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.