Grading Reflective Writing

Monica Kennison’s “Developing Reflective Writing as Effective Pedagogy” focuses on educating nursing students, but, of course, the questions and insights posed in her article I believe relate to our efforts in first-year composition.  In many ways it reiterates the positive outcomes expected of reflective writing by its proponents, particularly the idea that a portfolio review of a student’s work over time helps the student be aware of her “tremendous growth throughout…the program” (310).  The question it raised for me, however, and I have seen this addressed elsewhere, is does grading reflective writing “inhibit students from acknowledging and learning from mistakes, a significant aspect of improving practice” (310)?

I can understand how freshmen might believe that acknowledging their difficulties might just be drawing the teacher’s attention to the weaker part of their writing and jeopardizing the grade they want, and, conversely, they might think that highlighting their improvements might do the opposite.  In effect, would grading interfere with the honesty and accuracy of the reflective writing, undercutting its effectiveness pedagogically? Given that eportfolio design relies rather heavily on reflection, skirting the grading issue is difficult.  My rubric for my students’ reflective assignments includes the category “reflective detail,” but that doesn’t address the counterproductive self-consciousness and self-censorship produced by attaching a grade to the work.  If first-year composition were just about sound syntactic and grammatical construction, then I would hardly need to be concerned, but as it should involve ethics and ethically assembled content, I’d like to mitigate this effect of assigning grades to reflective assignments.

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