My number one goal for the students in my writing classes is to help them grow into more reflective writers. While I recognize that I cannot teach them every lesson they will need in the coming years of writing in college and beyond, I hope that helping them become more reflective about their writing will in turn result in more self-regulation and greater self-confidence.
Achieving self-regulation and self-efficacy are my ultimate goals, but I have come to believe over 10-plus years of studying, theorizing and practicing the teaching of writing that reflection is the key to achieving the goals of self-regulation and self-efficacy in writers.
Albert Bandura defines self-efficacy beliefs as a person’s belief in their capability to produce the desired effect through deliberate action. Decades of research in diverse fields has shown that self-efficacy is a more consistent predictor of behavioral outcomes than other self-beliefs. In particular, research suggests that beliefs about writing processes and competence are instrumental to the writer’s ultimate success as a writer (Note: the work of Frank Pajares and his associates has greatly influenced mine). Self-efficacy beliefs are a self-fulfilling prophecy with positive self-efficacy beliefs leading to positive outcomes and negative self-efficacy beliefs leading to negative outcomes. This is not because of the power of positive (or negative) thinking, but simply that our thoughts and beliefs influence our behavior. Our self-efficacy beliefs influence our chosen course of action, perseverance and resiliency when experiencing difficulty, and reaction to stress and depression. If we possess low self-efficacy then we avoid the challenges that could help us develop new skills or hone existing skills and we give up much easier when facing difficulties. If we possess high self-efficacy then we accept (even seek out) new challenges and persevere through difficulty by seeking new skills and tools to solve problems.
Clearly (in my opinion) there is a link between self-efficacy and self-regulation, but how does reflection link to self-efficacy and self-regulation? First, regular written reflection provides two important sources of self-efficacy – mastery experience and vicarious experience. Experience writing is a key part of developing writing self-efficacy. Obviously reflection cannot be the only writing a student conducts but it is certainly valuable writing experience. However, the real value of reflection in terms of writing self-efficacy is reflection that involves vicarious experiences such as making observations about the practices and habits as well as successes and failures of other writers then learning to make similar observations about their own writing. If done well then reflection can serve not only as an important source of writing self-efficacy but also lead to greater self-regulation and better writing.
Another important way that reflection impacts self-efficacy and self-regulation is helping students begin to engage with their own writing on a deeper level and to take responsibility for their own growth and development as writers. Once you begin thinking about your writing not as a one-size-fits-all proposition but as influenced by the rhetorical context then you are truly on the path to become a writer. Reflective writers think about their own writing and the choices they have made and can make as well as the consequences of those choices. Once engaged in reflection then writers can continue their growth and development long after they leave my classroom.