Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Importance of Reflective Learning

I don't know about you, but a lot of times, I'm so exhausted after finishing assignments that I don't bother reading through it before turning it in. Now, these assignments I'm referring to are never anything important--for example, a short response to a reading. When it comes to assignments such as essays, there's really no getting around reading your drafts over and over again. Is that helpful, though? That never ending cycle of reading, rereading, and rereading again and again? I'll venture a guess: no!

If all you are doing is reading, chances are you're not helping yourself at all. What I would encourage you to do is engage in reflective learning. If you haven't heard the term before, it's pretty self-explanatory: reflective learning is when you reflect back on your work by answering questions you pose for yourself. Consider the following (and real) example:

I am currently creating something like a user manual for the tutors here in the Writing Center to use when they have trouble using the new online scheduling tool. After I created my first draft, I printed it out so I could look at it easier. I then grabbed a pencil and read through my draft, writing down questions for myself and my supervisor to answer as we read through it again. Forcing myself to ask questions while rereading my draft helped me to understand what I wanted to see out of my work. Do my thoughts flow well? Are they easy to follow? Do I need more visuals? Do I need to have more arrows and circles to point stuff out? Am I using the right tenses? What point of view should I be using? These questions really helped me to revise my work.

When we read through our drafts without asking ourselves questions or seeking the point of view of a peer or teacher, we aren't helping ourselves revise at all. We might be fixing our grammar and changing around some sentences here and there, but a piece of work in its entirety is so much more than that comma you added in that one sentence in the fourth paragraph. Our work is read as a whole, and if our ideas aren't clear, our sentences don't flow, and our audience has absolutely no idea what we're talking about, then we're in deep trouble.

Engaging in reflective learning also helps us as we are writing in the future. With enough practice, we can start asking ourselves these questions while we're writing, not just after we're done with a draft. If we're asking ourselves questions as we're writing, we can produce much stronger drafts than if we weren't asking ourselves questions! This doesn't mean that we won't have to revise afterward, but it does mean that revision will probably be easier, and who doesn't like an easier revision process? I know I do!

My parting words are these: you are creating these documents; they are yours. Your papers should be a positive reflection of yourself as a writer--take time to make sure they are good! I know revision is one of the most painful parts of the writing process, but if you take the time to do it well--and thoroughly--it can also be one of the most rewarding.

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