Monday, June 14, 2010

Selective Coding Memo 6/14/10


I think I could do another couple weeks of selective coding, but I don't know that I will necessarily see that much new. I'm feeling a bit saturated, so it is time to start pulling my findings together. This selective coding stage has pulled together as I never imagined it would. It has provided a very interesting lens through which to view my data. 

It originated in some of my abstract thinking about why Writing Reviews were not providing the stimulus for reflective thinking. It has increasingly become clear that I will have to articulate more clearly what I consider to be "reflective" and what is not. I would need to be able to identify within my data instances of reflective thinking and non-reflective thinking. So I went back to some basics about the dynamics of reflection. There are different levels
--thinking
--thinking about something (what is the difference between these first two?)
--thinking about your thinking about something

It is this third level that I would consider to be reflective thinking. There is a certain level of reflection involved with thinking about something, particularly if that something involved some degree of previous thinking, so it can be hard to draw the line and clearly identify "thinking about your thinking about something." 

So armed with this concept of what defined reflection, I went back through slice 2 data (14 WRs), reprinted fresh copies, and used yellow highlighter to identify examples of thinking about your thinking about something. I then copied and pasted all of these together and did a comparative analysis where I noted similarities and differences in these examples. 

From a list of the concerns of each of these reflective episodes, I can state that what they were thinking about what highly rhetorical. Many wrestled with audience and how best to reach or persuade them. A number were about finding the best information (to best persuade their audience). I don't think this insight says a whole lot except that they are dealing with important writing issues. But the WRs as a whole do this, so I don't think these reflective episodes are different except in the manner and depth with which they engage with these rhetorical issues.

The reflective gaze is one of comparison and assessment in terms of essay success.

I wrote this statement, and it seemed to encapsulate my insight into these reflective episodes. To test this statement, I made a chart where I had three columns:

Comparison          Assesssment              Essay Success

I allowed two rows for the comparison cell, so I could list the two things being compared. I then went back to see if I could chart out these reflective episodes into these three columns, and I could. In most cases, the comparisons articulate some sense of not fitting in bounds sort of like trying to fit a square peg in a round whole. The comparison involves often a coming to know that is rooted in an assessment or judgment about the situation. This assessment/judgment is made based upon the writer's sense of essay success. I thought it was very interesting that the term "judgment" came back into my thinking at this point. Through this reflective thinking, students are making some judgment about their writing situation and from that judgment determining a new course of action. The reflective episodes divide neatly into two halves: the "no fit" half and then the "to fit" (as in what to do to fit). Significantly, the basis for this judgment is the writer's concept of essay success. 

Let's look at one as an example, and I will "code" it.  

Example:
A solution for my research paper has been hard to come by. The problem is my claim supports the current status quo, and it is the public at large that disagree with the status quo. So at this point in the draft cycle my solution will be to look for a compromise between the two sides.  

I put in bold what I consider to be the  reflective portion of this statement. The writer starts by telling/reporting their problem. The next sentence expresses their thinking about this problem. Notice how this reflective statement is an evaluative statement containing their judgment about the source of the problem. Also, notice that there seems to be comparison going on: Claim supports X >><< public does not support X. The writer certainly could have written more about this problem, but through this comparison they are seeing how their claim is mismatched with the public view on the claim. The last line is their expression of what they will do to work through this problem in order to make their claim “work” in terms of essay success. Their way to solve this problem with their claim is to find a solution that each side can agree on—they want to please everyone. The important thing is not their particular revision goal but to see how the writer is working on fitting in bounds. We see in these reflective episodes a neat division between the no fit/to fit.

Armed with these insights into reflective episodes inside these WRs, I began to ask the question: What, then, distinguishes “non-reflective” episodes. Looking back at the data to identify non-reflective episodes, I noticed that they remain at the level of reporting/telling. They may express an awareness or even self-awareness of something, but they don’t dig deeply into questioning or explaining this awareness further.

To “think about” your “thinking about something” (to me) seems to involve questioning HOW or WHY or WHERE or WHEN. Is there a difference between “thinking about my problem” and “thinking about the causes of my problem?” Is it not really “reflection” until I get to my “thinking about” the “thinking about the causes of my problem?”

Going back to my analogy of my son in front of the hallway mirror, the non-reflective episodes follow this dynamic. He walks down the hall, looks in the mirror and sees his collar is up. In his WR, he writes, “My collar is up. I think I will turn it down.” He walks on. Notice there is no comparative assessment involved, and the judgment is simply a direct statement almost of fact. There is no explanation or elaboration about the basis for this judgment. THAT is what I see these reflective episodes providing—some basis or grounds for understanding the problem or for choosing a particular action.

Here’s one example of a non-reflective statement:
“I was told by my peer that I needed to make this story relate to people at my school and that I needed to effectively show that the “entire company as a whole” was ruined to expose the impact of this event on society. … I will have to take these things into consideration for my next draft as I wish to make changes in these areas to improve my grade.”

Notice that the writer simply reports what the peer thinks about their paper. They SAY that they will take these suggestions into consideration, but the substance of this consideration is not included in this WR. If this reflective thinking happens, it happens outside of the WR.

I noticed from my first slice the prevalence of [telling/reporting what is] as well as its counterpart [considering/evaluating what is]. I have roughly held the difference between these two codes as the difference between non-reflective and reflective thinking, and what I have done with this selective coding is dig more deeply into the difference between these two categories and express that difference more clearly.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Approaching Selective Coding

I am feeling more comfortable with the idea that I am approaching the end point of my research. I have attempted to make my research "rigorous" in that I have sought to engage in Grounded Theory research following its methods. I can't say, as a novice, that I have done these methods perfectly, but I have tried to pursue the procedures and objectives as best that I could.

For various reasons, I choose to follow Strauss and Corbin's sequence of "coding" or categorization (I plan to no longer use the term "coding" since I believe, like Dey, that it is a misnomer) from open, to axial, to selective. I think I can say with confidence, especially after the May workshop, that I have pursued axial coding sufficiently. I have worried, however, how to approach selective coding and how to reach the end point with an integrated theory. Now I have a game plan.

Through re-reading Strauss and Corbin's (1998) chapter on "Selective Coding," I believe I have arrived at three things I can work on doing that will integrate my theory:
1) Writing the storyline--using narrative to provide a way to pull concepts and variation together
2) Diagramming--using the drawing of diagrams and models to conceptualize the theory
3) Reviewing and sorting through memos

I realize now that my "Recognition in Slice 5" memo involved all of these three activities of theory integration, so to a degree I may be redundantly pursuing my theory. However, I feel that after the last two weeks I am deeper into my understanding of the data. I also realize that my previous blog post (muddle) is about this first step of using narrative.

Corbin and Strauss talk about how difficult integration is for novice researchers (like myself). They state, "The difficulty students seem to have is coming up with the more abstract theoretical scheme that explains all of their data" (155). They go on to state that unintegrated theory might contain interesting descriptions and some themes, but no theory. What is missing are statements telling the reader how these themes relate to each other. It is an uncovering of the relational terrain and dynamics of a system that distinguishes a theory.

Another question has been which of my key concepts will I label as my "core category": fitting in bounds or essay success. This question is not an easy one for me, since I believe each could work as my core category, and either way they will be deeply intertwined with each other. Strauss and Corbin state that the core category has "analytic power" and that it has the "ability to pull the other categories together to form an explanatory whole" (146). I think fitting in bounds may work best because that is the dynamic--the goal and activity--at work in these writing reviews (and outside them). Essay success is perhaps as strong a concept as fitting in bounds, but it is the concept which regulated and directs fitting in bounds. Hmm.... Does that make it more central? I have to think about it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It's a grand muddle

E.M. Forester in Passage to India talks about mysteries and muddles. I believe I am in a great big muddle. I have immersed myself in my slice 5 of data, and I think I have dug so deeply into the minutia of the data that I am overwhelmed with it all. Like I experienced as I prepared for phase II of my lit review, I have been busy collecting and preparing separate "items," and now I have all of these cards scattered on the floor like 52 card pick up.

I am struggling with the axial coding, and how to do it in such a way that I am seeing patterns and relationships. I'm struggling with my insights to the overall draft cycle and then maintaining my focus on the reflection. I can say that these reflections present a partial and even deceptive picture of what really is going on and ends up happening. Mostly, I am intrigued by how things go astray and by my speculations about why. This mirror of reflection is a fairly cracked mirror.

In my mind, I keep coming back to my analogy of my son going to school with his collar up or his hair unbrushed and a wing of hair flying high from the back of his head. The act of reflection is the act of gazing in the mirror. The mirror itself is the "other" that presents a representation of you--a peer response, a self-evaluation, a glance at an other's draft, or looking at additional research. I have recently reincorporated viewing drafts and doing research as "mirrors" along with considering/reporting feedback, and I'm not sure they exactly fit, but they do provide contrastive and additional perspectives. Hmm. I'll have to think more about how to categorize them, but I know that they impact the identification of problems and coming to know (and eventual revision goals).

So now that we have the elements of this act of reflection in place, let's return to my son walking down the hall past our hall mirror and let's say he looks in the mirror.

Scenario 1: He sees his collar is up, realizes that it is a problem, and reaches up and folds it down. Reflection works. He would have gone to school looking like a slob, but now he is a guapo stylish guy. He gets an A on his paper.

Scenario 2: He looks in the mirror, sees his collar is up but shrugs his shoulders, says who cares, and walks on. He either purposefully decides the collar is not a problem, or he doesn't see it as a problem at all. He either does not have the appreciation (this is good/this is bad sense) of collars being down, or perhaps he doesn't think it is that bad. It fall within what McAlpine called his "corridor of tolerance." He can tolerate his collar being up. So has reflection failed? It has from the sense that we (the teachers) think all writers should have their collars down (our view of essay success).

He might also not have any sense that collars should be down. The whole concept of collars is so ill-defined to him that he really doesn't even notice the collar is up. As he looks in the mirror, he might even think his image in the mirror looks good. He leaves it up.

