"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Monday, April 1, 2013

Narrative and Reflective Writing

I am so exited about and inspired by the materials about narrative writing we read this week, especially "Narrative and Stories in Adult Teaching and Learning". It answers some important questions about reflective and narrative writing I have discussed with my mentors in term of the FI program.

As I mentioned several times in class, I work as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Focused Inquiry program in VCU. Every undergraduate student will take classes in this program, which help build the thinking and writing foundation for their academic life in college. According to our shared curriculum, the non-negotiable assignment of unit 1 is a reflective / narrative essay about students' mind-changing experiences. In our last meeting, Mr. Galligan (my mentor) and I had a discussion about how to rationalize for ourselves and to communicate with students the importance of this kind of writing. The article we read provide a lot of insights on this issue, and I am considering sharing it with my students in fall.

Based on my experience, freshmen tend to have questions about the meaning of narrative and reflective writing, which leads to their unsatisfactory writing products. Many of them are apt to do pure narrative, or description, which is to providing a lot of facts without deep reflection on them. But it is the reflection and connection between each story they make that transfer learning. I believe this is what the narrative actually means in our reading material, which is a combination of story telling and reflection. In the reading, it is address that "Learners connect new knowledge with lived experience and weave it into existing narratives of meaning". It is not statement of pure fact, but integration of stories. By bringing different pieces of experience together, one would be able to reflection on them at a metta-cognitive level and see the abstract relations among the elements. When this new perspective is adopted in one's narrative, leaning takes place.

The narrative and reflective writing will "lead us beyond ourselves", and that is the main goal of the kind of assignment. College is usually the starting point of one's adulthood, and also where andragogy applies. One of the gist of andragogy is that people learn from their own experiences. Therefore, the college may be the place where students begin to learn by writing their own story and to see how learning takes place in the reflection and writing. Many of the students are so used to the "high school model" where they write only to fulfill the assignment and forget about the changes happening in their minds. To cope with that, this assignment is to lead them "to highlight moments of decision" and "to gain insight into their own development".

Honestly, I had little experience of reflective writing before I come to the U.S. However, I have become a big fan of reflection now. It is a great tool to internalized what I learned from others and externalized what I have experience to make sense of it. This article we read put labels to many important ideas about narrative writing, and I believe it will also be helpful for my future students.


  1. I so appreciated your post Annie-I also really enjoyed the online readings this week. So much so, I had to pause in the middle of one of them to write an extremely rambling blog! I too was not as familiar with the art of reflective practice, although I suppose I was already practicing some of what was discussed in the Rossiter article. But in my grad. school experience thus far I have discovered the value of reflection through our writing assingments. Value for both the teacher and the student. It causes you to pause and consider the concepts and discussions in a way that is relatable to you. The words no longer are perhaps just words or notes on a page, but are applicable to your own experiences. And while you may understand it when you are in class, I feel that the reflective process helps me to understand it that much more.

  2. Annie, I am so glad you are able to apply the course content to your own work in adult literacy! You make an excellent point about reflection in narrative work. I'll bet a lot of your students give you tons of plot--this happened and then that happened. But gaining perspective on it, drawing on these plot lines is quite a new way of thinking. It is the essence of Humanist pedagogy, to discover ourselves via writing. Writing as interpretation! I wonder if your students use a lot of details--describe artifacts and events with rich sensory imagery? Sometimes there is a relationship between rich detail and deep reflection, because the author can step back and think. "hmmm, I wonder why I included that detail?" "What's the significance of that detail?" Sometimes when my writers feel lost when it comes to reflection, I can push them to provide lots of rich, specific detail as a first step....
    Anyway, THANK YOU for always taking the very best ideas from the course and making them come alive!!


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