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Choosing Reflective Practices

BestPractices-Writing Instruction

What Kind of Reflective Practices Can I Implement in My Classroom?

Bringing reflection into the classroom in multiple ways can facilitate students’ acumen with knowledge and skill transfer, as well as provide them with the practice necessary to become skilled at metacognition. Some basic writers lack confidence in their ability to analyze their own texts, and to identify meaningful ways to revise them. Some basic writers don’t have much experience with this type of “thinking about thinking”. Asking these writers to discuss the process they used to create a text often results in vague generalizations, with little detail or specifics as to how they intend to move forward. By modeling what a meaningful reflection might look like, and having students practice reflecting often, they will be able to develop the skills to not only understand their own process, but also be able to externalize that process onto paper.

Weekly Writing Logs:

Have students turn in a weekly journal discussing how their writing is moving forward and what they have learned throughout the week. Swartzendruber-Putnam has her students focus on one aspect of their writing, such as leads or using specific nouns and verbs, to help stimulate their thinking and give them vocabulary to use during their reflection. She gives mini lessons on topics like these throughout the week and lists the mini lessons on the board so students can refer back to what they’ve learned.

Writer’s Memo, or Draft Letter:

Have students write a letter describing the process each of them went through in the creation of a draft. Yancey identified three reasons that this type of assignment is important to writers: students often remember ways they generated material that they were unaware of before; they “often create scenes or themes or insights that they can use in a later draft” ; and they develop a “sense of authority or expertise” over their own writing. (28)

Model Reflection:

Amber Cobb-Vasquez, an instructor at Eastern Michigan University, has students as well as writers outside the classroom take turns describing their writing process in front of the class. Students could also make copies of their reflective letters and pass them around for comment. Swartzendruber-Putnam brings in copies of two reflection letters written in previous classes; one that is a shallow summary of events and one that involves higher-level thinking about the writing process. She has students compare the two letters, and discuss what makes one better than the other.

Portfolio Reflection Letter:

This is a more cumulative reflection. Students gather their writing into a portfolio of work achieved throughout the duration of the class, then proceed to write a letter to the reader reflecting on the entire process they went through to accomplish this collection of work. Yancey calls this assignment “reflection-in-presentation” and says that, while this is the most well-known form of reflection, this is also the least well-understood and theorized assignment. (69) Laurel Bowers found several problems with the typical portfolio reflection letter assignment:

  • Letters are usually addressed to the teacher which influences students to believe the letters’ rhetorical purpose is evaluation. Students then proceed to use the letter to justify their grades by doing such things as asserting growth, explaining circumstances beyond their control, complimenting the teacher and the curriculum, and defending a specific topic.
  • The length of the letter is often one page which allows for a “sweeping review” of what has been done, with very little detail.
  • The letter is assigned at the end of the semester when the student is feeling the crunch of exams and other end-of-the-semester projects. (62–63)

There are several possible solutions to these problems:

  • The letters should be addressed to the writer’s “self” to encourage reflection as the letter’s rhetorical purpose.
  • The required length of the letter should be longer, such as 3–5 pages, to encourage the writer to go into detail.
  • The letter should be assigned as another writing assignment that goes through the cycle of drafts, peer workshopping, and teacher conferencing.This will help students connect reflection as a natural part of the writing process.
  • The instructor should make it clear to students what the rhetorical purpose is for reflective activities and assignments. If students understand what purpose reflection serves, they will be able to make their own decisions about its value to them.
  • Instructors should consider the rhetorical purpose behind each reflective prompt they provide and make sure they encourage the kind of reflection that promotes metacognition, rather than defense of a grade. (Bowers 62–63)

Outside Resources

Reflection Journals

Reflective Writing Instructions

Annotated Bibliography

Bransford, John D. and Schwartz, Daniel L. “Rethinking Transfer: A Simple Proposal with Multiple Implications” Review of Research in Education. v24. 1999. 61–100.

Bransford and Schwartz discuss transfer and how it occurs. Their main focus is on changing the way transfer is identified. They suggest that researchers should look for evidence that a person has mastered the underlying principles behind the skills or concepts taught. If she or he can use those principles in a way that shows they have the resources to effectively learn in a new setting, then transfer has occurred.

Bower, Laurel L. “Student Reflection and Critical Thinking: A Rhetorical Analysis of 88 Portfolio Cover Letters.” Journal of Basic Writing. v22 n2. 2003. 47–66.

Bower analyzes the rhetorical purposes of 88 portfolio cover letters through the theoretical lens of Aristotle, Stephen Toulmin, and Kenneth Burke. She finds that these letters largely serve the rhetorical purpose of evaluation and assessment, with little evidence to support the theory that these letters encourage true metacognitive thinking. She goes on to give recommendations for improving the rhetorical nature of these letters.

Flowers, Linda and John Hayes. “A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing” College Composition and Communication. v32. 1982. 365–387.