Scenario 3: He glances in the mirror, and he sees his shirt is untucked and hair unbrushed, but he doesn't even notice his collar is up. He might tuck in his shirt, but then decide not to brush his hair and not touch his collar because he has no realization that it is up.

Scenario 4: He looks in the mirror, sees his collar is up, but proceeds for the door without touching it. He told himself, "I need to pull down my collar," but he doesn't because it he is late for school and doesn't have time to pull it down. The expedient thing is to leave it up so he isn't late. Or he said he will get to it later, but then when he arrives at school he is is distracted and forgets.

Scenario 5: OK, once again he is getting ready for school. He puts his shirt on and the collar is up. He walks by the mirror, doesn't see the collar, but on the way to the car he feels the collar is up and then fixes it. He makes this change on his own without the aid of the mirror. Did he even need the mirror to make this change?

Scenario 6: Let's say he walks by the mirror, sees the collar is up and even acknowledges that it ought to be down. However, he doesn't know how to pull his collar down. He doesn't have the strategies, tactics, and skills he needs to make this change. So the collar stays up.

Scenario 7: He's back in front of the mirror, and he knows that I am standing there too, so he says the collar is a problem and that he will pull it down just because I am standing there and that is what  he knows I want him to say and do. I go into the bathroom, and he proceeds to the car having appeased me but not pulled down his collar. This problem identification and setting of revision goals has been done for my benefit. And the collar stays up.

I'm running out of scenarios, but I think these give a picture of the muddle I am seeing and trying to make sense of. So what role does reflection play? What is the purpose and effect of looking in that mirror? What if we had no mirror in the house? Is it necessary? Do we only gain this perspective on ourselves through this reflection?

Muddle muddle muddle.

I believe that the dymanic of these writing reviews is fundamentally shaped by what I am calling "essay success." I believe that will be my core category. So how do I do selective coding just for it? My axial coding is a mess right now. I think I need to spend some more time now that I have the cards all scattered about the floor. I think these scenarios point to variations I am seeing in the dynamic of reflection, but I need to refine these patterns and compare them to other patterns. What is significant in each case?

I'm also confused as to what constitutes a "theory." What is it that I am creating? I've become so lost in my data I feel that I have lost sight of what my end point will be. So I am going to take a break from my data for tomorrow. I want to review my literature on grounded theory both to refresh and guide me at this point and prepare for writing my methodology chapter. I'll come back to it on Friday and see what I see then.

In the meantime, I muddle on.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Processing the Annual Review

October 1st.
That's the date I need to have a draft of my dissertation done if I want to defend in December. OK. Sounds good to me.

While things are fresh in my mind, I want to record some of the things we talked about at my annual review. Becky was double-booked with another presentation this morning, so she was not there.

Rich gave me the admonition that now is the time to arm wrestle my data and the entire dissertation project and get it done. He complemented me on how I have sought to follow grounded theory's methods and remain open to my data and let it lead me where it will, but that now I need to begin to pull things together. I don't think he is advocating forcing the data, but instead saying that the time of openness and inquiry is passing and it is time to shift into analysis and findings--to develop my theory. I mentioned that while I am still open and inquirying with slice 5, I am pushing hard to get through this slice here in Lubbock and begin the end game of generating my theory. (That will be a subject of a future blog post, I am sure.)

Both Fred and Rich are interested the deep picture of what is going on for students within a writing assignment that my analysis is revealing. I showed them my refined version of my categories, properties, and dimensions and I used the analogy of a rubics cube to describe how these different categories and other elements fall into and out of alignment and even embed within each other. What I am gratified to hear is that the language I have chosen for my categories (fitting in bounds, essay success, coming to know, revision goals) were used by both Fred and Rich, and they seemed ok with them. They seem to grasp the concept and phenomena that the terms describe. That's good. I have been so close to these terms and using them so much that I am losing a sense of whether they work or not.

Interestingly, we had some discussion about time (or timing). Fred pointed out the diachronic and synchronic aspects of my study. I think what he is interested in is the diachronic aspect  of my analysis--looking at the writing review in the context of the larger essay or draft cycle (and even the semester). Both Fred and Rich think I am digging into a perspective on student writing that has not been done very much, and it provides a unique perspective. What is often revealed are mismatches and discordances in the "system." I had just been looking at some of Spinuzzi's stuff on activity systems, so I referred to this classroom context of writing instruction as a kind of activity system. I spoke of a few cases I had seen where students misinterpreted the assignment, DI feedback did not critique following the assignment criteria, and the reflection was a total failure in terms of what we theoretically believe reflection will do (the value-added assumption of reflection). Fred referred to this phenomenon as "missing each other in the night" and as the "dark underbelly of composition." Mismatches and discordances occur due to poor views of essay success. So, Fred said, this research shows the importance of providing clear and available as well as concrete and detailed representations of essay success.

 I had a few excerpts from Writing Reviews that we looked at together, and I narrated what I saw going on using the language of my categories. A couple of things came up from this discussion. I wanted to show cases where resolutions/goals were made and also instances where concrete steps were proposed to follow, but the student did not follow them in the next draft. In these WR, you can see instances of "coming to know" but then that knowledge does not extend (or transfer) into changes in the draft. Rich spoke of the importance of kairos or timing--that perhaps the time gap between the moments of realization and then working on the draft again led to unfulfilled resolutions. The moment of the coming to know should then be immediately followed by the act of application. He spoke of his believe in inserting the "teaching" of essay success right at the moment of realization and application and how that is what he has been wanting to create.

Fred also had some interesting things to say about the strategies these students were coming up with as their revision goals. He called them soft strategies. They mimiced the language of teachers using the words, but these were really like weasel words. They are really so vague that they are really expressing a true understanding at all. He mentioned S. I. Hayakoka's Language, Thought, and Action as having discussed this kind of use of language. 

I had a few questions regarding my lit review and how I had framed my inquiry. Question 1 was whether linking my inquiry back to Young and his work on invention made sense. I want to anchor my inquiry into the questions Young had about invention back in 1978, showing how my inquiry has roots in a central concern of our field. They both thought it sounded ok.

The second and third questions focused on terms I had used to describe the gaps or problems in our field's understanding of reflection that in a sense justify my own inquiry. The first gap is what I call the value-added assumption of reflection and how we uncritically think that reflection will provide "value" or a benefit to students (and it is a certain kind of benefit). This gap and term for it seemed to check out ok too. I also think that our view of reflection is influenced by portfolios. We see reflection as a post-task constructivists activity, and don't conceive it in in-task terms. I call this the "portfolio-centric view of reflection." They both thought it sounded good too and rang true.

I think this about covers what we discussed. I know I am missing things. They both often referred to "this is the kind of thing to put in your chapter 5." I can't say right now I saw all the things that they did for what could go in there, but I think I can return to these possibilities when I get to chapter 5.

I still have a long way to go, but I am well-positioned to complete this project. But I will have to do some arm wrestling to get it done.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The May Workshop

So another May Workshop has begun, and I am once again sitting in a dorm room in Carpenter Wells. I want to write for a bit about what I hope to accomplish while I am here. Time is short, and time is long. I hope to make the most of this time.

I am on the verge. I am near the point where my research will come together, but I have a lot of work yet to do. Let me chart out what I see that I need to do with my grounded theory analysis.
  1. I need to define my categories, properties, and dimensions.
  2. Then I need to analyze slice 5 with these "more consciously defined" categories
  3. I will then need to process this analysis along axial lines
  4. See if some core category truly emerges? 
  5. Recode previous slices along axial lines to further clarify my sense of a core category and densify my categories and emerging theory
  6. See at this point if I need to do more coding
If I can get this far this May, then I will feel truly accomplished. I may only get through item 4, but that will be OK I think.

Since I can't code the whole time, I thought at the same time (probably in the evenings) I would work on my methodology section. I may not be able to do all of the methodology because I have not finished my actual coding and thus reached the end of my coding, but I can at least pull together my rationale for this methodology better.

I have a few steps I think that this will involve. I can't quite see the sequence, but here are the tasks:
  1. Review previous drafts of rationale and methodology description
  2. Review other dissertations to see their description of the methodology and see what goes into a methodology section
  3. Review other readings I have related to GT to see what other kinds of rationale I can use
  4. Begin drafting/redrafting the chapter
And that should keep me pretty darn busy.

While I am here, I also want to get a good sense of what my real lit review chapter would be like. I have a section that seemed to be moving in a direction that would work in the dissertation, so I want to get some feedback to see if that direction is a good one to go in.

So I have three main goals
--GT analysis
--methodology drafting
--double-checking direction for lit review

Accomplishing these things will all need to be done, but it will position me for the summer work much better if I have managed to get this far. We shall see how it goes.

I will update along the way.  In the meantime, it is a beautiful day outside with a clear blue sky, and I am still in my dorm room inside.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Plato and "Essay Success"

Has it all come back to Plato? This morning as I pondered over my concepts and emerging theories of how they relate to each other, I came back to Plato (with a bit of horror). I am deeply worried that I am reducing my theorizing into an ancient box, but for the moment I will explore this connection for what it is worth.

A possible "core category" for my theory is what I have called "essay success" (or "writing success"). The concept of essay success, however, seems to fit this school context since it encompasses other aspects of the task than just the writing. Everything is permeated with the influence of the concept of essay success. What problems are identified and recognized come from notions of essay success. What assessments and evaluations are made about the essay as well as the process of composing or the goals for revision are gauged against this notion of essay success. What counts as "coming to know" is that which is closest to essay success.

I have charted out that essay success related to conceptions of the ideal text and the real text. The ideal text equals a fulfillment of essay success; however, the writer's as well as the responder's grasp of ideal text is often (or how about always) imperfect. Likewise, our apprehension of the real text is also an imperfect representation. Peer response is a kind of measuring and matching of the real text against the ideal text. An imperfect understanding of either (or both) leads to difficulties.

