From Reflection to Reflexivity: Challenging Students' Conceptions of Writing, Self, and Society in the Community Writing Classroom

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Virginia Tech


This dissertation, "From Reflection to Reflexivity: Challenging Students' Conceptions of Writing, Self, and Society in the Community Writing Classroom," examines the disconnect that characterizes much of the discussion of reflective writing in community writing studies and argues for the potential of reflexivity as a concept to further develop the kinds of reflective writing assigned in community writing classrooms. Many practitioners and scholars view reflective writing as a potentially powerful tool that may help students learn challenging or abstract theories and practices from their own community writing experiences. With such potential, it can be disappointing when student reflective writing does not achieve teacher expectations of critical thinking and analysis, stopping before critical engagement and understanding is achieved. Instead, it often centers on students' personal feelings and motivations that shape or arise from their community experiences. This dissertation argues that one reason for such a disconnect between teacher expectations and actual student writing, comes from the word "reflection" itself. While a traditional understanding of reflective writing asks students to look back on their experiences, observations, feelings, and opinions, community writing teachers use the term "reflection" with qualifiers like "critical," "sustained," or "intellectually rich." In qualifying their expectations for reflective writing, teachers are in fact asking for something very different from reflection, namely, reflexivity. When reflexive thinking is presented to students as "qualified reflection" it loses the considerable theoretical grounding that makes it a particularly unique way of using experiences as the foundation for inquiry. Building on theories of epistemological reflexivity for researchers in the social sciences, this dissertation highlights the methodological reflexivity theorized and practiced by feminist researchers. Feminist reflexivity specifically affords researchers more nuanced ways of looking at issues of positionality, social transformation, and agency. Such strategies have the potential for moving student reflections from private writings toward writings that impact students' understandings of the rhetorical and theoretical issues that community writing hopes to illustrate. This combination of feminist reflexivity and community writing reflections can provide community writing theorists and practitioners with alternative ways to solve reflective writing's challenges.



service-learning, community writing, positionality, social change, feminist theory, reflexivity, composition, reflection, Collaboration, agency, methodology, epistemology