Portfolio Assignments

January 29, 2018 - "What Matters to You": Portfolio Assignment #1

For your first in-class writing activity, reflect on and write about a social issue that you find of interest and that you'd like to learn more about. In what ways does that social issue relate to your own life--what is its impact on your life and how do you see yourself responding to that issue? Write your response in five paragraphs, offering an explanation of the social issue, its impact on your life, and a way, or ways, you see yourself responding to it.

Your assignment should be submitted as Portfolio Assignment #1 under the title for the prompt, listed above.

DUE: Wednesday, January 31, 2018  - typed according to MLA formatting guidelines. 

Point Value: 15



February 5, 2018 - "Wielding Point of View": Portfolio Assignment # 2

In their chapter on "Opt: Ways to Wield Point of View," Gary and Glynis Hoffman describe different techniques for speaking from various perspectives--that of first-person (I, we), second person (you), and third person (he, she, it, they)--in our writing. One way of engaging in first-person narration is through the use of what they call the "personalizing lens," in which a writer deploys first-person point of view to recreate a past event, as if a fly on the wall, or to explore the emotional world of another being, as if a psychic (Hoffman and Hoffman 71-73). In other cases, the personalizing lens is simply a way to speak about one's experience of the world from one's own perspective, which we witness in a lot of autobiographical writing, but which can also be used for academic writing.

Another technique, the "humbling lens," refers to writing in second-person point of view, often for the purposes of establishing a closer personal connection between the writer and the reader--sometimes to disapprove, other times to instruct, and still other times to place the reader into the life-world of another living being (as in the excerpt from Sally Shapiro's "How to Create the Collection Winesberg, Ohio: An Analysis" in Hoffman and Hoffman 77).

The "casting lens" "[assigns] a long list of identifying particulars--habits, traits, behaviors, expressions--to a single 'he' or 'she' that in reality exists among a handful of individuals in the target group [so as to magnify] those [...] qualities" (Hoffman and Hoffman 82). It is of course written in the third person perspective, using the singular third person pronouns "he" or "she" in order to describe a group of people.

Lastly, the "distancing lens" functions as a means by which to "[level] social criticism or [reveal] the absurdity of certain cultural rituals" through an "'alien' point of view," or, more simply, an "outsider's perspective" (Hoffman and Hoffman 87). The tone of the narrator using "Distancing Lens" is very flat in this regard, taking on the manner of a scientist observing and recording data for research (see examples, Hoffman and Hoffman 90-93). It typically uses the third personal plural pronoun, "they," to describe a culture or group of people.



















Take a close look at the picture above, featuring #BlackLivesMatter demonstrator Leshia Evans facing squarely a line of militarized police officers during a protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana following the death of 37-year-old Alton Sterling in August of 2016. Interjecting yourself into the scene depicted in the portrait, recreate the scene by describing what is going on using ALL FOUR lenses. 

First enter into perspective using the personalizing lens. Write a paragraph of at least five sentences in which you describe what is going on through first-person narration.

Next, enter into the perspective of one of the characters in the scene by using the humbling lens. Write a paragraph of at least five sentences in which you describe what is going on using second-person narration.

Then, stepping out of the frame a bit, engage in casting lens to describe the group of people in this frame using the casting lens, or the third person singular "he" or "she" or "they." Again, write a paragraph of at least five sentences in which you describe what is going on using third-person singular. Recall that, according to Hoffman and Hoffman, the third-person singular is meant to stand in as a metaphor for a larger group of people. So the "he" or "she" or "they" you use is a part standing for the whole.

Lastly, in order to offer a description of the scene as if an "innocent" or "expert" martian, use distancing lens to describe what you imagine to be happening using third person plural, "they." Write a paragraph of at least five sentences in which you describe what is going on using third-person plural. 

Your assignment should be submitted as Portfolio Assignment #2 under the title for the prompt, listed above.

DUE: Monday, February 12, 2018 - typed according to MLA formatting guidelines.

Point Value: 15


March 19, 2018 - Evaluating Between the World and Me: Portfolio Assignment #3

As part of our in-class discussion of Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Meyou are responsible for providing a rhetorical analysis of the text by way of an annotated bibliography.


Your bibliography should be three paragraphs in length, involving:


1. a summary of the memoir, including a restatement of its overall argument, subsidiary claims, and the evidence used to support those claims; 


2. an evaluation, or assessment, of those claims, that talks about your judgment of the way in which Coates goes about making those claims.


3. and a reflection on how this text fits into the larger conversation on racism in America taking place right now based off of what we've discussed in class (here, the viewing of 13th, as well as our reading of Alexander's The New Jim Crow, will be of use in helping you situate Coates' text in this conversation about race in America).

