Reflective Essay Noteworthy

Jean Larson

Using a Genre Approach to
Teaching the Reflective Essay
 
As teachers of writing, we will say to our students, “Read more!” “Write more!” Does it matter what they arereading and writing?  Not really.  However, it does matter that they are aware of what they are reading and writing.

The “what” is the genre of the piece, and in the modern classroom, genre has been proven to be effective in theteaching and learning of reading and writing.  Just as a dance instructor may teach different types of dancing, whetherit be ballet, tap, jazz, or modern, English teachers need to approach teaching writing in a similar way.  Teaching writing through a genre approach allows students to learn that in writing, there is a rhyme and reason (rhetoric) and rationale for writing.  Students need to be aware of this because “genres shape the thoughts we form and the communications by which we interact” (Bazerman, Genre and Writing).  The Genre approach gives students this needed structure for the process of writing.
 
An expert on the genre-based approach to teaching writing, Charles Cooper, deems the general understanding of genre “to mean a type or category of text” (24).   This definition of genre is known and accepted by the majority of people. 

However, the definition of genre has evolved into much more.  Cooper deems the evolved definition of genre to be “types of writing produced everyday in our culture, types of writing that make possible certain kinds of learning and social interaction” (25).   A similar “modern” definition of genre has been agreed to be, “a type of spoken or written discourse, recognized as conventional by members of an intellectual community, that draws together certain substantive and stylistic features in response to a recurrent rhetorical situation” (Enos 279).  These new definitions mean that there are many more characteristics involved in what makes a genre a genre. The genre, as a form of written language and communication, is now recognized as being social and communal in nature.  Cooper names specific characteristics of modern-genre to be “social, communal, situational, functional, structured, and stable” (25).
 
In Evaluating Writing (1999), Cooper discusses the genre approach’s role in the interpretation of literature. They argue that the reflective essay is effective when used for the interpretation of literature however, that is not the only function.   The reflective essay can be used to write about practically anything and has many uses.  This portion of the paper will discuss the reflective essay as a genre and outline an approach to teaching the reflective essay for this purpose.
 
Defining the Reflective Essay
 
Questions must be considered when defining the reflective essay as a genre. It should first be noted that the reflective essay is also referred to as “the personal essay” and “the belletristic essay.” Questions that the teacher must first present to students are: what makes a reflective essay? What makes this type of essay different from other types? Cooper gives “Genre-Specific

Criteria” for the reflective essay.  These criteria are as follows:
 
* Chooses a subject that will sustain extended reflections
* Presents the occasion(s) for the reflections concretely and interestingly
* States or clearly implies the relevance of the occasion to the reflections
* Develops the reflections through a variety of strategies
* Surprises readers with one or two unexpected insights into the subject
* Moves at least tentatively from personal experience to social implications
* Maintains thematic coherence throughout the essay. (38)

Now to me, this list is more like a general rubric for what students would look at after they wrote a reflective essay.  So let’s move backwards a bit and figure out first what makes a reflective essay just that.  First, let’s look at the second word of the genre: essay. Essay connotes the form of writing in which it appears. What is the history of the essay?  What are its characteristics?

Looking at the history of the essay and the evolution of it will provide knowledge about the characteristics and format of this genre. 
 
The history of the essay as a genre form dates back to the 16th century, specifically during the French Renaissance.  To “essay” actually means “to try,” and that is just what the French thinker and writer, Michel de Montaigne did during the French Renaissance. 

Montaigne deemed the essay as a means to reflect on one’s ideas, feelings, and experiences.  The Essays, a collection of over on hundred essays, is the major literary work that Montaigne left us with.  Of course, over time, many types of essays evolved; however, the roots of the essay are indeed a means for writers “to try” to look inward, and reflect upon their thoughts.  Since the essay has such a rich history, there is likely to be more than one accepted definition for the term. 
 
Webster tells us that “essay” has five different definitions:
1. short nonfiction prose piece: a short analytical, descriptive, or interpretive piece of literary or journalistic prose dealing with a particular topic, especially from a personal and unsystematic viewpoint.
2. set written piece: a short piece of written work assigned to a student
3. work resembling a written essay: an artistic or journalistic work resembling a written essay but in another medium
4. attempt at something: an attempt to accomplish something
5. test of something: a test or trial of something

We are most interested in definitions (1) and (2).  Now, when the word “reflective” is put in front of it, the genre of course becomes more specific.  Webster tells us that the word “reflective” has three meanings.  We will only be interested in definition

(1) as it relates to our defining this genre:
 
1. thoughtful: characterized by deep careful thought
2. physics able to reflect: able to reflect light, sound, or other forms of energy
3. by reflection: produced by reflection

Now that we know the basic definitions of the words that make up this genre, let’s examine the characteristics of the reflective essay more specifically.  Referring to the Cooper’s criteria, the characteristics, in more detail, of the reflective essay are as follows:
 
1.  Contains a subject that will sustain extended reflections.  What interests me in this characteristic is the word “subject.” This is what is great about the reflective essay—the writer chooses the topic.  The writer may choose to write about literature, about a life experience, about a person that had an impact in her life, or even an inanimate object—as long as that subject had a significant impact (the writer can reflect about the subject), it is valid.

2. Contains concrete and interesting reflections.  This characteristic means that the subject that is chosen had a real and significant impact on the writer’s life.

3. States or clearly implies the relevance of the occasion to the reflections.  The subject and the significant reflection should be clear to the reader.  There should be no guessing as to the insights that the reader has about the subject being addressed.  

4. The reflections are approached through a variety of strategies.  The writer should approach the reflection using various literary strategies.  Literary techniques such as flashback, for example, may be effective.  A variety of literary devices may be used to accomplish this as well. 

5. Contains one or two unexpected insights into the subject. The writer, through reflection, will come to realize at least one insight that the subject had on into her life.

6.  Tentatively moves from personal experience to social implications.  This feature is probably the most difficult for writers and especially, students of this genre to accomplish.  Moving from personal experience to social implications means that the writer is taking her personal reflections one step higher, and responding to how that reflection relates to life and society.

7. Contains theme coherence throughout the essay.  This final feature is typical of most genres.  The theme of a piece should always be clear and coherent from beginning to end.

Now that we are aware of what the characteristics of the reflective essay are, it is as important to understand and be aware of what it is not.  Let’s first look at a definition of the reflective essay as provided by Cooper, based on James Moffett (1992): “Reflective Essay: reflections on the personal and social implications of an idea suggested by a particular occasion that is usually a personal observation or incident” (43).  This definition was created after the identification of groups and sequences of genres.  Moffett placed the reflective essay genre in a larger genre called “autobiographical genres.”  In Moffett’s schema, there are also seven other types of autobiographical genres.  This is why there is some confusion over which genre is which.  In this particular genre study, which is being done for the purpose to instruct eleventh and twelfth graders, the following should be focused on and thoroughly understood as not to stray from the genuine purpose of the reflective essay. The next question a teacher should address to her students is:  What is not a reflective essay?
 
