Responding to the ChatGPT Moment with Reflection, Emotion, and Process 

Jessica Enoch is Professor of English and Director of the Academic Writing Program at the University of Maryland. The program—which she has directed for twelve years—has more than sixty instructors teaching more than 2,000 students each semester. In 2019, the Conference on College Composition and Communication recognized Jess’s writing program with the Writing Program Certificate of Excellence. She has served on the Executive Board of CCCC, and she has won awards and fellowships that recognize her teaching, administration, and mentorship.

This blog post is adapted from a conference presentation delivered at Texas Community College Teachers Association in March 2023.   

Jessica Enoch
Image Credit: Jessica Enoch

I have often remarked to my administrative team: all roads lead to reflection. Reflection is the main pedagogical thread that runs through all my courses, from first-year writing to graduate classes, and it’s a key feature within the standard syllabus of our first-year writing course within my program. I rely on and find value in reflection because it gives students (and me) the most insight on what they are learning in my classes, and it helps me see what I’m doing (and need to do) as a teacher. In traveling these roads, I have been lucky enough to conduct two studies about reflection with researchers in my program at the University of Maryland (these studies were published in College Composition and Communication in 2018 and 2022) and then to compose a chapter about reflection in the newest edition of Everyone’s an Author.  

As I have been developing this advice on reflection, something else has emerged and continued to nag at me: ChatGPT, the language processing tool driven by artificial intelligence technology that assists users with compositional tasks such as essay writing. Have you been tuning in to the onslaught of articles, news programs, webinars, and podcasts predicting how writing tools using generative artificial intelligence will radically (or not) change perceptions of writing writ large? I’ve been to no less than six meetings about ChatGPT since late January 2023. As a director of a very large gen ed program, I’ve been asked: What is your response to ChatGPT? What are your guidelines and policies? Should we police this, and if so, how? How will we teach writing, and what will students learn? Reports are rightly commenting that teachers feel threatened, overwhelmed, confused, and anxious. These emotions feel even more heavy to me given all the change and trial we just went through during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve just been through a major pedagogical upheaval, and AI writing tools feels like another big wave about to hit the shore. 

One way to respond to AI writing tools might be to take the road that leads us to reflection (once again) as we negotiate this new and tricky question about the place of AI writing in the classroom. Let’s take a brief look at one of the studies my colleagues and I conducted at the University of Maryland, in which we inspect the connections between emotion and reflection. We’ll then use this relationship to discuss some pedagogies teachers can use to address concerns about AI composing in our classrooms.  

Why reflection? 

For teachers in our program and scholars across the country, reflection has become a critical component of writing instruction, largely because of its metacognitive potential to give students more awareness and control over their writing. As researchers such as Linda Adler-Kassner, Elizabeth Wardle, Kara Taczak, and Kathleen Yancey have advocated, by taking on reflective writing, students step back from their work with the goal of more deeply understanding not only their composing processes and products but also their identity as writers. Reflection affords students critical distance through which they can articulate the choices they make and the impact of those choices, assess their writing more accurately, articulate writing knowledge, identify writing hurdles, and map effective paths forward.  

Overview of our study, “Thinking about Feeling: The Roles of Emotion in Reflective Writing,” in College Composition and Communication (Spring 2023) 

Our study examined a portfolio of multiple, low-stakes reflections of ten students taught by a member of our research team, Justin Lohr. While we did not originally set out to discuss emotion, we were struck by how frequently students expressed positive feelings, like pride, excitement, satisfaction, joy, and comfort, as well as how much they used words with negative emotional connotations like hard, struggled, and challenging. We decided to pursue this connection to emotion not only because these expressions were interesting to us but also because it seemed that conventional pedagogies based in reflection were most invested in thinking about thinking, not thinking about feeling. Through our study, we learned that emotions expressed through reflection have the potential to condition the kinds of writing growth we hope students achieve in our classrooms. Ignoring these emotive moments that surface in reflection could mean that teachers and students might miss the feelings that often shape the work of writing, while exploring those feelings in all their complexity offers opportunities to better understand what holds students back and what pushes them forward. 

Using reflection-based pedagogies to respond productively to generative AI in the classroom 

Now it’s time to return to that pesky issue of AI writing tools and consider how teachers can map a productive path forward based on thoughtful and informed pedagogy. We know technology such as ChatGPT can create an essay product. It can’t, though, do a lot of the “human” aspects that attend to writing: it can’t offer the student’s unique personal perspective, it can’t articulate emotions, and it can’t assess and prioritize sources (in fact, it seems as if ChatGPT has some major citation issues). 

Instead of valuing the product of our students’ writing, which brings us into the teeth of AI writing tools, let’s redouble our investments in how reflection invites students to engage with their writing processes. Indeed, scholars and teachers in our field have spent a great deal of time thinking about these important compositional and pedagogical practices. Let’s draw on the resources we have and use reflection to accentuate the personal and human aspects of our students’ writing, meaning let’s capitalize on the ways reflection helps to centralize the student-writer and their unique learning and composing process. And let’s enable our students to compose reflections that make visible how they are thinking through their inventional, personal, and research-based composing.  

Let’s listen too to what the Association for Writing Across the Curriculum reminds us about the value of writing: put simply, we write to learn. As they note, “Rather than writing simply being a matter of presenting existing information or furnishing products for the purpose of testing or grading, writing is a fundamental means to create deep learning and foster cognitive development.” And I would add emotional development here too. So let’s use reflection to help students unpack what they’re learning through their writing. 

Assignment examples 

What kinds of reflective, process-based pedagogies would respond productively to this debate around AI writing tools? In my program, we have consistently woven reflection into our curriculum largely because of the gains it yields for students that we and other scholars in writing studies have witnessed. Below, you can see just two of the kinds of reflective prompts we put before students. The first one is the first writing assignment students produce for the semester, in which they reflect on their writing experiences and writerly identity. The second is a prompt genre we assign throughout the semester after students submit each of their projects. Here we ask them to consider how they’ve integrated classroom learning into their writing and to assess their project’s strengths and weaknesses. 

First Reflective Assignment of the Semester 

Reflect on your experiences with writing and academic writing throughout your life. How would you evaluate and define these experiences? How do you see yourself as an academic writer? What excites and interests you about a class like this? What concerns do you have? What do you want me to know about who you are as a writer or what your experiences with writing have been? 

Post-Assignment Submission Reflective Prompt 

  1. Think back over the class activities for this unit—what learning experiences helped you as you drafted and revised this essay? Be specific. 
  1. What strengths do you see in your rhetorical analysis? 
  1. What did you struggle with? 
  1. What would you like me to notice and respond to? 
  1. Given what you’ve learned from the rhetorical analysis, what are your goals for the next writing assignment? 

When a student responds to prompts like these, the practice of reflection centers the living, breathing, and feeling student-writer and invites them to think deeply about how they’re taking up writing tasks and moving through their writing processes. As our study showed, reflection reveals how human students feel about their writing. But these pedagogies can also be used to help students gain insight on what and how they’re learning, how they’re forming arguments, and how they’re revising their points of view given their encounters with new ideas, people, and evidence. We can utilize reflection broadly to make visible students’ research and thinking process in ways that ChatGPT can’t emulate, as they use reflection to reconsider with us the ways new information and argument catalyzed new thoughts for them as composers. 

Ellis Miller, Elizabeth; Mozafari, Cameron; Lohr, Justin; and Enoch, Jessica. “Thinking about Feeling: The Roles of Emotion in Reflective Writing.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 74, no. 3, Feb. 2023.

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