Portfolio Reflection Letter

Dear Portfolio Assessment Committee,

Honestly (shrug), I was not looking forward to this class at the start of the year. I have always been the type of English student who cringes at the thought of rhetorical analysis, book group discussions, and papers that connect themes across an array of literary texts. For me, this takes away from the naturalistic process of reading a text and formulating my own ideas that connect to the world around us. It was apparent, early on, that this class was going to be different. When Ms. Taneja (my teacher) introduced the syllabus, she began by asking us what our thoughts were on borders. Borders I thought to myself, were simply a physical barrier that divides two communities. But then I began to think beyond the scope of what a border literally is and began focusing on different types of borders. I left class that day realizing that borders affect our lives in such a vast number of ways, we just never stop to ponder this.

What improved the most about my writing ability during this course actually had little to do with my writing style, diction or syntax. Rather, the processes I took in order to craft my pieces are where I saw the most growth. In general, I have a tendency to overwrite because I often feel as if I am unsuccessful in getting my point across. I believe this occurs because I never really have taken the time to sit down and develop a strong outline prior to the start of my writing. The key word here is “strong.” I had always put together some variation of an outline for my writing pieces. However, many of them have been extremely simplified with ambiguous ideas. In my first blog post titled “writing processes,” I crafted a very basic outline. In my first paragraph, I wrote down two bullet points that I wanted to include: “information on different genres” and “writing web.” Looking back, I can see not only how unproductive these points were with streamlining my writing process, but also how vague and unhelpful they were in developing a concrete plan moving forward with my writing. To be perfectly honest, and this is a testament to how poor my writing process was early on this year, I forgot what a “writing web” was. I have since matured and grown with regards to the outlines I create for my writing pieces. In order to build a sturdy house, the foundation must be firmly cemented into the ground. The same goes for writing. You must have a substantial blueprint of what you plan on including in your work. For my last assignment of the year, this reflection letter, in my outline I made sure to break up each paragraph with specific key points and then sub-points that were related to those key points. Likewise, I even titled each paragraph with regards to the focal point. This way, when it came to actually writing my piece I knew exactly what I was intending on including for each portion. For the introductory paragraph of this letter, the outline reads: “Discuss my initial thoughts on the course” with sub-points that read: “whether I was excited or not to enroll in this course,” “my previous experiences in English courses” and “what was I intended on getting out of the course at the end of the semester.” It is evident that this outline is much more detailed and directed towards the progression of my letter as a whole compared to the outline I drafted for my first blog post. As a writer, my writing process was something I worked to amend greatly throughout this course and I believe I successfully accomplished this. In the future, I will continue to craft detailed outlines for my writing assignments, aware of how important they are in producing a strong written work.  

I was never fully aware of how important genre is in dictating the path you chose towards producing a written piece. Genre heavily impacts your tone and writing style and, depending on the specific genre, can vary drastically. For instance, If you are exploring a historical artifact and its relevance to a particular community, you may choose to maintain a very formal tone when discussing it. You may chose to present facts regarding this artifact and describe how it impacted those who were affected by it. On the contrary, if you were writing a satirical piece, a formal tone would not necessarily be appropriate. For my analysis of the incident “Bloody Sunday” I wrote with an impartial and more serious tone. For the piece I was analyzing, the genre was non-fiction and was made up of evidence obtained from historical documents. I understood the significance of this event and did not want to undermine its importance by including my own personal opinions and voice. In describing the author’s overall purpose for  writing “The Principal Conclusions and Overall Assessment of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry,” I explain that “this deeply rich and invigorating documentation of the events that took place during ‘Bloody Sunday’ provides audiences, through an unbiased report, the ability to reach their own conclusions on the events they perceive took place.” Although “wordy” and at times uninteresting, I believe this demonstrates the style of writing that is often associated with this genre. For my assignment on Toba Tek Singh, the genre varied greatly from the “Bloody Sunday” assignment. As a result so too did the writing style. In Singh’s quest to uncover his true identity, I wrote that, “I [Singh] along with the rest of the world cannot reach a middle ground here.” First off, I have included personal pronouns. I understand that I am not trying to present information in an unbiased manner and therefore will include directly how I am feeling. Second, I have chosen to create a connection to an outside source (the world). This means connecting the ideas presented in this literary piece to the ideas presented in other literary works. This is something that this genre allows me to do, but in the analysis of “Bloody Sunday” did not. Lastly, I keep it simple; aware that more words does not necessarily mean a clearer way to get your point across. Genre dictates the tone you write in. In “Bloody Sunday” the tone was very formal, in Toba Tek Singh the tone was less formal. As a result, there are a variety of things that are deemed appropriate and inappropriate to include in these particular written pieces.

