Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

Finding a Way Forward

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 45.

Each day as I greet my students from behind my mask, I am reminded of how much my teaching has relied on practices the pandemic prohibits. Dwelling on those losses provides no way forward, so instead I strive to focus on the endeavors I can continue, including modeling the writing process. Although I have composed assignments with my students for years—more than a decade, perhaps—the process remains instructive for me. This semester, writing a literacy narrative and a textual analysis with my students has deepened my understanding of the process and reminded me of the vital role of writing as a mechanism for making sense of the world.

Preparing to write the first essay of the semester with my students meant facing the challenge of finding yet another literacy narrative to tell. I have written so many essays about my learning experiences, I wasn’t sure what was left untold. Yet somehow after several pages of scribbles and strike-throughs, an early memory crept into my consciousness. I saw myself as I was nearly fifty years ago, a preschooler lying on the floor “reading” the wordless comic strip Henry. That memory from when I was too young to read and too small to hold a newspaper led me to form the thought that would become the essay’s opening line: “To a small child, the pages of a newspaper are enormous.” The recollection that prompted that sentence also reminded me of a later memory of lying on the floor reading. The former memory not only gave me a starting point for my narrative, it also gave me a transition to a second scene:

Reading the wordless comic strip Henry for the first time was the beginning of a years-long habit of stretching out on the floor with newspapers and large books—not thick ones but ones that were tall and wide, among them one of my childhood favorites: The Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense.

As I continued to draft, I wondered what had prompted those recollections of my early childhood and realized my unanswered question could serve as the beginning of my conclusion:

Why these particular early memories visit me now, I do not know. Perhaps rereading Art Spiegelman’s graphic memoir, Maus, with my students has roused the wordless Henry and the word-filled Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense from the corner of my brain where they’ve slumbered.

Days later, after I posted the literacy narrative to my blog and shifted my attention to Maus, a panel in Chapter 3 presented a concrete answer to my question. There, Art Spiegelman depicts himself lying on the floor of his father’s house sketching the war stories of the older Spiegelman. Art’s legs extend beyond the panel linking the scene in his father’s living room to the adjacent panel depicting Vladek Spiegelman as a young soldier. Studying that image of Spiegelman lying on the floor, I became aware of the subconscious inspiration for my story; Spiegelman’s depiction of himself had led me—though I didn’t know it at the time—to my own narrative.

The same uncertainty that accompanied my initial work on the literacy narrative resurfaced when I began the analysis of Maus. Spiegelman’s shifts back and forth from the present to the past were my primary interest, but I could not decide which scene in Maus would serve as my focus. While I remained indecisive on that point, I did make one decision early in my planning: Rather than examining a series of panels, I would focus on one to demonstrate to my students that one panel alone could serve as the subject of a thorough textual analysis. After I resolved to analyze a single panel, I returned to the selection process. I found myself gravitating repeatedly toward the image of the Spiegelmans and the Zylberbergs at their dining room table in Sosnowiec.

Without knowing what drew me to that window into their home, I took the first step; I drafted a description of the panel, lines that would show Spiegelman’s images with my words and lead to the thesis and analysis still to come. That process of recreating the panel in the form of a paragraph required the close attention to detail that developed my understanding of Spiegelman’s aim. What I had initially perceived as shifts back and forth from the past to the present could be described more accurately as simultaneous depictions of the present and the past. Juxtaposed with the retrospective Vladek, the seemingly ordinary scene of domestic life grows ominous. As I wrote in my analysis, “With Vladek’s final words [in the panel], the dark heavy window grilles become the bars of a cage. Readers see the family as the storyteller-survivor does, both as the happy family they were and the prey they would become.”

Witnessing the growth of that idea and the others that form the essays I have written this semester has deepened my understanding of the necessity of approaching writing as a process. Had I not stepped into the unknown, I never would have found the words to express what lies within the pages of those essays, nor would I have the opportunity to reflect on them with the words you are reading now. As I prepare to don my mask again for my last face-to-face classes of the semester, I realize that putting pen to paper with my students has not only taught me more about writing but also shown me a way through a semester of uncertainty. Now as COVID-19 cases surge, and as Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines pend FDA approval for emergency use, we move forward into the unknown. Pen in hand, I aim toward hope.