These are the kinds of conceptual musings I have been doing with my categories, and it hit me as a kind of recognition that all of this business about essay success sounded a lot like Plato's notions of the Forms (or Ideas). Oh no. While I certainly don't ascribe to the belief that the Forms are immortal and unchangeable and live up in the Empyrean Heaven, I can see that they are another way of articulating the notion of mental models, schema, or representations (so often used by the cognitivist). Task representation. Well, that representation is based upon a mental picture and understanding of the task. What is this mental picture? this mental representation?

Plato, just as I have noticed the significance of this mental model, uses an analogy to communicate this importance. He sets up three components:
--the power of sight (our capacity to apprehend or take in, perception, what is inside us)
--the visible (outside reality)
--light

He states, "If sight is in the eyes, and the possessor tries to use it, and if color is in the things, you know, I suppose, that it will see nothing and the colors will be unseen unless a third thing is there specially created for this purpose" (Republic, VI 507B).

This third thing is light. We see nothing and the visible is not seen unless there is light. Of course, this view contradicts premises of positivistic science which believes no third thing is necessary. Observation is direct and unmediated. Plato may be fairly post-modern (ironically) here since he is saying that our "sight" is mediated and even enabled by something else. For him, it is the Forms--this ideal, abstract conception of things that serves like light to help us see (within ourselves) and makes apparent qualities of reality.  Here is Plato making the comparison between the influence of light and knowledge:

"my meaning must appear to be that this, the offspring of the good which the good begat, is in relation to the good itself an analogy, and what the good effects, by its influence, in the regions of the mind, towards mind and things thought, this the sun effects, in the region of seeing, towards sight and things seen" (Republic, VI 508D).

The effect of "the good" is like the effects of light for our seeing. Plato goes on, then, to articulate a theory of epistemology from this analogy: "when it [the soul] settles itself firmly in that region in which truth and real being brightly shine, it understands and knows it and appears to have reason. ...Then that which provides their truth to the things known, and gives the power of knowing to the knower, you may say is the idea or principle of the good, and you must conceive it as being the cause of understanding and of truth in so far as known"  (Republic, VI 508D-E). He goes on to distinguish knowledge and truth AS WE KNOW them are not the good. They are good-like.

Here is a scan of Plato's chart of this relationship.
I think I would need to dig deeper into Plato to get what the heck he is meaning with his equation.

What I think Plato gets at here, and it is exactly what I have been noticing, is the influence of the conception of "the good" or in this case "essay success"--the good piece of writing. He even goes so far as to say that the good is the cause of knowledge:

"Similarly with things known, you will agree that the good is not only the cause of their becoming known, but the cause that knowledge exists and of the state of knowledge, although the good is not itself a state of knowledge but something transcending far beyond it" (Republic, VI 508E). "Coming to know," realizing, figuring things out, seeing now, understanding all are rooted in the good. What counts as knowledge? That which is in alignment with the good.

So where does reflection come in? How does this work within the Writing Reviews. I can't say that this "thinking" only resides or is exclusively present in writing reviews, but what is happening is purely contrastive. Put this up to that. Contrast your text to the image of the ideal text in my head. Reflection, as Dewey noted, involves a "double-movement" which basically goes from the world to our conception of the world. It is out of this contrastive double-movement that I see students "coming to know." This fitting in bounds is the epistemological nature of reflection in the writing classroom.

I don't know if by bringing in Plato's thinking I am helping or not, but I can certainly see parallels between his connection of the Forms to knowledge and my own connection of essay success to what students learn. But I have to think about all this more... . Certainly this theory of epistemology has been critiqued by others.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Conceptualization of Data


Judith Holton in an article titled "The Coding Process and Its Challenges" within the Sage Handbook of Grounded theory sums up grounded theory and the coding process: "The conceptualization of data is the foundation of grounded theory development. The essential relationship between data and theory is the conceptual code" (266). It sounds simple, right? Who knew that in that little word "conceptualization" lay all the misery and mystery of research, as well as the source of so much disagreement.

This blog post won't examine many of Holton's interesting propositions about grounded theory as its own research paradigm or her thoughts about pre-conceptualization. Instead, I want to write for a few moments on the subject of description and conceptualization.  Holton states: "To understand the nature of classic grounded theory, one must understand the distinction between conceptualization and description. Grounded theory is not about the accuracy of descriptive units, nor is it an act of interpreting meaning as ascribed by the participants in a study; rather, it is an act of conceptual abstraction" (272). Holton attempts in her article to distinguish GT from qualitative research methodologies, and you can see her do it in this quote surrounding the issue of description and interpretation. While I think her differentiation of GT from qualitative research is interesting, I am more interested in her discussion about the movement beyond description toward conceptualization.

I have struggled with this issue of moving beyond description in my own research. Corbin and Strauss stress that naming and labeling is a first step of open coding, yet it seems more mysterious as to how to arrive at "codes" that are conceptual in nature and not merely descriptive. Holton warns that those of us trained in qualitative research may latch onto what she calls "descriptive coding" "with its capacity to portray rich detail, multiple perspectives, and the voices of lived experience" (272). I have certainly felt this descriptive pull and done my fair share of it. At times I feel as if I'm lingering on the "ground" level of description waiting for the wings of conceptualization to pop up on my back and enable me to fly. Perhaps this flight will still happen.

Reading Holton, however, provided me with one anchor for this conceptualization process that I think I might find helpful. She is admittedly a Glaserian "classic" grounded theorists, and I have spent more time studying and using Strauss and Corbin as my guide (though I consider Dey a neutral mediator), so I hope that I don't "mix my method" by incorporating some of Glaserian practice. But Holton brings up Glaser's notion of the "concept-indicator model." I was not familiar with it (or had forgotten it), but it make sense. Holton gives an example of a number of in vivo, descriptive codes. The researcher then looks at these codes and asks, "What concept might these indicate?" What concept might these descriptive items/features indicate or be described by in a more abstract sense?

I am seeking to delineate the categories, properties, and dimensions of my data, so which comes first? The property or the category? Are properties the "indicators" of a concept (and a concept is the heart of a category)? Or do you get your category first and them map out its properties and dimensions? It all seems  messy because I don't think this conceptualization process happens sequentially, nor can description ever be free of elements of conceptualization. Holton seems to acknowledge the messiness of this activity, and affirms that it is GT's methods that are most important to trust and follow through this process:

"The chaos is in tolerating the uncertainty and subsequent regression of not knowing in advance and of remaining open to what emerges through the diligent, controlled, often tedious application of the method's synchronous and iterative processes of line-by-line coding, constant comparison for interchangability of indicators, and theoretical sampling for core emergence and theoretical saturation" (273).

Chaos and uncertainty indeed. She calls GT a form of discipline, and she is right. I am getting more comfortable with this messiness and with the procedures of this methodology, and that includes becoming more at ease with the uncertainty. Interestingly, Holton brings up one warning that Glaser talks about related to when researchers begin to generate concept (true concepts!) from the data. They talk about an excitement that happens: "Captured by the imagery, or 'grab' (Glaser, 2001: 19-21) of the emerging concepts, they [the researcher(s)] switch their attention from abstraction to description" (273). It sounds like a possible danger is to jump back into the descriptive level to use the concept as an integrative descriptive tool too soon. I must remember not to do this.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spinning wheels

I don't know if the hot yoga cooked my brain yesterday or what, but I had trouble thinking this morning as I wrestled some more with my categories. It has come to me that I can group a number of categories together under one umbrella, but I'm struggling with the name for this grouping. I can say with clarity that I have seen this grouping or dynamic from the very beginning of my coding, and in fact slice #2 focused almost exclusively on this cluster. I showed it to my wife, and she said it reminded her of what they call algorithms in her pediatric references--there are certain elements and the flow between them varies. Here is the graphic of this algorithm for writer's reviews again:
 I saw that I could chunk writing reviews into sets of these algorithms. A single WR would move from topic to topic and variously go through this sequence. For the most part they cycle toward the end point of "coming to know" and formulating a "revision goal." I think I will be redoing this diagram, but these categories that work together within this algorithm are:
--problem thinking
--feedback thinking
--assessing/reassessing
--coming to know
--revision/fixing thinking

What to call this cluster? I think this legitimately counts as a category because they all share these common elements, but at this point I can think of nothing more clever that "review topics." Categories are supposed to be conceptual in nature. That is not conceptual. What are they doing? What is happening? They are addressing writing issues and figuring out what to do about them. The one benefit of "review topics"is that it aligns with the prompt-determinism within all these Writing Reviews. Despite this prompt determinism, I can still see this dynamic at work. Maybe "addressing a writing issue." But sometimes the WRs ask to address topics that related to feedback or research. I'm still wrestling with this terminology.

I am also wresting with how to handle the "telling/reporting what is" vs. "considering/evaluating what is" dichotomy. This dynamic is important because I believe it marks the divide between awareness and reflection, between representing reflective thinking and engaging in it. It occurred to me in the shower (no kidding) that perhaps these two qualities operate on the dimensional level. I can have problem thinking on audience which could be reported thinking or it could be presently considered. The category or subject does not change, but it could be considered in either of these two ways. Hmm. I will have to see how this way of representing the data will work. I also have struggled about where to place the very important concepts of "fitting in bounds" and "essay/writing success." Are essay success and writing success sub-categories of "fitting in bounds." OR is the concept of essay success again something that operates on the dimensional level. Whenever a writing issue is considered or problem identified or plan conceived, EVERYTHING is gauged against the concept of essay success. It is the ultimate goal and arbiter of everything.

I'm just not sure how or where to fit "essay success" into the dynamic. I'm halfway tempted to make it the core category, but I'm this cluster I have talked about here might be the core category.

I'm struggling here because I feel that I am leaping out of open coding into axial coding and it hurts my brain.

I don't really like these terms as yet.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pushing down on mercury

I'm struggling with the slippery aspects of my coding right now. My goal is to try and nail down my categories (add any if necessary) and then work out properties and dimensions. It isn't easy. However, I am seeing in slice 5 so far a very familiar pattern revolving around problem identification and "resolution." This pattern is one I identified in slice 2, and I charted out the many paths a student follows as they move from problem to "coming to know" and then declaring a revision goal.

