CCCC 2001 in Review: G.8 Rethinking Reflection
Carol Rutz: Chair
The major theme of this session was an interpretive one: Students' reflective texts, like any other texts, are not to be taken at face value. Because they are written as persuasive documents with particular audience considerations, they should be taught and evaluated according to their rhetorical contexts.
Tony Baker noted that our colleagues in composition seem to be unaware of the metaphorical meanings of "reflection," preferring the optical interpretation associated with the iconic photograph of the lakeshore and sky faithfully reflected in still waters. However, students are well aware that their reflections are typically secondary texts designed to introduce a target text or group of texts for a specific audience-usually the teacher or a group of reader/evaluators. As a genre, reflective texts perform rhetorical work for their writers, and Baker offered some "cheeky descriptive categories" that unpack the rhetorical heft of such texts. For example, a "re(gurgi)flection" "echoes the instructor's phrasing and ideas," whereas a "re(quiem)flection" acknowledges the writer's "indisputable failure to pass the course." These cheeky terms remind us that reflections used as introductions to a body of other work, e.g., a portfolio, tend to be teacher-centered, although their stated purpose is to provide the writer a space for meta-commentary on her own work for her own purposes. Baker concluded by asking for teachers of writing to employ reflection at other points in the course. A post-draft reflection might well be more of a teachable moment and less of a performance than the typical reflection included in a course portfolio.
Laurie Bower's dissertation research project addresses textual analysis of portfolio cover letters, the genre Baker called into question in his paper. Granting many of Baker's skeptical points, Bower averred that teachers' assumptions about the value of reflection might be faulty. Given that students are bright, experienced readers of human nature in general and authority figures in particular, Bower suspects that most students are able to produce reflective cover letters that tell teachers what they want to hear about the course, their performance, and their learning. Within that context, she described her frame for analysis of portfolio cover letters: 1) epistemology (what is known and how); 2) a window to the writerly self (self-analysis and revelation); and 3) a persuasive document (I learned X and therefore deserve Y).
Bower displayed several excerpts from student cover letters, pointing out features that speak to her three analytical categories. Having just experienced Baker's cheeky descriptors, I found myself reading the excerpts in their skeptical light. Bower, however, was able to point to features of the student's texts that spoke to a variety of student concerns that typify the rhetorical work to be done. The question, it seems, is how to evaluate student letters in the context of the course in question. Before a cynical reader discounts the student, the rhetorical situation should be considered in full.
Linda Holt presented a defense of course portfolios as pedagogical tools that bring coherence to students' learning as well as provide a medium for practitioner reflection. In that spirit, Holt presented a reading of portfolio practice as a convergence of reflective writing, the contact zone (in Pratt's terms), and metaphor. She explained her method of teaching reflection, which anticipated much of Baker's advice (see above). As she undertook textual analysis of one student's highly metaphorical reflection, she echoed familiar claims about the nature of reflection itself, e.g., reflection as a visible manifestation of learning. Her familiarity with the student, the student's work, and the goals of the course spoke to many of the relationship issues in operation as one analyzes portfolio cover letters. [CR]
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