Friday, December 30, 2011

Pounding the Rock

A number of sports teams, including the San Antonio Spurs, use a motivational device to promote persistence and determination in the face of unsatisfactory results.  It is the term, "Pounding the rock." Keep pounding the rock and eventually it will break. You pound and you pound and nothing--and then finally, something. This saying seems to capture how I am feeling post-phd. I have been pounding the rock and not gotten anywhere so far.

Most notably, I was thinking of this saying this morning as I returned to working on an article. This is my basic "rethinking" article on rhetorical reflection. I think I tugged over two sentences for two hours. Pounding and pounding. I think I finally pulled through that section, and so I am finally moving into sections that I hope will be easier to write. Somehow I need to find a way to weave in and leverage my diss work more easily, but constructing the essay is like weaving a complex tapestry with so many strands and a larger picture and pattern that I don't have completely in focus yet. I need to remind myself to keep pounding and pounding. At a certain point in the diss, I felt like I had direction and a clear path. But here I feel as if I have a dim direction and the path is choked with a jungle of brush. Perhaps it is the different context of writing for publication that has me stymied. So far I have not done so well on the publication front since my article for Pedagogy was rejected, though at least they reviewed it. The objections are well warranted, and I think I might be able to present my "how to" article to them. When I can get around to writing it. That is article #2.

One issue that I have not been able to resolve is what to call "curricular reflection." This term has no legs and was specifically disliked in my reviews. The two alternatives I am thinking of right now are comprehensive reflection (from Ramage and Bean) and constructive reflection (from Yancey). Comprehensive fits best, but then I am not sure I want to use someone else's term. Constructive is not quite right when we think strictly in Yancey terms because she has the second category of Reflection in Presentation, and I want this term to cover both. Constructivist Reflection? Ack.  I don't much like that one either. So I am presently stuck thinking of a better term. Constructionist Reflection? What's the difference between construct -ivist and -ionist? I must think more. And keep pounding the rock. I'd like to have a draft of this essay done before we return to the semester.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dreaming of My Digital Writing Workshop

I am near the end of Troy's book The Digital Writing Workshop. It is filled with excellent ideas, and my mind is twirling and swirling with ideas. I know from many previous experiences integrating technology and attempting various other kinds of digital writing that conceiving digital writing assignments is easier than implementing them. The road to ruin is created with the best intentions and the most well laid out plans. My sense is to craft a course that has an elegance or simplicity to it where digital writing is simply there and constantly done. My current writing classes happen within digital learning environments, but they seldom get beyond text and image on the page--I have not made the leap to video and voice on the screen.

So let me for a few moments here imagine a new direction for my teaching. I wonder if a useful approach to start is to explore how a single subject or "theme" (in good traditional composition terms) might be re-presented and repurposed in various mediums. Write a piece first as text fitting and fulfilling the various textual conventions such as form, organization, development and standard edited English. (Reaching competency with this written communication often is difficult enough in a writing class.) But then take that theme and re-present it as a podcast. Make a Powerpoint presentation of the piece. Make a digital video expressing the ideas.  I wonder then about going the opposite direction. Create a digital video about a topic and then go backwards. Turn it into a Powerpoint. Create a podcast of the piece. Write it up as an "essay." This cross-medium approach might be really interesting, but it goes against some of our concepts regarding genre and how the shape or medium of the piece will fit the medium. Some genres work best for certain kinds of messages. Still this approach would engage students in experiencing and learning about the differences in these media for communicating. The problem is the material production for each media is fraught with peril in terms of functional literacy using the technology. I wonder also how shifting into different media complicates students' task representation, making it more likely that they will misunderstand and mistake the composing task.

Another element I would love to incorporate is an actual Writing Workshop where students picked what they wrote about and progressed independently in their writing. Many composition classrooms, including my own, seem to be an all-class forced march through the writing process, draft to draft, due date to due date. It is refreshing and scary to think of "letting go" the curriculum in terms of dictating writing assignments and process. Perhaps I am only thinking of letting go some and creating a more "open structure" to my curriculum and thinking. I wonder about how digital tools might help this effort. I might still have general goals and requirements to a writing task, but students then seek to fill those requirements and reach those goals on their own.