My mind is so full of all the stuff going on that I think for the moment I will focus on one aspect of this dynamic I have seen in the draft cycle from my 1301 student #2. He had four problem identification-resolution cycles in his Writing Review. The first was short, but the other three were fairly extended. This dynamic seems to center around conflicting views between outside and inside the writer, and the entire dynamic is mitigated or driven or regulated by the abstract criteria of "essay success" (which could be more general "writing success" outside of the particular goals/criteria for the essay task).

Here are the three

Sequence A: problem = thesis
Feedback--not there <<<>>> Author--thought it was there
-------conflicting views---------------
Resolution
a--take authorities word for it (they are right)
b--self-check and confirm (COMING TO KNOW)
Revision Goal--make strong thesis

Sequence B: problem = contradiction
Feedback--you tend to contradict (id instance)<<<>>> Author--tried to avoid
*expresses doubt or disbelief they did it when they were trying expressly not to*
Resolution
a--take authority's word for it
Revision Goal--fix contradiction

Sequence C: problem = to casual, use of generic "you"
Feedback--too casual/you <<<>>> Author--double-checks and agrees
*agreement on problem*
COMPLICATION FOR RESOLVING PROBLEM
criteria of writing success--relate to reader vs. how to reach goal without using "you"
Resolution
a-take authority's word for it
Revision Goal--avoid "you"

I can notice a few things in these three patterns. First, there seems to be more negotiation or consideration revolving around the problem. Only the third sequence had any sort of complication about the solution and that was more a matter of facing a goal and not knowing how to get there without getting in trouble. Little or no extended consideration is given to the revision goals. I could do this or I could do that. If I did this then it would result in X, but if I did that it would result in Y. I think Y would work better because... . None of this "reflective thinking" occurs. Instead, the writer like a compass pointing to true north follows the view point of an authority. I am calling this phenomena right now [taking authority's word]. I might call it taking other's word for it. Rather than taking my word for it.

Authority's word is like a trump card. What is the source of their trumping power. Well, it is the power to grade and it is their power as arbiter of the criteria for essay success. They possess both the vision of this abstract essay success, but presumably they possess better skills at enacting that success than the student so when they speak you'd better listen.

I don't know if I am getting at anything interesting yet, but I am working at it. I am targeting getting materials ready to do a round of peer debriefing on my categories as soon as I can do it. Soon!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Coding: Of Categories, Properties, and Dimensions

As Ian Dey notes, the conceptual elements of categories, properties, and dimensions can be a muddle and the distinction between them can get confused. Since one of my main goals with this slice 5 will be to code categories and sub-categories for their properties and dimensions, I am seeking with this post to clarify distinctions and definitions (so I know what I’m doing). I hope to establish a loose anchor to guide my coding in this post: that is, a framework for analysis that is not too rigid or mechanistic, but one provide general guidance that allows for flexibility in discovery. Yet, I don’t want this framework to be so loose that I wander through my analysis making contradictions all along the way.

Guiding Principle
Let it happen.
“An analyst is coding for explanations and to gain an understanding of phenomena” (Strauss and Corbin 129).
Strauss and Corbin describe the confusion that exists for analysts as they rigidly try to categorize things/events into the boxes of their coding, especially when they code the same event or happening in two different ways. They state, “We realize that beginners need structure and that placing data into descrete boxes makes them feel more in control of their analyses. However, we want them to realize that such practices tend to prevent them from capturing the dynamic flow of events and the complex nature of relationships that, in the end, make explanations of phenomena interesting, plausible, and complete” (129). They advise “to let it happen.” Rigor and vigor, they say, will follow.

Categories
A category is an abstract label used as a heading or name for a class of objects, events, happenings that share similar characteristics. It is the most logical descriptor for what is going on. The distinction between “concept” and “category” can be confusing. In a sense, all coding (categories, properties, dimensions) is conceptual in that you are creating an abstract representation of the phenomena. Categories are said to be groupings of concepts that are labeled or named phenomena by like or similar characteristics. Dey presents a good critique of this generation of categories through groupings according to similarities and differences, and says we must be more reflective about how we generate and use them (255).

Strauss and Corbin--
“Categories: Concepts that stand for phenomena.” (101)

Dey:
“Category—used as a way to identify or distinguish something based on comparisons with other things.” (252)

Sub-categories
Sub-categories specify a category more by denoting information such as when, where, why, and how. It seems like the notion of sub-categories and properties might be confusing. If for example, we had the category “drug using” (example from Strauss and Corbin), then a sub-category might be “types of drugs.” Grouped within “types of drugs” would the different drugs (cocaine, pot, ecstasy ect.). These sub-categories would then have properties such as forms, effects, how used. We shall see about sub-categories. (I think I need to see more examples.)

Strauss and Corgin offer a definition of sub-categories:
“Subcategories: Concepts that pertain to a category, giving it further clarification and specification.” (101)

Properties
Properties are the recognizable characteristics or attributes or the phenomena. These attributes determine how it is classified or categorized.

Strauss and Corbin simply state properties are the
“Characteristics of a category, the delineation of which defines and gives it meaning.” (101)

Dey--
“Property—used to ascribe a quality or attribute to something based on analyzing its interactions with other things” (252)

Again, I am somewhat unclear how to distinguish a sub-category from a property.

Dimensions represent the location of a property, that is a characteristic or attribute, along a continuum or range. Dimensions measure degree, not kind.

Strauss and Corbin--
“The range along which general properties of a category vary, giving specification to a category and variation to a theory.” (101)

Dey--
“Dimensions—used to measure extension.” (252)

So we have a few examples of the category, property, dimension breakdown:

Category: Color
Properties: shade, hue, intensity
Dimensions: high/bright----low/faint
(from bright shade to faint shade, from high hue to faint hue, from high intensity to low intensity)

Category: Orange (as in fruit)
Properties: size, color, shape, weight, cost
Dimensions: high/big/bright----low/small/faint
(large size to small size, bright color to faint color, big shape to small shape?, high cost to low cost)

The problem with these examples of categories, properties, and dimensions is they are of THINGS and not PHENOMENA. Still they are helpful in seeing the relationship between properties and dimensions. Dimensions provide the description of variation and degree of phenomena.

Dey ends his book by quoting what Strauss and Corbin identify as the central features of the grounded theory methodology. I will present these in list form:
1. the grounding of theory upon data through data-theory interplay
2. the making of constant comparisons
3. the asking of theoretically oriented questions
4. theoretical coding
5. the development of theory (269)

So my quest in this next slice of coding will be to articulate the properties of my categories more explicitly and identify the dimensions or range that these attributes fall within. This post has helped my establish distinctions I can use in my analysis, but I must remember that these distinctions remain a loose anchor and my overall goal remains to “coding for explanations and to gain an understanding of phenomena” as best I can.

My goal will be next to begin my coding discuss my own categories along these lines of properties and dimensions.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Key Methodological Goals for Slice 5

Memo 3/31/10

As I dive into coding slice 5, I have attempted to reorient my conceptual and interpretive antennae for how I will be looking at the data. (Note: This antennae is not so much about “what” I will look for in the data, though it may be phrased that way.)

Two major goals for this coding:
1)Develop my categories (and sub-categories) in terms of specific properties and dimensions
2)Evolve key elements of the “warrant” for my emerging grounded theory analysis
a.The verisimilitude and coherence with which I portray the “ground” (or phenomena) I am explaining/studying
b.The vitality of the concepts (the names of categories/properties/dimensions) I use to draw attention to important aspects of the ground
(from Piantanida and Tananis 2002)

Let me state this in other terms. First, I want to map out my conceptual description and explanation of my phenomena of study (ground). I have not yet done this formally along the lines of category/property/dimension. As Dey states, the distinction among these aspects of concepts is often confused. What will make a difference, I believe, is that also in this process I examine the conceptual framework I am establishing to see where it needs tweaking and adjustment. To do this, I will of course be open to the appearance of new categories. But I also think I will take my coding and analysis to a number of peers to see if they believe I am accurately describing the phenomenon and whether my terms are “vital” enough. What am I missing? How could I use language differently to capture things better? The presumption here is that as I evolve my “terministic screen” (my framework of abstract conceptualization) and as I refine my sense of the phenomena, my emerging theorizing will likewise be sharpened and more open to fruitful “densifying.”

This slice will also move me toward axial coding where I begin to search for relationships between categories and how their properties relate along dimensional levels.

Next post: Coding--Of categories, properties and dimensions (didn’t get to it this morning.)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

About Slice 5 Memo

This memo will be discuss general characteristics of slice 5 of my data and goals for coding. For this slice, I have grabbed what could be called single loops in the drafting cycle. The entire loop contains:

Draft A
--DI comments
--2 peer reviews
Writer’s Review
Draft B
--DI comments

The slice includes 12 loops, each from a different student. 6 loops from Fall 2005 1301 students and 6 loops from Spring 1302 students. Fall 04/Spring 05 1301 student samples were excluded because the drafting cycle did not have students make repeated attempts at the same general task. Instead, each draft was a separate but contributing activity toward the final draft. In Fall 05/Spring 06 the 1301 curriculum was adjusted and what I would consider a more normal drafting cycle was reestablished.

Notes on 1301 drafts:
I have taken three loops that go from draft 1.2 to 1.3 and three from draft 3.2-3.3. Essay #1 was an “Exploratory Essay” where student explored the meaning of a puzzling experience. In draft 1.1 they simply described the situation, established the question, and explained the significance of the question. In draft 1.2 they were supposed to show readers how they have explored their research question and what they have found at this point. The final draft 1.3 states, “The final draft of this essay cycle should continue your exploration and present readers with the results of your exploration.” It amounts to a more polished and detailed draft of 1.2, so this loop represents a good target area to see what I would consider task oriented reflection,

The second loop from 1301 was between the last essay of the semester (they only did three essays?). It is a problem-posing/problem-solving essay. Draft 3.1 simply explored and charted out the territory of the problem, its possible causes, and why others might find it interesting. In draft 3.2 the writer was supposed to write from researching the problem. They were to describe the problem and its context more and propose one solution. Draft 3.3 is the final draft and adds the piece that two or three possible solutions were to be discussed and weighed. Then the writer was supposed to recommend one solution. Draft 3.3 is a building draft and retains the same core elements of the writing task, so getting a writing review between 3.2 and 3.3 also is a good target area for me.

