Reflective Writing: Authentic or Constructed Identity?

In “Performing the Reflective Self: Audience Awareness in High-stakes Reflection,” Jen Ross’s argument, as her article title suggests, is that because the reflective writing done in an academic setting is usually assessed by an assigned grade, that this writing, like other kinds, becomes high-stakes for the students who become extremely aware of the grading reader and, then, this awareness undercuts the “authenticity of the reflection,” or, as she rephrases it later, the voice of an authentic self. As a case in point, Ross describes how students may filter their remarks because the teachers grading the work are “potentially vulnerable to implied or explicit criticism of their teaching” (227). In short, it seems to me that her survey of interviews and other research, as well as her own interviews with students and teachers, is meant to dispel the notion that reflective assignments reveal an authentic self with an authentic voice.

Of course, if that is what teachers are looking for, then I can’t help but agree, but then I don’t think there is “an authentic self,” or at least not one publically or maybe even privately accessible. Insofar as the article reminds us of our students’ audience awareness (which we generally encourage our students to possess anyway), then it’s a helpful caviat, but even Ross acknowledges that this awareness may affect students’ writing in many different ways and not always negatively. I would say, in fact, that Ross still seems to advocate reflective writing as a good pedagogy: “Where students were clear about assessment criteria, and secure about how they would be applied, the assessment of high-stakes reflection could be seen to be quite straightforward” (224). The upshot for Ross would seem to be that reflective writing shows us our students constructing an identity rather than revealing to us some essential identity, a result which is not necessarily either inaccurate or dishonest, but is certainly something teachers should expect and account for.

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