English 101: Visual Writing has definitely been a wild and interesting ride. When I enrolled into the course, little did I know it would be a class centered around graphic novels, and even less that it would be the most impactful English class of my life. Professor Morgen’s class, while completing all the desired learning outcomes, led me to develop more coherent writing through the usage of visual tools.
At the beginning of the semester, we were presented with five learning outcomes for the course. They are the following:
- Rhetorical Composition: Students compose texts in multiple genres, using multiple modes with attention to rhetorical situations.
- Critical Thinking and Reading: Resulting in Writing As they undertake scholarly inquiry and produce their own arguments, students summarize, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the ideas of others.
- Writing as Process: Students practice writing as a process, recursively implementing strategies of research, drafting, revision, editing, and reflection.
- Digital Citizenship / Digital Identity Students: use technology appropriately and engage responsibly in online spaces.
- Visual Literacy: Students demonstrate visual thinking strategies
In the span of a semester, we were able to go through all of them thoroughly. On of the most obvious one is perhaps Rhetorical Composition, which dealt with a bulk of the class’ assignments. The main assignments which helped complete this were “Tracing Maus”, the Pyongyang vs. Palestine comparative essay, and “Mapping Spinning”. All reflections for these assignments and Sunday Sketches also contributed greatly to the completion of this goal.
The second outcome, Critical Thinking and Reading, was completed through the reading of Maus 1-2, Pyongyang, Palestine, and Spinning. Getting used to reading graphic novels was a really tough task, given my lack of experience with graphic novels and the unsurprising fact that my high school in Nicaragua had never taken this approach for a writing class. After thoroughly reading through these, we would have to elaborate complex and unconventional assignments, posed with complex prompts which required intense critical thinking. For example, “Mapping Spinning” really pushed the limit compared to any literary analysis I had done previously: tracking graphing and interpreting patterns on a variable shown in the graphic novel proved to be extremely complex, but inmensely rewarding when arriving to conclusions; by tracking the amount of panels containing yellow, I was able to establish a relationship between hope and the tone of the novel, explicitly showing it with a scatterplot.
The third learning outcome, Writing as Process, was most evident in the Literacy Narrative project, in which we students had to first write an essay on our relationship with reading, and later on transcribe it to a comic. Although it initially sounded easy, it forced me to change my writing process, organize my thoughts, and more coherently connect ideas in order for clear graphic translation to be possible.
The fourth learning outcome we completed was Digital Citizenship, which was s very important part of the class. Our platform for assignments was WordPress, meaning anything that we had to submit had to be posted to our own webpage. This taught me how to operate a basic website and organize ideas within it. Multiple assignments, mostly being Sunday Sketches, required the inclusion of online images; in this class we learned the importance of using copyrighted images with citations, and the skill to look for free-to-use images.
The fifth and last learning outcome was Visual Literacy, which was covered mostly through the analysis of the actual comics in the graphic novels we read. Through the aid of Understanding Rhetoric and online readings, we learned how to properly interpret comics and how to create the on our own, using different visual strategies in order to more effectively convey our story.
In this course we dealt with a great variety of assignment. The smaller ones were Sunday Sketches, in which we were posed some sort of visual composition challenge and we’d reflect on it after completion. Then came the bulky assignments, which were much more substantial and took a great deal of time. The first was our Literacy Narrative, where we created an essay narrating our relationship to reading and then transcribing the essay into a comic; his was the only assignment not related to a specific book. Then came Tracing Maus, where we’d trace three key panels of any of the two books, analyze them in depth, and make three claims about the books based on our analysis. Our third assignment was the Pyongyang vs. Palestine comparative essay. This was not a regular essay however, since we were not just comparing the plots, but rather the elements each respective author used in their omics in order to depict the realities of the countries in their respective novels. Lastly, we completed an assignment titled Mapping Spinning, where we tracked a variable (I chose panels containing yellow), analyzed the data, and drew conclusions, connecting the data to the plot and development of the novel. In my assignment, I presented “the operationalization of ‘hope’, a recurring theme in the graphic novel which is symbolized by the presence of the color yellow in a panel”.
The assignment from which I learned the most was definitely the Literacy Narrative Comic. As I wrote the essay, I brushed through the outlining process and easily completed what I thought was a great essay. However, when it came the time to transcribe it into a comic, I realized my writing was not fluent, nor coherent, and jumped around time spaces with no apparent direction. This forced me to reconsider my entire narrative writing process and ended up changing the order of my narrative in order to properly convey it in comic form. I realized that comic transcription is the ultimate test for coherency, and this is a tool that will help me for the rest of my life. I will not be developing complex comics as I did in my assignment, of course, but transcribing my writing and ideas into a narrative-visual representation will be something I do in the future in order to ensure the greatest quality of writing I am capable of. This class also taught me about the beauty of graphic novels; being a person who does not enjoy reading very much, this served as a fresh start to a new form of literature, which I will be recreationally pursuing for my time to come. This has undoubtedly been the most impactful English class I have every taken in my life.
Henry del Carmen