Notes on 1302 Drafts:
I have taken three loops from draft 1.3 to 1.4 (they did four drafts of two essays in 1302). This essay is a formal persuasive letter. Draft 1.1 students wrote a decision maker about an issue (problem) and try to convince them to do something about it. Draft 1.2 students wrote the same audience but argued the opposing position. Draft 1.3 is a letter written from the decision maker back to the student. No side for the argument is specified. In draft 1.4 students returned to draft 1.1-2 were they were writing to the decision maker. It is a fuller, finished persuasive argument toward this decision maker. The drafting sequence is very interesting and while the writer takes different perspectives in draft 1.2 and 1.3, the same core issue and arguments remains the same. My one concern with this loop is that the Writing Review topic is not so great. It prompts the writer to do two things: identify peer suggestions and “how you will improve because of them,” and relate two things from some reading that the writer will do (or are doing) that will improve the draft. What I will be interested to see is how much writers go beyond these prompts to use this activity to engage in reflective thinking.

The second 1302 loop goes from draft 2.1 to 2.2. This loop represents my only non-last draft loop, so I will be interested in what it shows. Draft 2.1 is a Research Proposal and involved identifying and describing the writer’s choices for topic, research question, and audience/purpose. It even asks for these items to be identified with sub-headings. As such, it really isn’t the draft but more of an invention document. Draft 2.2 is described as “Revising the Research Proposal” and represents a more detailed and refined proposal. It asks the writer to share primary and secondary research questions and list at least three subject areas that “you will research.” In the essay cycle, the students go on to write two more drafts and an annotated bibliography, so we have the preliminary planning and shaping of the research project in draft 2.1 to 2.2. The movement between these two loops, however, clearly represents a second and more refined attempt at the same task.

This is a large sample of student work, perhaps too large. However, I feel that I want a closer and broader look at the place of the writing review within the draft to draft essay cycle.

How is Slice 5 “concept driven?” How is this theoretical sampling? What hypotheses about relationships between categories will I be verifying?

As I look at slice 5 is seems more oriented to get a representative sample. Corbin and Strauss state that, “Sampling in grounded theory proceeds not in terms of drawing samples of specific groups of individuals, units of time, and so on, but in terms of concepts, their properties, dimensions, and variables.” I certainly appear to be pulling from particular groups. However, I also desire to build as much possible basis for comparison as I can. That is why I wanted both 1301 and 1302 students in this slice. So what are the concepts and hypotheses I will be exploring in this slice?

Slice 4 asked the question about what role writing reviews played in a single students entire freshman composition experience 1301-1302. It sought to gain a broad perspective on these reflective activities within both the development of essays and the movement from essay to essay during an entire semester. This big picture view was fruitful, and I emerged from slice 4 with deeper insights and more questions.

The importance of “essay success”—I found in slice 4 that the conception of “essay success” was enormously important for both identifying problems and proposing revisions to fix the problem. Essay success represents the textual and rhetorical features of the essay that meet the assignment and writing situation. It is the goal everyone is trying to reach. The influence this concept has on the entire process is pervasive, and a large goal of this slice 5 coding is to verify and “densify” my understanding of the dynamics at work surrounding this concept.

I also saw a repeated pattern that almost all writing reviews followed. I postulated that this pattern is prompted by the writing review topics and the paradigm of error/correction thinking with which students approach the writing review (and revision). The pattern generally follows a sequence where X is considered in terms of whether if “fit in bounds.” It is held up and measured against the concept of essay success. At this point the writer “comes to know” something that leads them to articulate a revision/writing goal. Again the selection of this goal as well as the strategies and tactics is shaped by notions of essay success. What I am seeing, thus, within the data I have coded so far is how important this understanding of essay success is for making choices and solving problems within the writing process.

Coming to Know and It’s Complicated Relationship with Revision
I found three common patterns within slice 4 that I’d like to verify in slice 5 as well. They were:
--to see is to know and to do (successfully)
--to miss-see is to miss-know and to miss-do
--to see is to know and not be able to do/or choose not to do
This finding has to do with the role of awareness and the emergence of new insight or thinking. Probably the two most common subjects to “come to know” about are the nature of the problem and what the solution should/will be. I am interested, of course, in the relationship I can see between the thinking in their Writing Reviews and the revisions they make in the next draft. Right now, it appears to be a complicated relationship.

But here we get into deeper questions I have had all along about these writer’s reviews. Many are filled with reporting of actions and previous thinking. Many articulate awarenesses, but rarely engage in evaluation of these awarenesses or explore multiple possible viewpoints and suggestions about the problem or solution. Judging them by notions of reflection from Higgins and Flower, these students’ awareness does not rise to the level of reflective thinking. Why is there so much reporting? How much active reflective thinking occurs within these writing reviews? Do we see students “coming to know” via reflection done INSIDE the activity of the writing review (i.e. the writing triggered the insight) or does the reflection REPORT a coming to know that occurred OUTSIDE the actual writing of the review. What place does reporting reflective thinking have?

These are questions that I am interested in pursuing more deeply. I feel like looking at this slice 5 sample will help me find out answers to these questions because
a) it is a whole loop, so I will see the relationship of the reflection draft to draft
b) I will look at 12 students’ work, so I will get a broader view than from the single student as before

A significant goal of this slice is to develop my concepts more in terms of their “dimensions” and “properties.” I have incorporated elements of these properties in the long names I have for concepts. For instance, look at this category I have:
Considering/evaluating how/why is (and what could/should/may/must/will be)
A big goal of mine will be to record in more detailed terms the properties of these concepts and the dimensions of each property. So far, I have not systematically charted these out, and I’d like to do that some. One passage from Strauss illustrates this kind of coding: “One procedure that contributes measurably to densifying is that data are coded … in terms of cross cutting dimensions (for instance, external connections that are safe; external connectiosn that are unsafe; external unsafe connections that are frightening; internal connections that are safe and frightening and uncomfortable, etc. ).” This effort to cross-cut dimensions should prove interesting.

I am near ready to begin coding, but I am spending a bit of time refreshing my memory about both how to code and about what my previous coding has revealed. I need to keep pressing. The goal of this slice will be to solidify my categories and begin to densify my emerging theories about relationships between these categories.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Whale Draft Review

Last Friday I turned in my draft of the Lit Review for my dissertation. I have christened it the Whale draft. Since my Proposal was essentially my Chapter 1 of the dissertation, I put it together with my lit review. The monster came in at roughly 59,000 words and 138 pages single spaced (not including the Works Cited which I didn't do for this draft). Whale draft indeed.

As I turn now to focus on finishing my research, I want to do some thinking about what I have gained from this review. My thinking is fairly scattered, so to give it shape I will coalesce "things" or "take aways" or insights gained.

1. I think I see more clearly the two flavors of reflection that I have titled rhetorical reflection and curricular reflection. The key distinguishing factor seems to be WHEN the reflection is done, and that timing to a large degree is dictated by WHY the reflection is done. I see how much in education we have been dominated by post-task reflection. These approaches seem rooted oddly enough in thinking coming out of Experiential learning (i.e. Boud et al.). It could be that Boud is representative of this trend toward using reflection to process past experiences rather than generative in his own right. The Deweyian approach toward reflection that begins with a puzzle or problem and seeks in an on-going and present sense to solve the problem is neglected.

So my lit review has given me a broad basis for saying my own subject of research is one that is needed more attention. I think I established this "gap" in my elaboration of rhet/comp's "portfolio-centric" view of reflection. I don't know if that term works, but I have sure fallen into using it.

2. Another gain from this lit review is a much deeper sense of what I refer to as the "Open Question" about reflection. I have established fairly well what I call the "value-added assumption" about reflection. (This term is another one I coined and I hope makes sense). We impute certain values and outcomes to reflection; however, these don't always happen. So the discrepancy between our theories about reflection and what we really know about it constitutes the second gap which my research seeks to enter or justify itself based upon. This discrepancy is at the heart of the Open Question. Because reflection does not appear to fulfill its promise "enough," we have questions about whether and how we should use it.

3. Depth. I can say that this lit review has provided me with substantial depth for my eventual lit review. I seems likely that the actual lit review will emerge from my "Story of reflection in composition/rhetoric"and that in appropriate places I will infuse background information from Boud, Mezirow, Moon, and Schon. I won't have to have separate sections on these theorists (I think), but I will be able to discuss them in reference to writing and reflection. I now have a much firmer understanding and grounding in these different theorists/scholars work on reflection, so I can summarize their work with more confidence.

4. The work of King and Kitchener looms large in my thinking. I found enough evidence in other research in composition confirming their developmental theories that I feel as if I had an article I could put together just on this coalescence. Maybe, just maybe the problems surrounding student reflections might be caused by the fact that collect students are in a pre-reflective or quasi-reflective stage of cognitive development. They are not ready to engage in reflective thinking! What does this mean for my research? What sort of thinking can we expect students to engage in within writer's reviews? I will have to keep my eyes open but try as best as I can not to let their theories prejudice my observations.

5. I believe that I have found much evidence for "it depends" and "what it depends on" in relation to reflection. Whether students engage in what we might call productive reflection (where our assumptions about the value-added benefits of reflection are realized or nearly realized) depends upon a number of factors. Schon's four factors, as well as factors related to task representation, knowledge, and cognitive development, and then even the support offered by the learning context for reflection, all appear to be significant "dependent" factors or causal variables. Can we say one stands out among the others? Will the level of cognitive development trump all the others?

