"Good learners, like everyone else, are living, squirming, questioning, perceiving, fearing, loving, and languaging nervous systems, but they are good learners precisely because they believe and do certain things that less effective learners do not believe and do." -Postman and Weingartner (31)
Research on Reflective Writing:
Since Winter 2014, I have been working on a research project with Thomas Trimble analyzing assessment data from Fall 2013 ENG 1020 courses to understand how students inscribe reflective process and metacognition. Here are links to two blogs about some of our work:
Research on Collaboration:
In the Winter and Fall 2014 semesters, Amy Latawiec and I collected data to research the impact of cross-sequence collaboration and service learning on learning in ENG 1010 and 1020. The study examines community and collaborative practices in one section of Basic Writing (ENG 1010) and one section of Introductory College Writing (ENG 1020). The study draws on research in reflection, community literacy, and collaborative learning to assess student collaboration methods and practices in both the ENG 1010 and ENG 1020 courses. It utilizes teaching strategies developed from literature on reflection (Yancey 1999), collaborative learning (Peck, Flower, and Higgins 1995; Bruffee 1999; Harris 1989) and communities of practice (Wenger 1998). In particular, the study examines whether and how these teaching strategies assist students in developing evaluation and proposal arguments to change and improve their immediate learning spaces (the two composition computer lab classrooms in which these course sections are held). For both ENG 1010 and ENG 1020 students, collaboration of this kind provides students with opportunities to be “agents of their own learning” (Yancey) and to practice the careful negotiation that writers work through during collaboration. Specifically, this course engaged ENG 1010 and ENG 1020 students in researching writing and learning spaces (defined here as any physical space students use to engage in the work that surrounds the writing process: brainstorming, drafting, revision, editing, sharing, etc.) in order to make decisions about redesigning two Wayne State University Composition computer classrooms, State Hall 335 and 337. As students worked to create an improved learning space in these classrooms, they engaged in both service learning and collaborative learning in a context that would impact their future work in these classrooms as well as the work of composition students across the university. In particular, we hoped to engage students in researching and writing about the following questions: What is a positive, rich learning environment? How does environment impact learning? What can we do to enhance our writing/learning environment? While the study presents three research questions, the question that has shifted to the forefront of our writing work is the third one: How do reflective writing assignments designed to make students think about course learning objectives help them understand the ways in which they find collaboration to be an integral part of achieving the course learning objectives?
Research on Inquiry-Based Learning:
In the Fall 2012 semester I collected data for my dissertation, “Responsive Classroom Ecologies: Supporting Student Inquiry and Rhetorical Awareness in College Writing Courses” which I completed in Winter 2014. Here is a description of the study:
This qualitative teacher-research study examines inquiry-based and reflective teaching strategies in one section of Introductory College Writing (ENG 1020), WSU’s freshman writing course, which most students take to fulfill their first general education writing requirement. In particular, this study investigates whether and how these teaching strategies help students understand how they contribute to the classroom ecology and whether and how through writing reflection students develop habits of mind that prepare them to transfer learning from the introductory college writing course into subsequent courses across the curriculum.
Transfer scholarship more broadly has suggested that helping students develop metacognition, the ability to reflect upon and abstract their learning, helps them apply this knowledge appropriately in new learning contexts (Salomon and Perkins; Bransford et al). Work in composition has also suggested that reflective writing is valuable for helping students shape their writing processes and work through revision (Yancey) and for helping them understand what they are learning (Anson). It has been suggested that creation of the conditions for transfer is the teacher’s responsibility (Wardle), though work in progressive pedagogy and in composition suggests that students and teachers together make knowledge, and that students can successfully have a high level of influence on the development of course content, strategies for learning, and even classroom rules (Dewey; Postman and Weingartner; Shor; Wallace and Ewald). Discussions of student agency have moved beyond questions of whether or not students have agency, to what can be done with this agency, including the idea that students can be taught to see themselves as responsible agents, who have an impact on others through their work and writing (Cooper, 2011). The student’s role in whether or not transfer of learning takes place is beginning to be addressed by those in composition who call for more comprehensive, contextual assessment (Slomp; Driscoll and Wells).
To investigate how classrooms can foster dispositions that support transfer, this study takes up Cooper’s call for a pedagogy of responsibility (2011). In this investigation, I am framing responsible agency as students’ attention to their prior knowledge, beliefs, and emotions, to their responses to the rhetorical situation, to their awareness of being influenced by and influencing others, and to how each of these things contributes to the rhetorical decisions students make. Data collection for the project included field notes, students’ formal and informal writing, and audio tapes of class sessions.