Friday, May 19, 2017

Part III: A Review of Kathleen Blake Yancey's A Rhetoric of Reflection

Part III: Implicit Implications for Assessment

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 third installment of a three-part review (see Part 1: A Comprehensive Review; Part 2: Explicit Implications for Assessment)

To conclude my review of A Rhetoric of Reflection (ROR), this last installment focuses on chapters that, while important to the work of assessment, were less explicit in their approach. The question underscoring the chapters reviewed here, however, is an important one that directly informs the work of assessment: Do we know what we value?

In Chapter 6, Bruce Horner complicates Freire’s (1970) “banking” approach to writing agency and demonstrates with great complexity that action-reflection (choice-driven) is limited not only in scope but also in reach if “norms” for writing are unacknowledged as having differences according to choice. Situating English as a lingua franca with a concentration on translation, iteration, and reiteration, Horner distinguishes all language practices as always containing differences and situates choice as an always existing rhetorical activity. His depiction of choice for what is commonly seen as normal practice is equally applicable to the process and work of assessment.

Acknowledging the tensions that exist between the process of reflective learning and the product of an ePortfolio, Christina Russell McDonald (Chapter XX) relates Virginia Military Institute’s implementation of a process-centered, social reflective pedagogy. McDonald’s chapter will be of interest to those who value social reflection and will resonate with those who are interested in knowing “why the educational, theoretical, and pedagogical underpinnings of ePortfolios” often lack “transparency, especially to the primary audiences for which they [are] intended” (p. 203).

Naomi Silver also considers the affordances of digital spaces in Chapter 9. Of interest for classroom pedagogy, Silver’s work introduces digital genres (revision histories, screencasts, blogs) that promote scaffolding and reinforce reflection as a dialogic process. Similar to Taczak and Roberson (Chapter 3), recursive reflection is the curriculum; however, Silver promotes the “seamless integration,” of reflection through genres that do not explicitly call for one to reflect (i.e. blog posts), thus preventing “reflection burnout” (pp. 173-174). While I found Silver’s chapter to be worth consideration for classroom practice, it is worth noting that the students discussed in her work are enrolled in the course as part of a writing minor and that there will likely be motivational differences for this student demographic and that of first-year writing students taking a required course to meet general educational requirements. In contrast, Kara Taczak and Liane Robertson (Chapter 3) present an interlocking pedagogy that promotes transfer through recursive reflection, where reflection is situated as the framework for transfer. Unlike Silver (Chapter 9), Taczak and Robertson’s model stresses the need for explicitness in reflection as the curriculum for transfer.

In Chapter 2, Anne Beaufort speaks to issues of agreement within writing studies. In common Beaufort fashion, she provides a relatable application of her work on transfer and its integration into the classroom context, making the chapter a rich resource for experienced and novice teachers. Beaufort also relates the importance of remembering our history as a field in developing an understanding of what we know about reflection, learning, and transfer—it is a history informed, revised, and repurposed by several disciplines. While it is important to continue viewing the study of reflection as an interdisciplinary activity, it is also necessary for writing studies to develop a shared understanding of what core concepts are important for the work of reflection and transfer.

That shared understanding may come from inter-disciplinary conversations, like the ones Pamela Flash discusses in Chapter 11. As part of a writing-enrichment program, Flash asked multiple disciplines to articulate what it is that those in the community believe to be “good” writing. The dialogue and meetings that followed this question created a “productively disruptive” discussion fostered by a social and recursive reflection—“generating, implementing, and assessing multiple iterations of comprehensive documents”—used as a tool to “divert resistance” and move toward an understanding of tacit, paradigmatic assumptions (Brookfield, 1995, as cited in Flash, p. 247, p. 232). Hers is a fascinating—and relevant—study of institutional activity systems, drawing heavily upon activity theory. Those interested in WAC and LAC will find Flash’s work to be informative, and it is likely her work will be of most benefit to departments and programs involved in local assessments, as they ask, “What do we value? Why do we value it? How do we relate that knowledge? How do we observe its use? How do we assess it?” It is for this reason that I can think of no better work to end this review on. While there are chapters in ROR that are more consequential to practice, to reflective studies, and to assessment, Flash’s work, though largely implicit, holds each answerable to the other in a pragmatic manner. 


Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum.

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