A lesson I learned as a writing tutor early in my graduate career still guides the facilitative soul of my instructive philosophy: Reflective writing is improved writing.
No matter the skill level, writers improve when they truly reflect on their writing choices. As an instructor of first-year composition, I see it as my job to replace anxiety with confidence in the act of reflection, and to promote reflective writing to all skill ranges. From a reflection-empowered writing process, there grows another trademark of successful writing: revision. A reflective writer is prepared for robust revision, having learned the difference between editing, change for change’s sake, and true revision. Simultaneously, the reflective writer is recursive, knowing when it’s time to make static writing kinetic once more. As a composition instructor, I place high value on substantive, reasoned revision. I show the potential of examined writing choices by asking questions and suggesting new approaches on every paper – even for “good” writers who fully satisfy an assignment’s requirements. I empower my students to act as tutors for their classmates’ papers, with guided questions that keep the focus on the writing choices made, not just the products visible on the page. I incentivize revision workshops, require writing reflections, and separate grade components for early complete drafts of final papers.
This reflective pedagogy scales to advanced study as well. I require reflective writing on in-center observations and tutoring activities, ask students to develop and maintain tutoring philosophies that are informed by scholarship and experience; and the final research paper asks tutors to reflect upon and propose changes to existing writing center practice.
I do not confuse this value I place in reflection as a panacea for all writing challenges. Reflection is a critically important frame of mind that leads to revision, which in turn leads to the potential for improvement. Kenneth Bruffee tells us that “what we experience as reflective thought is related causally to social conversation (we learn from each other).” This social learning is the bedrock that supports my philosophy of reflective learning beyond just teaching. When I lead a workshop with my colleagues, when I present at a conference, when I submit to a publication of my peers, when I hold training sessions for tutors, and even when I hold office hours, I am inviting others to reflect on their choices in pedagogy or in practice. As Bruffee suggests, even when I work individually to revise my own course assignments, or modify practice as a writing center administrator, I am not doing so in a vacuum; I am reflecting on guiding lessons learned from mentors, colleagues, and students.
Reflection is not the end result that makes for better writing – it is the means by which we arrive at better writing, and better teaching. As it has been ever since my first days as a tutor, and now as a value I impart in my professional life, reflection remains my philosophy as a writer, as a tutor, as a teacher, and as an administrator.