Part II: A Review of Kathleen Blake Yancey’s A Rhetoric of Reflection

Explicit Implications for Assessment 

Yancey, Kathleen Blake, ed. (2016). A Rhetoric of Reflection. Logan: Utah State UP. 

By Julie Cook, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Note: This is the second installment of a three-part review (see Part 1: A Comprehensive Review; Part 3: Implicit Implications for Assessment

A Rhetoric of Reflection (ROR) has much to contribute to the discussion of writing assessment. While the authors’ approaches are diverse, two questions remain primary through their work with reflection: 1) Do we assess what we think we are assessing? and 2) Do we value what we say we value? 

Like others in ROR (Beaufort, Sommers, Robertson & Taczak), Michael Neal (Chapter 4) builds from his previous work on reflection and assessment with the reflective cover letter. Neal notes an interesting phenomenon resulting from the large-scale adoption of portfolio reflective letters in educational contexts: “the relationship between reflection and assessment […] became so closely related they were often used interchangeably and thus are difficult to distinguish” (p. 69). Here, Neal critiques Edward M. White’s (2005) Phase 2 model for portfolio assessment: Assessing reflection alone is only assessing the argument and not the evidence for the argument. As a faculty member who has often been in the thick of programmatic assessment, and who has felt pressures alongside colleagues tasked with evaluating a large number of end-of-semester portfolios, I found Neal’s issues with the Phase 2 model relatable and relevant as they echoed concerns often voiced and felt by faculty. Those of us who are conflicted when assessing portfolios because either the reflection appears disingenuous or disconnected from other portfolio materials will appreciate Neal’s chapter. 

In Chapter 13, Jeff Sommers addresses The Writer’s Memo, which he first presented in 1984. For Sommers, evaluations of student work in The Writer’s Memo raise questions for motivation and reflective experiences. The Writer’s Memo is a space to describe and analyze, but in Sommers’ evaluation the genre does not support a metacognitive articulation of learning. By adding an end-of-semester reflection, Sommers’ response integrates an end-of-semester reflection for methodological reflection to account for the limits of a Writer’s Memo; like Neal (ROR), Sommers’ work brings attention to the implications of genre selection for reflective practice. 

Doug Hesse’s work in Chapter 14 complicates the dynamics of a familiar genre. Using reflection as the frame for deconstructing essays in creative nonfiction, Hesse makes an interesting case for the reflective activity inherent in the genre. As Hesse notes, “the line between reflection and interpretation is dusty” (p. 292). For Sommers (Chapter 13) the Writer’s Memo invites description and analysis—interpretation. For Hesse, “Essays give the act of interpretation explicit attention through reflection” (p. 291). In a time where the art of a well-crafted essay has often lost its luster for students who only hear the words “five-paragraph” with the mention of the word “essay,” and where critical reading and critical reflection are not just buzzwords or good practice but also prudent for civic engagement, I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter. 

Kevin Roozen (Chapter XX) takes up Odell, Goswami and Herrington’s (1983) focus on methodology as a vehicle for making implicit assumptions explicit. Using reflective interviews to develop a methodology that fosters constructive reflection (Yancey, 1998), Roozen’s chapter resists simple constructions of a writer or researcher identity. Like Roozen and Sommers (Chapter 13), Elizabeth Clark (Chapter 8) adopts a reflective, integrative method and pedagogy for reflection. Of interest to WAC and LAC assessment, Clark builds from Carol Rodger’s (2002) dimensions of reflection to reinforce student-centered learning, space for ambiguity, and time for recursive reflection that supports LAC. 

In Chapter 5, Cathy Leaker and Heather Ostman revisit their previous findings on the portfolio-based “rhetorical-reflective transfer” model for Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) (2010). Differently than Roozen (Chapter XX), Leaker and Ostman suggest assimilation is of value in academic contexts concerning the rhetoric of reflection. In Chapter 7, Asao B. Inoue and Tyler Richmond also address epistemic tensions in their preliminary study of four female Hmong students who struggle to negotiate both individual and communal identities within and beyond the classroom as observed through the students’ reflective letters. Inoue and Richmond propose this observation could affirm reflection, and what is valued in the assessment of reflections, as a racialized discourse—one that privileges “whiteness” and interpellates the Other. Though the study and sample was too small to be conclusive, Inoue and Richmond’s work and insights align with current observations in the field, giving much to consider especially for local assessment. Both chapters, I would argue, challenge current understandings of what is of value—and at stake—in the assessment of reflection. 


Odell, L., Goswami, D., Herrington, A. (1983). “The-Discourse-Based Interview: A Procedure for Exploring the Tacit Knowledge of Writers in Nonacademic Settings.” In Research on Writing: Principles and Methods, ed. Peter Mosenthal, Lynne Tamor, and Sean Walmsley, 221-36. New York: Longman. 

Sommers, J. (1984). “Listening to Our Students: The Student-Teacher Memo.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College, 11(1): 29-34. 

White, E. M. (2005). “The Scoring of Writing Portfolios: Phase 2.” College Composition and Communication, 56(4): 581-600. 

Yancey, K. B. (Eds.) (1998). Reflection in the Writing Classroom. Logan: Utah State UP.
Source: jwa