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Self Review Essay

I created this diagram to compare the rather "empty" and small writing process encouraged in high school with the detailed and thorough writing process enforced in English 1101.
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Carr's The Shallows

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Self Review Essay: The Importance of a Writing Process

“The due date for this project is in two weeks” is a phrase that each of my teachers from high school recited nearly identically when a project was assigned. We were allowed to ask questions throughout the course of the project, but other than the due date and a single class period dedicated to explaining the elements of the project, nothing else was monitored throughout the course of the project. Of course, it was always recommended that we should progress through the writing process, but nearly all students did not end up using the writing process because most found it tiresome and unnecessary. However, occasionally, there were a couple of teachers who would assign due dates for different steps of the writing process in an attempt to help us create better work. Although the work was mandatory, the teachers simply ended up checking for the completion of the different steps, like prewriting or the rough draft, rather than offering any other feedback, so the processes essentially ended up being unbeneficial.

I assumed that my previous experience with writing and projects would be quite similar to my assignments in a college English class. However, the only similarity was that in both high school and in college we were assigned major projects. Other than that, there were so many more differences. Initially, I was shocked during the beginning of the semester after looking through the calendar of due dates for our English class. In this class, we definitely had an enforced writing process, unlike most of high school. Also, with this English class, each step of the writing process for our Artifacts, or major projects, were critiqued by either our peers or our professor before proceeding onto the next step.

Our writing process was also more complex compared to high school as it included class discussions (where we created new ideas and received insight into different points of view), blog posts (which were reviewed by our peers), logical outlines (where we connected our ideas and eventually created a thesis through a series of questions with evidential support which also was reviewed by our instructor), rough drafts (that included peer review, self-review, and possible review by our professor during office hours), and a final draft. As I neared the end of this class, I came to the realization of the importance in the complexity of a writing process where I now even have the confidence to make sure to go through the long steps of writing to complete future assignments.

As I progressed through this course, I realized that my skills began to improve academically as I saw my grades rise and personally as I grew more confident in my work and thoughts because I was aware that I put much more thought and effort into each of the writing steps. I saw change as I edited the poster of Artifact 2 repeatedly to make sure that both the design and the information worked well with the poster to create a piece of work that would really support my own argument. Specifically, I saw improvement in terms of the depth and strength of my arguments as I put greater effort into research to find more evidence for my ideas and as I actually heeded to advice from others about possible ways to improve. For example, compared to Artifact 1, many more sources (shared through class discussion) were incorporated throughout Artifact 2, which effectively combined to form a logical argument with a strong sense of ethos, thus making it a stronger, organized, and more persuasive argument. With my continuous improvement with each Artifact, I began to wonder about what factor led to my growth in this class. I came to the conclusion that the complex writing steps actually helped in creating a “better” project because I was able to lessen the cognitive load felt by my brain as each step of the writing process divided the overall cognitive load needed to finish the Artifact.

Initially, I realized the difficulty in our ability to work on each step of the writing process after acknowledging the changes in our brain over time. To develop this idea of change, our class frequently emphasized and referenced the words of Nicholas Carr, which incorporated quotes from others and research results that strengthened the ethos of his work, through his book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. In respect to our brain, he discussed that over the years as our society entered a technology-oriented world, our brains changed significantly. He also discussed in detail throughout his book about how our brain continuously wants to be pleased by “cheap, copious, and endlessly entertaining products,” which makes it important for the brain to be quick (77). From this, I saw that our brains have obviously changed where it can actually be harder to sit down, concentrate, and proceed through the different writing process steps as our brain likes to work quickly and finish quickly, which would naturally lead students to want to begin with the final draft of the project.

After identifying the importance of the changes in our brain, I also found it important to identify what cognitive load is and the significance of a low cognitive load for our brain. Cognitive load is defined by Carr as “[t]he information flowing into our working memory at any given moment”, and “extraneous problem-solving” and “divided attention” are the greatest possible sources of cognitive overload (125). From this information, I began to see how our Artifacts, which required the ability to solve the abstract questions we initially presented, called for a cognitive overload.

Continuing through his writing, Carr hinted at the importance of a low cognitive load as he identified the various negative effects of a high cognitive load, or a cognitive overload. For example, “a high cognitive load amplifies the distractedness we experience [, and when] our brain is overtaxed, we find ‘distractions more distracting’” (125). Also, with cognitive overload, our mind is “unable to retain the [new] information or to draw connections with the information already stored in our long-term memory,” and eventually, “our understanding remains shallow” (Carr 125). Through his writing, Carr basically emphasized that as our task gets more complex, the cognitive load goes up, and the outcome of our project is not as good or extensive. From Carr’s discussion of cognitive load, I definitely saw the importance of a low cognitive load in creating and finding a deeper and stronger argument and evidence, which, in turn, would create a “better” project.

Looking at the importance of a low cognitive load, it also led me to believe that doing tasks in steps is a great way to complete a larger task. By making the task, or project, more “simple” in a sense, we can draw deeper connections and display a deeper understanding of our work. For example, when completing my oral artist statement from Artifact 2, I first had to draft my written artist statement. When writing my artist statement, if I had started from the final draft, my writing would most likely have been a disorganized mess, and I would have definitely made many more mistakes. However, by dividing the up the steps of writing, the cognitive load was dispersed where I could focus on one main task for each of the steps in creating a thorough artist statement. Generally, I would focus developing ideas in one step, organizing my ideas in another, and checking for a logical flow in another, where the process would continue until the final product. In other words, by using the writing process or finishing the final Artifacts in multiple steps, we could lower the cognitive load of the project, which would, again, create a “better” project.

From each of the different Artifacts completed in the course, I saw the importance of strengthening and putting more work into the writing process. Initially, with the multimodal report of Artifact 1, I couldn’t fully break out of my high school mindset about prewriting where I would think of the final product instead of actually going through the brainstorming process. However, with the final poster and the oral artist statement of Artifact 2, I put more work into the writing process. I then listened and read the peer reviews in depth and visited office hours to get advice and new suggestions, where I would then go through lots of self-review and editing after reading and following my writing out loud. As I focused on each step before creating the final draft, I was able to create an increasingly detailed piece of work.

Overall, I felt that I grew and improved a lot through this course. In the beginning, it was difficult and tiring to go through so many steps of writing that were not enforced throughout the course of high school. However, as I accepted and followed the writing process even more, my projects grew stronger, which could be seen through my academic grades and through my more detailed and persuasive arguments presented. By analyzing the changes in our brains, the importance of a low cognitive load, and looking at how the writing process creates a lower cognitive load, I saw and accepted the prominence of going through a writing process to create a “better” project.

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Works Cited

Carr, Nicholas G. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010. Print.

Carr, Nicholas. Shallows Book Cover. Digital image. Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble, n.d. Web. 5 Dec. 2014.          <http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/shallows-nicholas-carr/1100207475?ean=9780393339758>.    (1)

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