In their formal papers for English 266, Literary Analysis, students struggle to consistently and effectively apply critical literary theory.
English 266 is the English department's gateway to the major course. In this course, students learn the research, reading, and writing skills necessary for the English major.
Question: What happens when students perform specific levels of reflective writing on all drafts of their formal papers?
Particularly at stake in this project is the issue of metacognition. I define it thus:
Metacognition is often said to be "thinking about thinking" (Flavell 1979). It involves two interrelated processes: "monitoring your progress as you learn, and making changes and adapting your strategies if you perceive you are not doing so well" (Winn and Snyder 1998).
Evidence of Student Learning & Methods of Analysis
1. I developed and administered a pre-survey, in order to determine students' experiences and attitudes toward reflective writing, as well as their expectations regarding its use in this course.
2. I gave in-class instructions and D2L instructions for and online examples of the kind of reflective writing I expect students to perform.
3. I have collected and photocopied the first and final drafts of student essays using reflective writing strategies.
4. Using categories of reflective writing laid out in my pre-survey, I coded student comments in both drafts one and two of the first paper, using the following categories:
The reflective comments can be grouped as inward/outward, and by levels of metacognition :
Inward: students use reflective writing to help them process their own thinking
Outward: students direct their comments to an outside reader, in attempts to affect the reading process.
Levels of Metacognition:
* Reflection--reflective writing gives me a chance to think about what I did
* Understanding--reflective writing helps me to understand what I've accomplished (understanding pushes reflection just a little further; it occurs when students both think about what they did but also evaluate its effectiveness)
* Critique--reflective writing helps me see what I've done poorly
* Direction--reflective writing helps me decide what I need to do next
* Expressing intention--reflective writing helps my teacher/reader understand what I intended to do
* Explanation--reflective writing explains why I made the choices I did
* Defense--reflective writing allows me to anticipate and counter critiques
* Process--reflective writing allows me to think about my writing process
* Catharsis--just getting my reactions out as a kind of relief
* Appeasement--reflective writing is required by my teacher/authority figure
* Assessment--reflective writing helps other readers assess my work critically
* Practice--reflective writing is just another chance to practice my writing skills
5. I compared what students said they would use reflective commentary to accomplish, and what they actually did. I also correlated grades and types of commentary.
The next steps:
6. I have collected further revisions to paper one, drafts one and two of paper two, and final papers for the class. I've also had students complete the same survey they took at the beginning of the semester. I will code the comments on these drafts, and look for relationships with and changes between papers and drafts through the semester. Informally, students have expressed satisfaction with the commenting process, and several have told me they used it in other classes. However, I've also noticed that the quality of comments declined when students were under time pressure. Perhaps further grade-based motivations could be implemented.
7. I will expand my coding of comments, to consider issues of quality as well as of type.
This is the syllabus for the class. It includes a brief description of the reflective writing portion of the class.
Reflective Writing Pre-Survey
This is the survey students took at both the beginning and the end of the course.
This is the example I posted for students on D2L. It's a piece of my own writing upon which I've performed significant commentary intended to help with revision.
Excerpts of student writing and commenting
These are excerpts from three students' drafts of their first papers. You will see parallel sections from each of two drafts, both including commentary, as well as my analysis of their commentary and revisions.
This is another version of my preliminary results. It includes charts and analysis not available in the snapshot.
As a 2008-09 Teaching Fellow, I am currently conducting research on the effectiveness of reflective writing in improving student's argumentative writing. While my focus is specifically on the English department's gateway to the major course, Literary Analysis, I believe that students can use reflective practices to improve their performance in a number of different contexts.
For years, I have required students in writing classes to accompany formal papers with a reflective statement that discusses what they love in their work as well as what they are struggling with. I have found that these cover letters are cathartic for students, but that they tend to be generic, and as such, informative for me as I comment and grade, but not terribly helpful for them, in thinking critically about their work. For this project, I require more specific commentary: after each paragraph, they will comment on the logic of what they did in that paragraph and how it contributes to their larger arguments. I believe that this process will encourage students to think about their writing at a metacognitive level, which will help them recognize the problems in their writing, logic, and structure more clearly.
List of Helpful Resources & References
Norton, Owens, and Clark, "Analyzing Metalearning"
Antonietti, Undergraduates Metacognitive Knowledge
Hoffman, Self-efficacy and Metacognitive Prompting
Yagelski, Ambivalence of Reflection
Gleaves, Digital and Paper Diaries
Kennison, Evaluation of Reflective Writing
McGlaun, Reflections on Teacher Comments
Kerka, Journal Writing as an Adult Learning Tool
Holt, "Metaphor in Reflective Writing"
Nussbaum, Using Argumentation Vee Diagrams (AVDs) for Promoting Argument
O'Brien, Reaping Rewards of Reflective Writing
Costley, Citation as Argumentation Strategy
Storch, Collaborative Writing
Scott, Creating the Subject of Portfolios
Swartzendruber, Written Reflection
Preliminary Results, Findings, Conclusions, & Implications
Comparison between what students said were the purposes of reflective writing, and what they actually did:
Although they said they might use reflective commentary to guide a reader or grader through assessment, students performed almost no assessment commentary. They suggested that they would use commentary for reflection, critique, and direction, and these are among the highest percentages of responses.
From 155 total comments from 15 students, the highest occurring categories of comments were description, with 26 percent and critique with 23 percent. Direction was the third highest at 18 percent.
From 241 total comments from 17 students, the highest occurring categories of comments were description with 31 percent, reflection with 23 percent and critique with 17 percent.
Students made far fewer reflective comments in draft 1 (4 percent) than in draft 2 (23 percent), and far more directive comments in draft 1 (18 percent) than in draft 2 (2 percent). Therefore, although students were thinking about their writing in metacognitive ways in both drafts, they were more likely to actively consider possibilities for revision in draft 1 than in draft 2, even though they identified problems at similar rates in both essays (23 percent and 17 percent respectively).
Based on comment trends, students who tended to perform less than 25 percent metacognitive comments scored lower, while students who performed more directional comments scored higher. One outlier: a relatively low-scoring student performed a great deal of metacognitive commentary. One possible future method would be to identify the quality of metacognitive commentary, or commentary in general, in relation to grade patterns.
Interestingly, the two highest grades in the class were earned by students who did not perform a high degree of metacognitive commentary or of directional comments. I suspect that these students have developed their own metacognitive strategies. However, 4 of the top 6 grades did use over 10 percent directional comments, suggesting a relationship between directional commentary and successful writing and revision.
Much of this evidence does not account for the problem that I initially sought to address: students' struggle to utilize literary theory through an essay consistently. I have informally noticed that these students were more aware of the placement and use of their critics through the use of the comment function, and tended to make structural revisions that addressed organization and logical gaps particularly related to these theoretical approaches. I plan to code the existing comments in terms of how many comments addressed the use of theorists, in any way, and to relate specific revision practices with these comments, particularly in draft 1.
Career Relevance & Impact
I've enjoyed this new avenue of scholarly inquiry, and plan to continue working with the evidence I've gathered. I hope to present and publish my findings in the future.