Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Olivia Ohls
Prof. Sherri Winans
English 101
Essay 4

We Have A Winner

The end of the quarter is drawing near and I am in awe of how quickly it passed.  I have been reflecting about the English class I am in because it made this quarter more memorable than the countless others I have sat through.   This is the third time I have enrolled in English 101.  However, it will be the first time I complete the course in its entirety.  I am curious as to what separated this class from the previous ones I had given up on.  Why was I able to push through to the end?

Our class started out studying what college writing entails; what it should strive for.  It was in this unit where I read Nancy Sommers’, “I Stand Here Writing.”  In her essay she shares, “If I could teach my students one lesson about writing it would be to see themselves as sources, as places from which ideas originate” (245).  I think opening in this way gave me the confidence to believe I was capable of producing an academic essay.  I was beginning to understand my instructors were interested in what I had to say about what I was learning and how it affected me.  In my experience with the other English courses I found myself overwhelmed by the material presented to me because I was simply unsure how to go about my writing.  I was to serve more of a purpose than retain the information and reiterate it in my own words.

We were moving into the third week, when our first essay would be due.  This is when I would normally withdraw to avoid the embarrassment of walking into class with nothing but a blank sheet of paper to submit.  But with this new realization I had a foundation for building a college essay.

In the following weeks, we would view a short film, Shaped By Writing, which includes students from Harvard University that share tips they have learned throughout their college writing career.  A key concept that spoke to me was to make your paper your own and commit to it.  That means I should say what I really mean, not what I think I should be saying.  Perhaps what hindered me from moving further in previous English courses was the trap of attempting to write about something that was not important to me just because I thought that is what the instructor would like to hear.  This made it impossible for me to engage with my own thoughts and paper for that matter.  I think for so long this was at the heart of my struggle with writing and English.  I wasn't allowing this connection to happen, possibly because I was unaware it could.  Before, I wanted to maintain this sense of detachment and distance from my writing because it was something I dreaded so strongly and I wanted nothing to do with.

Through this class I have recognized writing was difficult for me because I wasn't giving it purpose, which sparks that investigative mind necessary in college.  Now, that I have this understanding if I let my writing be a place where I can and should sulk in my own ideas it gives me the opportunity to be poignant.  The epiphanies I have experienced consistently throughout this class have made the writing process more enjoyable for me because there is personal meaning behind the words I write that tie directly to me.

Writing about what you care about is often the challenging topic, what doesn't make sense, what makes you think.

The next unit we delved into was thinking.  Thinking deeply, or as Sven Birkerts would say, “vertical consciousness.”  In his essay we read, “The Owl Has Flown,” Birkerts explains this is where wisdom survives and “Wisdom is seeing through facts, a penetration to the underlying laws and patterns.  It relates the immediate to something larger” (37).  With a better sense of how to write alongside this new sensitivity to the way my mind was at work allowed me to reach such a place.  Thinking deeply sets me up for effective essay writing.  In the past, my classes did not bring attention to the importance of looking beyond the text like this one has and maybe that is the explanation why I never made it past limbo.

In my current English class we would watch another video that would assist me on my journey to the end of the quarter.  A woman from the video Across The Drafts said, to write a good paper you need to find out why this idea is compelling to you and why you want to write about this topic.  These questions pushed me to take the step into thinking vertically because they forced me to search and identify relationships I was noticing.  I would gather more questions to ask myself over the weeks that would guide the articulation of my ideas in a manner I was certain would be meeting the objectives of college writing, such as, originality.

Covering topics like writing and thinking prepared me with the basics for writing essays about creativity, college, and art.  Beyond the material covered over the quarter, the environment was a large contributor to my success.  I was able to build rapport with my online classmates more than I was able to in a face-to-face classroom setting.  I felt comfortable sharing ideas with them as well as revealing concepts I was having difficulty grasping.  The feeling of anonyminity the online atmosphere offers helped me overcome the insecurities I had with writing and made it less intimidating.  Sherri, my instructor, was continually supportive of the work we were doing and made herself readily available for any questions or concerns we had.  Her approach to essays, discussion forums, and organization of the class as a whole was often open-ended; leaving room for our own interpretations and beliefs of what was significant.  Sherri’s teaching style reminds me of an article we read in our unit on thinking, “Every Child Is A Scientist,” because it attests what the author, Jonah Lehrer is saying.  Lehrer claims, “When students are given explicit instructions, when they are told what they need to know, they become less likely to explore on their own.”  The freedom in the assignments for this class encouraged me to be inquisitive and curious.

I don’t believe one aspect of this third English 101 course single handedly lead me to do well.  It was the combination of many factors.  This class may not be ideal for all students but I was fortunate this was the perfect blend for me.  From here, I will continue on to an online English 102 with the self-assurance I can undertake the challenges it will throw at me because my repertoire of skills has grown considerably.


Works Cited

Across the Drafts: Students and  Teachers Talk About Feedback. Dir. Nancy Sommers.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Expository Writing Program, 2005. DVD.

Birkerts, Sven.  “The Owl Has Flown.”  Think Vertically!  Essays for Inquiry, Analysis, and Reflection.  2nd ed.  Eds. Whatcom Community College Faculty.  Fountainhead Press, 2010.  31-39.  Print.

Lehrer, Jonah.  “Every Child Is A Scientist.” Online Article in Angel. English 101 OL2, Whatcom Community College, Nov. 2011. Web. 30 Nov. 2011.

Shaped By Writing: The Undergraduate Experience. Dir. Nancy Sommers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Expository Writing Program, 2002. DVD.

Sommers, Nancy.  “I Stand Here Writing.”  Think Vertically!  Essays for Inquiry, Analysis, and Reflection.  2nd ed.  Eds. Whatcom Community College Faculty.  Fountainhead Press, 2010.  237-250.  Print.


copyright 2011, Olivia Ohls

Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA