A Journey of Inspiration, Positivity, and Creative Learning

From beginning to end, I have been engaged and enlightened by Professor Morgen’s English 101 Secret Language of Comics course. It isn’t everyday where a student can look forward to attending their English class. I was inspired by the teaching and work of Professor Morgen. The structure and elements of his course required one to be creative with their thinking and free with their writing. Through creating our own websites for this class, Professor Morgen wanted class work and class discussions to be an open space for students to feel comfortable stating their opinions and ideas. Through the analysis of traumatic graphic narratives, completion of Sunday Sketches, and reflection posts, the course material implemented all aspects that would allow the student to achieve the listed learning outcomes. However, Professor Morgen taught me much more. The following paragraphs will go in-depth on how certain assignments and interactions for this course helped me recognize the importance and meaning of visual thinking and writing.

The first learning outcome stated is to “compose texts in multiple genres, using multiple modes (Written, Aural, Nonverbal, Digital).” This learning outcome can be seen through my completion of Sunday Sketches, where I had to think outside of the box and illustrate, capture, and/or recreate an image that matches the assignment prompt. The creative aspect of the Sunday Sketches contributed to my thought process for the major assignments. For every written assignment, Professor Morgen emphasized the importance of using media and illustrations to further explain the purpose of a student’s work. I would sometimes derive ideas I used for my Sunday Sketches, and incorporate them into my major assignments. To be more specific, I utilized ideas ranging from how to draw a globe to using a certain template for creating comic panels for my Tracing Maus and Literacy Comics. The Sunday Sketches allowed me to experiment with my creative ideas and see how they would apply to the other components of this course.

We began the course with the reading of Maus, a graphic memoir of Vladek Spiegelman’s holocaust experiences. The story is being told by his son, Art Spiegelman. The traumatic storyline of Maus exemplifies visual thinking and writing, as Art Spiegelman has illustrated the events remembered by his father. However, what makes this graphic comic more fascinating is the fact that Art Spiegelman uses animals to assume the roles of human characters. Professor Morgen expected us to make this unique observation while reading, but he knew we were capable to notice additional unordinary aspects of Spiegelman’s writings. To test our creative minds, he assigned us the Tracing Maus Project as the first major assignment of the semester. The assignment instructions were quite intimidating, but Professor Morgen encouraged us to think creatively rather than thinking about how to accurately accomplish the assignment. He emphasized from the beginning how he is here to guide and teach us. He isn’t here to penalize us. The project consisted of tracing two pages from the comic and analyzing three different writing techniques utilized by Spiegelman on both pages. From discovering similarities among facial expressions to the importance of the size of the images, I never expected myself to be capable of conducting such a thorough literary analysis. More importantly, I was surprised and pleased with my ability to write about my visual analysis and how I interpreted the illustrations. When revisiting my reflection for this assignment, I stated, “…discovering three similarities and differences in different context between the two pages was engaging and enjoyable. I loved expanding on my thoughts of why Spiegelman would include these details in his writing and illustrations, and the role they played in relation to the story.” To this day, I would have never thought that I would enjoy conducting a close reading analysis of any story. I am convinced that class discussions regarding the literary techniques used by Spiegelman, along with Professor Morgen’s breakdown of each chapter, helped me visualize Art’s stories. Additionally, the steps leading to completion of this project resulted in an accomplishment of all of the learning outcomes.

Technically, part one of the Literacy Narrative Project was the first major assignment for this course. However, I wanted to devote this section to all three parts of the Literacy Narrative Project, so I could explain why it was such an impactful creative writing assignment for me. When beginning Professor Morgen’s class, I knew I would grow as a writer in various components. From utilizing technologies and illustrations to analyzing and evaluating student and teacher feedback, I realized what it takes to make every piece of writing unique and full of purpose. When writing My Literacy Narrative, I selected a topic that was quite personal. As I sat down with Professor Morgen to discuss the first draft, he expressed great interest in my topic and offered suggestions that could improve my work. We discussed a range of ideas from including a more specific conflict to highlighting the emotional factors of the situation. He also told me that by creating the cartoon for my narrative, I will truly figure out what was missing. I was missing conflict. I did not recognize the importance of including conflict in my essay till I completed the first draft of my Literacy Narrative Comic. Illustrating my narrative allowed me to visualize each scene. As I illustrated panel by panel, I noticed the gaps in my story. I was able to fill these gaps with a culmination of my own ideas along with the ideas of my peers and Professor Morgen. When I mentioned to Professor Morgen that I wanted to rhyme the dialogue of my comic, he was very encouraging. He has been encouraging through all parts of this assignment. I was able to use his encouragement to motivate myself to create the most effective piece of writing and effective comic. This project taught and showed me how “practice makes perfect,” and that I should never be afraid to be creative. I believe I achieved all of the learning outcomes for this three-part project. This ranges from completing multiple revisions and drafts of both my alphabetical narrative and comic to seeking, incorporating, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating the feedback of my peers and professor.

Before moving into my learning analysis of the next major assignment, I had to mention how I have discovered illustrations to be helpful with my other courses. This is similar to how they were helpful with noticing the lack of conflict in my literacy narrative. I have started incorporating illustrations in my notes for classes, such as Economics and Sociology. For these content heavy courses, I was always struggling on how to remember certain pieces of information. However, once completing one of the first Sunday Sketches titled, “Visual Note Taking,” I realized that using visualization strategies could be beneficial. To quote directly from the reflection I wrote for this assignment, I stated, “…I used arrows to connect the main word, “Sociology,” with the other sub-topics, and then connected the sub-topics with their main points. While that may sound quite confusing, the visual notes have already reduced the amount of confusion I had towards this material.” With my final exams approaching, I have at least 2-3 illustrations (pictures and charts) on my Economics and Sociology study guides to assist with my memorization and understanding of the content. Through constructing these diagrams, I also noticed information from the study guide that I was missing in my review.

