knew chain:
“His selection to play Othello in Shakespeare’s Othello marked a ground-breaking achievement for African Americans in the theater world. Robeson infiltrated a predominantly white industry: the images show Robeson next to only white actors, rather than African Americans. Robeson’s casting proved not only that he was capable of reaching the expected level of actors, but that he could surpass most and become a superstar.”
Although the second sentence and third sentences add to the “theatre world” discussed in the first sentence, addressing the racial aspect of the industry; together, the three sentences sound choppy and repetitive. There is practically no variation in the start of the sentences: the first sentence begins with “his, the second with “Robeson” and the third with “Robeson’s”. The lack of fluidity makes it harder for readers to see how I implemented the known-knew chain by augmenting to information from the first sentence in the proceeding sentences. Furthermore, the excerpt is completely void of transition words, making it seem primitive. There was certainly plenty of room of improvement.
Artifact 2: Proposal Final Draft:
This artifact demonstrates my writing level toward the middle of the Semester. Although Professor Cooke commented how my writing was well-structured, containing all necessary parts of paragraphs, there was still one blatant weakness in my writing: flow and transitions. Here is an excerpt from my Proposal Final Draft:
“The exhibit illustrates the significance of the drum, as well as music as a whole, as the melodies changed with time. Dubois employs music as a gateway to understanding the true state of African Americans in the United States.”
The topic of my first sentence is the importance of music to my exhibit, and I correctly executed one aspect of the known-knew chain in the sense that I augmented to the topic in the next sentence. However, the two sentences together are choppy, and do not flow well, sounding rough. Professor Cooke recognized the strength of my idea, but provided me with feedback regarding my lack of transition or signal word in between the two sentences. In the beginning of the Semester, I was successfully implementing some aspects of the known-knew chain, but had not fully incorporated every single aspect into my writing, resulting in solid ideas but poor flow. Professor Cooke mentioned how the flow was better than in my previous assignments, but was still not at the level it could be.
Artifact 3: Reflection Diary 1
This artifact demonstrates my improvement in utilizing transition words to make my writing flow more smoothly. There is a new transition word in around a third of the sentences, with rare repetition. Earlier in the Semester, such as in my Proposal Final Draft, I would use maybe one transition per paragraph, but my Reflection Diary 1 illustrates my improvement. Although the due date for this assignment was a mere four days after the Proposal Final Draft, I focused on improving the numerous comments Professor Cooke gave regarding lack of transitions in between sentences of my Proposal, and the tangible result is demonstrated by this excerpt from my Reflection Diary 1:
“Actual content begins in the “Stories” section, which is first from the left-hand side and is essentially ski-world news, displaying articles on both the racing and freestyle disciplines. Next, “Gear Locker” displays the latest gear, along with reviews and special sales. Following the “Gear Locker”, “Videos” showcases new epic ski-lines by famous skiers. Unlike the previous three tabs, the next tab, “Monumental” does not clearly convey the content it contains.”
The first sentence establishes what my topic will be: actual website content. Then, I add new details to the known idea of content by describing several tabs which display the website’s material. Each sentence highlights a new method the material is displayed, and this addition of detail is a key aspect of the known-new chain. However, unlike in Proposal, I utilized transition words to ensure my Reflection Diary 1 was smooth and easy to read. Each sentence uses a transition: “Next”, “Following”, and “Unlike”. Once I truly recognized that flow was a serious problem in my writing, I diverted a majority of my editing time to correcting my choppiness, and the result of this effort is evident in my Reflection Diary 1.
At the beginning of the semester, I tended to start analyzing an idea, but then begin paraphrasing either what was already given to me about the idea. If I did not paraphrase, I often did not analyze the idea thoroughly; instead, I stopped not far below the surface. However, as the course progressed, I was able to explore deeper concepts intricately, which several of my works exemplify.
Artifact 1: In-Class Writing: August Wilson
Analysis is arguably one of the most important skills for a writer: delving deep into concepts and avoiding remaining at the superficial surface is essential for every strong essay. On one of the first days of class, Professor Cooke had us respond critically to the ideas discussed in an excerpt of a speech delivered by August Wilson. Here is an excerpt of my analysis:
“I believe that your original perspective has been broadened by your real-life plight and other experiences. The African American community, like you said, has so much to offer America culturally, but unfortunately the ignorance of others bars the rest of us from learning about that intricate culture.”
While I offer some new information by mentioning how Wilson’s view was enhanced by his personal experiences, I did not truly venture beneath the surface. In the second sentence, rather than analyzing Wilson’s speech, I simply restate his words: essentially, instead of analyzing, I paraphrased and summarized. However, I was able to analyze my own response:
“I believe I responded to your speech in the way that I did due to both my family history and the current environment of race relations in the United States.”
When it came to my own personal views, I was able to look past superficiality and explore more nuanced causes of my reaction, such as my family history. However, I did not perform the same level of analysis on the ideas of others.
