Introduction to Reflection
One of the most significant learning skills for human beings is self-reflection, the looking back at one's own experiences to assess them. This practice of self-reflection is often the subject of our discipline's call to include critical literacy and critical thinking. When we ask students to reflect, we are asking students to stop at a point and focus on the progress they have made throughout their composition course or even on a particular element of the course. Reflection conceived of through a rhetorical framework can engage students in/with learning contexts and heighten their awareness of learning, so that they learn how to learn. This metacognitive approach to learning allows students to become more active learners and to be accountable for the contexts in which they communicate, whether they are written texts or more contemporary multimodal texts which employ many elements of expression such as visuals and/or audio. Reflections can focus on communicative events composed in/with a variety of media as well as themselves be composed in multiple modes of communication.
In the first-year composition classroom, asking students to reflect on their experiences through a critical rhetorical framework could be the key to providing them a strong foundation to use throughout their academic lives and beyond. This might be especially true for students who do not test into college-level composition classes, and must take developmental English. "[O]ver a third of all students [are now] requiring remedial education upon enrollment in our nation's public two- and four-year institutions of higher education" (PARCC). With this high number of developmental English students and programs to serve them, critical rhetorical reflection could help composition teachers give them a stable foundation for their college careers. This article looks at how reflection is defined in academic contexts, rhetorical theories that help facilitate the analysis of experiences (including teaching and learning), using rhetoric as a means to react to events, the importance of looking back at and assessing one's experiences with a variety of media, and the collaborative connections that allow teachers and students to co-construct means of assessing multimedia reflections. Though rhetorical reflections are not new, this article argues for the growing importance they suggest to learner-centered teaching, and its assessment. In fact, the 1997 forum to develop learning outcomes for first year composition by academics from the Council on Writing Programs Administrators (CWPA) has sparked the interest of many writing programs and teachers in using the outcomes as a framework for teaching writing and reflection. The CWPA continues to work on developing and revising this set of learning outcomes for college composition (see the WPA Outcomes Statement). Rhetorical knowledge is an important component of the Statement as is critical thinking.
Criticism alone does very little to exacerbate or complicate the often elusive contextual ambiguities in understanding one's own experience. What is left then as the great frontier beyond the senses of empiricism? Beyond the critical or mere ornamentation and embellishment, beyond even the persuasion or the canons? Critical rhetorical reflection is because it is not just a superficial viewpoint that one begins to consider when divulging the inner workings of a text or context; rather, it can be a consistent way to reflect on, evaluate, and then analyze an experience, to break it down into its constituent rhetorical elements, be they dynamic or stable, and to synthesize the elements into an event that has meaning. This framework employs all levels of learning as noted in Bloom's taxonomy (remembering at the lowest level of cognition, followed by understanding, applying, evaluating, then analyzing an experience, and finally, creating a new meaning from it). Students become aware that they can participate in the creation of knowledge and understanding. "Knowledge emerges only though invention and re-invention, through restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other" (Freire 53). Critical rhetorical reflection is the great frontier of learning, directing, and teaching; it affords students (or teachers) a way into understanding any communicative encounter, be it reading a written, visual, auditory, and/or material text/context, or writing, composing an evaluation, assessment, or synthesis of an experience, a context, or an event. It also gives students agency in understanding that they negotiate their own identities, and the identities of others through their acts of communication.