One thing I'd like to try is student blogs as the foundation of the Writing Workshop. Students regularly must post blogs that are not like this (ideas splashed on the page), but carefully thought out pieces of digital writing on topics of their choice. I think the idea blogs are important too, but these might be more formal "texts." Ideally, these also would go into a larger publication space like Youth Voices where college writers from across the country might also be posting their writing. College Voices. This online space would be a rhetorical forum where students would enter a writing community larger than just our class. Certainly, these writers could post other kinds of digital writing as well such as podcasts or digital videos. It would be nice if the interface could also accommodate the publication of compilations or e-zine like pieces. Since my two composition classes next semester are online, I wonder if I could try any of these new approaches.

I've dreamed enough for the moment. Thanks Troy for your book.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Form and Surprise in Composition

I have been continuing my tutelage under Troy Hicks and the Digital Writing Workshop, but I also began my study of Ramage and Bean's work, particularly Bean. I am planning to study Ramage and Bean with the thought to use their ideas to craft some workshops for faculty in other disciplines at my school (also, I hope to get me to rethink my own assignments).

They begin their textbook, which I did not realize was a textbook, discussing why college freshmen who are inexperienced writers do not go through the entire writing process. They focus on two reasons. One reason they label as "alienation" to describe the disconnectedness of the classroom assignment from a real writing situation. The writing is only a game played by the professor's rules, and these rules seem arbitrary and incomprehensible. The student puts little investment in real communication because it is a silly game they are forced to play to get a grade. As long as writing is a school activity, this first hindrance to writing is hard to overcome completely.

The second reason, though, is interesting to me given my focus on rhetorical reflection. I will quote a part of their text:

"For some reason, they [students] don't seem obsessed by the need to write successive drafts. Why is this so?

" Inexperienced writers, we believe, don't go through the writing process because they haven't learned to pose for themselves the same kinds of problems that experienced writers pose.  ... they have not learned how to 'problematize' their experience" (4).

The entire writing process involves problems and choices, and the awareness of some standard or criteria for what is working or not working, right or wrong, that then defines when something is problematic. I've tagged this standard for the writing classroom as the "idea of essay success" and the "ideal text/writer." Part of why I believe Writing Reviews and rhetorical reflection have value is because it engages students in this thinking about their writing and prompts them to work through the problems and choices of writing as a way to develop a "habit of mind." The practice of Writing Reviews as a way of prompting rhetorical reflection "poses" for inexperienced writers some of the kinds of problems that experienced writers pose.

Hopefully, it would help develop unaided and unprompted habits of rhetorical reflection for writers as they become more experienced. This capacity for unprompted rhetorical reflection would constitute transfer.

I look forward to learning from Ramage and Bean.

Before I leave today's post, I want to bring up one other point they discuss and relate it to something I was reading in Troy's book. While defining their understanding of the book's chief concepts--form and surprise--they use the law of thermodynamic as a metaphor to describe surprise in writing. Basically, this law says that the greater the degree of temperature difference, the greater the amount of energy transferred. They say, "Writers aiming for 'surprise' in their essays might imagine themselves conveying energy (the writer's view of a topic) across a gap to a reader existing at a different temperature (a different view of the topic)" (16). As I begin working on my general article on rhetorical reflection, I feel that I can certainly build on the "temperature" difference that lies between the typical way of viewing reflection and that or rhetorical reflection. I saw more evidence of curricular reflection in the description of Dawn Reed's curriculum for creating a podcast in Troy's book. Included at the end of the six page curriculum description is an assignment titled, "This I Believe Informative Speech and Podcasting Reflection." The prompt for the written reflective piece starts this way: "Compose a one-page-minimum typed reflection explaining what you learned from the This I Believe podcasting project" (71). There it is--post-task reflection designed to promote constructivist learning within a context of evaluation. I feel that the "temperature" difference between the common portfolio-centric view of reflection and that of rhetorical reflection is fairly large. Hence, I believe my article can build on a strong element of surprise.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Reflection Saturday

Yesterday was a San Antonio Writing Project Super Saturday that focused on reflection, and I thought I would process the event a bit. Mainly, I want to process my own keynote presentation and the presentation on reflection in the Summer Institute by Chelsea Silvas.