1. The reflective essay is considered to be literary non-fiction.  The subject and the significance of the subject is one that actually pertains to the writer’s life.

2. One of the most common misconceptions about the reflective essay is that it is a memoir.  Since eleventh and twelfth graders may have already done memoirs in previous English courses, the reflective essay may be particularly confusing. 

The great thing about this initial confusion, though, is that after they have mastered both genres, they have a high level of understanding genre theory. 

Moffett provides definitions for memoir, actually designating two separate memoir genres: “Memoir (Human Subject): presentation of an incident involving other people in which the writer is only an observer, including visual details, a narrative of what happened, and inferences.  Memoir (Nature Subject): presentation of a memorable natural event, restricted in time and relying on visual details and narrative.”  (42). Just comparing these two definitions clears up a little confusion about the differences of the two.  These differences, in more clear detail are as follows:

3. The memoir, unlike the reflective essay, is written as a narrative, that is, “a story written in prose or perhaps verse, involving events, characters, and what the characters say and do” (Abrams 173).

  Pursuing a Genre Study on the Reflective Essay
In order to be most effective in teaching writing through a genre approach, it is most beneficial to follow a logical series of steps in doing so. The following steps are derived from Cooper as an effective method for instruction in the classroom.
 
1. Introducing the Genre

Proponents of the genre approach in the classroom agree that the first step in introducing the genre is by using touchstone texts.  Cooper advocates this primary introduction, and stresses one of the most vital aspects of learning through genre theory: “Students can learn about a written genre only if they read it—and reread it and talk about it” (47).  By initially reading touchstone texts from the genre, students come up with responses, questions, and insights. 

The touchstone texts that I have chosen contain the detailed characteristics as introduced before, evoke student interest and discussion, and are written by well-know authors. They appear in Appendix A, pp 19-24. Once the teacher has read aloud a few different touchstone texts, and students have responded to teacher prompts, characteristics of the genre may be brainstormed and identified.  Constructionist approaches used by the teacher may help in aiding students during this process.  Bomer suggests dividing the class into groups and conducting activities in which discussions take place based on, “how these texts do what they do” (123).  This approach has an advantage over merely just providing the students with a list.  Instead, through discussion, students discover on their own, the features of the genre, and hopefully gain insight into how they will use these in their own writing. Cooper concurs with this advantage and state how this type of method is especially effective when teaching the reflective essay: “If they have been encouraged to reflect on their response to something in a work, they adopt the reflection genre” (37). Another benefit of having students come up their own list of features, Cooper says that it “activates students’ creativity, enabling them to make meaning in new ways” (37).
 
After the groups have come up with some lists of features for the class to discuss, the teacher will guide them in consolidating them into one list, and then providing each student with her own handout to follow and refer back to.  An example of this hand out is shown below:
 
An Introduction to the Reflective Essay
 
What is a reflective essay?
The reflective essay, also referred to a “personal essay” or “belletristic essay” is a short nonfiction prose piece, written in the 1st person.  The subject is one that actually pertains to the writer’s life and includes deep thought about the personal and social implications of that subject. 
 
What are some characteristics of the reflective essay?
We have read two examples of reflective essays together in class.  The first
reflective essay is Once More to the Lake, by E.B. White, the second, The Death of a Moth, by Virginia Wolf.
 
Step 1:  In groups of three, look more closely at Once More to the Lake or The
Death of a Moth
q      What makes this piece a reflective essay?
q       What are some of the characteristics of this piece that make it interesting and intriguing? 
q      How would you describe the subject of the essay?
q      Name some of the insights that the author came to realize as a result of his experiences at the lake.
 
Discuss your responses to these questions,
 
Step 2: Choose one note-taker to record a summary of your answers and findings.
 
Step 3: Discuss about what sub-genre the reflective essay might belong to and what other genres is it similar to. 

Record your findings.
 
Step 4: Choose a speaker to represent your group. The speaker will present your findings to the class. 
 
 
How do you tell the difference between a reflective essay and a memoir?
 
*A reflective essay is not a memoir, although they are in they are very similar. 
 
The memoir, unlike the reflective essay, is written as a narrative, that is, “a story written in prose or perhaps verse, involving events, characters, and what the characters say and do” (Abrams, 173).
           
*Just remember to focus on the REFLECTION aspect of the piece.  The reflective
essay takes the memoir one step further in this aspect.
 
Step 5:  During library day in your same groups, find another example of a reflective essay.  I will assist you in locating valid sources to lead you to a good example. Refer to the above definition and characteristics that we discussed in class to help you in this activity.  **Remember to search under personal and belletristic essay too**  You may begin with a “google” search.  First search under the keywords, “reflective essay,” “personal essay,” and “belletristic essay.”
We will be reading the examples that each group found in class to further discuss qualities of the reflective essay as a genre.  After the students have completed the inquiry-based handout on identifying the characteristics, I will provide them with a list of the definite characteristics as shown above.  This handout is shown below:
 
Defined characteristics of the reflective essay
 
The following list gives you a detailed list of characteristics of the reflective essay.  Use this list, along with the handout that you completed in class to refer to before, during, and after the writing phase.
 
1.   Contains a subject that will sustain extended reflections.  The writer may choose to write about literature, about a life experience, about a person that had an impact in her life, or even an inanimate object—as long as that subject had a significant impact (the writer can reflect about the subject), it is valid.

2. Contains concrete and interesting reflections.  This characteristic means that the subject that is chosen had a real and significant impact on the writer’s life.

3. States or clearly implies the relevance of the occasion to the reflections.  The subject and the significant reflection should be clear to the reader.  There should be no guessing as to the insights that the reader has about the subject being addressed.  

4. The reflections are approached through a variety of strategies.  The writer should approach the reflection using various literarystrategies.  Literary techniques such as flashback, for example, may be effective.  A variety of literary devices may be used to accomplish this as well. 

5. Contains one or two unexpected insights into the subject. The writer, through reflection, will come to realize at least one insight that the subject had on into her life.

6.  Tentatively moves from personal experience to social implications.  Moving from personal experience to social implications means that the writer is taking her personal reflections one step higher, and responding to how that reflection relates to life and society.

7. Contains theme coherence throughout the essay.  This final feature is typical of most genres.  The theme of a piece should always be clear and coherent from beginning to end.

8. The reflective essay is considered to be literary non-fiction.  The subject and the significance of the subject is one that actually pertains to the writer’s life.

The last step in the introductory phase, which reinforces for both teacher and student that the genre is understood, is to have the students locate examples of reflective essays on their own. Bomer is a strong advocate for this process enforcing the importance of the students being actively involved.  He notes an important distinction between a behaviorist approach and a constructivist approach writing that,
“learning from models does not have to mean that the teacher is the only one bringing the models into the community. 

