The Irony of Assigned Reflection

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Over the summer, I collaborated on a project to analyze reflection papers submitted by pre-service teachers, writing tutors, and English majors in advanced syntax.  The winding and messy analysis process of our research team pointed us to the students’ linguistic choices, examined through the lens of positioning theory (Davies & Harré, 1990), particularly the ways in which students seem to assume or distance themselves from agency (Duranti, 2004) in new professional or academic spaces.

As I assigned the reflective pieces that would become the basis of our study (in the fall of 2022), I talked to the students about reflection as a component of both personal and professional practice—a discipline to be cultivated.  These students seemed familiar enough with reflection assignments, whether from high school or their first college English courses.  After all, reflection is considered a best practice in composition studies (just search for “reflection” on the WAC Clearinghouse site) and a defining trait in many high impact educational practices, or HIPs.  I have presented conference workshops on reflection in corequisite and FYC courses.

Some of the student reflections we reviewed seemed perfunctory, superficial—simply performative.  And I have wondered if deep reflection can be accomplished when it is assigned; perhaps deep reflection arises only out of need, frustration, desire, passion, or even joy.  I suspect many of my students already practice reflection—but not in ways they can easily connect with my reflection assignments. 

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado via UnsplashPhoto by Marcos Paulo Prado via UnsplashSo here is what I want to know from you all, my colleagues:  how do you practice reflection?  Do you have preferred tools for reflection—journals, note apps, sticky notes, voice recorders?  Do you gather data for reflection in the classroom, perhaps anonymous surveys or regular check-ins?  Or, do your reflections arise more spontaneously?  Do you set aside time to muse, read, and think about what you are doing?  Or perhaps your reflection is more collaborative, arising naturally from the rhythm of joint research projects?  Do you share reflections with your students?  Do you reflect together?  If so, how?

I am reminded that I, too, must complete assigned reflections:  each year I complete a narrative section for my annual review.  In that document, I am required to draw conclusions about my teaching, research, and service—connecting those conclusions to evidence, goals, scholarship, and my role in the university.   Sometimes that narrative also feels perfunctory and performative, and certainly not an adequate representation of a full year’s worth of thinking (and thinking about my thinking).  But I submit it nonetheless, as my students do—and think about how I might do it differently next time.

If you have a favorite resource on reflection, please share.  I would love to hear how you practice reflection inside and outside of the classroom.

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.