I really think Chelsea is on to something important regarding the kind of learning that participants experience in the five-week NWP Summer Institutes. Her foundational perspective on reflection comes from Jack Mezirow's notions of Transformational Learning and the role that reflection plays. Mezirow believed that through reflection upon our assumptions or beliefs we are able change these beliefs (which he calls "meaning schemes") or more importantly our "meaning perspectives" (which he labels "meaning perspectives): “Critique and reassessment of the adequacy of prior learning, leading potentially to its negation, are the hallmarks of reflection” (110). So far Chelsea has not surfaced Mezirow's notions of reflection at this level or dug into his notions of content, process, and premise reflection. Also, so far she leans on Higgins et. al. for a definition of "critical reflection" to refer to this evaluative aspect at the heart of the "critique and reassessment" generated through reflection. I believe she will sort these things out. 

But I think she is right in line with Mezirow's emphasis in the importance of "validation of knowledge" for learners and the crucial role reflection plays in this validation process.

What Chelsea has identified is three sites for this reflection and validation process to happen. I am going to put her labels for these sites and then the spaces within the ecology of a Summer Institute where these reflections happen:
  1. Other's Experiences--throughout the SI teachers share their classroom experiences in the morning journaling and in countless other informal instances of talk. It could happen in the discussion after a teaching demo, at lunch, or even in peer groups, but it all has the fundamentally similar characteristic of teachers sharing specific instances of teaching and specific experiences from their professional life as teachers.
  2. Narratives--I believe Chelsea is focusing this site of reflection around the writing participants do for the writing pieces. I am not sure that this label will work because not all participants write narratives (at least I didn't). Perhaps Writing or Teachers as Writers would work better. Nevertheless, this site focuses on teachers put in the role of writers.
  3. Community Learning--Three aspects of the SI fall into this category: the teaching demos, writing groups, and reading groups. In some ways, teaching demos are different from writing and reading groups, but if we see the demos as community presentations and including the coaching that goes along with the presentation, then I think they all fit together. 
What Chelsea needs to identify is what is reflective about each of these sites of reflection? What is the nature of this reflection she says is transformative and how would we identify instances of this reflection to study it? 

My initial thoughts are that the double-movement of reflection is a bit different in each instance, and elaborating on the characteristics in each setting will be very interesting. Generally speaking, though, the double-movement is between self and other. 
  1. my teaching experience >< other's teaching experience
  2. me as writer >< my students as writers (writing teacher >< writing student)
  3. me as scholar, writer, teacher >< others as scholar, writer, teacher
In each of these sites, the interplay between self and other causes teachers to expand beyond their previous thinking and practices and experience "validation of knowledge." 

Since the interplay of reflection appears to be so much between self and other in this context, I'm thinking that Donna Qualley's notions of reflexivity might not apply. I'm going to tack in a passage I wrote on Qualley from a graduate paper:

"Qualley defines reflexivity this way: 'reflexivity involves a commitment to attending to what we believe, think, and feel while examining how we came to hold those beliefs, thoughts, and feelings.  This kind of monitoring and self-awareness seems critical for enabling us to grasp new ideas and information'(41). 1 She contrasts 'earned insights' with 'ready-made conclusions':  'I comprehend an earned insight to be a kind of understanding whose essential truth is only realized or more fully grasped as it is made manifest through the individual's experience and contemplation of that experience' (35). Ready-made conclusions, in contrast, are packaged truths received uncritically by the learner.  Reflection upon experience is one important means of crystallizing 'earned insights.'"

Qualley distinguishes reflexivity from reflection. She sees reflection as self-oriented, but reflexivity is a "bidirectional contrastive response" to an "other" (12). Reflexivity is triggered by this dialectical engagement with the other--"an other idea, theory, person, culture, text, or even an other part of one's self" (11). Along with Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater, she believes this "reflexive dialogue" has incredible power--like opening Pandora's box. 

I believe what Chelsea is identifying in her study is the "reflexive dialogue" between self and other that occurs in these three different ways within the SI experience of NWP. I know that her discussion has helped me see my SI experience in another light that helps to explain why it was so powerful.