Having the students search for model texts not only ensures that our choice of genre will indeed be authentic, but it also demonstrates that authenticity, in effect saying to the students, this isn’t just a school thing. You can find this in your world” (124).  By becoming familiar with touchstone texts of the reflective essay, students are prompted to brainstorm their own essay topic ideas, which prompts them into the next phase of the genre study.
 
9. Developing Topics for Student Essays

Now that the students understand the components and criteria of a reflective essay, they are prepared to begin writing their own.  Of course, the first step is deciding on a topic.  There are a number of ways that the teacher may assist students in making this process easier.  Ideally, students will already be brainstorming on possible topics because of the time spent on the introductory phase, in particular, reading touchstone texts of reflective essays. 
 
In a classroom of my own, I would lead a topic brainstorming activity where I would participate with the class.  A variety of prompts would be used in order to stir their minds and emotions.  A great way to run this activity is to have the students bring in the touchstone texts that they have found themselves, and share them with the rest of the class.

Group discussions would involve the validity of the subject that the author has chosen, identifying with the insights made, discussing the transition from personal experience to social implications, and literary techniques used to make the essay effective.
 
Another great way to encourage students to write is by having students keep their own class literary journals. Bomer refers to these as “writer’s notebooks” and notes their benefit in the genre study process. Soven refers to these as “writer’s journals” and dually notes their benefit writing that “students are encouraged to keep a writer’s journal in which they record their experiences, their feelings, and their reaction, their questions and ideas” (197).  Writing about these types of subjects is likely to promote reflections. These journals would not be graded, which displays to students that writing is not just for the purpose of evaluation.  Their journals may include guided assignments as well as anything and everything that they wish to write about.  The teacher, instead of grading the material, would respond without criticism or critique to the entries.  The literary journals would serve as inspiration, encouragement, and a reference for further developing any type of writing piece.
 
10. The Reflective Essay Assignment

Once students have decided on a topic for the essay and the teacher has approved it, the assignment along with a rubric will be given to each student in order to provide him/her with a structured guide so as to ease into the writing process.  
 
Writing assignments should always be given to the students in writing with clear guidelines as to eliminate any confusion.  Along with the assignment, as mentioned above, should appear a clear rubric so that the students may evaluate their own work prior to handing it in for a grade.  This is not only fair, but gives the student an additional set of guidelines to refer to.  Soven notes the importance of clear written assignments as well as rubrics. Rubrics have a double advantage for the teacher, as Soven notes: “These descriptions (rubrics for A-F papers) acknowledge the difficulty of devising a mechanical formula for assigning grades.  Each description tries to account for a range of writing that can receive the same grade” (121).
 
Shown below is a reflective essay assignment.  The rubric appears in Appendix B, p. 25.  This rubric would be given to the participating students.
 
The Reflective essay assignment
Read the following quotes by reflective essay writer, Margaret Laurence:
 
“When one thinks of the influence of a place on one’s writing, two aspects come to mind. First, the physical presence of the place itself—its geography, its appearance. Second, the people. For me, the second aspect of environment is the most important, although in everything I have written which is set in Canada, whether or not actually set in Manitoba, somewhere some of my memories of the physical appearance of the prairies come in. I had, as a child and as an adolescent, ambiguous feelings about the prairies. I still have them, although they no longer bother me. I wanted then to get out of the small town and go far away, and yet I felt the protectiveness of that atmosphere, too. I felt the loneliness and the isolation of the land itself, and yet I always considered southern Manitoba to be very beautiful, and I still do. I doubt if I will ever live there again, but those poplar bluffs and the blackness of that soil and the way in which the sky is open from one side of the horizon to the other—these are things I will carry inside my skull for as long as I live, with the vividness of recall that only our first home can have for us.”

“Writing, for me, has to be set firmly in some soil, some place, some outer and inner territory which might be described in anthropological terms as ‘cultural background.’ . . . . I remember saying once . . . that I felt I had written myself out of that prairie town. I know better now. . . . I may not always write fiction set inCanada. But somewhere, perhaps in the memories of some characters, Manawaka will probably always be there, simply because whatever I am was shaped and formed in that sort of place, and my way of seeing, however much it may have changed over the years, remains in some enduring way that of a small-town prairie person.” — Margaret Laurence: “A Place to Stand On”

These quotes should give you an idea of how authors think and feel about writing.  Laurence talks about the influence of place; for many of you, this may spark an idea of what you might want to choose for a topic. Has any particular place had a significant impact on your life? Maybe it’s where you live now. Maybe it’s a place that you have been to and have been dying to go back.  These are some ideas tohelp get you started.
 
Now that you are familiar with the reflective essay, including the basic definition,
the sub-genre category, and the characteristics and features, it is your turn to write your own.  The first step is to choose a topic.  You may choose whatever you would like (as long as it is autobiographical).

Use your class journal, your personal diary, your memories—use whatever will help you to inspire a topic.

Remember these following pieces of advice when writing your reflective essay:
 
Your reflective essay should:
q      Be At least 700 words in length, double-spaced
q      Contains a subject that has had an impact on your life, for ex. A life experience
Appendix B: The Reflective Essay Writing Assignment Rubric. The following guidelines will be used to grade

your reflective essays.

Writing assignment rubric

QUALITY

Meaning: The extent to which the essay pertains to the author’s life and is valid for reflection. Also the extent to which the essay entertains the reader.

Development:  includes theme coherence and effective strategy to approach reflection.

Organization:  The extent to which the response exhibits direction, shape, and coherence.

Language Use:  The extent to which the essay reveals an awareness of audience and purpose through effective use of words, sentence structure, and sentence variety

Conventions:  The extent to which the essay exhibits conventional spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, capitalization, grammar, and usage

5

- The essay contains a strong and clear subject that pertains to the author’s life, and is valid for reflection.

-entertains the reader

-Maintains theme coherence throughout the essay.

-Uses an effective strategy to approach the reflection

-Surprises the reader with one or two unexpected insights into the subject

-Moves from personal experience to social implication.

-maintains focus and organization

 -stylistically sophisticated, using language that is precise and engaging, with a notable sense of voice and awareness of audience and purpose

-varies structure and length of sentences to enhance meaning

-demonstrates control of the conventions with essentially no errors in mechanics, spelling, punctuation, citation format, and sentence structure.

4

-The essay contains a strong and clear subject that pertains to the author’s life, and is valid for reflection.

-entertains the reader

-The theme is clear throughout the essay.

-Uses an effective strategy to approach the reflection

-Surprises the reader with an  unexpected insights into the subject

-Attempts to move from personal experience to social implication.

-maintains focus and organization

-uses fluent and original language with evident awareness of audience and purpose

-varies structure and length of sentences to control rhythm and pacing

-demonstrates control of conventions; exhibits only occasional errors in mechanics, spelling, punctuation, citation format, and sentence structure.

3

-The subject of the essay could be more relevant and worthy of reflection upon the author’s life. 

-Tries to keep the reader engaged.

-The theme of the essay is not fully clear or developed

-Does not use any literary strategy to present the reflection.

-The insights into the author’s life are attempted, but not clear.