Works Cited

Lucas, Jane. “A Bridge to Words.” Jane Lucas, 18 Sept. 2020,

—. “Of Mice and Menace.” Jane Lucas, 29 Oct. 2020,

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. pp. 45, 74.

Posted in Teaching, Writing

Blogging Beyond English 111

This semester, I required you to create and maintain a blog for a variety of reasons, including these:

  • To create a sense of community outside of the classroom
  • To provide a platform for presenting your work to a broader online audience
  • To foster a practice that can continue long after the semester ends. Your blog can evolve to suit your personal or professional needs.

Blog Response Assignment

The assignment that follows serves several purposes. It introduces you to some of the ways that students at other colleges have used blogs, it offers an exercise in integrating a source into your writing, and it provides an opportunity to consider ways you may expand your blog after the end of the semester.


  1. Read and take notes on The New York Times article “Blogs vs. Term Papers.”
  2. Compose a comment that integrates a quotation or a paraphrase from the article. Introduce the quotation or paraphrase with a signal phrase. Include a parenthetical citation if you do not name the author, Matt Richtel, in the signal phrase. See the examples below the directions.
  3. Follow the quotation with your own observations about blogging, including how your blog might evolve after the semester’s end. Adding or revising an “About” page, posting your résumé, and turning your blog into one that focuses on an interest of yours are just a few of the possibilities.
  4. Before noon on Monday, November 30, post your comment as a reply to this post. To do that, scroll down to the bottom of the post, and look for the image of the air mail envelope. If you do not see it, click on the post’s title, “Blogging Beyond English 111,” and scroll down again. 

To minimize the risk of duplication, I will not make your comments visible until after the noon deadline.

Examples of Integrated Sources

  • Matt Richtel reports that Duke University Professor* Cathy Davidson “makes heavy use of the blog and the ethos it represents of public, interactive discourse.”
  • Professor Andrea Lundsford notes that students at Stanford University “still seem to benefit from learning how to present their research findings in both traditional print and new media” (qtd. in Richtel).

The second example includes a parenthetical citation because the quoted words are Lundsford’s, but the author of the article is Matt Richtel.

If you address your blog in your reflective essay, you may use Richtel’s article as one of your sources.

*When “Blogs vs. Terms” was published in The New York Times, Cathy Davidson was a professor of English at Duke University. She is now Distinguished Professor of English and Founding Director at the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Posted in Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Revising Your Reflection with A Writer’s Reference

As part of your revision process, you will integrate two relevant sources into your reflection. Here are some examples of how you might introduce quotations or paraphrases of the texts you choose to cite:

  • The authors of A Writer’s Reference note that an effective analysis demonstrates “careful critical reading” (Hacker and Somers 69). Of all the key features of an analysis, that attention to detail is what I render most effectively in my study of Maus.
  • One of the elements of the panel that drew my interest was the contrast between the lines of narration that conclude it, where Vladek Spiegelman says, “It was still very luxurious. The Germans couldn’t destroy everything at once” (74).
  • In my analysis, I observe that “[t]he shift in Vladek’s final lines—from ‘luxury’ to destruction’—shifts readers’ perspective on the scene as well.”
  • Dr. Karin James’ research in cognitive neuroscience reveals that writing longhand activates areas of the brain that remain dormant when we type.

The third sample does not include a parenthetical citation because I am quoting the blog post of my analysis, which is a text without page numbers.

The fourth sample does not include quotation marks or a parenthetical citation because I am paraphrasing research on a university web page, another source without page numbers. The information in the works cited entry directs readers to the specific web page.

Sample Works Cited Entries

Hacker, Diana and Nancy Somers. “How to Write an Analytical Essay.” A Writer’s Reference, GTCC 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. pp. 69-70.