Artifact 2: Curated Exhibit
One of the two largest projects of the Semester, along with the Narrative Essay, the Curated Exhibit certainly required a great deal of analysis. First, I needed to analyze my chosen play in order to ascertain the central themes. Next, I had to find and analyze multimedia such as images, videos, and sound clips, to effectively draw a conclusion from these multiple artifacts, and convey the conclusion, through my captions for these artifacts, to an audience. For example, I analyzed specific aspects of each image, such as facial expressions, or colors and related these details to my theme. I believe the caption for the following image of slaves working on a plantation (see link, cannot download images from Billops-Hatch Collection, and my screenshot is not working) best represents my analytical improvement:
“This image corresponds to the second Act of Tom-Tom, which focuses on slavery and plantation life. The slaves can be seen wearing identical uniforms, which symbolize how masters attempted to strip slaves of their humanity by taking away their individuality. The plantation songs in the second Act reflect this forced conformism: some focus on the hatred of captivity, while others are more traditional African songs to boost morale. Furthermore, a new genre, call-and-response, stemmed from the plantation era. Tom-Tom’s musical accompaniment gradually shifts to call-and-response as the second Act progresses, signifying the African American generational transition.”
I picked out a small detail, identical clothes, and connected it to the larger theme of conformism and reduction of individuality during slavery. Furthermore, I expanded on this idea by relating plantation songs to conformism. My main theme for the exhibit was how music is representative of African American generational identity, and I connected this central idea to a seemingly irrelevant image, through intricate analysis. However, the curated exhibit tested my ability to analyze information not related to myself. The exhibit avoided testing my ability to analyze myself, a skill that my next artifact will demonstrate my improvement in.
Artifact 3: Reflection Diary 3: Peer-Review Session
For the third and final Reflection Diary Entry of the semester, I was tasked with analyzing the effectiveness of the in-class peer-review session on the portfolio project. Along with evaluating the group dynamic and contributions of each member, I had to analyze the session as a whole, evaluating myself and my project, to formulate a set of goals for the next session. These excerpts from my Diary Entry reflects my ability to successfully perform all of the aforementioned tasks:
“I discussed specific instances in multiple assignments to demonstrate exactly how I have improved, but I lacked an introduction and an overview of my weaknesses. In contrast, Sophie included the overview and posted pdf’s of the assignments she plans on discussing, but she did not mention concrete areas of the assignments. These differences proved to be beneficial, since she could provide me feedback on the grand scheme, and I was able to do vise-versa. I would say we contributed equally.”
“1) For my next peer review, I might ask to submit the email to Professor Cooke by midnight that day, so we can focus on the review for the entire class period and avoid the last-minute rush.
2) I want to come to the next peer review with specific questions about my portfolio. An example of a specific question I will definitely ask is, “what do you think of the way I’ve structured my portfolio? Do you think it would be more logical and/or aesthetically appealing to organize it another way?
3) I want to have direct quotes from my assignments rather than just descriptions of how I improved in each. Then, I could ask my partner for his/her opinion on whether what I selected is actually consistent with the writing errors I have been focusing on.”
The first excerpt is my analysis of the effectivity of the session. I was able to provide specific instances and reasons as to why my group functioned well. Instead of avoiding being critical of my own work and Sophie’s work, I was able to set aside personal pride and find flaws in my own work. Likewise, in my goals, I recognized that I struggle to be critical of my own work, an epiphany that I believe is an example of my ability to truly analyze myself. In my first artifact, the in-class writing, I discussed my family, but I did not discuss personal flaws or acknowledge any of my shortcomings. Yet, in this artifact, I was able to delve deeper into my character and my work, highlighting how my analytical ability has improved during the semester.
Featured Artifact: Narrative Essay
The Narrative Essay pushed me more than any other assignment of the semester. In order to effectively describe my curated exhibit through the eyes of a visitor, I had to employ the known-new chain, specifically in my transitions, and analysis. I had to consistently use transitions so the writing would not become monotonous and tedious, and I needed to analyze each of my 11 artifacts in order to express their positives as well as their short-comings from the perspective of an unbiased visitor to the exhibit.
I recognized that merely describing every artifact would not truly epitomize the thinking process of a viewer. Visitors to an exhibit often pause to reflect on what they have seen, so I implemented these reflective pauses in my Narrative Essay. The pauses required a great deal of analytical skills I developed from each of artifacts. Moreover, the level of self-analyzing I did during these pauses was perhaps the most introspection I have done on my own work in my writing career. I had to analyze specifically what I outlined as a struggle in my third artifact: errors in my own writing, as well as the creative layout I envisioned for my exhibit. Upon reading my Narrative Essay, Professor Cooke specifically commented on the effectiveness of these reflective pauses, which truly allowed me to realize just how far I had come as a writer this semester.
Furthermore, in order for the pauses to function well with the rest of my Narrative Essay, I needed to implement transitions seamlessly, to preserve the fluidity I had worked so hard to achieve by using both signal and transition words. In my opinion, my best reflective pause is the following:
“I pause for a moment, in order to reflect on what I have seen so far. Thus far, the exhibit seems to be about the music in a play, which is named after an African drum. The play begins from in the pre-slavery era, and by the end of Act 1, transitions to the slavery era, with Africans being portrayed in an overcrowded slave ship. I recall the title of the exhibit, African American Identity and Oppression through Music. The exhibit seems to be depicting the music of different eras through the orchestra of a play: a novel concept. My brief reflection concludes, and I wander through the door under the image.”
I maintain fluidity by smoothly transitioning to the reflection, rather than using the rough switches I employed so frequently in the beginning of the semester. Then, I analyze exactly what a random visitor would have deduced from the exhibit at that point. Finally, I transition out of the moment by using physical movement: wandering into the next room.
The Narrative essay forced me to turn my weaknesses into strengths, and I did just that through the reflective pauses, which ended up being the main highlights of my essay.