Using a method where their subjects compose aloud into a tape recorder, Flowers and Hayes study process through the lens of cognitive process theory. They identify three major processes: planning, translating and reviewing. Their findings contradict the previously popular linear model of the composing process, suggesting that these processes are recursive throughout the creation of a text.

Fox, Tom. “Ideologies of Access and Exclusion: Basic Writing and Cultural Conflict.” Defending Access. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers. 1999. 40–70.

Fox discusses how standards reflect the values of those that are in power, and access to education is influenced by those standards. Those not in power, if they are able to meet inevitably biased standards, enter school with an automatic conflict. Fox urges those inside the academy to veer away from “‘basic writing’ structures that delay entrance into the academy.” (70)

Lave, Jean and Wenger, Etienne. Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. 1991.

Lave and Wenger suggest that any type of learning environment is situated within a social community. For a student to adequately learn any skill or knowledge, he or she must become an effective member of that community.

Myers, Carole. “Core Skills and Transfer in the Youth Training Schemes: A Field Study of Trainee Motor Mechanics.” Journal of Organizational Behavior. v13 n6. 1992. 625–632.

Myers examines the theory that teaching students 103 commonly occurring job skills will adequately prepare them for transfer of those skills across multiple contexts. She finds the core skills method does not adequately promote occupational flexibility.

Perkins, David N. and Salomon, Gavriel. “Transfer of Learning.” International Encyclopedia of Education. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press, 1992. 2–13.

Perkins and Salomon define transfer and come to some conclusions about what conditions must exist for transfer to occur, including: thorough and diverse practice, explicit abstraction, active self-monitoring, arousing mindfulness, and using a metaphor or analogy.

Perl, Sondra. “Understanding Composing.” College Composition and Communication. v31 n4. 1980. 363–369.

Similar to Flower and Hayes, Perl studies the recursive nature of the composing process through observing teachers as they composed aloud. She found that not only did the teachers go back to read bits of discourse, they also paused to gain a feeling, or “felt sense”, about what they wrote, and what should come next. She demonstrates how this felt sense is a natural part of composing.

Pianko, Sharon. “Reflection: A Critical Component of the Composing Process” College Composition and Communication. v30 n3. 1979. 275–278.

This is one of the first essays within composition to focus specifically on reflection. Pianko identifies reflection within the composing process as the times students pause and rescan their work. She encourages teachers to change their focus from evaluating a student’s finished work to improving a students process for writing through reflection.

Prather, Dirk C. “Trial and Error versus Errorless Learning: Training, Transfer, and Stress.” The American Journal of Psychology. v84 n3. 1971. 377–386.

Prather studied 96 student pilots training on a range-estimation task. He studied whether trial and error, or errorless training was more conducive to transfer. Students that had a harder time mastering a task through trial and error showed a greater ability to transfer the skill to a new context because they were more likely to master the underlying principles of the task.

Schroth, Marvin L. “Effects of Frequency of Feedback on Transfer in Concept Identification.” The American Journal of Psychology. v110 n1. 1997. 71–79.

In a study done of psychology students at Santa Clara University, Schroth finds that the more difficult it is in the acquisition phase of learning for a person to gain a skill or concept, the more likely he or she will be able to transfer that skill or knowledge to a different context because he or she will be more likely to master the underlying principles of the knowledge or skill.

Swartzendruber-Putnam, Dawn. “Written Reflection: Creating Better Thinkers, Better Writers.” The English Journal. v90 n1. 2000. 88–93.

Discusses three reflective assignments: The writing log, the draft letter, and the portfolio letter. Swartzendruber-Putnam explains how she helps her students increase their ability to think critically through meaningful reflection.

Tobin, Lad. “Replacing the Carrot with the Couch: Reading Psychotherapeutically” Reading Student Writing: Confessions, Meditations and Rants. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers. 2004. 44–55.

Tobin discusses the importance of context when reading and interpreting students’ texts. He encourages teachers to try to understand students’ motivations and maturity as they go about determining how to help individual students make and reach writing goals.

Yagelski, Robert P. “The Ambivalence of Reflection: Critical Pedagogies, Identity, and the Writing Teacher.” College Composition and Communication. v51 n1. 1999. 32–50.

Yagelski looks at the reflective practices of teachers. He examines how a critical pedagogy that challenges a person’s original belief system can produce an internal conflict that affects a person’s ability and desire to reflect on his/her practices.

Yancey, Kathleen B. Reflection in the Writing Classroom. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1998.

Yancey analyzes reflection in three forms: reflection-in-action which looks at the process of reflection within the act of composing a specific text; constructive reflection which examines the effects of multiple texts on a writer’s identity; and reflection-in-presentation which is focused on a formal reflective text written to a specific audience.


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Page last modified on April 26, 2006, at 10:32 PM