Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Collaborative Reflection

Popham, Neal, Schendel, and Huot state, in “Breaking Hierarchies,” that by “encouraging… [the incorporation of reflection] in a multitude of processes and forms, [WPAs] develop stronger writing programs for everyone involved… Administration and programs become contextually based, fluid, mutiplistic [sic], and dynamic” (28). The authors emphasize the importance of practice, reflection, collaboration, and theory working in tandem to improve writing programs (and pedagogy and student writing, etc.).

When the authors mentioned that they viewed simple conversation as a kind of collaborative reflection (20), it made me think about how often I make collaborative reflection an explicit part of my teaching and administrative practice. I think Ball State’s Writing Program does a good job of building in some required collaborative reflection with things like the practicum course for new TAs, Speaker Series meetings for professional development, and the Blackboard “community” page, but I also feel like I could/should be doing more things to better motivate myself to do frequent, informal reflection with my peers to improve my work even more.

I’ve taken steps on that this semester with Kelsie. We designed our 104 course together, we co-teach in each other’s classes on occasion, and we have scheduled bi-weekly meetings for check-ins and further planning. This collaboration will benefit my teaching, but what about my writing program work? I think I could have more frequent meetings with Mary, the other WP assistant director, to talk about our progress on projects and bounce ideas off of each other. I also think we could seek more informal feedback from people involved in the writing program—students, TAs, and faculty.

For both teaching and administration, I think I should be carrying a notebook of some sort and writing down my reflective thoughts so that they don’t just come and go with the wind, and are instead useful to me because they are documented. We kept a journal like this that all consultants could contribute to in the writing center at my former place of employment. They wrote questions (and answers), concerns, and ideas for improving what we were doing. I wonder now what’s something our writing program could be doing to encourage more of this ongoing, informal, collaborative reflection for the purpose of improving our program and our practice. Thoughts?


  1. At a former institution, we held informal monthly meetings where instructors could get together and share lesson planning ideas, talk about issues in the classroom and get advice, and there would be a mini-presentation from either the WPA or the WP graduate assistants about some pedagogical topic. While I found these to be incredibly useful as a new instructor, I wondered why seasoned professors never showed up. Perhaps they have their own informal collaborative reflection groups? Maybe they have a go-to colleague they prefer to chat with about pedagogical topics. I always felt like the graduate assistants were open about sharing ideas and talking about pedagogy but I wanted to hear from faculty members. I wonder if there's more of a hesitancy for faculty to attend pedagogical workshops with graduate students because the experience levels vary. Are tenured professors as open to trying new practices or do they already know what works for them and so they don't feel the need to talk with others as much? In relation to WPA, I wonder how a WPA can encourage faculty members to attend collaborative reflection meetings (informal or formal) without suggesting that some teaching methods still used in classrooms might be alienating to 21st century students.

    Of course we hope that all teachers are constantly reflecting on their teaching methods and evaluating how things are going in the classroom. But how do we get instructors in different positions to reflect together? I think the first step is just to ask. Dr. Rory Lee has proposed forming a discussion group to talk about topics in the discipline ranging from current articles in the flagship journals to pedagogical practices. I welcome the chance to reflect with other graduate students as well as faculty. Sometimes I think we feel awkward asking people to get together to talk because we don't want to take up their time but I'm sure there are other faculty members or instructors who would appreciate the chance to share ideas and reflect on teaching and the writing program.

    1. I think Alyssa brings up a good point about time commitments, especially in regard to group/collaborative reflection. When everything in the University is so structured with time constraints (i.e., everything has to be done at a certain place at a certain time), you feel like everything has to be scheduled really diligently and appropriately--this way when you do take up someone's time they know when, where, and for how long. All our schedule's demand this of course, but only because of the constraints of the university.

      I think a good question would be what could counteract these constraints? Morgan talked about the Blackboard "community" page so that's one way.

    2. I think having a regular meeting to reflect and share ideas sounds like a great resource, particularly for new teachers who are probably trying out a lot of new lesson plans and strategies. It's too bad that the more seasoned faculty didn't attend since they could probably provide really helpful advice/feedback. On the other hand, I could see how having a regular meeting would start to feel like one more things on people's to-do lists, and people might now take it as seriously as they should.

      My experience has been a little more independent in the fact that I've often had to seek out other colleague's thoughts on particular lesson plans or situations. My department is really small and we are all fairly close and friendly, so it's an easy environment to bounce ideas off each other and share stories.

  2. This is such an interesting topic to me. To build off of what Alyssa suggested about faculty not seeming to want to reflect and work with TA's, I feel that way a little bit as well. Perhaps they reflected more when they were young and figuring things out, and feel like they have "got a handle on things" now. However, considering the Popham et. al reading, I think that might be a mistake (if, in fact, less reflection is going on). I haven't had, like, any teachers refuse to talk things out with me. But when I compare someone like Dr. Raneiri, who I barely know and yet have talked to several times about my teaching, to other faculty members who keep their doors closed and their eyes down in the halls, it seems like seasoned veterans aren't interested in the annual onslaught of new teachers and fresh faces raiding their halls.

    It is important that we constantly reflect, individually and collaboratively, regardless of our comfort level. One might even say that when we are most comfortable, we must reflect even more, because comfort can lead to set routine with habitually less reflection time. For me, I self-reflect through writing a journal, which is a habit that was started just this Fall, as a result of the id601 class and its mandatory journal upkeep. It has been easy in the early goings of the semester, but I am hoping to keep it going even when things get hectic. I also mandate this for my students, and have devoted time to explaining to them why and how reflection is important.

    My main mode of collaborative reflection comes from informal discussion with other students in the cohort, as well as at the end of the day with my girlfriend. While the latter may not count as collaborative reflection, I spend a sizable amount of time every night talking through my teaching, which is really helpful for me because I tend to reflect on all of the theory and practice we learned in the books for id601 (I am pretty sure she is not interested, but she is a good enough actor, and decent enough person, to let me keep going).

    One way to have collaborative reflection is to continue to set up plans to meet with other teachers in less formal ways, like bars and coffee shops. As Alyssa mentioned, Rory is getting something like this set up now. But even smaller, less fixed schedules work fine for this. For example, Morgan and Mary invited teachers in the WP to come out to Fickle Peach last Friday night, and I can honestly say I spent a majority of that time talking about teaching with other individuals both in and outside of my cohort, some of which I already knew and others I had never met. I think the lack of formality really helped those who don't always speak up in more formal settings, and it also helped people to be a little more blunt with each other than in class, where we (read: I) often feel the need to reductively qualify statements until they are watered down and less meaningful. Just reading this reading (and others like it) is a good reminder for why we must constantly reflect. I sort of got the message that our work can never be over at the end of the day, we must constantly be working on ourselves as teachers and administrators in order to keep our philosophies and pedagogies in perspective, as well as "in check." Its a helpful reminder and one I will try to keep in the forefront of my head space.

  3. I agree that collaborative reflection is an important part of WPA work; there is a risk in becoming too isolated as an administrator. It is important to involve other team members in decisions that are made to ensure that they could be mutually beneficial for pushing the writing program to a better state. At the same time, individual reflection is important, too, because sometimes it takes processing on an individual level the current state of affairs in the writing program in order to be able to interact productively with others in collaborative reflection. The key is to balance individual reflection with collaborative reflection and not lean too far in one direction at the expense of the other.