Allison Adams wrote an article titled “Helping Faculty Find Time to Think” for the Chronicle of Higher Education a couple of weeks ago. In it, she suggests that faculty development programs need to support more than scholarly output; instead, they can “foster rich pockets of time and space for faculty members to think, talk, and write about what they do. . . [and] create discrete, accessible opportunities for quiet conversation and stillness of mind.”
As a composition instructor, I have a wealth of data from this past semester: essays, reflections, emails, and questions from students, along with my own notes, jotted on handouts or sticky notes – or emailed from my phone as a quick reminder to think about an insight in a quiet hour. I also have a stack of articles and book chapters waiting for a lull in my schedule, an opportune moment for reflection.
But I am afraid that once again, I’ve left myself little margin for such reflections. The 5/5 teaching load at my college offers few quiet moments during the semester. Finals, of course, are not alone in consuming our time in mid-December. Our annual performance and professional development goals are due, and there are accreditation reports looming. My family would also like a bit of attention during the holidays – there are cookies to be baked, pot-lucks to attend, and gifts to purchase.
And yet reflection is critical. I have pushed my students again and again this term to reflect intentionally and explicitly on their rhetorical choices, their writing process, their shifting understanding of how words, reading, and writing interrelate. When they have complained, I have reminded them that we make time for that which is valuable to us; the meta-rhetorical assignments invite students to discover the value of the practice of reflection, in hopes that they will continue after the class, when there are no points to be earned but insights yet to be discovered.
I believe that quiet reflection and review of my semester data will yield insights that make me a better writer and a better teacher, so I will carve out some dedicated time over the next three weeks, before I write spring syllabi, to think about what I am learning.
How do you handle reflections? Do you keep a teaching journal? Do you review student compositions and the assignments which generated them? Do you make teaching notes? In what format or medium? I am looking for a different approach to my reflections this year, and I would love to hear what others do.
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