Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Review of Kathleen Blake Yancey's A Rhetoric of Reflection

Part I: A Comprehensive Review

Yancey, Kathleen Blake, ed. (2016). A Rhetoric of Reflection. Logan: Utah State UP.

By Julie Cook, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Note: This is the first installment of a three-part review (see Part 2: Explicit Implications for Assessment; Part 3: Implicit Implications for Assessment)

A Rhetoric of Reflection (ROR) is an important, critical, and timely text that offers much to consider for those interested in the assessment of writing, critical thinking, Learning Across the Curriculum (LAC), Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC), and Teaching for Transfer (TFT). As important as what might be assessed is where one might find the text applicable for assessment considerations: in classrooms, programs, departments, and institutions, at both local and national levels.

Edited by Kathleen Blake Yancey, the collection of 17 essays offers a multi-faceted approach to reflection that “fosters an explicitness about learning and supports all of us in articulating and claiming what we know [emphasis added]” (Yancey, p. 11). As an “epistemological practice” and subject of study, reflection, as Yancey observes, “is considerably more complex than the literature has suggested” (p. 303). For the purposes of my reviews (see post 2 and post 3), I will largely focus on what ROR offers to understand the concept of reflection, its applications for writing studies, and implications for writing assessment. The text has much to offer across disciplines, as reflection is increasingly becoming integral for many fields of study and, likewise, as our current understanding of reflection is informed by interdisciplinary approaches to its study. However, ROR is also not “an introduction to” reflection. Those new to reflection, writing studies, the classroom, or assessment will likely benefit most from Yancey’s introduction, Anne Beaufort’s contribution in Chapter 2, and the authors’ dialogic reference lists.

Readers will find the current scholarship on reflection does not provide neat answers. While this collection in no way shies away from ambiguity or conflict, and more precisely positions its work as a sophisticated model of meaning-making through problem-posing, perhaps the most significant contribution comes through in its main area of agreement across texts. As Yancey articulates, this collection demonstrates that reflection is rhetorical: It is a product and a process where “a primary function … is to make a kind [emphasis added] of meaning” (p. 18).

Fittingly, Yancey authors the final chapter of ROR but in no way provides closure. Rather, she identifies “a way forward” by coalescing even the disjointed parts of ROR to suggest areas we still need to know more about (p. 318). She thus leaves readers with a series of critical questions to consider, noting “we don’t have all the answers” (p. 320). Understanding reflection as an epistemological practice and subject of study, Yancey’s closing questions are necessary and act as a preamble to inquiries likely to follow the scholarship of ROR. Although the title of Yancey’s closing chapter is “Defining Reflection: The Rhetorical Nature and Qualities of Reflection,” reflection, in its current state, is defined though its characteristics; it is describable but not definable. As a subject of study, this collection demonstrates that while there are recognizable qualities within its process and practice, there are also “competing values in reflection (Yancey, p. 319). In turn, the second and third installments of my review address how contributors’ work speaks to and revises each other.

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