Reflection Defined in
In exploring the meaning of reflection beyond the literal into the pedagogical, reflection leads to consideration of the ideas of feedback, criticism, response, revision, self-evaluation and/or evaluation of others within a context, and meta-cognition. Some composition scholars suggest the idea of reflection as being somewhat "transformational," facilitating confidence and the ability to make new meaning of experience. For example, Yang presented a study which included a sample of 95 undergraduates who were asked to write a "reflective journal." The results suggested that self-reflection on self-correction enabled students to detect and improve upon grammatical errors as well as comprehend the insights of peer review more effectively. Considering another dimension of reflection, Reid's work suggests that meta-cognitive or reflective writing proves to be much more learner-centered and improves student outcomes.
Outside composition studies, many scholarly texts focus on how critical thinking and learning can be fostered through drawing on one's own experiences. Recent work by by Ash and Clayton, and by Brooks, Harris, and Clayton tell us that critical reflection is closely tied to students ability to engage in and develop critical thinking. Also, in a case study, Maxfield and Fisher looked at students in their Homeland Security course and observed that when students were asked to critically reflect, it helped them better apply course concepts in their professional lives. Reflection is the foundation of the pedagogy in many classrooms, and is studied and reported in scholarly works that date back at least as far as the early 1980's (see Boud). Not surprisingly, that is precisely the time when higher education began a shift from focusing on teaching to focusing on learning in higher education assessment. It is likely that critical reflection developed in higher education as a response to stakeholders' desire to measure learning. Reflection then enhances learning and helps document it.
To reflect can mean to return to or to remember a text or context and reconsider one of many possibilities: its meaning, its purpose, its usefulness, its comparison to other texts, etc. Oftentimes, we ask that a reflective discourse be more closely associated with how the object of reflective consideration (usually composition students have completed) compares to the determinants of the class structure (such as learning goals or outcomes). In many courses, reflection is rarely a practice that is integrated with rhetorical analysis, where we conceive of one's memory as important to the overall meaning of a document or event with regard to the related situational author, audience, purpose, and/or context. In reflection, students often do not analyze the document or event to reveal the contextual relationship among its specific rhetorical features; reflection is often unconcerned with rhetorical properties, especially beyond the composition classroom.
Reflection may take a narrative form, one opposite to chronological story-like processes which ultimately reveal didactic or moral-based structures. In fact, reflections may be at the heart of didacticism, leading the writer or the reader to consider the "why" at the base of the "how." Such properties of reflection may be indicative of its Latinate roots which suggest the idea of bending back or bending. In that sense, its meaning may be more situated with an archaic use of its root word, reflect, which shares more in common with the term deflect, which suggests to move away from a course. Theories of rhetoric can (and should) inform the teaching of all kinds of communication, especially composition. So why not use such theories to teach students how to reflect? Additionally, rather than just focusing on written texts alone, why shouldn't students learn to "read" and reflect on a broader spectrum of communicative events?