I've spent most of my post talking about Chelsea's presentation, so I'll now turn briefly to my own presentation. Working on this presentation was a good experience for me because I finally was able to get down some of the thinking I have been having for an article I have had in my head for at least four months. I see now that the overall structure of this article will flow this way:
  1. Display our current bias toward viewing reflection in post-task ways (curricular reflection, portfolio-centric view of reflection)
  2. Broaden our perspective on reflection by exploring the views of Dewey, Schon, Boud, and Kolb
  3. Elaborate on the added perspective of rhetorical reflection: define it, how it works, and why it is important
  4. I guess I should add in the additional part of how to use this kind of reflection in the classroom
I don't know that this article will go into depth about the research and research results. I need to think of target journals but of course I'd like to get in CCC, but perhaps Comp Forum, Comp Studies or even English Journal might be a target. Beyond that, I could trim it to go in TETYC and forfront the pedagogy more. 

Anyway, what I discovered when I woke up today was that by doing this presentation I had finally begun working on this article. Hurray!

Mezirow, Jack. Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-
Bass, 1991.
Qualley, Donna. Turns of Thought: Teaching Composition as Reflexive Inquiry.
Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1997.
Qualley, Donna and Christine Chiseri-Strater. "Collaboration as Reflexive Dialogue: A Knowing 'Deeper Than Reason. "JAC  Vol. 14, 1.

Monday, September 5, 2011

More thoughts on Moffett

I just finished Detecting Growth in Language, and I'm still trying to swallow his Conclusion. He gets almost religious at the end, taking his thoughts about language and language growth into the realm of spirituality (and perhaps psychology). Here is the statement that seems to capture it the most:

"In fact, the abstractive process carries within it the means to regain paradise. Pursuing differentiation and integration far enough leads out the other side, back in the the nonverbal world. The more people interrelate the things of experience by one logic or another (including metaphor) the more they are rebuilding the world within" (69).

Differentiation according to his diagram of The Forms of Thought on page 67 would be Analysis into parts and discriminating differences. This deductive form of thought is more literal, explicit and seeks to elaborate particulars. This kind of analysis is grounded in experience. Integration would be a form of Synthesis into wholes that is more figurative and implicit in nature. Generalizing similarities, this form of inductive thought is about integrating particulars. Moffett is clear that mental growth moves in both directions at once.

His diagram of the Forms of Thought closely resembles Dewey's concept of the double-movement of reflection from and to meaning. I am not sure about regaining paradise through growth in this capacity. Perhaps he is making a reference to the kind of original linguistic nature humans possessed before the fall, a kind of preternatural blessedness that Plato and then Wordsworth hallowed when we were truly in contact with the Ideas. I suppose I am more comfortable with Dewey's goal of learning proficiency in thinking rather than Moffett's spiritual goal. Dewey is more practical and civic in his rationale for becoming skilled at thinking.

It is interesting to see Moffett end by bring up concepts that so resemble what I have been dealing with related to rhetorical reflection. His Growth Sequence 26 (the last one) is labeled: "Toward increasing consciousness of oneself as a language user and of the language alternatives one has to choose from" (66). He states that the result of all the other ways of growing (all 25) is "a sort of master growth that is meta-linguistic." Since the quote is so good, I'll go ahead and include it all here:

"That is, one becomes detached from language, conscious of oneself as a language user, and able to verbalize about one's verbalization. This is inseparable from becoming meta-cognitive--able to think about one's thinking. Both are major ways that consciousness itself grows, since consciousness inevitably includes forms of self-consciousness.

"With awareness of oneself as a chooser goes greater choice. ... In other words, metalinguistic growth is a form of consciousness-raising, which depends not merely on grasping some concept but on taking personal action"(66).

Bless Moffett for his last statement. Rhetorical reflection, as a concept related to writing, moves beyond mere awareness to critical evaluation and judgment. That judgment forms the basis for personal action. Rhetorical reflection is directly related to action, to problems and choices and necessities and limitations and possibilities and finding the appropriate with the available means.

I wonder, however, is we could jump students too quickly toward this metalinguistic awareness. Moffett says it is the result of all the other growth. Could we expect this metalinguistic awareness too soon when our students have not grown into it yet?  I have to find an excellent research article I found on metalinguistic development, but I seem to recall that this kind of awareness comes late in development. So if this meta-linguistic, meta-cognitive capacity emerges late in growth, what kind of expectations can we have for seeing and prompting this level of thought?

A good question for research...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

James Moffett--Detecting Growth in Language

This past summer has been something of a Moffett summer for me. I spent time in June reading through Teaching the Universe of Discourse so I could pull together some broad statements about the development of writers. I paralleled Moffett's levels of abstraction with Bereiters and Scarmandalia's "knowledge telling" and "knowledge transforming" model with King and Kitchener's growth in reflective judgment. What I produced probably served to confuse my workshop attendees more than enlighten them, but for me these various models represent interesting perspectives on the same phenomena of growth.