James, Karin. “What are the Effects of Handwriting on Cognitive Development?” The Cognition and Action Neuroimaging Library, University of Indiana, 2016,

Lucas, Jane. “Of Mice and Menace.” Jane Lucas, 30 Oct. 2020,

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

For more sample works cited entries, see the November 11 blog post, “ENG 111: Beginning Your Reflection.”

Model Reflective Essays

The essays listed below are models for your reflection, but each differs from yours in terms of requirements. The first two, written by students of mine at Catawba Valley Community College, were written for a reflective assignment that did not require the students to cite two sources. The third, written by me as a model for my students at Lenoir Rhyne University, includes both a works cited list and an annotated bibliography.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Beginning Your Reflection

For your final essay assignment in English 111, you will compose a reflection that documents your work over the course of the semester focusing on what you consider your most significant work and the feature or features of the course that have contributed most to your development as a writer, a reader, and/or a critical thinker. Features to consider include the following:

  • Reading Maus
  • Keeping a journal
  • Writing for an online audience beyond the classroom/creating and maintaining a WordPress blog
  • Planning, drafting, and revising your literacy narrative
  • Planning, drafting, and revising your analysis of Maus
  • Consulting A Writer’s Reference/Revising with A Writer’s Reference
  • Writing longhand
  • Limiting screen time

You are welcome to focus on more than one feature but no more than three.

Include in your reflective essay the following elements:

  • An opening paragraph that introduces your focus and presents your thesis
  • Body paragraphs that offer concrete details from your work to support your thesis
  • Quotations or paraphrases from two relevant and credible sources, introduced with signal phrases and followed by parenthetical citations where needed. One of the two sources may be one of your pieces of writing. Recommended sources include Maus, A Writer’s Reference, and the articles linked to your class notes.
  • A conclusion that reiterates the thesis without restating it verbatim

If you quote or paraphrase your literacy narrative or your analysis of Maus, cite it as you would any other blog post. See the entries for my blog posts in the sample works cited list below.

Sample Works Cited

Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Somers. “How to Write a Literacy Narrative.” A Writer’s Reference, GTCC 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. pp. 34-35.

—. “How to Write an Analytical Essay.” A Writer’s Reference, GTCC 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. pp. 69-70.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Blue Light Has a Dark Side,” May 2012,

James, Karin. “What are the Effects of Handwriting on Cognitive Development.” The Cognition and Action Neuroimaging Library, University of Indiana, 2016,

Klass, Perri. “Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age.” The New York Times, 20 June 2016,

Lucas, Jane. “ENG 111: Maus under the Microscope.” Jane Lucas, 7 Oct. 2020,

—. “ENG 111: Of Mice and Memoirs, Part I.” Jane Lucas, 2 Sept. 2020,

Myer, Robinson. “To Remember a Lecture Better, Take Notes by Hand.” The Atlantic, 1 May 2014,

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

Twenge, Jean M. “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” The Atlantic, Sept. 2017,

Wolf, Maryanne. “Skim Reading is the New Normal.” The Guardian, 25 Aug. 2018,

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Not Left to Our Own Devices

In English 111, I have required you to draft your essays longhand and to limit your screen time. This blog post addresses the reasons that I’ve asked you to engage in those practices.

Writing Longhand

One practical reason for writing longhand: What we mark through remains on the page. Sometimes what we cross out can be useful later on, elsewhere in our writing. More importantly, research in cognitive neuroscience indicates that writing longhand has these benefits:

Simply put, writing longhand sharpens our minds in ways that typing doesn’t.

Limiting Screen Time

When we use our phones and laptops, it’s difficult for us to give our undivided attention to one endeavor, but often that singular focus is critical.

When we type on our phones, we often aim to convey as much as we can with as few characters as possible. Texting and emailing–both of which now feature predictive text–do not foster the vital skills of developing our writing and producing original thought.

Limiting our screen time not only helps us improve our writing skills, it can also benefit our overall well-being.

The research cited in the links that I’ve included isn’t definitive, but it makes a strong case for the value of limiting our screen time and putting pen to paper. I encourage you to continue these practices after the semester ends.