This assignment is a combination of both a "descriptive annotation" and "evaluation annotation" as outlined in Seagull (W-14, pp. 74-78) and includes guiding questions (below) extracted from the section on "rhetorical analysis"--also from Seagull (W-8, pp. 49-53). 

Questions to consider as you summarize, evaluate, and reflect:

  • First of all, in terms of summary, what is the thesis, or claim, of this text? What is it arguing? What support, or evidence, does Coates use to make his claim(s)? 

  • As far as your evaluation is concerned, are the reasons believable and sufficient? ​

  • For evaluation: Who else cares about this topic? Consider who Coates has included as part of his research. In what ways are they involved in the conversation? How does he situate, or employ, them in his response to this conversation? In other words, how are they being used to support those claims? (Think of his interview with Prince Jones' mother as an example. Think also of his use of anecdotal evidence, and whether or not that is a convincing source of evidence to make his claims.) 

  • For evaluation: based off of his sources of information, the claims that he makes by way of this text, how would you identify Coates in terms of his politics? 

  • For evaluation: Do you see any logical fallacies based off of this outline of five common logical fallacies (or arguments that rely on faulty reasoning; see also Hoffman, "Jousters: Logical Fallacies," p. 240) in Coates' memoir? If no, explain how he avoids them? If yes, explain which one(s) he commits and how. 

  • For evaluation: Think about the style of memoir. How would you describe it and what effect does writing in personal narrative have on the audience's (emotional/intellectual/psychological) experience? Does personal narrative and its use of anecdotal evidence detract from, or enhance, one's understanding of the topic?  Be specific in citing examples.

  • In terms of reflection, think about the popular conversation/conversations now circulating about racism in America based off of what you've heard and discussed in this class and elsewhere. Summarize what you know of or about this conversation and how this text responding to that conversation. What issues is it addressing that may be overlooked in the current conversation? Is its response unique? Explain. ​

Your annotation should be submitted as Portfolio Assignment #3 under the title for the prompt, listed above. You should include the citation of the source above your annotation according to MLA guidelines for a book by one author (see Seagull, p. 134). ​​​​

DUE: Wednesday, April 4, 2018 - typed according to MLA formatting guidelines 

Point Value: 15



April 25, 2018 - "Bleeding Borders" - A Practice in Autoethnography: Portfolio Assignment #4

In communications professor Bryant Keith Alexander’s article on critical autoethnography, he defines it as a practice of telling one’s own story from the multiple perspectives of one’s own self.


He notes that “critical work” involves looking for the “hidden forces” that operate in our lives–be they school, family, religion, sex, sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity, class, ability–and exploring how those forces influence who we are and, in addition, how we act back upon them through self-expression (114).


These “variables” are categories of being, markers of identity, that allow us to situate ourselves at the center of an intersection where multiple worlds cross each other, hence Crenshaw’s (1995) notion of “intersectionality.”


“Intersectionality” is a research method and a way of life that involves a knowledge and understanding of those things that make us different from each other and, through this knowledge, allowing our politics–our social life in the world–to reflect that knowledge and understanding and to engage it for the purposes of social transformation (making the world a better place in which to live for all).

Keeping these things in mind:


Give an example of one time in your recent past in which you experienced yourself as embodying a specific identity. Consider your own “positionality”–where did you stand within this experience? Where do you stand in looking back on it? Do you still identify in the same way? Has anything changed about the way you identify as a result of the experience? In observing yourself as performing a specific identity, what observation could you make about the broader society? In the spirit of “critical autoethnography,” deconstruct your experience as a method of “social criticism” (Alexander 119).

You may write this in any format you wish–essay, stream of consciousness, poem, dialogue, monologue, journal entry, etc.

As you brainstorm, consider Alexander’s conclusions about his experience of embodying multiple identities that “bleed” out in multiple directions: towards expressions of Blackness, maleness, gayness, brotherliness. In life, he sees himself as caught metaphorically in a “glass borderless frame” in which he performs a gay, Black, male, brotherly identity. His viewing himself in his mantel picture prompts him to reflect on the ways in which the “heteronormativity”--that is, the heterosexual norms, or standards--of the larger society both constricts who he is at the same time that it pushes him to break out of the proverbial frame; that is, it pushes him to find creative ways to express his queer identity.

Your assignment should be submitted as Portfolio Assignment #4 under the title for the prompt, listed above.

DUE: Monday, May 14, 2018 - typed according to MLA formatting guidelines. 

Point Value: 15