Saturday, December 26, 2009

Launching the next phase--Lit Review Part II

I'm ramping up to dig into the second half of my lit review. I certainly hope it doesn't take as long as part I. I have this feeling that I need to charge through this draft because it is a draft. Also, I need to move more quickly because what will end up going into my actual dissertation will be considerably different and shorter. The style of writing will be different. Right now I am writing in depth summaries and considerations of key points. That's OK. But it isn't the synthetic narrative of the dissertation. If my draft one ends up at 50K or 70K words, my actual lit review in the diss will end up being 12.5 K (50 pages double-spaced). Even if I stretch it to 100 pages, the lit review would be only 25K. I will have a lot of conversion to do; however, I am finding this detailed review of the research and literature enormously helpful in expanding my understanding.

As I dive into this next phase, I am pulling together my sources. It is nice to be focusing on writing! I've started by looking at my summaries of research on rhetorical reflection. Now it the time I can build on previous work--thank goodness. I also have a notebook (actually notebooks) with all the various articles. I need to find my close summary notes on Yancey's book. They are in my box somewhere.

I have a few thoughts right now as I look at the lit on reflection research. First, there is a lot of good material. Many studies are weak in rigor, and I've thought about developing some kind of star system for rating research. I have a number of one star studies, but I have what I have.

Some impressions--
A number of studies point to ability and proficiency with reflection leads to improvement of some kind or correlates with superior ability. Sumsion has probably the most interesting things to say because she is critical of reflection. Her study doubts reflection can be quantitatively measured. It isn't suited for that kind of evaluation. She also noticed that students can be reflective and yet still not academically able. I have certainly seen that with a noticeable number of students. They can write a beautiful reflection in their final portfolio reflection, but their actual writing performance does not match the sophistication of their reflective awareness.

I see lots of influence from Flavell and his notion of metacognition. I struggle in my own mind to pin down a definition of metacognition, or rather I struggle matching exact forms or expressions of thinking with what is "metacognitive." How do I distinguish these forms of thinking we might label as "metacognitive" from those we should label "reflective?" Should I distinguish them, or can I lump them together? Flavell asserted that metacognition could be learned, that it would improve based upon training. Some research has tried to validate that assertion, and there is a group of findings that characterize reflection in the same way--that reflection is a learned behavior/skill. I might mention that this school of thinking counters the findings of King and Kitchener who believe reflective thinking is developmental.

I also see two different views of reflection. One view is based from Dewey and it presents reflective thinking in qualified terms. Reflection is triggered from a problem, exists within an ill-structured situation, and is inquiry based upon seeking a solution to the problem. David Boud offers another school of thinking about reflection that has a broader definition. In this sense, reflection is a form of thoughtful processing of experience with the goal of gaining better understanding that it is assumed leads to improved practice. Boud has a general practice orientation. I don't think these definitions or perspectives need to be exclusive of each other. Boud's allows for what McAlpine saw which is that practitioners engaged in reflection-in-action didn't always reflect around a problem, but they could also trigger significant reflection and resulting action around possibilities.

So much for the moment. I am presently gaining a perspective on the terrain of all this literature and scholarship. I'm gathering all my lego pieces. Once I have them together, I will chart out my game plan for writing and begin.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Persuasive Developments: Reflective Judgment and College Students' Written Argumentation

2003 Dissertation by Amy Overbay--available

Excerpts from  Conclusions Section

"However, the majority of the essays written by both groups of participants used onesided
positions, and did not examine or respond to objections in a sustained way. In most
cases, participants used evidence that was not examined critically, and offered unqualified
claims. Participants in both groups appeared reluctant to concede contested points, and in the
majority of their essays failed to address the fundamental conflict underlying the rhetorical
problem. These characteristics have been identified in other studies of students’ persuasive
writing (Crammond, 1998; Hays, 1988; Hillocks, 1995)" (202).

"The results of this study provide substantiation for Davidson et al.’s (1990) prediction
that reflective judgment may play an important role in how some students construct solutions
to the dilemmas they face when writing arguments. Given these findings, assuming that all
freshmen come to the first day of classes equipped with the necessary repertoire of cognitive
skills for dealing with ill-structured problems in writing may problematize their ability to
produce the kinds of arguments we want them to write" (207)

"The instructor in this study voiced a widely-held belief that students’ difficulties with written arguments pertained to their lack of preparation for college writing, or to their lack of intelligence. The possibility that some writing behaviors may be related to the developmental nature of students’ beliefs about knowing and justifying provides an important alternative explanation for instructors searching for ways to clarify for students what they expect from them" (208).


Discussion and Implications of Overbay's Study

I have taught Freshman Composition II, the class that focuses most explicitely on academic argumentation, for almost twenty years, and I have from the start noticed the difficulty freshmen have with what I term the "critical essay." Students that might do well in Freshman Comp I where the writing is more expressive in nature fall flat on their face when confronted with this task of forming and supporting an argument. From the start, I have noticed the high failure rate (if I could call it that) on the first essay which typically has been to form an argument supporting an interpretation of a work of literature, so I have my students rewrite the first paper. Overbay states that most instructors believe that lack of familiarity with academic conventions or a students intelligence are the prime causes for this difficulty in writing. However, her research confirming the presence of the expected stages of development within freshmen writer's arguments indicates that cognitive development issues may be more important. Students are not ready for the kind of reflective thinking we set as our learning objectives for this kind of writing assignment. It is like we are asking them to jump and touch a ten foot high basketball rim, and they are only able to jump and touch a six foot rim.

