What we sometimes call “reflective writing” is still a mainstay in many college writing classrooms. The idea is that students think critically about the choices and strategies that they deploy in their writing. Because “writing skills” are hardly transferable from one place to another, many have come to realize that it is awareness of what you do, how, and why that transfers; that we write and learn in communities of practice, not vacuums and dummy assignments of things that might happen later; that static skills mean nothing outside of their context, actual use, and rhetorical purpose. I believe in these ideas wholeheartedly but struggle to get my first-year college students to write about such awareness in interesting and critical ways. This is, most wholly, my own fault. I wait until the end of the semester rather than filter these kinds of conversations about writing throughout the semester. I do not model critical reflection enough. My prompts are often stale. Most importantly, I still have not hit the right chord of wanting students to critically reflect on their writing processes at the same time that they politically deconstruct schooling’s white codes of conduct and (re)claim and (re)situate their own cultural self-actualizations. Yes, writing happens in the context of communities of practice but what gets left out of these conversations in writing/literacies studies is that those communities most often practice racism, oppression, and all of the attending hegemonic norms. That is the kind of awareness I am interested in for my students.
This semester, I decided that I would be more deliberate and conscious about reflective writing in my classes, a requirement in my program. I focused on three things: 1) filtering stop-and-reflect moments at key points in the semester, not just at the end; 2) asking students to situate their strategies, content, and decisions in the context of the sociopolitical moment in which they were living which at the time included the uprisings in Baltimore, and; 3) opening up students’ entire first year of college writing to scrutiny rather than just my class’s assignments. Students’ responses to the final writing prompt of the semester was most interesting (I will write about that in an upcoming Part II of this post).