I teach undergraduate students in General Education composition classes. This can make my job difficult before they even step into my class. Students often believe that taking required courses is something they should do. HaveThey need to pass in order to be able to take classes related their major. Learning from general education classes can help set the stage for success in other areas of learning. However, just telling students this doesn’t automatically win them over. They have to find it for themselves. My own composition classes saw a significant improvement in student experience through the use of reflection to help students think about everything.
We developed our own customized literacy narratives to help us get started. The semester began with students sharing their experiences with writing and reading. One of my first questions is: What was your last book? This is a difficult question as students want to list the required reading books they have read in high school. If they want to make significant progress during the semester, they must take a hard look at themselves and reflect on their experiences with writing and reading. This will allow them to value the journey that they will be taking in college composition.
Students tend to be honest once they realize that the purpose of their initial reflection is to create a framework for them to reflect upon and grow from. Sometimes, students can avoid taking classes if they are able to identify with a negative experience from the past. Tara, a student shared. Growing up, I struggled to keep up with the writing process. I would write the graded writing prompts that each student had to submit and then remember receiving them. [sic]I received a lower score than my friends, and I lied to them when they asked me what score I had. [sic]I couldn’t [sic]You can write as well.She brings an honest experience to class which makes this class one she might not be eager to take.
My enthusiasm for reading is not always shared with my students on the first day. Alexis expressed her feelings clearly in her writing. I wasn’t a great reader in my spare moments, aside from school reading. It was something you had to do. It was more painful than going to the dentist. My mom tried to take me to library, but I never got anything. This is what Alexis thought as I introduced a novel the class would be reading during the semester.
These initial reflections are not always positive. Jared points out that many students do not know where their skills originated. I am actually surprised my reading level is the way it is now, considering I did not read much at all as a kid, and even now I don’t read much, just articles online. His comment shows the beginning thinking pertaining to his reading skills, thinking that can be expanded as he reads and writes throughout the semester. Jared also reflected on this thought and set goals for the semester. I have never been one to plan my writing before I write. This is why college is one of my goals. Reflections lead to goal setting (Yancey), and students initial reflections can illustrate discoveries of personal challenges with a discipline, identification of known skills, and goals for the semester.
The students and their goals will be the center of attention when they start with reflection. A written reflection is logically suited for a composition class. However, it can be used by students to start thinking about any course they are in.
Students in my composition course write three essayspersonal narratives, analysis, and research. They also read a novel together. Each essay or reading response is completed by students. Students are given time to reflect on the assignment and also to consider how it fits into their learning plan. I encourage students to question everything. Students will be able to appreciate a course if they can authentically discover that it was planned intentionally. These reflections allow students to reflect on the course plan and, more importantly, to use metacognition in order to improve their learning.
Students are encouraged to reflect on the semester and share their thoughts with others. Gianna, after writing a response about the novel she read, said that writing helped her with reading. I enjoyed keeping journals for the reason that it allowed me to improve my comprehension of reading. I was able identify the source of the quote, the person who said it, and the context. Gianna was able see that she was more interested in understanding the reading after she wrote about it.
Students can identify their strengths by focusing on the writing process. Kaden discussed his writing, My writing is often too fancy. I try to make it sound perfect. If I just type and make changes later, I’d be better off. My best method for writing is to simply write. This is what I find very helpful.. He understood what was causing him problems with his writing process.
Sometimes students are able write but have to face difficulties during revision. Xander explained that the work didn’t stop once the first draft was completed. My essay was a laborious task. My first draft was quite different from the final one. At first, I thought I would just put all the information I could find on my categories into one paragraph. But as we worked on it, I realized it was easier to read and much easier to write an essay if you break it down into smaller paragraphs. Then, you can move on to the next paragraph to explain something related but also different. These students are writing about different aspects of our class, but each reflection is personalized and reveals the students growing knowledge of their own learning process.
The questions about composition became more interesting after I began using frequent reflection in my composition courses. Why?Students had to leave the class. Students had to reflect on their class and see the purpose behind each assignment. Students learned to recognize and verbally communicate obstacles and developed tools to get past them..Newkirk discusses in Teachers: Know When To Stop Talking the importance of allowing students to express and develop ideas. I have learned more about faciliting student learning by listening to students speak and reading what they write.
Reflection is a way to gain insight for students and teachers. The more information I have about student learning, the better I can help them achieve their goals (Hughes). Students are now taking more responsibility for their learning through reflection. This makes the student-teacher relationship more cooperative and productive. This practice isn’t limited to composition classes. Teachers of all disciplines can also use metacognitive strategies for learning.
A teacher may only have one semester to teach a student or help them learn. How this happens is critical to students’ overall learning. Students are the main focus of the course. Reflection helps students learn by reflecting on their learning. While students may continue to take classes, they often bring the learning and their personal goals along with them. Here, Jack explained, I feel like I have made significant progress this year in my writing. Since the start of the semester, I have improved my ability to gather and organize information into a paper. I now realize that I need to spend more time in the beginning in order to help myself later in writing. I need to add more information to the information I have and I will continue to work to improve this. I believe this class has had a tremendous impact on my writing skills and I am very happy about it. I feel much more confident about going to college and being able to research and write papers for classes. This was something that was a major concern of mine when I first started college.
Reflection is an important skill that students can use to learn.
Jeanne Hughes is an associate professor at Southern New Hampshire University in English. She teaches literature and General Education composition classes. Her focus is on creating learning environments that encourage critical thinking and personal growth.
Hughes, Jeanne M. First-Year Composition Students: Creating Their Own Stories. Preservation of Emotion in Writing: Innovative in Composition Pedagogy, Edited and Published by Craig Wynne. Peter Lang Publishers, January 2021. pp. 159-169.
Newkirk, Thomas. Teachers: Know when it’s time to stop talking. Education Week, 2015. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/07/28/teachers-know-when-to-stop-talking.html
Yancey, Kathleen. Reflection in Writing Class. Utah State University Press 1998.