One of the areas where I saw the most improvement over the course of the year pertains to my ability to synthesize the ideas of others in order to supplement my own beliefs. In my documentary review on “5 Broken Cameras” I successfully utilized the ideas presented in the film to support the themes that I felt were apparent. I noticed very early on in the documentary that Palestinian film director Emad Burnat presents his son’s growth and development alongside the increased hostility of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As the conflict progresses, we see Gibreel (Burnat’s son) grow as well. In order to demonstrate this overarching theme, I knew I would need evidence from the documentary to support my beliefs. In the very beginning of my review, I state that “This film quickly attempts to develop a relationship between the audience and Gibreel, a relationship that only strengthens as the film builds.” By driving home my thesis at the forefront of the assignment, it gives audiences a clear understanding of what to expect while they continue to read. I realize, however, that making these claims are only just claims without any supporting evidence. That is why during my review I explicitly recounted scenes that demonstrated the ideas of my thesis in full effect. For instance, with regards to the increased animosity surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I made the point that the Israelis “infiltrate Burnat’s community” and in the process “are extremely non negotiable.” Immediately after these statements, I reflect upon a scene where members of the Israeli Army arrive at Burnat’s home seeking his arrest. In brief, during my review I describe that they “rambunctiously entered his house while he was eating and refused to leave.” As the course progressed, I learned the value and importance that evidence brings in supplementing your ideas. Without any evidence, these opinions are simply your own personal thoughts. However, with quality information driving home these ideas, we suddenly view these ideas as much more impactful and valid.
Overall, I believe I grew greatly in these three areas. Not only do I feel more confident about my writing, but I feel as if my writing can actually have an impact on those who read it. I have since learned the valuable role a well designed outline can be in my overall writing process. I can determine exactly what I want to write and order these ideas exactly how I would like them to appear in my assignment. My usage of rhetoric and awareness of genre allows me to adjust my writing style in order to captivate audiences. Depending on the specific genre, I can tune my writing style (use more ethos if it is a formal piece or pathos if it is a more personal piece) in order to ensure that those who read my writing are fully aware the ideas I am trying to communicate. Lastly, I have learned to properly integrate the ideas of others to support my own individualized opinions. Aware of potential biases, I made sure that there was credibility behind the ideas of others and use this as evidence to supplement my own beliefs. With regards to borders, I would like to provide a few closing remarks.

I never really thought much about borders before this class. I believe this stems from the fact that I don’t live significantly close to an international border. Ironically, up until our discussions of borders I did not realize that my entire life has been spent encapsulated within a border. I grew up in the snobby and affluent town of Westport, CT. If you didn’t own an iPhone or wear the newest Vineyard Vines apparel you were considered “weird” and would be alienated. More importantly in my realization that I lived in a “bubble” was the fact that my high school was 97% white. I had never been exposed to a diversified community until I arrived at Emory. My eyes were instantly opened to a world outside of luxury and privilege. Here, students come from all walks of life. Here, all continents (except Antarctica) are represented. Here, all styles of clothing are acceptable. I had never before been surrounded by such an array of individuals.It is a melting pot. This sudden epiphany during the first week of school was very liberating for me. I was so brainwashed and conditioned to my style of life back at home that I was unaware of the outside world beyond Westport. There was a mental border that was standing in the way, preventing me from thinking beyond the scope of my life. Just 10 minutes down the road from me lies Bridgeport, a community with one of the largest wealth gaps in the country. I was so blind to the lives of others outside of my town that I never realized people do suffer. Borders are infinite and have a large impact on everyone’s life, whether you realize it or not.

Sincerely,

Chase Gornbein

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