Reflection: Changing the learning environment

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I teach general education composition classes to first year undergraduates which can make my job difficult before the students even enter my class. Students often think that taking compulsory courses is something they “have to succeed ”in order to take courses related to their major. However, practices learned in general education classes can set the tone for successful learning beyond the classroom. Although, telling students this doesn’t automatically win them over; they have to find out for themselves. The practice that changed the experience of students in my own composition classes was the frequent use of reflection to help students reflect on whatever we were doing.

To get started, we developed our own personalized literacy stories. The semester began with a focus on the students and their personal experiences with reading and writing. One of the first questions I ask them is, “What’s the last book you read? This is a difficult question because students want to list a required reading book that they did or did not complete in high school to make a good impression. But if they are to progress throughout the semester, they need to take an honest look at themselves and their own reading and writing experiences.

Once students realize that the purpose of this initial reflection is to set a benchmark they can reflect on and grow from, they tend to include very honest entries. Often times, identifying with a negative experience from the past can prevent a student from enjoying a lesson. Tara, student, shared: “When it came to writing growing up, I remember struggling to keep up. I would write these noted writing instructions that each student had to write and remember to receive [sic] a lower score than my friends and lying to them when they asked me what score I got because I was embarrassed [sic] that I couldn’t [sic] write as well as they do.“She brings honest experience to the classroom, which makes this mandatory course a course that she might not be keen on taking.

In addition, my enthusiasm for reading is not always shared by my students on the first day of class. Alexis has shared her feelings very clearly in her writing, “Other than reading at school, I was never a heavy reader in my spare time. It was one of those things you had to be forced to do. I hated him more than the dentist. My mom always tried to take me to the library, but I always came out with nothing. This is what Alexis thought when presenting a novel that the class would read during the semester.

These early thoughts don’t always reveal negative experiences. Some students don’t know where they learned their skills, as Jared states, “In fact, I’m surprised my reading level is where it is now, considering I didn’t read much at all as a kid, and even now I don’t read much, just articles. in line.”His commentary shows the beginning of thinking about his reading skills, which thinking can be broadened as he reads and writes throughout the semester. In the same reflection, Jared continued this reflection and also set some goals for the semester, “I never made a habit of planning my writing before I write, so it’s one of my goals in college to change that way of thinking / writing.Reflections lead to goal setting (Yancey), and students’ initial reflections may illustrate discoveries of personal challenges with discipline, identification of known skills, and goals for the semester.

Beginning with reflection focuses on the students and their goals for the class. While an initial written reflection fits logically into a composition course, it can be used to get students thinking about any course they start.

The composition course I teach includes students writing three essays – personal story, analysis, and research – and reading a novel in class. As students complete each essay or reading response, time is set aside to reflect, not only on that assignment, but also to consider how the completion of that assignment fits into the lesson plan and their plan. learning. I encourage students to question everything. Finding out authentically that a class is purposefully planned will help students appreciate it. These reflections give students time to reflect on the lesson plan, but more importantly, to use metacognition to advance their personal learning.

Reflection takes place throughout the semester so that students are actively involved in thinking about the class and what helps them. After writing a response to the novel we read, Gianna said the writing part helped her with the reading, “Personally, I liked writing journals because it allowed me to work more on my reading comprehension. I was able to decode the quotes by who said it, to whom it was and the context. Gianna could see that she was more engaged in reading comprehension when she wrote about it afterwards.

Focusing on their personal writing process can help students identify their strengths and weaknesses. Kaden discussed his writing, “What bothers my writing is getting really too sophisticated. I’m trying too hard to make it sound perfect. If I just type in and make changes later, I’d be better off. My best writing method, and what helps me a lot, is writing. “He recognized what made him get stuck in his writing process.

Sometimes students are able to write, but then face challenges during the revision process. Alex explained that the work didn’t stop after writing his first draft, “It took a lot of work to create my essay. The first draft I created was very different from my final draft. At first I had just put together all the information I found about my categories in one paragraph, but as we went along I realized that it is easier to read and actually more Easy to create an essay when you break it down into smaller paragraphs that are more specific, then move on to another paragraph explaining something related but also different.“These students write about different aspects of our classroom, but each reflection is personalized and reveals students’ growing knowledge of their own learning process.

Once I started to use frequent thinking in my composition lessons, the questions on Why the students were to take the arrested class. Through their own reflection on what they did in class, they were able to see the purpose of each assignment. Being able to identify and verbalize challenges has helped students recognize obstacles and develop tools to overcome those obstacles.. In “Teachers: Know When to Stop Talking,” Newkirk discusses the importance of giving students time to express and develop their ideas. I learned more about how to make it easier for students to learn by listening to what students say and reading what students write.

Reflection gives insight not only to students, but also to teachers. The more information I can gather about what is hindering student learning, the better prepared I am to help them achieve their goals (Hughes). However, with reflection, students take more responsibility for their learning, so that the student-teacher relationship is cooperative and productive. This practice is not limited to composition lessons, as teachers from many disciplines can incorporate metacognitive strategies to promote learning.

In many cases, a teacher only has one semester to teach a student and help that student learn. How this happens is critical to a student’s overall learning. The use of reflection reiterates that students are the primary focus of the course, and frequent reflections help students grow as learners. Although students take other courses, they often take learning and their personal goals with them. Here, Jack explained, “I feel that I have made great strides this year in improving my writing. My ability to gather information and organize it into a document has improved a lot since the start of the semester. I now know that I need to put in some extra time at the start to help myself later in the writing process. I still have to work to add more information to what I have, and will continue to try to improve that. I think this course has had a very positive impact on my writing ability and I am very happy about it. I now feel much better about going to college and having to research and write papers for classes, which was one of my biggest concerns when entering college. ‘university.

Students learn by reflection, and it is a skill that they take with them.


Dr Jeanne Hughes is Associate Professor of English at Southern New Hampshire University. She teaches composition and literature courses in general education and focuses on creating learning environments that inspire critical thinking and personal growth.

The references

Hughes, Jeanne M. “First Year Composition Students: Creating Their Own Stories. Preserve emotion in writing: Innovative in Pedagogy of Composition, edited by Craig Wynne, Peter Lang Publishers, January 2021, pp. 159-169.

Newkirk, Thomas. “Teachers: Know When 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.


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