Monday, January 13, 2014

A Reflection on Reflection

                Josh Turner’s baritone voice quietly fills the interior of my car. Outside the window, old field goldenrods gently dance in place. I have noticed, lately, their shade is growing deeper, richer, more desperate for attention. The fall sun has taken its toll on them—given them life, given them color, but given them a crispness, too, that signals an end. In a given semester, I don’t have time to notice the Texas wildflowers. I notice other things—the traffic patterns, the characteristics of my colleagues’ footsteps, the tendency for deadlines to draw ever nearer—but not the wildflowers. This semester is different, though. This semester I’m taking supplemental classes at a university ninety miles away—ninety miles that I have to journey across four times a week.
                Ideally, I could spend my time on the road catching up with homework; after all, as a grad student I have just four months to read approximately eleven thousand pages and write four (according to one professor’s requirements) “brilliant” research papers, publication quality of course. The US Department of Transportation, however, has made it quite clear that setting a laptop on the dashboard and typing while driving is illegal, dangerous and, well, completely idiotic. So what to do with my time on the road? Write it up as lost, sacrificed time? I think not.
                Or, rather, I think.
                Sometimes I think about my never-ending (literally) to-do list. Sometimes I think about the career and education choices I’ve made. Often I think about the lunch I packed and how many more miles until I reach my arbitrarily designated meal mile-marker. Sometimes I think about the differences between the giant research institution I attend now and the baby-ivy I attended before. I think about my research. I think about speeches I read that struck a chord in me. I think about papers I am writing, or should write, and why they matter—how they connect to my interests, my personal values, my private aspirations. Most often, though, I think about how can I relate these reflections to my papers whose deadlines are nigh.
. . .
                As a student it is my responsibility to learn and to write papers. As a TA it is my responsibility to create and grade assignments. As writing center consultant it is my responsibility to help students. In any of these descriptions did I ever mention any form of the word “think”? How about “reflect”? Not once.
                A given student, in a given class, at a given university is not taught how to reflect—in any sense of the word. The process is never listed in syllabi, rarely listed in project requirements, and only occasionally mentioned in classes. How do I know this? Well, I have reflected on my own education and observed that of other students around me. My notes from these experiences have led me to a single conclusion: Professors, instructors, and often even tutors assume that reflection is innate—that everyone can and knows how to do it. But this is just not true.
                What is true is that reflection is important and can be taught. Sure there are different types of reflection. One can reflect critically or personally; one can reflect on processes, events, content, or concepts. On can reflect to deconstruct or to construct. And the list goes on.
As writing center consultants we should encourage our clients to adopt reflective practices (whichever kinds best serve them) in order to improve clients’ long-term and immediate writing, their engagement with their own ideas and experiences, and their holistic development as (analytical and insightful) persons. Although this assertion is based on my personal opinions, experiences, and observations, it is practically and scholarly supported by others. In my following blog I will expand upon (and support) the three-pronged profit of reflection practices. Until then, give thoughtful reflection a try and enjoy the wildflowers.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Catherine, I can relate to your concerns about taking time for reflection. As a writing fellow I always tell my students about a theme one of my professors taught me as a freshman in college. The lesson is to not miss the forest for the trees. Which means to pay attention to the little details but also to remain focused on the overall big picture. As an undergrad student starting my application process into the next phase of my education into grad school and research positions I will carry this concept with me. Thank you.