Final Portfolio Reflection Letter

This site serves as an archive of the work I have completed my freshman year as part of ENG 181 at Emory University during the Spring Semester of 2021.

When searching for first-year writing courses, this specific course caught my eye because the description mentioned something about weekly sketches—I enjoy sketching—but I was also hesitant at the mention of comics—I could only think of superheroes, which I’m not super into. However, after fourteen weeks, I’m glad I chose this course since I was able to try a “non-standard” writing course and gain new insight into my writing process with tips for how to improve.

The Sunday Sketches—sketch assignments due on Sundays—didn’t feel like actual assignments but more like an unwinding activity. The first couple of Sunday Sketches—creating an avatar, sketching around a 3D object, creating visual notes, combining photos to create a new one—felt very random and more like graphic-design-course-assignments, but enjoyable nevertheless. The sketches that felt the most blatantly obvious to correlate with this course were the triptych and quadriptych—only because I crafted actual comic strips. However, looking back holistically now, I understand how each Sunday Sketch helped fulfill some of the learning outcomes. I arranged my visual thinking through different modes: using pen and paper to sketch, my phone to sketch digitally on Adobe Draw, PicsArt and VSCO for photo editing. Not only that, but the Sunday Sketches made me implement basic critical thinking techniques—what to include in my sketches and how to depict my ideas clearly—that came in handy for the bigger assignments, including the Literacy Narrative, Tracing Stitches and Spinning, and the Halfa-Kucha presentation.

The first big assignment was the Literacy Narrative, comprising three parts. Part one was the first alphabetical essay of my personal key experiences with writing and reading. The pre-writing exercise, which included listing ten memories to then choose one to describe in further detail, helped me organize possible writing topics—and seeing which ones had more potential for a full essay. But, being an indecisive person, I couldn’t decide on just one memory to focus on, so I selected a few to synthesize into one cohesive story. This first part demonstrates some of my biggest writing weaknesses, which include poor transitioning through my ideas and not being able to directly state my thesis. On a one-on-one meeting with Dr. Morgen, he mentioned that by stating a clear and confident thesis of my experiences as a low-income ethnic minority, I can make sense of the overall meaning of my story, which would help me make it more cohesive overall. He also specifically pointed to my third paragraph, in which I talk about my American school experiences, saying it was strong conceptually, but I didn’t transition into it effectively—in part due to my hidden thesis and because I didn’t set it up with enough context. I began my paragraph with “I attended kindergarten and half of the 1st grade in Mexico but never wrote any sort of short story as opposed to when I moved back to Texas and teachers were making me write stories about myself” thinking it was good enough information to provide my reader with. After Dr. Morgen’s feedback though, I realized how awkward it sounded after concluding the previous paragraph talking about how I read mangas and webtoons nowadays. I also realized, while in my first paragraph I talked about the first book I read, I never brought up how that happened in Mexico so I should have provided context at that point.

Part two entailed creating a comic version of my alphabetic narrative. This part was very challenging, especially going in with the mentality that ‘all I have to do is translate my words into visuals’—it was much more complex as I had to decide what to draw in conjunction with how much to write. In my first rough draft, every panel sketch matched up with what I wrote in my alphabetic narrative. But, in my next draft, I realized I couldn’t simply transfer word for word since my narrative wasn’t well-organized itself. During this process is when I rearranged my story. Sketching out my comic made it easier to visualize how I wanted to tell my story in a way that made my purpose clear. While in my first alphabetic narrative I started by talking about the first books I ever read but didn’t provide any context for how I got to that point until halfway through my essay, I decided it was more logical to start off mentioning how “I was born in Texas, but moved my to parents’ hometown in Mexico when I was around 3 years old, then returned to Texas when I was 7” instead. This helped me think of my experiences chronologically which made my story much more cohesive.
Part three consisted of going back to my alphabetic version from part one and revising it. If I had been told to revise it right after part one, I would’ve felt stuck and unmotivated to figure out how to organize my narrative cohesively. However, going from an alphabetic version to a comic version then back to alphabetic allowed me to think visually about my organization, how to transition more effectively in chronological order, as well as how much detail to provide to make my purpose clear.

The Tracing Stitches and Spinning assignment consisted of selecting one page from each comic to trace over and analyze for any patterns based on the essays we read earlier about writing comics. Although we weren’t drawing original comics, tracing over already published pages made me analyze each panel more in detail and provided insight into the authors’ decision-making process. Additionally, this assignment introduced me to a helpful writing tip. Making us write out our analysis first, then making the thesis the topic sentence of the final paragraph, it felt much easier to start my essay. Having been taught to write my thesis first followed by body paragraphs proving that thesis, it’s always a challenge for me to start essays because I don’t even know what I want to argue so this method was life-changing; I’ve implemented it in my last two art history papers which received praise for my thesis.

The Halfa-Kucha assignment—the simpler version of the Pecha-Kucha oral and visual presentation style—consisted of me analyzing how trauma is represented both productively and ethically in Sabrina and Good Talk. This assignment encouraged me to use the ideas on the representation of trauma in comics presented in prior-read essays to make my argument. While preparing my presentation was stressful—being limited to ten slides for twenty seconds each felt like my argument was limited too—it helped me hone in on what was most important to convey to my audience. I took this concept of limiting my time per slide and using compelling images to help convey the ideas I present orally for my final Japanese class project presentation this semester.

Stepping back and looking at the work I’ve produced this semester as a whole, I feel confident in being able to improve my writing. I’ve gained an insight into my writing process which always felt very unstable but I had no proper tips for improving. Usually, I give myself very little time to complete an essay, so I don’t have time for multiple drafts to think of proper revisions, but I avoid starting an essay because I never know what to write about. Thanks to this class, I’ve gained tips not only to help me organize my ideas before writing but to help me guide my editing/revision process—also how to give more effective presentations—which I can continue implementing in other courses.

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