Hillocks: “Teaching, Reflecting, Researching”

In “Teaching, Reflecting, Researching,” Hillocks provides us with a careful description of the teacher as reflective practitioner. The notion of a practitioner, however, becomes imbued with a new understanding of the teacher as one capable of both reflecting and researching, and it is “Teaching, Reflecting, Researching” that Hillocks endorses. It can be stated that we learn most from the process of teaching and sharing our passion with others, a rhetorical exercise that, according to Hillocks, enables us to see value in both teaching and researching (16). Reflection enables one to learn from teaching, a process that “involves observation, assessment, and speculation about alternatives” (Hillocks 16). As opposed to the practice of a researcher, who has the luxury of analyzing and examining results, teachers must identify problems in action.

Citing Donald Shon, Hillocks claims that teachers must reflect-in-action as they work to isolate and tailor research to the problems raised in the classrooms they serve. Reflection, much like the work of a philosopher, is integral to a classroom conducive to adaptability. Through a description of one teacher’s approach to the sonnet, Hillocks displays how providing a complex set of vocabulary is insufficient in providing students with the tools to gain cultural literacy (18). Frequent reflection can thus help prevent classroom discourse from emphasizing the holiness of content over contextual understanding. Providing a more detailed account of how reflection has empowered five student teachers in a Master of Arts in Teaching English program at the University of Chicago, Hillocks charts the activities of students moving through the M.A.T. program as they teach, observe, and reflect. Aiming to observe the activity and attention-spans of “low-level language arts” students in a local public school, M.A.T. students were “coached” as they reflected-in- action (19).

Hillocks provides a detailed description of the student demographic found in one class in 1988. These students were given a pretest to assess their writing ability, but perhaps due to the ambiguous nature of the prompt (i.e., “Write about an experience that is important to you for some reason. Write about it so specifically that another person reading your composition will be able to see what you saw and felt.”), students seemed to emphasize “important” activities (i.e., summer vacations) and presented what could be considered the “what the next strategy” or writing (Hillocks 20). Through Hillocks’ rather blunt description of student writing characteristics, an acceptable student example is displayed to help solidify the goals M.A.T. students needed to establish. Research has shown, according to Hillocks, that a foundation on the concrete encourages an active process of discussion, in turn promoting better writing (22). There remains a considerable gap in research, however, that points to what concrete things should serve as the basis of such a pedagogical method.

Selecting the category of personal experience, Hillocks and the M.A.T. students identify five characteristics, including “1) sharp focus, (2) concrete detail, (3) metaphor, (4) dialogue that moves the story forward or reveals something about the characters, (5) personal reactions to experiences” (Hillocks 22). After outlining specific guidelines for the summer course, Hillocks reflects on a writing activity in which students inspect seashells in small groups. While the lessons and activities are clearly outlined, the M.A.T. students spend a great deal of time planning for new directions. Hillocks provides an ethnographic narrative of his experience leading the shell activity as the M.A.T. students closely observe and highlights a teaching moment in which silence can enable students ample time to self-reflect before they provide responses during discussion.

It is through Hillocks’ narrative that a new perspective of the dynamic teacher-researcher can be observed. Adapting to the obstacles of any classroom enables dialogue to operate organically, in turn emphasizing higher-order writing concerns. Hillocks concludes the article by elaborating on the development of Ranakea’s writing throughout the course. Further, “Another sign of progress is that the students no longer regard a first draft as a final product” (Hillocks 28), proposing that revision strategies can be developed throughout a brief, yet intensive course model, and a movement toward “careful and systematic” reflection is a movement toward the teacher as researcher.

Discussion

  1. In qualitative research studies, Newkirk identifies an ethical concern as Brodkey privileges her own reading of letters, that is, the passages that best support her research goals. In the Hillocks article, how were student samples and narratives utilized? How were they presented? Does Hillocks assume a cynical and authoritative tone and “study down” subjects?
  2. Toward the end of the article, Hillocks claims that one student’s revision strategies improved throughout the 19-day course. What evidence does Hillocks provide to support this finding? How much can a student learn throughout a short-term writing course? How much can a student learn throughout a semester-long writing course?
  3. To what extent do you reflect on your own teaching? Are you inspired to reflect on your own teaching? If so, would it be considered research?