-Does not include moving from personal experience to social implications, implying that the author does not fully grasp what this means.

-is not fully focused or organized

-uses appropriate language, with some awareness of audience and purpose

-occasionally will make effective use of sentence structure or length

-demonstrates partial control of conventions; exhibits occasional errors that do not hinder comprehension.

2

-The subject of the essay could be more relevant and worth of reflection upon the author’s life.

- Does not keep the reader engaged.

-The theme of the essay is not clear.

-Does not use any literary strategy to present the reflection.

-The insights into the author’s life are attempted, but not understood.

-Does not include moving from personal experience to social implications, implying that the author does not fully grasp what this means.

-relies on basic vocabulary, with little awareness of audience and purpose

-exhibits some attempt to vary sentence structure and length, but does not have consistent success

-demonstrates emerging control, exhibits frequent errors that hinder comprehension.

1

-The subject of the essay is not relevant and worth reflection upon the author’s life.

-Does not keep the reader engaged.

-The theme of the essay is not clear. 

-Does not use any literary strategy to present the reflection.

-The insights into the author’s life are not attempted.

-Does not include moving from personal experience to social implications, implying that the author does not fully grasp what this means.

-uses language that is imprecise or unsuitable for the audience and purpose.

-reveals little or no awareness of how to use sentence variety

-demonstrates a lack of control, exhibits frequent errors that make comprehension difficult.

q      Use a strategy to approach the reflection/s, such as flashback
q      Surprise readers with one or two unexpected insights into the subject
q      Move at least tentatively from personal experience to social implications
q      Maintain a theme
q      Entertain!
 
Refer back to your “Defined List of Features” handout for more detail.
 
Due dates:
Draft One:__________Peer Review:????________
Draft 2:????________
Final Draft, ready for Publication:_________
 
11. Mini-lessons on Skills and Techniques

Nancy Atwell, proponent of the minilesson, highlights the many advantages to having them as part of the classroom curricula.  They’re brief, concise, personal, and highly informative.  Atwell uses the minilesson to “introduce and highlight concepts, techniques, and information that will help writers and readers growup.  In the process students rediscover their earlier playfulness as they learn ways to control and shape it” (149).  This advantage of the minilesson is especially true for older students who would be participating in writing the reflection essay.  An environment that takes of some of the pressure of writing will promote creativity and free will.  Another wonderful benefit of having minilesssons is that they allow the teacher to really get closely involved in what their students are doing.  Atwell notes that they are a perfect opportunity to “confer with them about what they’re trying to do; and how to help them uncover their intentions as writers instead of acting on my one intention for the whole group” (149-150).
 
Prior to having a minilesson for the reflective essay, I would do the following:
1. assess what students may be having problems with
2.  learn what they are interested in
3. Decide what is crucial to having knowledge of in order to write an effective reflective essay.

Since I cannot assess the first two out of context, I will talk about two minilessons that would be worth giving for the reflective essay genre study.  One minilesson would be on an effective opening sentence, the other a lesson on adding detail. 
 
These mini-lessons, in detail, are shown below:
 
Writing an effective opening sentence One of the most effective ways to engage your reader is to have a great opening sentence to your piece. What makes an effective opening sentence?  Take a look at these opening sentences used in reflective essays.  As a class, we will discuss what makes these great.
a. One summer, along about 1904, my father rented a camp on a lake in Maine and took us all there for themonth of August.  E.B. White, Once More to the Lake
b. Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths; they do not excite that pleasant sense of darkautumn nights and ivy–blossom which the commonest yellow–underwing asleep in the shadow of the curtainnever fails to rouse in us.  Virginia Wolf, The Death of a Moth

Which opening sentence do you like better?  Why?  (teacher will call on people for suggestion, and togethercomplete the list below (possible answers are in parenthesis):
 
What characteristics make a great opening sentence?
1.?????________________________    (makes you want to keep reading!)
2.________________________    (contains descriptive language)
3.________________________    (contains appealing detail)
4.________________________    (are not ordinary)
 
For homework, find five examples of opening sentences that you think are effective.  They may be fromany genre.  We will then discuss in class. 
 
Adding detail
 
Detail can add another whole dimension to your writing.  Don’t just tell your reader what happened—show them.   
 
Activity: Replace the following words with more descriptive words:
 
1. Things: Replace with _____________
2. Fun: Replace with____________
3. Flower: Replace with__________
4. Ugly: Replace with___________
5. Pretty: Replace with__________
6. Good: Replace with____________
7. Nice: Replace with____________
8. Blue: Replace with____________
9. Scared: Replace with___________
10. cold: Replace with_____________

 
What makes the replacement words better than the original?
 
Activity: Read the following two paragraphs for E.B. White’s, Once More to the Lake.
The first one lacks detail, while the second is filled with it.  Circle the words that add detail in the second paragraph.
 
-We caught two bass, pulling them over the side of the boat as though they were mackerel, hitting them with a blow on the back of the head.  When we got back for a swim before lunch, the lake was exactly where we had left it, the same number of inches from the dock.  In the shallows, the sticks and twigs were moving in clusters on the bottom of the sand.  A school of minnows swam by, each with a shadow emitted by the sunlight.  There were some other campers swimming along the shore, one of them with a bar of soap.  Over the years there had been this person with a bar of soap, thiscultist, and here he was.
 

* We caught two bass, hauling them in briskly as though they were mackerel, pulling them over the side of the boat in a businesslike manner without any landing net, and stunning them with a blow on the back of the head. When we got back for a swim before lunch, the lake was exactly where we had left it, the same number of inches from the dock, and there was only the merest suggestion of a breeze. This seemed an utterly enchanted sea, this lake you could leave to its own devices for a few hours and come back to, and find that it had not stirred, this constant and trustworthy body of water. In the shallows, the dark, water-soaked sticks and twigs, smooth and old, were undulating in clusters on the bottom against the clean ribbed sand, and the track of the musselwas plain. A school of minnows swam by, each minnow with its small, individual shadow, doublingthe attendance, so clear and sharp in the sunlight. Some of the other campers were in swimming, along the shore, one of them with a cake of soap, and the water felt thin and clear and insubstantial. Over the years there had been this person with the cake of soap, this cultist, and here he was. There hadbeen no years.

How do the circled words and phrases add detail and description to this paragraph?
Use these tips when adding detail to your essay:
 
1.  Be Specific!  Don’t just say “I picked a flower,” instead, say, “I picked a tiger lily.”
2.  Use your senses!  What did the flower smell like?  What did it feel like?  What did the thunderstorm

sound like?  What did the rhubarb pie taste like?
3.  Use people’s names!  What is your friend’s name?  What do you call your dog?
4.   Use adverbs!  How was the girl swimming?  How was your mother crying?
 

Activity:  In groups of three, read the following paragraph and circle where detail may be added.
 
