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Reflection in Perspective: A Dialog

posted: 11.8.12 by Nedra Reynolds

Dedicated to Tom Romano*

The scene is a shared cubicle in a college writing program office during the final exam period. One teacher is sitting at a table when an agitated colleague bursts in:

“Geez, I wish my students could reflect on their writing! They seem to be just going through the motions—telling me what they think I want to hear.”

“Yep, that’s the sense I have, too: they struggle with reflection more than with any other part of their portfolio assignment.”

“They can’t think. They rush.”

“Well, what is reflection, anyway? What do we mean when we ask students to reflect?”

“It’s metacognition, of course! It’s the ability to think about one’s own thinking. Students need to be able to step back and look at their learning and their decisions while taking a longer view.”

“Sure, but what do we mean by reflective writing? Is it narration, description, exposition—all three? Is it more like a story or more like persuasion or an, um, obituary?  There’s been so much attention to genres in the past few years. What kind of genre is reflection?” 

[Long pause]

“Well, we’re asking them to think critically! It’s not rocket science.”

“But it might be more complicated than we realize. How many reflective pieces have you written lately?”

[Another long pause]

“It would be nice if I could complete all of the writing assignments along with my students, but I’m swamped! I can’t keep that up.”

“My point is that reflective writing might have some distinctions that we could identify for students—or with students—that might help them do a better job.”

“Do you mean ‘vivid detail’ or ‘convincing evidence’? Like what features it has?”

“Yes, in part, but also what rhetorical situation does this genre put writers in?”

“In a situation where they’d better be able to say what they learned!”

“But can they just make a list? Would that satisfy you? Does it have to be an essay? Could it be brief reflective elements interspersed throughout the portfolio? I’m wondering why we think reflection has to be in the form of an essay.” 

“Seriously? How about because that’s what we teach?”

“But essayist literacy is only one kind; our students should be prepared to produce all types of writing, shouldn’t they? Why couldn’t a reflective piece be in the form of a video or a podcast?”

“Because those aren’t actually writing! How would we know they can write?”

“If what we really want to see is their ability to reflect, does it matter so much what form that reflection takes?”


BITS READERS: This is a genuine question! Please contribute your thoughts, or vote on whether you’d like this dialogue to continue next month!

*See Chapter 6 in Tom Romano’s Clearing the Way (Heinemann, 1987), one of the best books written on teaching writing.

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