Most recently, I've been reading through Moffett's thin (but very dense) book on Detecting Growth. He discusses 26 different "growth sequences," and his premise in the book is that instead of standardized tests (which provide a inadequate measure of growth) these growth sequences indicate real development. If we could get good at identifying these growth sequences (and fostering them), then we would not need these tests because we could easily demonstrate learning and growth in our students.

The problem, as I have been finding, is that Moffett's growth sequences are complex and difficult to grasp. He also has a dizzying number of these sequences, so that though he may have an overarching sense of development in writers, we would all need to be James Moffett to see them too. I have just finished his section on "chaining" and sentence combining. I was pleased to see that the sequence I have my students work though in the sentence combining  and editing exercises I typically use, fits with his notions of a growth sequence in how to relate ideas in sentences: from modifying to conjoining, to reducing, to embedding.

As I read Moffett, I experience a grasping of importance in a partial sense, but not the whole. I also desire this whole sense, so I can piece it together and translate it into curriculum that fosters development. I can't help but wonder if others have done this same thing (he does have his own textbooks), and I wonder if anyone has researched his concepts of development to see if they can be identified (and verified) empirically. Moffett speaks with a philosopher's voice, like Dewey or Aristotle, stating truths seemingly out of thin air that ring true and provide deep insight, and like these other philosophers he speaks from his own experience, intelligence, and speculation--not necessarily from research.

I know that I will continue to try to make sense of Moffett, and I wonder what others have said about his ideas of growth in writers.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Reassessing the "Proofreading Trap": ESL Tutoring and Writing Instruction

Sharon Myers discusses an important dilemma I have felt many times when working with ESL writers: where to begin when confronted with a host of errors. I totally agree with Myers' point that we can't reduce the difficulties these students are facing down to mere language and errors. In a Shaunessey type way, we must understand the source or rationale for their linguistic problems and work with them with that awareness centrally in mind.

In one way, the trap becomes something like this: "Oh my, there are a ton of errors. OK, let's fix them one by one." The tutor or teacher diving into this bog of error, indeed, falls into a trap because the errors are so numerous and so difficult. Work to correct each of these errors can take hours. I like, however, Myers' description of the trap: "There is indeed a 'trap.' It is created by the contradictions between what ESL learners need and are capable of and what an uninformed perspective leads us to suppose they need and are capable of"(233). We suppose they need the paper fixed, but their needs may be for more fundamental lexical or syntactic understandings about language. The tutoring session is in fact a teaching session. Ultimately, the paper is not important--it is the learning that can be gained for the ESL writer while they work on the paper.

Myers trashes Cogie's four strategies useful for tutors to work with ESL students: learner's dictionaries, minimal marking, error logs, and self-editing checklists. Instead, she closes her article (and illustrates it too) with her recommendations:
  1. a more relaxed attitude toward error
  2. an appreciation of second language acquisition processes
  3. and better training in the pedagogical grammar of English as a second language
I like these recommendations. It is the last one that is the hardest because it depends upon a level of knowledge and reflective judgment dealing with an ESL writers work that inexperienced tutors may not have. Personally, this awareness of where ESL writers are in their language acquisition and some sense of why they make these kinds of errors and what we can do to work with them regarding these problems comes from the chapters in handbooks devoted to working with ESL writers. I think these are a good starting place, and often have more detailed information that ESL writers appreciate.

In terms of my new role as WC Director, I think that this article makes some significant points. It will be important to make ESL writers a prominent subject for our training and discussions as well as for the resources available from within our WC.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Concept of Essay Success in Rhetorical Reflection

One of the subjects of extended discussion in my dissertation defense was the concept of "essay success." At the time, I don't believe I had found the words yet to adequately express what I mean by this concept; however, since I have been working on my "Picturing Reflection" article, I believe I have fleshed out the concept. Below is a section from this article I am still drafting:


