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Strategies for Helping Students Reflect on an Entire Semester

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We are wrapping up our semester, and as I have done for the past several semesters, I am asking students to reflect on their beliefs about writing, reading, and grammar—and how our writing and revising during the term has shaped those beliefs. Students submit this reflection just a few short days after the final portfolio.

 

In the first few reflections I have read this week, several themes have arisen: a growing awareness of the power of genre, a realization that a single high-school pattern would not suffice for all academic writing situations, and an increased willingness to seek and use feedback to revise writing. These broad reflections suggest that students are thinking carefully about their writing experiences. At the same time, however, these reflections still show a lack of development based on specific examples from written work produced during the course. The reflections are insightful, but without detail.

 

I’ve written about ways of promoting reflection many times: “The Fabric of Reflection,” “A Time to Reflect,”All’s Well That Ends Well,” and others. These posts discuss instructions for reflections written after specific assignments are complete, as well as the final reflection assignment. But they don’t address strategies for helping students organize their own writing as data to support their final reflections.

 

In my first-year composition courses, students practice organizing information as part of the writing process, particularly in the development of a researched synthesis essay. We talk about collecting, sorting, connecting, and framing information as a paper takes shape, and students explore various technologies for accomplishing these often messy but creative tasks. They may use paper, sticky notes, and colored pencils; they might make digital charts and embed links. But in the end, they have a framework for writing.

 

What they are doing in this process, in fact, is illustrating a lovely Greek word that often shows up during Advent readings. That word comes from Luke 2:19: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (NIV). The word translated “ponder” is συμβάλλω, a verb that combines the preposition σύν (“together with”) and βάλλω (“throw”); basically, “pondering” is the process of throwing information together for consideration.

 

While my pre-portfolio assignments assist students with this “συμβάλλω” process, the students don’t have similar support for the final reflection. The technology I use in the class, in fact, may work against the process. Early student drafts are not separate documents; students do all drafting on Google Docs, so to access early drafts requires reviewing the document history online—a process that may be difficult to navigate, particularly when there have been multiple revisions over several weeks. In addition, students frequently resolve comments as they work through feedback. The comments can be accessed again, but doing so again requires finding and searching through the entire stored comments thread. How can I help them find and manage data from their own writing in support of their final reflections?

 

In writing this post, I used a tag filter on the Bedford Bits site to find my content related to reflection. Searching by tag made the task of finding posts written over a period of nearly three years easy and straightforward. 

 

For next term, I’d like my students to have a searchable revision log or journal to help them work through the “συμβάλλω” process in preparation for the final reflection. The log might include a simple entry format, like the one that follows, for use after each draft (initial, post-peer review, post-conference, and post-written feedback):

 

Date/Paper

Process Stage or Source of Feedback

Focus Areas of Revision

Aha moments, Questions, and Notes

Tags

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Students will manage their journals in an online document that we update regularly in class, using a student-generated list of tags (audience, evidence, capitalization, comma splices, topic sentences, stance, engagement, etc.). Students can then use these logs at the end of the term to craft writer’s memos for the individual pieces in their portfolios, as well as organize their thinking—and their evidence—for the broader reflection piece.   In doing so, they may find it easier to identify salient aspects of their own writing development, and by searching the document tags, identify specific drafts or comments as support for their insights and conclusions. 

 

How do you encourage your students to reflect broadly over an entire semester? Have you used logs or journals? If so, I’d love to hear what has worked for you.

About the Author
Miriam Moore is Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Georgia. She teaches undergraduate linguistics and grammar courses, developmental English courses (integrated reading and writing), ESL composition and pedagogy, and the first-year composition sequence. She is the co-author with Susan Anker of Real Essays, Real Writing, Real Reading and Writing, and Writing Essentials Online. She has over 20 years experience in community college teaching as well. Her interests include applied linguistics, writing about writing approaches to composition, professionalism for two-year college English faculty, and threshold concepts for composition, reading, and grammar.