I went to camp every summer.  Camp was really fun, but I missed home all the time.  I would start to think about my mom and dad and brothers and sisters by the second or third day there.  My favoritepart about camp was the nature walks.  We would identify lots of trees, flowers, and animals. I would start to forget about home when I went on the walks.  One day, this girl that bunked in the cabin next door came up and introduced herself to me.  She was real nice.  As our friendship grew, I did not missmy family so much anymore. 

(After the students are given a few minutes to do the activity, the teacher will use the overhead to usetheir suggestions in adding detail to the paragraph)

Remember
“Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardlyneed anything else” –Natalie Goldberg
 
4. Use of Peer Review

Ideally, eleventh and twelfth graders will have already participated in prior peer reviews, however, a minilesson on doing a peer review for reflective essay will be necessary as they have most likely not wrote for this specific genre. A detailed mini-lesson for a peer review is shown below:

Peer review
* Peer Review is to help you (students) to find out how another person responds to your essay.  Another set of eyes helps the writer to identify strong points as well as points that can be improved on.  

* Peer Review is not editing. Although the reviewer may point out mechanical errors, that is not the purpose of the activity.

* You will use a guideline to help you review your partners reflective essay.  After your read and respondto the questions on the guideline, you may discuss with each other your responses.

 * The responses will help the writer and reader revise their first drafts to produce an improved second draft. 

Students will divide into pairs. (The teacher has chosen a partner for everyone)
 
Peer review, of course, promotes revision—a crucial skill for all young writers to learn.   Students must learn that revising is something that writers do—all writers.  Students need to be assured that good polished writing doesn’t always come the first time around, that writing is a process where improvements can be made over time.
 
In the classroom, students will be paired up and provided with a handout to guide them through the peerreview.  This handout appears below:   
 
Peer review guidelines
Writer:____________                                                             Reader:____________
 
1. What was your gut reaction to the reflective essay?

 
2. What did you think about the opening sentence?  Did it make you want to keep reading?

 
3. What is the subject of the essay?

 
4.  What kind of affect did this subject have on his or her life?

 
5. Were the reflections and insights that the writer described clear and meaningful? How?

 
6. How was the detail?  Are there any places the writer could add more?

 
7. Did the writer move from their personal experience to the social implications of it?  How did they do this?  If they did not do this, how might they be able to have?

 
8. What were you left saying to yourself after you finished reading the essay?  Did it have a  powerful ending? If so, what was powerful about it?

 
9. Take a look at the “Defined List of Features” handout.  Does the essay contain all of these features?  Which ones is it meaning?

5. Publishing

The last step for any writer that wishes to do so is to go public with her piece.  This shouldn’t just mean handing their essay in to the teacher for a grade.  There should be a designated class where students read their polished essays out loud.  This last step not only makes students fully aware of the audience component of their writing, but it also serves as a time for enjoyment.  Nancy Atwell designates this last step as being crucial to a writer’s development. 
 
To encourage students to do their very best the teacher may design a contest where the best reflective essay would be deemed for recognition of the piece being the best in the class, and be presented with an award.
The teacher may then compile a booklet that includes all of the reflective essays from the class.  Each student will have their own copy of the booklet and may keep it to refer back to, read for enjoyment, or show it off to their friends and family.  Students may also have the opportunity to publish their essays on-line. The “National Scholastic Press Association,” (http://studentpress.journ.umn.edu/nspa/) provides contests and publishing opportunities for students.  High Schools will also often have their own website, where teachers can publish their students work for the community to view. The publishing phase of writing makes writers proud of what they accomplished and reinforces the audience aspect of writing.
 
6. Reflection

This phase of the lesson is so often skipped over in classrooms.  It is extremely important that the teacher incorporate reflection time after the genre study.  The benefits of the reflection phase are numerous. Reflection reinforces what the students have learned about the genre, helping them to internalize it even more. It also helps them identify how they have grown as writers, helps them identify strengths and weaknesses that they have as writers, helps them to set new goals for the next genre they will embark on, and reinforces the entire concept of the genre approach.  A handout that includes guidelines for thestudents to follow during this phase is shown below:
 
Reflection
Answer the following questions in essay form in order to evaluate your experience in learning to readand write the genre of the reflective essay:
 
1) How did you feel about the reflective essay writing assignment?  Did you feel confident that youknew enough about this genre to write one?
 
2)  What was your biggest challenge in writing the reflective essay?
 
3) What did you learn to do better in your writing as a result of this genre lesson?
 
4)  How have you grown as a reader and writer?
 
5)  What are your goals for the next genre study?
 
The NYS Regents
The English Regents is vital to a student’s academic success.  There is always a written portion of the exam, where students respond in essay form.  Becoming familiar with all facets of the essay will increase the chances for student success on the regents.  The rubric that will be used to grade the assignment uses Regents standards so that the students will become familiar with what the NYS is looking for in evaluating their writing.  A genre approach to learning and writing the reflective essay not only sparks creativity andimagination, but also prepares them for one of the most important exams that they will take in their academiccareers.
 
Building Ties to Other Genres
Because the genre approach is so structured and logical, students will expect to learn other genres in thesame manner.  Of course it would be ideal if all of their future teachers taught reading and writing in thismanner, but since that will probably not be the case, the best hope is that they have internalized thelearning process so that they will learn other genres in the same manner even if the teacher isn’t teachingit so.  They will ask the correct questions when they are introduced to a new genre, they will use peerreview, they will reflect when they are finished, and they will understand the why and what of writing. 
 
Works Cited
 
Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Boston: Heinle & Heinle, 1999.
Atwell, Nancy.  In the Middle: New Understanding About Writing, Reading, and
Learning. Portsmouth, N.H.: Boynton-Cook, 1998.
 
Bomer, Randy.  Time For Meaning: Crafting Literate Lives in Middle and High
School. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1995.
 
Bishop, Wendy and Hans Ostrom, eds.  Genre and Writing: Issues, Arguments,
Alternatives.  Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1997.
 
Cooper, Charles R, and Lee Odell, eds.  Evaluating Writing: The Role of
Teacher’s Knowledge about text , learning, and Culture.  Illinois: National Council of Teacher’s of English, 1999.
 
Cope, Bill and Mary Kalantzis, eds.  The Powers of Literacy: A Genre Approach
to Teaching Writing.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993.
 
Gould, Lois M.  “Analyzing Early Conceptual Change Processes through
Students’ Reflective Writing.”  April 2004.  http://searcheric.org
 
Lattimer, Heather.  Thinking Through Genre: Units of Study in Reading and
Writing Workshops 4-12.  Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers, 2003.
Moffett, James.  Teaching the Universe of Discourse.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
1968.
 
PCPE and Youth Places.  Pittsburgh Council on Public Education. No
available date of publication.  6 October 2004.  http://www.graduationprojecthelp.org/essay.html
 
Romano, Tom.  Blending Genre, Altering Style. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 2000.
 
