Portfolio Reflection Letter

Dear Portfolio Assessment Committee:

My name is Max and I am currently taking Ms. Taneja’s English 101 course.  At first when I saw the class title, This Place Called India, I felt a bit intimidated.  I never took an honors or AP English class in high school, so I already believed that I would struggle throughout the semester.  Adding onto my overwhelmed feeling about taking an undergraduate level English course, I knew little to nothing about India or its culture.  However as I soon realized, my lack of knowledge about the nation and advanced writing would not hinder me.  I have actually become a more confident and organized writer by simply enjoying the interesting subject matter and then applying it to various genres.

An important aspect of this course was to be able to write in an array of styles that apply to ranging audiences.  For example, in the first half of the semester we were tasked with creating a Photo Essay about the British Raj (India under Great Britain’s rule).  I knew that for this assignment, I had to appeal to larger audience, specifically one that was interested in learning about Indian history.  To cater to the readers, I ensured to include pictures with interesting captions that would grab their attention.

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Figure 1. A photo with its caption from my Photo Essay that I used to support my argument.

Later in the semester, the class received an assignment to write an Argumentative Essay.  This genre seemed more like the style of writing that I was accustomed to in high school, so I was definitely more in my comfort zone.  While the photo essay targeted a larger audience, this essay helped me develop my skills by appealing to a smaller group.  This group was comprised of immigrants thinking of moving to another country.  Using Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreting Maladies, I wrote about two immigrant families, their behaviors, clothing style, and overall quality of life in order to show potential outcomes of moving to an unfamiliar location.

During the last month of classes, we were required to write two reviews – one about a Bollywood film and the other about an Indian restaurant.  In my movie review, I provided an analysis about Swades, directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, and aimed to inform potential watchers about whether it was worth seeing.  Similarly in my food review, I summarized my experience at Chat Patti in Decatur for readers to decide if they would want to dine there.  Since these reviews are for readers interested in satisfying food or an enjoyable movie (just about anybody), my style was much more informal than in other assignments.  This genre is commonly seen by a large audience, so it was important to make the pieces informative and of course, enjoyable to read.

Of course, this class has also boosted my confidence as a writer, and has allowed me to take more risks for the sake of creativity.  In January, I found myself constantly staring at a rubric, trying to write exactly what was asked, and nothing more.  The result was that my early blog posts, such as my Keywords Reflection seemed bland and incredibly systematic.

Whenever I write, I follow certain steps in order to ensure that my work is the best it can be. Surprisingly, I was using many of the terms we discussed in class without even knowing. For example, I always start my writing process by reading my prompt and determining what the rhetorical situation is. This helps me plan what I will say in an essay because it gives me an initial idea of what details I will include. My next step is usually to think about as much information about the topic as I can and formulate a main idea to guide my writing. When writing the main idea, or thesis, I make sure that it is worded very specifically to address all parts of the prompt.

After seeing my plain approach to writing, my goal for the course was to find my voice and not strictly stick to what a rubric requires.

Therefore, I knew when I wrote my Interview Article about an Indian immigrant, Rita Kapahi, who moved to the United States thirty-three years ago, that I would work to achieve my aim.  The article was supposed to read similarly to one from The New York Times, so I was able to work my voice into a more casual piece. Writing this piece made me realize that my argument would be weak without analyzing what my interviewee said.  By creating an Annotated Bibliography, I was able to strengthen my argument further with varying evidence about other immigrants’ lives.

Rita initially lived in Smyrna, and as it turns out none of her neighbors were like she was. They were all White, and most of them had never come into contact with a person of Indian descent. Unfortunately for them, they did not even seize the opportunity to meet one, as Rita says that most of her neighbors never attempted to get to know her. They took no time to consider that she was in an new, unfamiliar location, and stayed away simply because she wasn’t like them. Dr. Fred de Sam Lazaro, the director of the Under-Told Stories Project at the University of St. Thomas, similarly speaks of arriving in Minnesota and standing out as one of the only Indians in an almost completely white area. Both Lazaro and Rita speak of a unique perspective, in which they were judged simply because they were different.

Using others’ works, I could relate Rita’s story with others’ experiences to increase the ethos of my article.  With these elements, the article turned out to be unlike any other work I had written, as it was much more personal and less robotic.  I also saw myself grow as a critical writer and thinker by relating different works back to my interview.

Definitely the most important aspect of any piece of my writing is the planning and revision that occurs.  For the majority of compositions throughout the semester, the class would talk about a topic or genre, brainstorm, write a draft, review each other’s work, and later, edit.

While following this process, I avoided simple grammatical errors and disorganization, and composed pieces that flowed seamlessly.  The work that I definitely put the most time into planning and perfecting was my interview article.  Before even sitting down with my interviewee, I had to draft a tentative list of questions and hold a mock interview with a classmate.  This practice-run allowed me to see how the real conversation would proceed.

Did you live close to any family?

What are the ethnicities of your friends in America?

Did you experience any discrimination?  How so?

Do you still practice your customs/traditions from India?

How has your opinion of the United States changed from before you arrived to now?

What is your favorite experience from living in the United States?

Using my partner’s feedback, I was able to add these questions to my list in order to learn more interesting details about my interviewee.

After working on my questions, I met with my interviewee and tried to get as much information as possible to include in my article.  I recorded the whole conversation, and made sure to jot down important points that she made.  Without starting my draft, I then listened to the eleven minute clip and planned my entire essay on two post-it notes.

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Figure 2. Post-it notes that I used to plan/outline my Interview Article.

I used this outline to organize my work and have enough information to reach the 1000-1200 word limit.  Upon completion of the article, I then contacted Rita and asked her to read it over and to tell me what needed improvement.  With her help, I added more personal information to make the essay as accurate as possible.  In my draft I said:

Rita and her husband attended some of the best Indian universities.  They met in America but had their homeland in common.  Additionally, they both shared a common work interest, so this helped them bond.

However, I revised this section with additional information from Rita to make my article more detailed.  My final draft included the following:

She says that both of them went to top-tier schools in India, so they had an instant connection not only from work, but from the knowledge that they shared. In fact, Rita and her husband’s first conversation was about their joint love for ALGOL, a now obsolete computer language.

The final step of writing about the interview was to go back and revise small mechanical mistakes that I originally did not see.  This whole process took over a month, but led to me writing an article that made me proud of how far I have come as a writer.

I now believe that all of these projects have improved several of my writing skills and have me more confident in my work.  By writing varying genres, I learned to adapt my style and cater to specific audiences.  For example, I adopted an informal tone for my two reviews.  Also, I have become a more critical writer, as I have gained my voice and ensure to support my arguments with sufficient evidence.  With my voice present, writing has become a much easier process and more enjoyable overall.  I can confidently say that Ms. Taneja’s English 101 course has made me an insightful writer and I look forward to future classes that will help me develop my skills further.

Sincerely,

Max

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