The Rules of the Game

The article that I read, “Creating the Subject of Portfolios: Reflective Writing and the Conveyance of Institutional Prerogatives” by Tony Scott, offered an important view on the purpose of reflective writing, especially mandated reflective letters in portfolios. Scott conducted two case studies in Kentucky high schools that encompassed 11 students collectively. He assessed their reflective pieces in conjunction with other educators and school board officials and noticed that there was a disjunction between the reflective pieces and the real reflective commentary that students offered in his interviews with them on the process.

Essentially, Scott recognized that students identified the, somewhat, nuanced expectations for their reflective letters. In Kentucky, portfolios are required in a student’s senior year, and they are used as an assessment on the school and teachers’ performance in the progression of students’ writing levels. Teachers, therein, supply the students with certain formats and methods to approach the reflective letters. This is doubtlessly expected from the teachers when their jobs and promotions are on the line, but it also places a constraint on the students.

Scott found that the creativity and development of the students’ writing was limited because they opted to follow the implied or explicit framework their teachers, as extensions of the schools and state, outlined for them in class. Mainly, students did this because they recognized that they were being evaluated in a specific genre; in other words, the state was looking for certain characteristics and a specific tone—namely, a positive one—in the reflective letters, and the students fed them what they wanted with the aid of their educators. A self-servicing circle has, thus, been created in this practice.

Courtesy of Andrew Mccluskey

The most compelling part of the article, however, was the reactions students gave in their interviews about the reflective letters. They acknowledged that the reflective writing was not necessarily helpful and that, most importantly, the writing was not fully their own—if at all. This feeling is not singular to this case in my opinion, which I discussed with my group in class today.

Far too often, we succumb to the cultural hegemony of higher education. We need to know the rules of the game, and we follow them in order to procure our desired grade for the course, internalizing that our opinion and thoughts can take a backseat to what we think our educators want to hear. It has become a natural practice, especially for me, because I have been burned in the past when using creative license: “This was a really good piece, but it was missing something”; “I was actually thinking that you should have gone this route….” Educators want to be surprised, inspired even, but like clients of an advertising agency, if their subconscious vision is not met, they can deem the student’s work as falling short.

It is important to note that I am not totally cynical towards the whole education system. Certainly, there are exceptional educators, like Professor Silver (brownie points?), who drop their availability biases and nuanced expectations and place their students’ natural progression at the forefront. Now the only problem remains is consistently having that type of educator. (Let’s just say, don’t set your expectations too high.)

Joseph Elliott

Hello, my name is Joseph Elliott, and I am a student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, obtaining a Minor in Writing.

2 thoughts to “The Rules of the Game”

  1. I definitely agree with you, particularly when you say, “Far too often, we succumb to the cultural hegemony of higher education.” First, nice word choice. Second, I struggle to balance how to appease instructors while still doing what I want. Its always so tempting just to sacrifice what you actually want to say in order to make someone else happy. It’s so easy to just take the professor’s political viewpoint and make it your own for an essay (I’m a polsci major). Alex’s blog post on her reading definitely overlaps with what you say too.

  2. This article brings up a really good point about survey-related research in general. How can you tell when the results are genuine and when they are generated by a clever participant’s knowledge of what the surveyor “wants to hear”? I definitely write really bizarrely upbeat reflection pieces when prompted because that is considered productive in academia. Disingenuous reflection is almost worse than no reflection at all because it gives the teacher a false sense of progress in the class.

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