6. The literature review process has provided pretty good fodder to justify my methodology of grounded theory. This justification comes from two sources. Since we have accepted assumptions and focused on developing the habit of reflection, we have not asked enough exactly what is going on and how it works. We have not dug into its actual mechanics (I don't like that term). Grounded theory digs into the mechanics. Also, we have nearly always used other theories to make sense of reflections (like Anson using Halliday) rather than see what sort of sense these reflections make on their own. This justification for another approach to researching reflection is in a way experimental in that others have not done it before (rather than testing anything other than perhaps the methodology of grounded theory). I feel that my methodological argument is suspect to a degree, but I think I can present it as it is with its own limitations. I have a feeling that the most powerful aspect of my dissertation may be in how it links to other theories/theorists in reflection. Maybe. I don't know.

7. This lit review really got cut off. Since I received my "get to it" message from Fred and Rich, I have tried to bring the lit review to a more rapid close. Where did I not go in as depth as I wanted to? I really wanted to spend more time on the cognitivists, especially Flower's work (and her collaborative work with many others). I also felt like I could have done a lot more with Beireter and Scarmadalia. I was not able to do the thorough review on their work like I had done for Boud, Schon, and King and Kitchener. This gap may come back to bite me later on. We shall see. Still, I did put together what I felt was references to key ideas expressed by the cognitivists.

8. I'm left with lots of article ideas in my head. Here are just a few:
--I ended up gravitating toward graphical representations more and more in the lit review. I have enough models or graphics depicting different models of reflection, I thought I could do a whole article looking at these models. A collection of graphics on reflection.
--I think I could do an article on confirmations of K&K's theories inside composition research. These would almost be like circumstantial evidence confirming the work of King and Kitchener
--An article critiquing the portfolio-centric perspective on reflection that we maintain. This persists with the focus on transfer.
--I'd love to do a retrospective article reviewing the work of Flower and the National Center on Research in Writing. Their research articles are quite amazing.
--I also felt that more could be done related to Schon's four constants of reflection, particularly his notion of "appreciative systems." I think the four constants could be quite productive lenses for pursuing research.

For the time being, this literature review will lie low. I can't put it completely out of my head, but as I turn once again to data analysis, I must be conscious of looking at the data upon its own merits and understanding it for what it is first. I can't ignore this theory, and eventually it will provide rich substance for interpretation, but I must not let it predetermine or bias what I am looking for or what I think I am seeing (as much as that is possible).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Reviewing Chris Anson's “Talking About Writing: A Classroom-based Study of Student Reflections on Their Drafts.”

I will now examine in more detail Chris Anson’s investigation discussed in “Talking About Writing: A Classroom-based Study of Student Reflections on Their Drafts.” This study, along with Sharon Pianko’s, are the only two research studies within rhetoric/composition that use the terminology of reflection as they focus on in-task reflection.

In some ways, Anson’s research can be seen as an extension of Pianko’s work. Both researchers are trying to learn more about the novice writers in composition classrooms by comparing them to expert writers. Pianko’s experimental study concluded that a key difference between the writing processes of these two groups was the reflective pauses and rescanning that occurred while these writers wrote. In her study, she had students compose an essay within one classroom period and observed them as they wrote. She also questioned them right after they wrote. From this research, she noticed not only a difference in the number of pauses, but a difference in their quality as well. She describes the pauses of the remedial writers as “unfilled” because they looked outside their writing as they paused. For the more experienced, traditional group of freshman writers, she noticed a pattern in their pauses:

When I observed these students writing, I noticed a pattern: they paused, rescanned, then paused again. These behaviors were indicative of certain mental processes: a pause was to plan or “rehearse” (to use Don Murray’s term) what to write next—what Janet Emig calls a “filled pause”—a rescanning to reorient oneself with the writing to see if the “rehearsal” was a fit, and again a pause to reformulate or revise the mental plan or “rehearsal.” (276)

Pianko describes these pauses and rescannings as the behavioral manifestation of reflection during composing and claims this behavior is the most significant finding about the composing process of her study. She concludes, “The ability to reflect on what is being written seems to be the essence of the difference between able and not so able writers” (277). The implication for teaching she advocates, then, is for teachers to incorporate teaching strategies into their curriculum that would promote proficiency in these behaviors of reflective pausing and rescanning.
--important echos with Bereiter and Scarmandalia, even Schon’s reflective conversation with the situation going from what is in the head to what is on the page, what is on the page is the situation of action

Anson’s focus of inquiry is a bit different. His interest is on how writers represent emerging texts through retrospective accounts of their writing, or what he calls reflective metacommentary. Whereas Pianko focused on what Anson calls “the ‘live’ or ‘concurrent’ processes of writing”(62)—similar to that performed by cognitive researchers like Emig and Flower and Hayes when they examined composing-aloud protocols—Anson is interested in retrospective accounts of in-progress drafts. In contrast to composing-aloud protocols, Anson claims these retrospective accounts allow writers to reveal both tacit and focal decisions as they composed. The terms focal and tacit come from Polyani’s description of different aspects of thought. Focal refers to our conscious thought and what we are attending to, while tacit knowledge is predominantly unconscious and refers to those decisions and strategies we make and do without thinking about them. Anson states that our understanding about the thinking that goes on as writers compose and the relationship between focal and tacit thought “is at best murky” (62). He believes retrospective accounts offer a “representation, or model, of writing” (63) where the researcher can better see the thinking of a writer:

retrospective accounts allow writers opportunities to uncover tacit decisions as well as focal ones. The process of standing outside their writing, looking it over, recalling what they did when they composed it, and thinking about what else they need to do taps into both the conscious creation and manipulation of text and what may have been, at the time, decisions made in the background of their attention. (62-63)

These retrospective accounts are not without their critics and limitations. These critiques include the limitations of the subject’s memory, the influence from the prompt on what the writer recalls, and the tendency for writers to embellish what happened (63). Tomlinson, as Anson points out, has identified the real strengths of these retrospective accounts: “although these accounts may not be useful in trying to understand precisely what happens during the writing process, they show us the writer’s representation of the writing event and its context” (Anson 63). These representations show us a window into how the writer thinks about their own writing and act of writing. Citing the work of T.B. Finley, Anson elaborates on the what these narratives about the composing of a text offer: “retrospective accounts give us insight into the writer’s knowledge, modes of inquiry, relationship to the text, social construction of an audience, stance, role, and routines” (63). As data, then, these retrospective accounts of in progress drafts are a rich source for researching students’ perspectives on writing.

It is worth noting that Anson’s data source closely resembles the Writer’s Reviews that form the main data for this inquiry. Each is a reflective account performed between drafts. A few differences exist, however. Whereas Writer’s Reviews are done in writing and done in response to a prompt, the retrospective accounts Anson examines were done verbally (into a tape recorder) and were not guided by strict prompts. Also, Anson’s reflective metacommentaries occur between only the first and second draft; whereas, Writer’s Reviews are done between first and second as well as second and third drafts. Despite these differences, Anson’s subject of inquiry closely resembles the focus for this research study. His arguments for what these reflective accounts reveal, then, provide a strong confirmation for the richness of Writing Reviews as a focus for research. Anson’s stance toward researching these pieces of reflection, however, differs in one significant way. He looks at these reflective accounts in a similar way as researchers studied transcripts of compose-aloud protocols—as a way to tap into writers’ thinking. My inquiry certainly is interested in what these accounts reveal about writers’ thinking between drafts, but it is also interested in what having students reflect in this way does. If we return for a moment to Flower’s “open questions” about reflection, we can see her two questions within the different stances toward this data between Anson and this inquiry. Flower’s first question was what kind of knowledge reflection generates, and we can see that Anson’s inquiry explores this epistemological dimension of reflection. Flower’s second question asks if having students perform reflections as a pedagogical activity is worthwhile (is it just a luxury?). This second question addresses the value-added assumptions we have about the benefits of having students reflect, and it is a question that Anson does not address. This inquiry differs from Anson’s because it approaches these reflective accounts for what pedagogical influence asking students to perform them has upon their thinking and writing. It asks not just what these reflections show but also what they might do.

Anson’s research is interesting not only because of his different stance toward the data, but also for how he approached the analysis of this data. In order to “move beyond mere impressions” in his analysis of these retrospective accounts, he turns to Halliday’s theory’s of language. He leans on theory to help him make sense of this data: “I found Halliday’s (1973) functional approach in language best captured what I was observing informally in the taped accounts” (64). He interpolates Halliday’s theory so that in his analysis he coded the ideational function as referring to content matters, the interpersonal function as referring to discussions of audience and purpose, and the textual function as referring to discussions of the formal and linguistic features of the writing on the page. These categories proved useful to Anson, but interestingly he also noted the significance of the kairotic nature of these reflective accounts: “The more tapes I studied, the more compelling became this orientation of time in the students’ talk” (65). This observation about the importance of time leads him to generate three more categories for students’ discussions about their writing: retrospective comments focusing on the past, projective comments focused on what the writer intends or wants to do in the future, and temporal comments where the writer talks about the text as it is in the present tense. Anson then put these two sets of categories into a grid with Halliday’s theoretical concepts along one axis and the temporal aspects along the other axis:

Ideational

Interpersonal

Textual

Temporal Retrospective Projective


Figure NHY: Anson’s coding grid for analyzing between-draft reflections

This coding scheme, however elegant and sensible, differs also from this inquiry’s approach to analyzing similar reflective pieces of writing. By using theory to make sense of data, Anson has done what Glaser and Strauss say often leads to a bias or predisposition in our perception of the phenomena of study. These categories may account for much that is going on within student reflections, but they also may miss or ignore other features. As a grounded theory study, this research project seeks to generate a theory from the data rather than impose any theory upon the data.