My research discovered that rhetorical reflection involves comparison, assessment, and judgment made in terms of a writer’s conception of “essay success.” What is considered and gleaned from feedback, the identification and framing of problems, the understandings generated as well as the plans made for revision all depend on the writer’s concept of what constitutes essay success.
The concept of essay success closely resembles Hayes’s idea of task schema because it likewise serves as a controlling factor for the entire dynamic of reflective thinking within rhetorical reflection. If as Higgins, Flower, and Petraglia believe true reflection involves critical evaluation, the grounded theory of rhetorical reflection says that this evaluation starts with a comparison between the “real text/writer” (that is, the actual text on the page or activities performed by the writer) and the ideal text/writer (the ideal of what the text should be or the activities performed by the writer should be). The essential double-movement or dialectic of rhetorical reflection involves this comparison within the writer’s mind between the real and the ideal text/writer, as the following graphic illustrates:
The diagram also portrays the important place of feedback in providing the writer with an outside representation of the real and ideal text/writer for consideration.
Within rhetorical reflection, writers constantly interpret, transform, and confirm their conceptions of the real and ideal text/writer. Although essay success equates to the ideal text/writer, the concept of essay success differs because it represents the practical and tangible expression of the ideal text/writer in actual writing. Essay success is the closest alignment writers can manage between the real text/writer and the ideal/text writer—acknowledging that the real never matches absolutely the ideal. Despite Knoblauch and Brannon’s critique of the “Ideal Text” as reductive and an expression of teacher authority, this idealized conception of the text need not be either fixed or in the sole possession of the teacher (120). As the diagram below illustrates, aspects of essay success are multiple and exist along a spectrum from being fixed and definite to more various and contingent: 
For instance, task requirements such as page length or the requirement to incorporate quotes from research constitute fixed aspects of essay success for that particular assignment. Standard conventions for the use of punctuation or documentation are similarly more certain characteristics of essay success. However, how to create an engaging opener for the essay or how to provide adequate and convincing support are much less definite and abstract. The contingent side of essay success is open to a greater variety of options and is subject to context to determine appropriateness and success.
Wherever the concept of essay success may fall within writers’ thinking, it exists as a kind of measuring stick against which writers make the comparisons, assessments, and judgments that constitute the reflective thinking of rhetorical reflection. Any knowledge generated or validated within these reflective writings originates from the writer’s representation of essay success. Also, the assessments and judgments that occur within these reflections are based upon this concept of success or failure, and writers constantly orient themselves toward this goal of essay success and try to move in its direction (similar to McAlpine’s et al.’s model). A problem in the text won’t be acknowledged as a problem unless it is seen to be out of alignment with writers’ understanding of the ideal text; likewise, a plan for revision won’t be considered or devised and accepted unless it is moving the real text toward essay success. Resembling the notion of to prepon from classical rhetoric, “fitting-in-bounds” is the term that describes this reflective thinking made in terms of essay success.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

New Vistas: The SAC Writing Center

I will be starting a new adventure this next semester as the SAC Writing Center Director. I only have a two course release-time for a position that can easily suck 40-60 hours a week, so I am a bit anxious about this work load, but I am excited about this new experience in writing and writing pedagogy. I've begun reading some of the (vast) literature on writing centers, and I feel my head spinning.

What is the SAC Writing Center, as a center? How will I shape it?

Is it a fix-it shop, a garret, or a Burkian parlour? Is it a product oriented, process oriented, or post-colonial writing center? I prefer it to be a Burkian parlour, but we shall see if I can succeed in shaping it that direction. I like the notions of the writing center being something like a "cafe" where writer get fed. All writers are hungry, all writers are welcome at the cafe--it isn't a place for just one group (deficient writers or struggling writers). A writing center is a place to feed writers!


I know that in the future I will have more posts related to writing centers and their theory and practice.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Student views on reflection and feedback

The summer I session is over, and I am evaluating final portfolios, giving me the chance to read final reflective thoughts written by my students about the semester and what they have learned. I always love reading these final reflections. I thought I would share some thoughts on peer response and reflection written by two of my students and then comment on them because they are so interesting:

"I didn't realize this before this class, but I found that I am able to get moving and develop my own essays more when I get help from my peers. When I was even just reading their stories, like during the second essay again, I found motivation and a new outlook on where to take my own essay. By reading their essays, I was able to develop my own into something I am proud of. By doing peer response, I found the problem areas I didn't know I had in an essay so I could address them."