I consider the Comparing Stitches and Spinning Major Project and Mapping Climate Changed Project to be my weakest points for this course. However, they both provided a very effective learning experience. Stitches and Spinning were two traumatic graphic memoirs with very meaningful storylines. Quoting directly from my comparison essay, I stated, “While David’s story (Stitches) exemplifies the struggle of health and family, Tillie’s story (Spinning) focuses on the struggle of dealing with the pressure to perform and being someone that she isn’t. They share an obstacle that can best be summarized by the phrase, ‘the struggle within oneself.’ Their goal is to discover freedom.” I was pleased with the comparative analysis I made above between the themes of the two memoirs. Unfortunately, I felt that I struggled to bring it all together in my final Stitches and Spinning Comparison Essay. When conferencing with Professor Morgen, I remember telling him that I was not pleased with how I conveyed my ideas regarding both stories. I wasn’t surprised when he responded with very encouraging feedback, such as emphasizing the strong content and quotes that I have already incorporated into my piece. The mistakes came in the introduction and with a specific clarification that needed to be made in the body paragraphs. To be more specific, the clarification was related to the element of unspeakability that was highlighted in the graphic memoirs. In the first version of my essay, I stated that neither of the authors were able to express their emotions and thoughts due to their respective hardships. However, Professor Morgen insisted that by conducting a visual analysis, I will notice that their narratives are their voice. For David Small, his voice was Stitches, while Spinning was the voice of Tillie Walden. This discovery, with the assistance of Professor Morgen, helped me see a whole new perspective of my essay. I decided to set up an argument by including the revised sentences, “Small tells his story through the lens of unspeakability. However, one may argue that Small voiced his emotions through the text. I agree that the dialogue is his voice, but my perspective on the idea of unspeakability focuses on David Small’s family life.” The inclusion of the argumentative statement towards the end allows me to continue with my comparison without stating any factually incorrect information. Once again, the learning process for this assignment emphasized the learning outcomes of analyzing the ideas of peers/teachers, demonstrating visual thinking strategies, and continued revisions.

The Mapping Climate Changed project exemplifies the importance of illustrations when explaining specific components to a very educationally-driven graphic novel. Reading Climate Changed felt like reading a textbook, but with the inclusion of many images. It was a satisfying change from the traumatic graphic memoirs. If one could not tell by the title, Climate Changed highlights the issue of climate change. Author, Phillipe Squarzoni, explains the causes and consequences of climate change through documenting scientific research, expert interviews, and statistical line graphs. This is all done in the form of a comic. The assigned project focused on selecting one of the illustrated images in the graphic novel that is identically repeated more than two times throughout the story. Although these images are identically repeated, they possess different meanings. I chose to analyze the statistical line graphs. If one visually analyzed the statistical line graphs in the comic, they will notice that all of the lines represent the same chart. The difference is that their respective panels are zoomed in and out at various angles. By tracing over the graphs onto a separate sheet of paper, and placing them against each other, I made the observation that the length and breaks of the lines are the exact same. While it was difficult to illustrate my observation due to my mediocre artistic abilities, I stated in my reflection post, “Through comparing the three graphs, I realized how the variation in increasing and decreasing temperatures represent the multiple factors that influence our climate…When mapping the three graphs, I noticed that there were common points of increase and decrease. Squarzoni was effective in using these similar graphs to explain the different causes of changes in temperature in our climate. Reading, writing, and analyzing this graphic novel greatly attributed to my writing and reading skillset, as well as my knowledge on climate change. By reading this comic, I was able to notice how an educational/information-based genre can be composed into a visual text, which relates to the learning outcome discussing the composition of texts in multiple genres. Additionally, I felt I achieved the learning outcomes of visualized thinking, practiced and revised writing, and analyzing main ideas from this graphic novel and project.

I like to think that I am truly blessed to have had such a positive, inspirational, and effective first-year writing experience. I credit this experience to the teaching and persona of Professor David Morgen as well as my class peers. From a personal and learning standpoint, Professor Morgen did an exceptional job of making the classroom a place where one can expect learning to be productive and enjoyable. There was never a dull moment. He would always encourage us to participate and share our ideas. He would insist conferencing with our class peers, and with himself, inside and outside of the classroom. This not only helped improved my visual writing, reading, and thinking skills, but also helped build friendships with my classmates and Professor Morgen. It is a special feeling to create these types of bonds. As from a learning standpoint, the best way to describe the value of this course was by writing this reflection paper. The first thing I realized from writing this reflection was how all of the learning outcomes were achieved within the first 3 weeks of the course. Professor Morgen wanted his students to get a lot more out of his class than just the learning outcomes. I learned how to write with clarity and a purpose. I learned how to write a more substantial and meaningful introduction and conclusion. These are skills that cannot be taught within a one hour and fifteen-minute class period. These are skills that can only be taught by a professor who cares about how much students learn. Thanks to Professor Morgen’s constant feedback and willingness to help, I continue to build on the learning outcomes and additional skills I have learned from this course. I am committed to further developing these skills over the course of my collegiate career. I am sincerely thankful for the guidance of Professor Morgen and hope to seek his teaching expertise in the near future. The impact has been life-changing and motivating.

My Self-Illustration of the Connection of Creative Thinking, Reading, and Writing to the Major Assignments in this course:

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Examples of my work:

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One of my Tracing Pages from the Tracing Maus Project. Notes of my observations can be seen within the traced panels.
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A page from my final Literacy Comic. All panels are self drawn. All dialogue (rhymed dialogue) is my own words.
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My Sociology Visual Notes (Sunday Sketch) described in a section of my essay.