Rosenberg, Kaminski, Ernstein, Root, and Vallance.  Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction.     
“Roundtable: The History of the Essay.” 2001.  25 October 2004.
http://www.chsbs.cmich.edu/Robert_Root/background/Roundtable.html
 
Soven, Margot Iris.  Teaching Writing in Middle and Secondary Schools: Theory, Research and Practice.

Needham Heights, Mass.: Allyn & Bacon, 1999.
 
Starkey, David, ed. Genre by Example: Writing What We Teach.  Portsmouth,
NH:  Boynton/Cook Publishers, 2001. 
 
The Assignment Sourcebook for Writing Teachers.  Contributors include writing and
rhetoric professors of the University at Stony Brook.  No available date of
publication.  16 October 2004. 
http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/class/sourcebk/genreindframe2.html
 
 
Appendix A: Touchstone texts
 
Once More to the Lake (1941)
E.B. White
 

One summer, along about 1904, my father rented a camp on a lake in Maine and took us all there for the month of August. We all got ringworm from some kittens and had to rub Pond's Extract on our arms and legs night and morning, and my father rolled over in a canoe with all his clothes on; but outside of that the vacation was a success and from then on none of us ever thought there was any place in the world like that lake in Maine. We returned summer after summer--always on August 1st for one month. I have since become a salt-water man, but sometimes in summer there are days when the restlessness of the tides and the fearful cold of the sea water and the incessant wind which blows across the afternoon and into the evening make me wish for the placidity of a lake in the woods. A few weeks ago this feeling got so strong I bought myself a couple of bass hooks and a spinner and returned to the lake where we used to go, fora week's fishing and to revisit old haunts.

I took along my son, who had never had any fresh water up his nose and who had seen lily pads only fromtrain windows. On the journey over to the lake I began to wonder what it would be like. I wondered how time would have marred this unique, this holy spot--the coves and streams, the hills that the sun set behind, the camps and the paths behind the camps. I was sure that the tarred road would have found it out and I wondered in what other ways it would be desolated. It is strange how much you can remember about places like that once you allow your mind to return into the grooves which lead back. You remember one thing, and that suddenly reminds you of another thing. I guess I remembered clearest of all the early mornings, when the lake was cool and motionless, remembered how the bedroom smelled of the lumber it was made of and of the wet woods whose scent entered through the screen. The partitions in the camp were thin and did not extend clear to the top of the rooms, and as I was always the first up I would dress softly so as not to wake the others, and sneak out into the sweet outdoors and start out in the canoe, keeping close along the shore in the long shadows of the pines. I remembered being very careful never to rub my paddle against the gunwale for fear of disturbing the stillness of the cathedral.

The lake had never been what you would call a wild lake. There were cottages sprinkled around the shores, and it was in farming although the shores of the lake were quite heavily wooded. Some of the cottages were owned by nearby farmers, and you would live at the shore and eat your meals at the farmhouse. That's what our family did. But although it wasn't wild, it was a fairly large and undisturbed lake and there were places in it which, to a child at least, seemed infinitely remote and primeval. I was right about the tar: it led to within half a mile of the shore. But when I got back there, with my boy, and we settled into a camp near a farmhouse and into the kind of summertime I had known, I could tell that it was going to be pretty much the same as it had been before--I knew it, lying in bed the first morning, smelling the bedroom, and hearing the boy sneak quietly out and go off along the shore in a boat. I began to sustain the illusion that he was I, and therefore, by simple transposition, that I was my father. This sensation persisted, kept cropping up all the time we were there. It was not an entirely new feeling, but in this setting it grew much stronger. I seemed to be living a dual existence. I would be in the middle of some simple act, I would be picking up a bait box or laying down a table fork, or I would be saying something, and suddenly it would be not I but my father who was saying the words or making the gesture. It gave me a creepy sensation.

We went fishing the first morning. I felt the same damp moss covering the worms in the bait can, and saw the dragonfly alight on the tip of my rod as it hovered a few inches from the surface of the water. It was the arrival of this fly that convinced me beyond any doubt that everything was as it always had been, that the years were a mirage and there had been no years. The small waves were the same, chucking the rowboat under the chin as we fished at anchor, and the boat was the same boat, the same color green and the ribs broken in the same places, and under the floor-boards the same freshwater leavings and debris--the dead helgramite, the wisps of moss, the rusty discarded fishhook, the dried blood from yesterday's catch. We stared silently at the tips of our rods, at the dragonflies that came and wells. I lowered the tip of mine into the water, tentatively, pensively dislodging the fly, which darted two feet away, poised, darted two feet back, and came to rest again a little farther up the rod. There had been no years between the ducking of this dragonfly and the other one--the one that was part of memory. I looked at the boy, who was silently watching his fly, and it was my hands that held his rod, my eyes watching. I felt dizzy and didn't know which rod I was at the end of.

We caught two bass, hauling them in briskly as though they were mackerel, pulling them over the side of the boat in a businesslike manner without any landing net, and stunning them with a blow on the back of the head. When we got back for a swim before lunch, the lake was exactly where we had left it, the same number of inches from the dock, and there was only the merest suggestion of a breeze. This seemed an utterly enchanted sea, this lake you could leave to its own devices for a few hours and come back to, and find that it had not stirred, this constant and trustworthy body of water. In the shallows, the dark, water-soaked sticks and twigs, smooth and old, were undulating in clusters on the bottom against the clean ribbed sand, and the track of the mussel was plain. A school of minnows swam by, each minnow with its small, individual shadow, doubling the attendance, so clear and sharp in the sunlight. Some of the other campers were in swimming, along the shore, one of them with a cake of soap, and the water felt thin and clear and insubstantial. Over the years there had been this person with the cake of soap, this cultist, and here he was. There had been no years.

Up to the farmhouse to dinner through the teeming, dusty field, the road under our sneakers was only a two-track road. The middle track was missing, the one with the marks of the hooves and the splotches of dried, flaky manure. There had always been three tracks to choose from in choosing which track to walk in; now the choice was narrowed down to two. For a moment I missed terribly the middle alternative. But the way led past the tennis court, and something about the way it lay there in the sun reassured me; the tape had loosened along the backline, the alleys were green with plantains and other weeds, and the net (installed in June and removed in September) sagged in the dry noon, and the whole place steamed with midday heat and hunger and emptiness.

There was a choice of pie for dessert, and one was blueberry and one was apple, and the waitresses were the same country girls, there having been no passage of time, only the illusion of it as in a dropped curtain--the waitresses were still fifteen; their hair had been washed, that was the only difference--they had been to the movies and seen the pretty girls with the clean hair. Summertime, oh summertime, pattern of life indelible, the fade proof lake, the woods unshatterable, the pasture with the sweet fern and the juniper forever and ever, summer without end; this was the background, and the life along the shore was the design, the cottages with their innocent and tranquil design, their tiny docks with the flagpole and the American flag floating against the white clouds in the blue sky, the little paths over the roots of the trees leading from camp to camp and the paths leading back to the outhouses and the can of lime for sprinkling, and at the souvenir counters at the store the miniature birch-bark canoes and the post cards that showed things looking a little better than they looked. This was the American family at play, escaping the city heat, wondering whether the newcomers at the camp at the head of the cove were "common" or "nice," wondering whether it was true that the people who drove up for Sunday dinner at the farmhouse were turned away because there wasn't enough chicken.