This student validates the concept of sharing student writing and making it all public. All drafts are posted for all students to read. I have written before that this stance of "spectator-participant" causes students to observe each others' work more reflectively and critically. As they observe others, they are thinking and comparing the work of their peer to their own work. Students also tap into the the multiplicity or wisdom of the crowd, and they gain a sense of perspective or orientation on how to proceed. This student by making the comment that she "found motivation and a new outlook" also makes the point that this viewing and responding to peer writing was inventional for her.

"Reflection helped me formulate insight that I applied to my writing particularly the 2nd essay about description. When I finished my writing, I began reading other people's writings in order to give them feedback. There were many writings in which I had many questions abou tthings such as, "why this?" or "what was the setting?" It was not until I read what other people had written that I realized I had done the same thing. I had gone full circle. I saw people asking questions like, "where were you when the moose started chasing you?" and "what were you thinking as you were running down the hill?" It was because of this reflection on others' writing and my own that I realized there were pieces to the puzzle that were missing. Pieces that I needed to fill in order to become a better writer."

This student expresses the same value in observing the writing of peers, but he experienced an additional revelation when he turned to observe and reflect upon his own writing. The reflective observation and critical thinking he performed upon others became amplified when he turned his rhetorical reflection upon his own writing. The most important line in his reflection is this one: "I realized there were pieces to the puzzle that were missing." Through his reflective thinking he "came to know" something he did not before. I like his metaphor of the puzzle and missing piece because it implies that the writer is constructing something and that this between-the-draft peer response and reflection has helped him obtain something or see something important for this construction that he did not have before.

Interestingly, this writer made minor revisions on his descriptive story by adding two sentences of additional description. These were important places to "show" more, and his improvements did make a positive change for the story, but they were not very extensive changes. The degree to which he followed his insight was low. He saw what what needed, but on a scale of 1-10 only went to level 3. Why? Why was he not able to follow through more deeply on his insight.

I want to speculate that he went as far as he was able for his developmental stage. In his own mind, he went very far. He described the moose and his father scaring the moose more, and so he made significant changes. However, he did not have the experience or perspective to see greater potential for expanded description. Does his low level of revision diminish the value of the insight gained from refection? --definitely not! This same knowledge and discovery he made will, when he is ready, lead him to make much more extensive changes in future situations. In the gap between thinking and action, we do what we are ready and able to do.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Picturing Reflection and Dewey's Double-movement of Reflection

It has been a while since I posted to this blog. I have survived the long tunnel of the dissertation, and I have emerged finally ready to reengage with my subject from a new vantage point and in new ways. I want to share an excerpt of an article submission I just sent out today titled "Picturing Reflection: Diagrams and Models of Reflective Thinking." In the article I pull together and examine multiple graphical representations of reflection. These models, at least for me, work as visual metaphors for reflecting upon the nature of reflection. Below is one section on Dewey's concept of the "double-movement of reflection" (diagram made by me):

Dewey and the Double-Movement of Reflection

One of Dewey’s greatest contributions to our conception of reflection is his labeling of this dialectic as the “double movement of reflection.” In his chapter “Systematic Inference: Induction and Deduction,” he describes this double movement as a shuttling between facts and meaning: “There is thus a double movement in all reflection: a movement from the given partial and confused data to a suggested comprehensive (or inclusive) entire situation; and back from this suggested whole—which as suggested is a meaning, and idea—to the particular facts” (79).  
The “double movement to and from a meaning” constitutes the fundamental dynamic of reflection (80).  The discovery of induction pieces together meaning from facts or data, while the testing of deduction takes conclusions or premises and checks them against the facts or data: “The inductive movement is toward discovery of a binding principle; the deductive toward its testing—confirming, refuting, modifying it on the basis of its capacity to interpret isolated details into a unified experience” (82). Judgment remains crucial to this double-movement of reflective thinking, both at the level of selecting and making sense of facts and at the level of assessing how well this larger understanding fits back with the facts. Genuine judgment, Dewey believes, involves the weighing of facts and the withholding of conclusions until they have been thoroughly examined. Discussing his understanding about the importance of judgment, he states: “But if the meaning suggested is held in suspense, pending examination and inquiry, there is true judgment. We stop and think, we de-fer conclusions in order to in-fer more thoroughly” (108).  Thinking that shortcuts the resolution of the perplexity by accepting a suggested meaning without examining it carefully, or that accepts uncritically a dogmatic belief, involves no judgment and for Dewey involves no reflective thinking.