Two things about these findings jump out at me:
1. Deterministic view
If we carry these findings too far, we fall into what we might call a materialistic view of human behavior (in this case the learning and performing behavior of freshman writers). The hard-wired nature of the mind's development shapes, then, what these individuals are able to think and do in terms of their writing tasks. For those of us who ascribe to the outside influence of society and language upon our thinking and consciousness, this sort of fundamental determinism below this level of social influence is disturbing and hard to swallow.

2. Modifications
Maybe we can see the teaching practices that have been labeled "current traditional" in a new light based upon these findings. In many ways, the formalist impulses and of current traditional pedagogy might be seen as modifications made by generations of teachers to create writing tasks that are more developmentally appropriate for students at this developmental level. Such formalist tasks tend to make writing into a "well-structured" problem; whereas, the new rhetorical pedagogy that emerged since the 1960s emphasized the rhetorical, and thus "ill-structured" aspects of the writing task. Perhaps freshmen writers are not yet ready for the full blast of rhetoric's ill-structured nature? We might ask why after all these years of critiquing writing forms such as the five-paragraph essay do they persist. The work of King and Kitchener may offer an interesting explanation in this sort of writing's developmental appropriateness.

In my own thinking about reflection, I have come up with a number of different metaphors to explain some of my assumptions about its nature and role in learning and writing. My favorite is the Superman telephone booth. Clark Kent sees a crisis or problem, jumps into a near by phone booth still clothed in his newspaperman suit, and then after moments emerges as Superman in his superman suit. Reflection is like that phone booth--students enter it and become transformed. The act of reflection is some kind of catalyst for change or development in thinking (and by extension action). It is nice to leave the booth as a black box where unknown and unidentified things happen, but many thinkers on reflection have anatomized the thinking that goes on within the reflection telephone booth. This reflective thinking is described as a method or even as a sort of formula or perhaps you could call it a dance. We can map this thinking and it exists as a static model representing a form of mental activity.

The assumption has been that if we could only engage students in this type of thinking (because it is out there as a method or model to perform)--if we could only shove them in the Superman telephone booth--good things would happen. The magic powers of reflection would create change and transformation and all sort of good things.

King and Kitchener's work, as well as Overbay's, tells us that we might shove students in the telephone booth, but they are not able or ready to engage in the kind of reflective thinking we assume they will do. No wonder we are disappointed in the kinds of reflections our students do. No wonder we don't see the results of this kind of reflection that we might expect. No wonder suddenly all our students don't have superman caps and are flying through the sky after we ask them to reflect.

My sense is that the take away from asking students to engage in reflection is more than what can be summarized in the capacity of their epistemic cognition. As Boud as discussed, the outputs from reflection are multiple and varied. However, I believe this research is significant and can help me understand better what expectation I might have for my students' reflections (as well as their abilities as thinkers and writers in my class)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

2009 Dissertation Progress Report

1/5-1/9         Qualifying Exam taken

1/20             News of Passing on Qualifying Exam

2/20             Dissertation Proposal Submitted (accepted)

3/13            Paper presentation 2009 CCCC in San Francisco “Researching Rhetorical Reflection” –involved updated review of research

March-May        Review and Preparations for Engaging in Grounded Theory Research
                          (see blog for posts)--

5/15            Slice 1 of data analysis completed

5/31            Slice 2 of data analysis completed

6/13            Slice 3 of data analysis completed

6/15 – 8/4          Work on Lit Review

8/5-8/15            Slice 4 data analysis Phase I

8/15-10/7          Work on Lit Review

10/7-11/9            Slice 4 data analysis Phase II (completed)
--completion of Open Coding and identification of categories and properties near complete

11/10-            Return to Work on Lit Review

Additional professionally related tasks:

Spring 2009—acted as peer reviewer for two articles submitted for publication to Voices in the Middle
Spring 2009—revised and resubmitted Writing Program Profile accepted by Composition Forum twice. Article finally accepted and published in the June issue.
            Program at Eastern Michigan University.” Composition Forum 20, Summer 2009. 
July 2009—led 1-week Open Institute on College Readiness for the San Antonio Writing Project (19 high school teachers attended)
Summer 2009—textbook chapter accepted and draft written for Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing (Edited by Charlie Lowe): “What is Writing? What is ‘Academic’ Writing?” Draft available
Dec. 2009--peer reviewed article submission for CCC

Details on Lit Review and Research Work

Literature Review progress
As of 12/21, I will have completed my review of scholars and research on rhetorical reflection OUTSIDE of Composition/Rhetoric. These include the work predominantly of Dewey, Moon, Mezirow, Boud, Schon, and King and Kitchener. The draft of this section of my literature review is approximately 35 thousand words.

Beginning promptly on 12/22, I will begin my review of the scholarship and research on rhetorical reflection within the field of composition/rhetoric or writing studies broadly speaking. The general areas I will cover are reflection and composition, cognitive views of the writing process, student self-evaluation/assessments, and revision.

Projected completion date for Lit Review Draft #1:  March 15th

Research Work progress
For now, I plan to focus on the lit review. If I bog down earlier, I may take a break by focusing on Slice 5 analysis, but in all likelihood this analysis will begin in Mid-March. This last slice of open coding will a “draft cycle” view for eight to twelve “cycles” containing these items: draft #1, peer responses on draft #1, Writing Review of draft #1, draft #2 (or it could be between draft two and three).

Projected Timeline of Work
Goal: To have my lit review and open coding completed by May Seminar. Focus on May Seminar for Axial Coding and revision plans for Lit Review. It would be nice to have the data analysis completed earlier, though.  The projected timeline is deliberately conservative.

Late Spring-Early Summer: Complete research data analysis (Axial/Focused)

Summer: Submit draft chapters of Dissertation

Fall: Drafting and revision of chapters

Late Fall 2010-Early Spring 2011 Dissertation Defense