Revision and Reflection–OK, But for What?

One of my big pushes so far in this class is to help us see the importance of encouraging revision and reflection in students who visit a writing center or are in workshop groups. Our first reading from How Learning Works (chapter 1, on prior knowledge) emphasized the role of students’ previous conceptions of writing and how it can help or hinder their revisions. When students draw forward ideas about writing that are:

  • Accurate but insufficient
  • Inappropriate
  • Inaccurate

They can shortchange the writing process. Those conceptions of writing come from their previous experiences and beliefs and are honed through years of schooling and out-of-school writing. So they’re hard to dislodge! At the same time, tutors and workshop leaders should take seriously their role in leading students to see the new, unfamiliar, more complex, or more meaty assignments they’re now working with–and help students plan for it.

We would all wish that writing were automatic: that what you thought came flowing out of your pen or into the laptop keyboard as fast as you could think! And that goal is somewhat achievable once one internalizes the steps above. As you write your brain ideally jumps around from what you’re writing now to your understanding of the assignment sheet, to your progress to this point, to your future sentences and paragraphs, to the moves you’re making in writing, to how well it’s all going.

That was one of the upshots for our reading today, How Learning Works (chapter 7)! That is, the goal of our work with students isn’t to encourage reflection about writing for its own sake. Reflection–what the chapter calls “metacognition”–is the central organizing activity in your brain’s executive function while you write. Metacognition breaks down into these sub-processes, in which students:

  • Assess the task at hand, taking into consideration the task’s goals and constraints
  • Evaluate their own knowledge and skills, identifying strengths and weaknesses
  • Plan their approach in a way that accounts for the current situation
  • Apply various strategies to enact their plan, monitoring their progress along the way
  • Reflect on the degree to which their current approach is working so that they can adjust and restart the cycle as needed

So here’s our work for today: to what extent is that happening in our internships? Please organize yourselves into groups BY INTERNSHIP SPACE, which I’ve listed below:

  1. ESL Resource Center
  2. Writing Center in the Student Learning Center
  3. ENGL 131 Workshops
  4. Workshops or mentor groups in the ENGL 130P “Jumbo”

So four groups! Then break out any notes you’ve taken so far on your internship spaces: the people there, the work getting done, the conversations happening, and so on. Talk about what you’re seeing–share experiences and impressions!

Then apply our reading for today to your internships. Specifically, I’d like to know two things:

  • What would the five processes listed above mean in terms of writing or learning to writing in your internship space? That is, what behaviors or activities do students engage in that seem metacognitive to you? Use the five processes above
  • To what extent are tutors and mentors helping students engage in any of the five processes listed above? Do you see the doing any of the things the second half of the chapter suggests? How?

Then we’ll share out. The goal of this is NOT to suggest that one internship space is better or more “writing focused” than others. Just the opposite! We want to see what kinds of literate activities each space is focusing on right now and start to ask why.

I also hope we can briefly discuss the two big psychological principles alluded to in this chapter, the Dunning-Kruger Effect and Carol Dweck’s research on “fixed” and “growth” mindsets. How would each complicate a tutor or mentor’s efforts to encourage metacognition?


Hey! I'm a professor of Rhetoric and Writing in the English dept. at Chico State. Also disc golf player, indie music listener, and vanilla Marxist.

Leave a Reply