It seemed to me, as I kept remembering all this, that those times and those summers had been infinitely precious and worth saving. There had been jollity and peace and goodness. The arriving (at the beginning of August) had been so big a business in itself, at the railway station the farm wagon drawn up, the first smell of the pine-laden air, the first glimpse of the smiling farmer, and the great importance of the trunks and your father's enormous authority in such matters, and the feel of the wagon under you for the long ten-mile haul, and at the top of the last long hill catching the first view of the lake after eleven months of not seeing this cherished body of water. The shouts and cries of the other campers when they saw you, and the trunks to be unpacked, to give up their rich burden. (Arriving was less exciting nowadays, when you sneaked up in your car and parked it under a tree near the camp and took out the bags and in five minutes it was all over, no fuss, no loud wonderful fuss about trunks.)

Peace and goodness and jollity. The only thing that was wrong now, really, was the sound of the place, an unfamiliar nervous sound of the outboard motors. This was the note that jarred, the one thing that would sometimes break the illusion and set the years moving. In those other summertimes, all motors were inboard; and when they were at a little distance, the noise they made was a sedative, an ingredient of summer sleep. They were one-cylinder and two-cylinder engines, and some were make-and-break and some were jump-spark, but they all made a sleepy sound across the lake. The one-lungers throbbed and fluttered, and the twin-cylinder ones purred and purred, and that was a quiet sound too. But now the campers all had outboards. In the daytime, in the hot mornings, these motors made a petulant, irritable sound; at night, in the still evening when the afterglow lit the water, they whined about one's ears like mosquitoes. My boy loved our rented outboard, and his great desire was to achieve single-handed mastery over it, and authority, and he soon learned the trick of choking it a little (but not too much), and the adjustment of the needle valve. Watching him I would remember the things you could do with the old one-cylinder engine with the heavy flywheel, how you could have it eating out of your hand if you got really close to it spiritually. Motor boats in those days didn't have clutches, and you would make a landing by shutting off the motor at the proper time and coasting in with a dead rudder. But there was a way of reversing them, if you learned the trick, by cutting the switch and putting it on again exactly on the final dying revolution of the flywheel, so that it would kick back against compression and begin reversing. Approaching a dock in a strong following breeze, it was difficult to slow up sufficiently by the ordinary coasting method, and if a boy felt he had complete mastery over his motor, he was tempted to keep it running beyond its time and then reverse it a few feet from the dock. It took a cool nerve, because if you threw the switch a twentieth of a second too soon you would catch the flywheel when it still had speed enough to go up past center, and the boat would leap ahead, charging bull-fashion at the dock.

We had a good week at the camp. The bass were biting well and the sun shone endlessly, day after day. We would be tired at night and lie down in the accumulated heat of the little bedrooms after the long hot day and the breeze would stir almost imperceptibly outside and the smell of the swamp drift in through the rusty screens. Sleep would come easily and in the morning the red squirrel would be on the roof, tapping out his gay routine. I kept remembering everything, lying in bed in the mornings--the small steamboat that had a long rounded stern like the lip of a Ubangi, and how quietly she ran on the moonlight sails, when the older boys played their mandolins and the girls sang and we ate doughnuts dipped in sugar, and how sweet the music was on the water in the shining night, and what it had felt like to think about girls then. After breakfast we would go up to the store and the things were in the same place--the minnows in a bottle, the plugs and spinners disarranged and pawed over by the youngsters from the boys' camp, the fig newtons and the Beeman's gum. Outside, the road was tarred and cars stood in front of the store. Inside, all was just as it had always been, except there was more Coca Cola and not so much Moxie and root beer and birch beer and sarsaparilla. We would walk out with a bottle of pop apiece and sometimes the pop would backfire up our noses and hurt. We explored the streams, quietly, where the turtles slid off the sunny logs and dug their way into the soft bottom; and we lay on the town wharf and fed worms to the tame bass. Everywhere we went I had trouble making out which was I, the one walking at my side, the one walking in my pants.

One afternoon while we were there at that lake a thunderstorm came up. It was like the revival of an old melodrama that I had seen long ago with childish awe. The second-act climax of the drama of the electrical disturbance over a lake in America had not changed in any important respect. This was the big scene, still the big scene. The whole thing was so familiar, the first feeling of oppression and heat and a general air around camp of not wanting to go very far away. In mid-afternoon (it was all the same) a curious darkening of the sky, and a lull in everything that had made life tick; and then the way the boats suddenly swung the other way at their moorings with the coming of a breeze out of the new quarter, and the premonitory rumble. Then the kettle drum, then the snare, then the bass drum and cymbals, then crackling light against the dark, and the gods grinning and licking their chops in the hills. Afterward the calm, the rain steadily rustling in the calm lake, the return of light and hope and spirits, and the campers running out in joy and relief to go swimming in the rain, their bright cries perpetuating the deathless joke about how they were getting simply drenched, and the children screaming with delight at the new sensation of bathing in the rain, and the joke about getting drenched linking the generations in a strong indestructible chain. And the comedian who waded in carrying an umbrella.

When the others went swimming my son said he was going in too. He pulled his dripping trunks from the line where they had hung all through the shower, and wrung them out. Languidly, and with no thought of going in, I watched him, his hard little body, skinny and bare, saw him wince slightly as he pulled up aroundhis vitals the small, soggy, icy garment. As he buckled the swollen belt suddenly my groin felt the chill of death.

 

The Death of a Moth

Virginia Woolf

Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths; they do not excite that pleasant sense of dark autumn nights and ivy–blossom which the commonest yellow–underwing asleep in the shadow of the curtain never fails to rouse in us. They are hybrid creatures, neither gay like butterflies nor sombre like their own species. Nevertheless the present specimen, with his narrow hay–coloured wings, fringed with a tassel of the same colour, seemed to be content with life. It was a pleasant morning, mid–September, mild, benignant, yet with a keener breath than that of the summer months. The plough was already scoring the field opposite the window, and where the share had been, the earth was pressed flat and gleamed with moisture. Such vigour came rolling in from the fields and the down beyond that it was difficult to keep the eyes strictly turned upon the book. The rooks too were keeping one of their annual festivities; soaring round the tree tops until it looked as if a vast net with thousands of black knots in it had been cast up into the air; which, after a few moments sank slowly down upon the trees until every twig seemed to have a knot at the end of it. Then, suddenly, the net would be thrown into the air again in a wider circle this time, with the utmost clamour and vociferation, as though to be thrown into the air and settle slowly down upon the tree tops were a tremendously exciting experience.

