Next year, the new VCE English study design will be implemented at Units 3 & 4. A big part of this will involve teaching the new Craft of Writing area of study and looking at mentor texts as a model for how students can write about an idea. Many of the mentor texts on the Framework of Ideas text list for The Craft of Writing are reflective in nature. While reflective writing can be a great mode for students to write in – because they get to reflect on their own experiences and feelings – it’s something that most students haven’t had a lot of experience with. Our Years 7-10 curriculum tend to focus on narrative, analytic and persuasive modes of writing. If we don’t teach students explicitly how to write in a reflective way, their ‘reflective’ writing can simply become a list of rhetorical questions, cliches and reasonably uninteresting insights. So, reflective writing might be something you’d like to think about introducing at the Year 9 and 10 level.
Here’s an example short reflective paragraph in response to the task ‘Reflect on a famous person you feel conflicted about’.
|Provide facts, examples or experiences||Picasso was a great artist, but treated women terribly. According to his granddaughter, he “crushed” women. One of his partners said his attitude to women was to treat them like “doormats”.|
|Reflection on personal response||So can I still like Picasso when he treated women in such an awful way? If he was somebody alive today that I knew, I would cancel him because of his attitudes. So why should it be different just because he’s dead?|
|Key impact||These questions make it difficult for me to simply admire his art.|
The key word in the task students were provided with was ‘ conflicted’. A good reflective piece discusses different aspects and feelings the writer has about an idea, person, event or thing. They could be different types of positive feelings, but it’s often easier to start the process of teaching reflective writing by getting students to reflect on conflicting positive and negative feelings they have about something. Students began the above process of writing about a famous person by brainstorming positive and negative feelings they had about this person.
In a unit where students are doing reflective writing, a key skill to teach them is how to provide facts, examples or experiences at the start of a paragraph and then reflect on these in different ways over the second half of the paragraph. There are a few ways students can reflect on facts or experiences they have shared:
- Describe positive or negative feelings that have about it. For this you can teach students to use positive and negative feelings verbs (loathe, despise, treasure)
- Discuss the importance of something or the values the writer has about it. For this you can teach students to use adjectives of importance such as critical, crucial, significant
- Discuss the uncertainty and conflicts something brings about, by using phrases such as the ones below:
Yet I can’t get passed…
I don’t know whether this is…or…
I’m unsure about…
On the one hand this seems…But on the other…
I’m torn between…
I’m conflicted between…
I can’t work out whether…or…
|Is it better to…or…? |
Which is the right thing to do: … or… ?
Does this mean…or…?
So should I…or…?
How can I…when…?
The key throughout a unit on reflect writing is to get students to practise all three ways of reflectively responding to facts and experiences so that their writing does not become formulaic.