Thursday, May 30, 2013

Reflecting on the Sting of Rejection

So I just had word that my "revise and resubmit" submission to a journal (that will remain nameless) was rejected. These moments of failure (if we can call it that) are painful and instructive. On the one hand, looking at the two peer reviews I can see that the reviewers fundamentally misunderstood parts of my argument and thinking. Badly. Yet, on the other hand, their misunderstanding is not their fault, but mine. How could I have expressed these concepts and ideas better? The other possibility is that no matter how well I express these ideas the reader will reject or dismiss them. Reflection is no longer trendy, and what I have to say is neither significant or that new.

Processing feedback is an important part of rhetorical reflection, so I want to spend a bit of time reviewing and thinking about this feedback. Reviewer one was the most curt and stinging. His first critique was that "The theories used to support the author's 'rhetorical reflection' don't support it." His main complaint was with my use of Schon and my link with Schon's sense of "surprise" or of the "problem" and the problem that is central to rhetorical reflection. The reviewer narrowly understood Schon to be talking about "in-the-moment" sensibilities of "expert" practitioners. As he says, "adapting to a specific writing situation after a draft is written is not the kind of problem Schon is writing about." It is like the reviewer did not read my section specifically addressing this issue of what constitutes the "action present" of reflection-in-action.

So what do I learn from this feedback? I learn that many scholars in Composition often have a particular view of Schon that is fairly rigid and to my mind uninformed. He has been pigeon-holed. If I am to use Schon's ideas, then, I believe I need to position his theories as ones of resemblance and not equation. I can't base my theory on Schon's ideas, but use his theories as metaphors or springboards for understanding my own. The whole issue of expert and novice thinking when discussing Schon must also be dealt with.

The second main critique was that "the distinction between 'retrospective' and 'rhetorical' reflection breaks down in the author's own discussion of Writing Reviews which require students to look back on a draft already written for purposes of self-evaluation." The reviewer correctly points out the retrospective nature within rhetorical reflection--yes, the writer is looking back. But the reviewer misses totally, again, my distinction about what constitutes the "action-present." The draft is not finished, but will be rewritten, so the reflective thinking (like that thinking I am doing now) is different than retrospective reflection. This concept evaded reviewer 1.

One big change in this draft was the decision to shift from "curricular reflection" to "retrospective reflection" to describe this post-task reflection. Perhaps I need a different name for it? The Janus face of reflection is as John Muckelbauer would say an itinerant rhythm of differential encounter. Its "double-movement" travels within contexts, and describing its distinct features within these different contexts is difficult. That the reviewer felt that the "distinction cannot be sustained" and therefore the "exigency for the author's argument is not a persuasive one" speaks in one sense to the reviewers shallow reading of my article, but it also speaks to the importance I need to place in establishing this distinction between retrospective and rhetorical reflection even more. Making this distinction is probably the single most important goal of the article, and right now the article is obviously failing in making this distinction.

The second review was more generous in their reading of the article in that they seemed to have a better understanding of it. Her first critique was about the slow start to the article. I take too long to establish composition's "portfolio-centric" perspective on reflection. I have kept in my critiques of Yancey and Sommers, spending elaborate time trying to fairly summarize their viewpoints and then countering them. I agree that this characterization regarding compositions post-task view of reflection could be condensed.

The following critique by this reviewer is much more insightful: "I was most interested to see where the essay would go from this observation/assertion [that composition has a portfolio-centric view of reflection], and it seems that the author is arguing that the moment of reflection should change, not its process or results. This seems at odds with the idea that 'rhetorical reflection' is somehow something different and innovative."  The review is right on target to say the moment of reflection is different, and she tells me that I also need to highlight how the PROCESS and RESULTS of rhetorical reflection are different and innovative (since novelty and originality are the "exigency" that sustains interest and warrants publication). What this feedback tells me is that the reader has an interest in a more detailed description of my research results, and that somehow I need to include these more inside this article (without getting bogged down too much).

The second reviewer also finds a contradiction in my earlier description of reflection as being self-sponsored and then later prompted in the classroom. This point is well taken. How do I communicate my sensibility that the writer write's rhetorical reflection for their own purposes rather than for the teachers. I need to work on expressing this concept. Maybe the constructivist nature of this thinking is what I am getting at. I want to make the distinction that the writer is not performing or trying to display for the teacher, but thinking on the page. I need to work on this one since many people and even students see anything they do as being for the teacher. Perhaps I can tap into theories of androgogy to articulate this sense of self-owned (if not self-sponsored) learning.

The second reviewer lost some credibility with me in their third critique when she stated in reference to the review of Schon and Dewey, "I didn't see it tied to the rest of the argument in the essay." I thought I had tied them well into the argument, using them particularly to distinguish rhetorical reflection from retrospective reflection, but obviously this distinction (as reviewer 1 states) did not come through, nor did the relevance of this distinction in terms of the overall argument get across. Similar to the first reviewer, the second reviewer states, "I didn't find this essay persuasive in its larger theoretical argument about the role/practice of reflection."

So I was not persuasive. What does this mean not being persuasive? I think that reader 1 was simply disagreed with my ideas and discredited them and hence was not persuaded. Reader 2 was willing to entertain my ideas but I did not provide them with enough substance for these ideas to be persuaded.

I have invested enough in this article that I know I will revise it one more time and submit it to another journal. It is painful to receive a rejection for publication, but I am hopeful that this feedback will help my eventually create a stronger article.

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