The same energy which inspired the rooks, the ploughmen, the horses, and even, it seemed, the lean bare–backed downs, sent the moth fluttering from side to side of his square of the window–pane. One could not help watching him. One was, indeed, conscious of a queer feeling of pity for him. The possibilities of pleasure seemed that morning so enormous and so various that to have only a moth’s part in life, and a day moth’s at that, appeared a hard fate, and his zest in enjoying his meagre opportunities to the full, pathetic. He flew vigorously to one corner of his compartment, and, after waiting there a second, flew across to the other. What remained for him but to fly to a third corner and then to a fourth? That was all he could do, in spite of the size of the downs, the width of the sky, the far–off smoke of houses, and the romantic voice, now and then, of a steamer out at sea.

What he could do he did. Watching him, it seemed as if a fibre, very thin but pure, of the enormous energy of the world had been thrust into his frail and diminutive body. As often as he crossed the pane, I could fancy that a thread of vital light became visible. He was little or nothing but life.

Yet, because he was so small, and so simple a form of the energy that was rolling in at the open window and driving its way through so many narrow and intricate corridors in my own brain and in those of other human beings, there was something marvellous as well as pathetic about him. It was as if someone had taken a tiny bead of pure life and decking it as lightly as possible with down and feathers, had set it dancing and zig–zagging to show us the true nature of life. Thus displayed one could not get over the strangeness of it. One is apt to forget all about life, seeing it humped and bossed and garnished and cumbered so that it has to move with the greatest circumspection and dignity. Again, the thought of all that life might have been had he been born in any other shape caused one to view his simple activities with a kind of pity.

After a time, tired by his dancing apparently, he settled on the window ledge in the sun, and, the queer spectacle being at an end, I forgot about him. Then, looking up, my eye was caught by him. He was trying to resume his dancing, but seemed either so stiff or so awkward that he could only flutter to the bottom of the window–pane; and when he tried to fly across it he failed. Being intent on other matters I watched these futile attempts for a time without thinking, unconsciously waiting for him to resume his flight, as one waits for a machine, that has stopped momentarily, to start again without considering the reason of its failure. After perhaps a seventh attempt he slipped from the wooden ledge and fell, fluttering his wings, on to his back on the window sill.

The helplessness of his attitude roused me. It flashed upon me that he was in difficulties; he could no longer raise himself; his legs struggled vainly. But, as I stretched out a pencil, meaning to help him to right himself, it came over me that the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death. I laid the pencil down again.

The legs agitated themselves once more. I looked as if for the enemy against which he struggled. I looked out of doors. What had happened there? Presumably it was midday, and work in the fields had stopped. Stillness and quiet had replaced the previous animation. The birds had taken themselves off to feed in the brooks. The horses stood still. Yet the power was there all the same, massed outside indifferent, impersonal, not attending to anything in particular. Somehow it was opposed to the little hay–coloured moth. It was useless to try to do anything. One could only watch the extraordinary efforts made by those tiny legs against an oncoming doom which could, had it chosen, have submerged an entire city, not merely a city, but masses of human beings; nothing, I knew, had any chance against death. Nevertheless after a pause of exhaustion the legs fluttered again.

It was superb this last protest, and so frantic that he succeeded at last in righting himself. One’s sympathies, of course, were all on the side of life. Also, when there was nobody to care or to know, this gigantic effort on the part of an insignificant little moth, against a power of such magnitude, to retain what no one else valued or desired to keep, moved one strangely. Again, somehow, one saw life, a pure bead. I lifted the pencil again, useless though I knew it to be. But even as I did so, the unmistakable tokens of death showed themselves. The body relaxed, and instantly grew stiff. The struggle was over. The insignificant little creature now knew death. As I looked at the dead moth, this minute wayside triumph of so great a force over so mean an antagonist filled me with wonder. Just as life had been strange a few minutes before, so death was now as strange. The moth having righted himself now lay most decently and uncomplainingly composed. O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am.

Below we offer an example of a thoughtful reflective essay that effectively and substantively captures the author's growth over time at CSUCI. We suggest that you write your own essay before reading either of these models-then, having completed your first draft, read these over to consider areas in your own background that you have not yet addressed and which may be relevant to your growth as a reader, writer, or thinker.

Any reference to either of these essays must be correctly cited and attributed; failure to do so constitutes plagiarism and will result in a failing grade on the portfolio and possible other serious consequences as stated in the CSUCI Code of Conduct.

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Sample Reflective Essay #1
Author: Prefers to remain anonymous

As an English major I have learned to appreciate the peaceful, yet exhilarating moment when my mind engages with an author's thoughts on a page. As Toni Morrison says in The Dancing Mind , "[reading is] to experience one's own mind dancing with another's." In my early days as a college student, I wanted to know the "true" meaning of a work or what the author intended, however, I have now realized this would void literature of its most noteworthy complexities. Individual interpretations bring varied insights to a work and it is also interesting to point out messages the author may not have realized s/he included in the piece.

I have always been a thinker, but throughout my coursework, I have greatly sharpened my critical analysis skills. Instead of focusing on proposed meanings or biographical background, I have learned to continuously ask "why" on many different levels. I challenge myself to dig into a text as deeply as possible and unpack every detail to develop a satisfying close read. Also, by reading multiple novels by the same author I have learned to identify different writing styles and make connections that weave texts together; this helped me develop a deeper understanding of the novels. When I look at one of my freshman level novels and see clean pages, I realize that I did not actively read the book. I guess you could say that I have learned to read with a pen, which has drastically taken my writing to a new level because I am able to connect back with my initial insights marked on the page.

Writing had always been one of my strengths, but it was challenging to take that initial step past the high school, five-paragraph essay form that constricted my ideas for so long. Moving past this form, however, has greatly opened my mind. My thoughts are now able to be more complex because I have learned how to sustain a logical argument in an organized manner. My writing has become increasingly more concise and I no longer have room for added "fluff" or "padding." Another improvement is my ability to point out multiple complexities within a text, instead of sticking to one-sided arguments in my papers. Furthermore, learning how to find peer reviewed journal articles and order books through interlibrary loan has significantly widened the scope of my research, which has lead to more scholarly papers with credible references. My writing is so much more interesting than it used to be.

It is difficult to identify gaps in my knowledge as an English major, only because I feel like I have learned so much. I feel that I have largely expanded my literary analysis and writing skills, but I need to be prepared to teach high school students their required literature. I think it would be useful to identify commonly taught novels in our local high schools and study them myself. By studying the required literature and thinking about how to teach it, I will have a sturdy foundation to work from once I am in the classroom.

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Visit CI's Student Writing Samples web page

Want to become a better writer? 

CI's Student Writing web site has how-to videos, writing samples for different subjects, and support resources.  

View CI's Student Writing site

Careers in English and Writing

The English program at California State University Channel Islands prepares students for a wide range of exciting and rewarding careers, including:

  • English teacher
  • Social media strategist
  • Media production (film, TV, internet)
  • Print and digital publishing
  • Law
  • Corporate communications
  • Foreign service
  • Human resources
  • Foundations/non-profit management

Learn more about CI's English Program

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