As Anson analyzed his students’ reflective accounts of their writing, he particularly sought to find differences between strong, proficient writers and poor writers in his classes. Anson observed that the reflective accounts of weaker writers who lacked control in their writing talked almost exclusively in retrospective and textual terms. Stronger writers who displayed much more control in their writing process were observed to shift among functional and temporal categories. Weak writers spoke in dualistic terms where writing was seen to be either “correct” or “incorrect.” These writers also had little capacity for uncertainty and tended to defer to authority. Looking to Newman’s extension of Perry’s model of intellectual development, Anson fit these writers into Newman’s stage of Absolutism. In this stage of attitudes toward knowledge, individuals “[believe] in the absolute truth or falsity of knowledge” (70). Although not referring to the work of King and Kitchener’ Model of Reflective Judgment, these writers would fall within the stage of pre-reflective thinkers. More proficient writers, in contrast, fell within Newman’s third stage called Evaluativism where the individual “accepts various opinions and beliefs, but does so from a conviction that some ideas are more valid (better reasoned, more logical, etc.) than others” (70). These writers might entertain multiple suggestions for revising a problematic feature of their writing before deciding upon the best path for revision. In these writers he also noticed a relationship between tentativeness or the ability to accept and explore uncertainty and the writers’ ownership of their future decisions. These writers seemed more able to assess problems within their writing and work to solve them.

In contrast, the weaker writers were much more focused upon outside authority for making decisions about their writing and seemed incapable of acknowledging uncertainty. Particularly present within these writers’ minds was their image of this outside authority and standard of correctness: “Instead they measure their texts against what must be a very sketchy, nebulous image of the teachers ‘standards,’ an image they try to fill in and clarify from various sources (including direct appeal)” (70). This writerly superego dominates their model of writing and limits their activity of writing within its bounds. Not surprisingly, Anson finds that these writers don’t reach any level of reflective thinking: “Ironically, the tapes themselves, designed to create an opportunity for reflection, become for these students an extension of the process of teacherly judgment” (70). Placed in a position to reflect, these writers are unable to do so.

Anson ends his article stressing two points. The first point is his key finding from his informal study: “Although no informal analysis like this one can yield foolproof conclusions or razor-sharp patterns, it appears that there is a strong relationship between proficiency and the blending/shifting of functions in scheme I had developed” (72). Put in other terms, Anson finds a strong correlation between students’ ability to engage in reflective thinking and their competence in writing. His second concluding point has to do with the implications of his research for teaching writing. His research has indicated the significance of how students think about and represent their writing. He believes that as teachers we need to focus as much or even more on developing students’ models of writing as their success on any particular writing assignment: “I have come to value the development of their [students] models of writing even more than I value the improvement of their texts” (73). He shares his own methods for moving students toward more evaluatistic and reflective thinking through the kinds of assignments and feedback he gives to his students.

Anson’s research upon reflective writing that closely resembles the kind this inquiry is focused on has a number of important implications for this research. His observation that strong writers are also good reflectors raises a number of questions. What link exactly is there between these two capacities? Does good reflection cause good writing? Also, where does the capacity for strong reflection come from? Is it as King and Kitchener imply something determined by their developmental stage of epistemic cognition? Anson’s observations seem to provide strong confirmation that students’ developmental level of views of knowledge, in fact, does have a strong influence upon both their type of thinking and their writing. However, can we prompt a growth in students’ reflective thinking, and if prompted will students’ produce more proficient writing? Anson seems to believe we can at the least move students in that direction. He states, “By asking students to tell me more about their intentions, I can prompt them to go beyond a mere report of ‘having done something’ and towards a discussion of their struggles and possible directions” (73). This question surrounding the teacherly prompting and promoting of reflective thinking through the assigning of reflective writing tasks is what this inquiry is all about. If provided guidance and the opportunity, will students truly reflect? Can we say that development is possible through this prompting, and what influence does engaging students in this teacher-prompted reflection have upon their writing? As my inquiry seeks it own answers to these questions, the work of Anson will certainly offer important perspectives.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Get to it!

I had lunch with Fred day before yesterday, and I am still trying to process our discussions. I got the message fairly clearly that I need to push on through and "get it done." This imperative is throwing me off center for a couple of reasons that I think come down to "task representation." My conception of this task of the dissertation may be too grand and large. Fred seems to say that the dissertation is really a smaller task than I may have been thinking of it as. Just get it done.

I have been reviewing in close detail the thinking of the major theorists and scholars related to reflection since last summer. I have about 45K words and I'm not done yet reviewing reflection in the field of composition rhetoric. And now I hear the call to be much more pragmatic and do what I need to do to get the damn thing done. This call is a bit scary to me because it pushes me to the end game earlier than I am ready (I feel), but on another account I am enjoying this close review. I am hammering out and constructing my understanding and perspective on these thinkers and past work on reflection. I've just finished writing 11 pages and 5K+ words demonstrating that we have a "portfolio-centric" view of reflection in our field and that Yancey misinterprets Schon's notion of reflection-in-action when she bootstraps it into reflection in the writing classroom. I don't know, but I feel like I need to earn the right to say some of the things I know I will say in the dissertation by doing this thorough background work. I don't think I can spend twenty pages in my lit review in the dissertation going into comp/rhets portfolio-centric framework on reflection and where Yancey when wrong with reflection-in-action. BUT, I think I will be able to say with more confidence these things in briefer form within the dissertation with this background work behind me.

So what do I do? For right now, I feel that I need to keep pushing on at the cumbersome rate I am going a bit longer. I need to dig into research done on reflection-in-action (the little there is) and especially look at the work done by the cognitivist. I suppose I might be a bit more streamline in places where I might name or point out that there is a bunch of stuff on "whatever" but I don't have to thoroughly dig into it in detail.

As a deadline, I think I will HAVE to finish this first draft of the lit review by no later than the end of Spring Break. I believe I will be well positioned then to "get it done!"

Oh... so what did Yancey get wrong about reflection-in-action? Here is an excerpt:

"It is clear from her use of the term “reflection-in-action” that Yancey is redefining the concept in her own terms. Whereas before she has represented reflection-in-action as the thinking occurring while the writer writes, here she seems to broadly define it as the post-task reflection that occurs on a single text. She offers this definition of reflection-in-action: “Reflection-in-action tends to be embedded in a single composing event, tends to be oriented to a single text, its focus squarely on the writer-reader-text relationship and on the development of that text” (26). Nothing exclusively locates this form of reflection as post-task; however, her portfolio-centric view of reflection leads her conceive of this reflection as a kind of portfolio cover letter but on a single essay cycle."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

How this inquiry connects to traditionally important concerns of the field

(draft of introduction to second section of lit review)


I want to turn for a few moments to position this inquiry within traditionally important concerns of composition/rhetoric: namely, the revival of invention and the emergence of what has been called "epistemic rhetoric." Richard Young's 1978 article "Paradigms and Problems: Needed Research in Rhetorical Invention" provides one significant demonstration of the deep roots this investigation possesses.

Coming four years before Maxine Hairston's article "The Winds of Change: Thomas Kuhn and the Revolution in the Teaching of Writing," Young speaks of a paradigm shift away from the current-traditional rhetoric's teaching of writing as a product to an emphasis on invention and the teaching of writing as a process. As Janice Lauer has documented, the new focus on invention in the 1960s was the primary means for reviving interest in rhetoric and calling for change in the field (74). Lauer points specifically to Gordon Rohman and Albert Wlecke's 1964 research into "pre-writing" (and Rohman's 1965 CCC article), Edward Corbett's Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, and Richard Young and Alton Beckers first accounts in 1965 of tagmetric invention as significant milestones in this new emphasis on invention and rhetoric within composition/rhetoric (78-80). Young recounts this time period as a crisis in the field of composition/rhetoric in which the current-traditional paradigm was "repeatedly attacked for its failure to provide effective instruction in what is often called the ‘prewriting stage’ of the composing process and in the analytical and synthetic skills necessary for good thinking" (400).  He blames the failure for the development of the skills of invention on the field's response to the problem from within the paradigm of current-traditional rhetoric. He points specifically to the vitalist, or Romantic, assumption that the creative processes behind the generation of writing "are not susceptible to conscious control by formal procedures" (399). The uniqueness of the creative act cannot be formulated or taught; hence, current-traditional rhetoric's emphasis on the final product and the exclusion of the art of invention (398-99). Speaking in 1978 at the point when this revolution against the current-traditional paradigm was consolidating the writing process paradigm and the new discipline of rhetoric/composition, Young states:
It is no accident that the shift in attention from composed product to the composing process is occurring at the same time as the reemergence of invention as a rhetorical discipline. Invention requires a process view of rhetoric; and if the composing process is to be taught, rather than left to the student to be learned, arts associated with the various stages of the process are necessary. (401)
Speaking assuredly about the importance of "the skills invention is designed to cultivate" for effective writing, Young voices a key question—how are they to be cultivated?(399). He ends his essay voicing the need for more research, specifically stating, “we lack detailed accounts of pedagogical devices associated with theories of invention” (410). Although coming over thirty years later, my own inquiry into the pedagogical activity of teacher-prompted rhetorical reflection can be seen as answering Young’s call for research into just such a pedagogical device.

Although Young can be seen to be influenced by the stage view of the writing process, Flower and Hayes’ (1981) re-conception of the writing process as recursive, and an increasing view of the entire writing process as an inquiry process (Elbow, Odell, Hillocks Inquiry) has led to the belief that invention does not happen only at the beginning of the writing process, but occurs throughout the activity of writing from start to end. Rhetorical reflection, then, represents a pedagogical activity meant to re-engage writers in inventional thinking.  The pedagogical practice of invention and reflection both connect in these areas:
·      Invention and reflection both are heuristics of guided inquiry
·      Productive invention and reflection are both seen as requiring similar states of ambiguity or a sense of a problem to trigger and guide them
·      The prime concern invention and reflection share is an interest in determining and negotiating the writer’s rhetorical stance
Stance is a significant concept because it helps to bridge what Lynette Hunter calls the either/or split she believes rhetoric has suffered from between seeing rhetoric as a “theory of strategy or technique alone” or as a “pursuit of truth or expression of belief” (4). Invention is not just about generating ideas and making meaning; it is about communicating those meanings to someone else within a particular context. As Hunter states, “Stance is a rhetorical term for indicating not what someone believes, … but how he believes. Stance enacts the meeting of the human being with the world” (5). Invention, and by extension rhetorical reflection, are primarily concerned with helping the writer to position themselves and their ideas in order to communicate effectively. Wayne Booth in his influential 1963 article “Rhetorical Stance,” represents rhetorical stance as a balancing of the various elements of the writing situation and claims, “it is this balance, this rhetorical stance, difficult as it is to describe, that is our main goal as teachers of rhetoric” (141). Finding this balance is not limited to any “pre-writing” stage or activities, and rhetorical reflection is one important pedagogical activity meant to help writers find, problem-solve, and pursue their rhetorical stance throughout the writing process.

