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Semester Reflection

Over the course of the semester, I’ve seen my writing ability evolve more efficiently than it had throughout any given year of high school. Though my style remained much the same, I learned how to make what I was already doing more effective. While I had been relatively confident in my writing ability leading up to this class, I soon learned that many of the writing patterns I’d grown up with were adequate, but hindered me from creating a more wholesome, well rounded response or argument. I learned small rules that had applied previously, like refraining from writing in the first person and not asking guiding questions mid-paper, were no longer forcing my writing into the mold my previous teachers had cast for me. One such example comes from Essay #1 where I argued that communal property is a better system on which to build a utopian society. Historically, I would start a paper with a very broad perspective before narrowing to my topic, hoping to provide enough context for any reader to grasp my argument.  In the introduction, I mention capitalism and communism, authors we’ve focused on in other readings in class, and even go on to define what a utopia is. I extrapolate the issue of property to the point where it is irrelevant to my original argument, which hinders a readers’ ability to grasp my main point early on. Taking this criticism, I learned to write more directly and concisely, which made for a more efficient and effective persuasive piece.

The biggest change to my writing was the addition of the opposing argument. This hadn’t been completely absent from my previous writing, but the concept of dedicating an entire paragraph to arguing against myself was new and revolutionary. This culminated for the first time in Essay #1 as well, where I introduce the points made by More’s fictional version of himself. By including evidence from the opposite point of view, I was able to analyze the faults in More’s argument and respond to each individual point. Refuting specific aspects of More’s argument with evidence supporting my point of view made my argument more organized and focused each paragraph more directly toward each issue. This has been the most helpful skill I’ve learned, in terms of creating a holistic and all around more thorough argument. Along with writing more to the point, and analyzing quotes more effectively, this change has allowed for much better writing.

Prior to this class, I was prone to providing background information and then adding a quote as a sort of punchline. The pattern I had fallen into consisted of a claim, followed by evidence that would basically restate the larger point I was making. Evidence could be removed from my writing, and the piece would read much the same way. When the criteria was strictly just to have evidence, my writing habits served me well enough, however this style not only fell short on college rubrics, it didn’t make the best use of quality excerpts. I believe the strongest example of this change comes from Response Paper 4, where I discuss Brendan Bradshaw’s interpretation of More’s Utopia. This was the first piece where I felt my argument strengthen and become more well defined as I wrote, simply because I was doing much more to break down each piece of evidence. Instead of using each quote as a kicker at the end of a statement, I learned to elaborate on each point in every excerpt and how they related to my bigger argument. I noticed my argument became much more straightforward and clear to the reader with this change, and my essays started to flow better from point to point within each paragraph. I realized, while previously I was only echoing my statements with a reworded version written by someone else, now I was attaching my train of thought to other authors’, and using the two in tandem to create a more powerful point. My writing became stronger as I drew more credibility from the other texts I was using; this is how I knew I was using evidence properly and more effectively than before.

When I was asked to create a research question for our final research paper and presentation, I wasn’t sure what was being asked of me. Traditionally, I had always done comprehensive research and reported my overall findings on the subject. By creating a research question, I could better tailor my research to what was available, and set out to answer something specific. In Essay #2, The Rise and Fall of The Farm, I benefited greatly by creating a research question based upon the types of sources I was able to find early on in my research. As I scoured the internet for what credible information I could find, I soon noticed an abundance of first person exhibit sources, with a lack of scholarly articles written about my topic. This led me to create a question I could readily answer based on individual accounts instead of broader ‘commune theory’ as I’ve learned it to be called. Many former and current Farm members who were interviewed offered personal spins on the commune experience, and by recognizing trends in what they talked about I formed a question that I knew I would have enough evidence to answer effectively. I noticed most members focused on their journey to the farm and for many of them, why they eventually left after sacrificing so much. This inspired me to ask, “What led to the rapid success and eventual decline of The Farm community?”. By defining what type sources were the most available to me before creating a research question, I was able to focus my research efficiently toward a central question and therefore create a more compelling argument with adequate support from other sources.

This class put more emphasis on discussion than any I’ve taken previously. During the first quarter, as a class we struggled to build on others’ previous claims. I found myself adding to the conversation only by offering new evidence and what I thought about it, before trying to relate that to what someone else had said. When we were given cards that needed to be used to expand on another students’ point, and only one that allowed us to create a new topic of discussion, I noticed our discussions started to move in a more linear fashion. I was challenged to respond to others with ideas I had just had rather than ones I had come prepared to share. While less polished, this meant that our conversations actually moved forward as people offered differing points of view and added new evidence to an argument. By being forced to add to others’ ideas, we more thoroughly explored a topic before moving on. I found my opinions changing mid-discussion, which made for much more inspired response papers. From this point forward, I changed my close reading style. I no longer only looked for evidence to support something I planned on talking about, but started tagging specific passages where I noticed long running themes were present. This allowed me to contribute more effectively in class, because I wasn’t focused on working my argument into the group discussion, but could instead add whatever information or examples I had that were relevant to the topic. Not only did this create more interesting dialogue in class but it also simplified the search for evidence late on, when writing a response.

Though individual presentations in class were limited, they provided a great opportunity to demonstrate learning. My final presentation, The Technicolor Amish, benefited greatly from the organizational and writing skills I had learned throughout the semester. Earlier, I discussed how having a broad introduction can distract from an argumentative paper, using Essay #1 as an example. I employed this tactic when writing my final paper, and because the presentation was meant to compliment the writing piece, I used it to provide better context to my topic. I gave background information about the time period and the issues society was facing at the time that I didn’t mention anywhere in the paper. This allowed the audience to better understand the movement I referenced so they could connect with the information being presented, as well as comprehend why the topics behind my research question were relevant to more than just The Farm, my topic. Then I was able to explain my argument on a broader scale than I did in the accompanying essay, without using all of the specific quotes I had employed in my writing. Through changing the way I wrote throughout the semester, I was also able to gain new perspective on how to present.

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