We see from this brief survey how rhetorical reflection links to pivotal concerns of invention our discipline has had from its inception. However, if the links of rhetorical reflection to the story of invention ended here, my own inquiry would not have adequate relevance for writing instruction today. The answer to Young’s call for research is documented in his 1987 summary of research on invention within the collection Teaching Composition: Twelve Bibliographic Essays. His summary filled thirty-eight pages and significantly was placed first. In the introduction to their 1994 Landmark Essays on Rhetorical Invention in Writing, Young and Yameng Liu declare that developments in theory and research since World War II have “established invention as the central theoretical issue of rhetoric and composition and its study as one of the most fertile and dynamic areas in discourse studies” (xiii). This statement, however, represents the high water mark for invention in recent times.

The emergence of postmodernism and its reconceived notion of the subject (that is, the writer who writes) challenged invention and put it on the defensive (Atwill xvi). John Clifford in his essay “The Subject in Discourse” summarizes the 20th century critique of the traditional humanist view of the writer that underlay many of the assumptions of invention within the writing process held by many rhetoric/composition revivalists of the 60s and 70s. Clifford summarizes this view and the basis for undercutting this view:
For the traditional humanist, the writer has always been seen as a creative individual, the locus of significance, the originator of meaning, an autonomous being, aware of ends and means, of authorial intentions and motivations.  … but rarely is the writer thought of as the site of contradiction, as being written by social or psychological forces that might diminish the clarity of consciousness or the singularity of individual intentions. (39)
The writer is written rather than writing, and agency for determining meaning and intentions is placed outside the individual rather than inside the individual’s consciousness. Clifford summarizes succeeding waves of critique of the autonomous self from structuralism, to psychological criticism, to post-structuralism: “As a result, the independent and private consciousness formerly endowed with plentitude and presence, with a timeless and transcultural essence, becomes in postmodern thought a decentered subject constantly being called on to inhabit overdetermined positions, the implications of which can be only dimly grasped by a consciousness written by multiple, shifting codes” (40-41). Michel Foucault’s statement from The Archeology of Knowledge represents one particularly influential postmodern critique of the “autonomous subject”: “it must now be recognized that it is neither by recourse to a transcendental subject nor by recourse to a psychological subjectivity that the regulation of its enunciations should be defined” (1444-1445). Writing, or discourse, is not created and invented (“regulated”) by the writer; instead the writer and his or her text are determined by discourse and social forces outside the writer. In short, traditional notions of invention heralded by Young and other early rhetoric/composition scholars are impossible from the postmodern position. If a new bibliographic essay on the studies in invention by our field were published today, it would be hard pressed to fill thirty-eight pages as Young did in 1987. Instead, as Atwill notes, interest in invention waned and all but disappeared in the 1990s to the marginalized place it holds today (Rhetorical Invention 2).

The post-postmodern correction to this stripping of the subject’s agency is to return some control to the writer, to acknowledge that in the face of multiple outside influences the writer still shapes and forms their meaning in ways determined (to a degree) by themselves. Helen Foster’s conception of “networked subjectivity” and Anis Bawarshi’s conception of genre’s interaction with the writer present alternative, broader views of the writer who writes and is written.
networked subjectivity

Figure CVB: Helen Foster’s Networked Subjectivity (Foster 113)
Foster’s aim is to conceptualize a more complex picture of the “relation of the subject to itself, to others, and to the world” believing that this complex perspective still offers significant agency to the writer (and the teacher) who is aware of this positionality. She seeks a point of stasis between traditional notions of the writing process and the radical notions of post-process scholarship with its overdetermined notions of the writer. For her, she finds this point of common concern and assumptions within social/cultural scholarship: “this scholarship effectively moves us off overdetermined notions of the individual and toward theorizing (1) the complex networks with(in) which writers are imbricated by merely being and (2) the complex networks that influence and pressure the act(or) of writing” (Foster 40-41). Figure CVB illustrates her graphical representation of the material and conceptual space of what she refers to as the “writer/writing/network” which she labels as “networked process.” Foster and Bawarshi each present “invention” as a form of negotiation that must be accomplished by the writer as he or she writes, where the writer has a significant role in this negotiated process. Thus, from my perspective we have the reawakening of invention in writing studies, and my own inquiry into rhetorical reflection can be seen as aligning with this new expanded view of the subject and its possibilities for invention.

Closely allied to the reawakening of invention within the field of composition/rhetoric is the emergence of “epistemic rhetoric” and notions that through writing we discover and construct knowledge. Often referred to by influential scholars and teachers like Donald Murry, Peter Elbow, and James Britton as “writing as discovery,” theories of epistemic writing were based on the critique of current-traditional (and modernist) notions of language as a container for thought. Since language is conceived of instead as the substance of thought, our use of language is the way in which we shape and form our thinking. We have already seen this notion expressed in the work of Elliot Eisner who says that through representations of reality we are engaged in constructing that reality for ourselves. Britton presents this view as he summarizes the thinking of Susan Langar: “We give and find shape in the very act of perception, we give and find further shape as we talk, write or otherwise represent our experience” (“Spectator Role” 150). Kenneth Dowst in Eight Approaches to Teaching Composition summarizes what he calls “The Epistemic Approach.” In this description, he voices these same assumptions about the relation of language and thought: “The way we use language, then, seems not only to reflect but in part to determine what we know, what we can do, and in a sense who we are. … our manipulation of language shapes our conceptions of the world and of our selves” (69). This epistemic quality of language use underlay representations of the entire writing process as a process of discovery and, as Ann Berthoff called it, the “making of meaning”: “Composing … is a means of discovering what we mean to say, as well as being the saying of it” (Berthoff 20). This perspective on the power of writing was significantly confirmed by Judith Langer and Arthur Applebee’s 1987 study How Writing Shapes Thinking and would underlie the enormous growth of Writing Across the Disciplines (WAC) programs in American colleges and universities. The concept of “write to learn” is grounded in these assumptions about language and in particular the nature of writing as a means for this discovery and construction of meaning and understanding.  Dowst presents a description of the unique epistemic qualities of the act of writing:
While one in effect composes his or her world by engaging in any sort of language-using, it is by means of writing that one stands to learn the most, for writing is the form of language-using that is slowest, most deliberate, most accessible, most conveniently manipulable, and most permanent. While a person’s short-term memory can hold at any time only six or seven “bits” of information, a written paragraph can hold thousands. It can fix them while a writer experiments in connecting bits in various ways, in replacing some with others, in supplementing them with others, in rearranging them, in abstracting and generalizing from them. (69)
Rather than being the means by which we clothe already-formulated thoughts, writing as an epistemic tool serves as the means for shaping, constructing, and deepening thinking. It is this tradition within our discipline of epistemic rhetoric that I want to connect with my own inquiry into rhetorical reflection. Reflection as a form of thinking about thinking and action happens in many forms either in non-discursive ways (simply in our head), by talking, or by writing. My focus is upon written reflection, and we can see from this brief summary of epistemic rhetoric’s place within our discipline how my own inquiry fits within the same assumptions about the power of writing to form and shape our thinking that have informed our field for many years.

While rhetorical reflection shares in many of the positive assumptions about the value of invention and epistemic theories of writing, it also shares the same questions and ambiguities about these activities. Young in his 1978 article voices the lack of certainty of how to promote the skills of invention and the doubt surrounding invention’s effectiveness, and he devotes special attention to research on competing theories of invention. Interestingly, his questions about determining the adequacy of these theories are the same that apply to current views on reflection:
1.     Does it [the theory of invention] do what it claims to do? That is, does it provide an adequate account of the psychological processes it purports to explain? And does it increase our ability to carry out these processes more efficiently or effectively?

and …


2.     Does the theory provide a more adequate account of the processes and more adequate means for carrying them out than any of the alternatives. (405)
Here we have in a more sophisticated form the “open question” of reflection. Implicit within the use of teacher-prompted activities to promote reflective thinking are “theories of reflection” which contain claims and assumptions about what happens when students reflect and what results will happen (or ought to happen) because of the reflection. Indeed, we can see by a re-examination of the two research questions of this dissertation how much this inquiry aligns with that advocated by Young:

What is the nature of Rhetorical Reflection within the activity of writing, and how does it work in relation to the learning and practice of freshman writers?


Can we generate a grounded theory that offers an understanding of rhetorical reflection and how it works that is useful for teachers of writing?

This research project seeks what Young calls an “adequate account” of rhetorical reflection.
It seeks to answer whether our theorizing about reflection fits with an understanding of reflection generated from grounded theory. It hopes to generate a theory of rhetorical reflection that may offer a theory that better matches students’ actual practice of reflection and proves useful in productive ways for teachers?

What the proceeding literature review will do is describe our field’s development of a theory of reflection, with special attention directed towards in-task reflection. We will see our field’s various attempts to answer the question of the adequacy and effectiveness of this theory. However, as Kimberly Emmons points out, our field has closely examined or questioned how reflection works for writers, “Our attention as theorists has been focused on promoting the habit of reflection in our students rather than on questioning its mechanisms” (“The Legacy of Process: Self-Reflection”). What this review will reveal is how we have built our theory of reflection by importing theories uncritically and crudely into our own teaching practice. We have predominantly based our practice upon theories built from other theories or from classroom experience. The nature of our theory building and resulting practice has resulted in a gap in our ability to account sufficiently for reflection and the persistence of the open question regarding reflection.