what is the difference between a memoir and reflective writing?

what is the difference between a memoir and reflective writing?

The Importance of Reflective Writing in Memoirs

1. Introduction

For the memoirist, reflective writing can be the bridge between simply recalling a significant event and crafting the event as a “scene”. Through reflection, the writer can decide if the event is important to the story at hand or perhaps is just an interesting anecdote. By asking the basic questions suggested by Seger and the more detailed ones suggested by Esquibel, the memoirist can determine if the event should be utilized as a turning point, a symbol, or an opportunity for personal growth. Reflective writing can help the memoirist to write in context, understanding that personal transformation is the essence of a good memoir. By relating the concept of who the “character” was at that time to who the “character” is now and how they have changed, the memoirist can pursue their own personal understanding and the understanding they wish to convey to their readers.

In memoir writing, reflective writing is a practice that is utilized as a means to help the author connect or re-connect with their own experiences related to a specific event that is being focused on. Reflective writing, though connected to the “past tense,” is something that occurs in the moment in the present. It involves writing down thoughts that are usually unexpressed. Some writers and teachers refer to “reflective writing” as an analysis of what has occurred.

2. Understanding Memoirs

Ideally, the students should be familiar with memoirs or narratives in the form of a story because memoirs are stories from real life. When you tell a story to a friend or relate some events from your holiday, you are using a structure which is usually called a narrative arc. A narrative arc looks something like a mountain range – it has a beginning, then it rises through a series of events or problems to a peak where a character has to make an important decision, and then falls through the consequences of that decision to a resolution. This is the type of structure that many students will know and understand in their narratives, and this is exactly the same structure used in a good memoir. Finally, all narratives and memoirs have a moral in their events; something we can learn from what the characters did right or wrong. It is the writer’s job, whether it is in a story, a reflective writing, or a memoir, to communicate the message to the reader.

3. Defining Reflective Writing

The search for a definitive term is essentially a quest to categorize. Reflection, like all things in life, can be put into a box. However, a box can be of any shape or size, made of a billion different materials in a billion different ways. Similarly, to define reflection is to confine it to a set standard when really it can be done in any way under the sun. This is probably why there is such a hard time defining it. It’s like specifying noise to only one genre of music. Coming to a real, universal understanding of what reflection is proves to be a difficult task. But this can be seen as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. In nailing down a definition for reflective writing, we can extract its common themes and create effective guidelines to work by.

It can be said with confidence that reflective writing is a “squishy” term – that is, it is so often used but never truly defined. What makes writing reflective? How does one truly know what writing is and is not reflective? Ask a professor what a reflective paper is, and for that matter what a memoir is, and you will receive a different answer every time. This is in no way a bad thing, but reflective writing has been loosely defined for far too long. By digging into its definition, we can improve the nature of our assignments as well as our understanding of what reflection actually involves.

4. Comparing Memoirs and Reflective Writing

The significance of reflective writing is not only for the personal growth of the writer, but also allows a reader to gain a critical insight into the way an experience is remembered by the writer. When comparing memoirs and reflective essays, one must note the difference even in the structure of the two pieces. In a memoir, a writer is looking back on a particular event, insight or experience in his/her past. This style of writing is similar to the reflective in that the writer is analyzing an aspect of his past, however, his the perspective is very different. In reflective writing, the writer is still analyzing past events, although, these events are a springboard for the exploration of an idea. For example, a writer’s reflective piece may begin with an account of a birthday party, however the rest of the piece will focus on an idea taken from that event, e.g. the fragility of life. This contrasts the memoir, where the whole piece will focus on the event itself. A reflection may come very close to being a memoir, although the analysis of the event is evidence that the focus still remains with the idea. An example of reflective writing would be a diary, where a person will write daily accounts and then later go back to find out how an idea had originated from an event that had happened to them. Reflection is frequently an untidy process. Often students will be required to reflect on their experiences from which they have learnt from e.g. a presentation, but it is not always obvious how they have been changed from the event. Throughout the various accounts of a diary, ideas will slowly formulate and become clearer in the writer’s mind. This can be contrasted with a memoir, where the focus and the ideas are often already very clear in the mind of the writer. Often it is experience itself which clarifies an idea for the writer.

5. Conclusion

Reflective writing in the form of a memoir has the potential to improve the student’s perspective of his or her personal life, and it can help students to put their past experiences into a new light. High school students often experience confusion as they grow and learn. By assigning a memoir at the end of the term, a student can organize his or her thoughts and experiences and relay how each one has shaped his or her thinking. With the guidance of a teacher, a student can reflect upon past learning experiences and evaluate the strategies that were used. The student and teacher can explore academic successes and failures while assessing the student’s beliefs about learning. A history teacher once said, “teaching is just helping someone learn from their own experiences.” A memoir can be a valuable experience that will help a student do just that.

This article holds importance in its suggestions towards educators. Reflective writing is an easy technique to implement, but it is a complex one to teach. It involves metacognition and higher order thinking, both of which are difficult to teach to students who may not be interested in doing more work than the basic requirements for a class. However difficult it may be, reflective writing has the potential to benefit the student and the teacher in the long run. Students will become aware of their learning process and their strengths and weaknesses. They will also learn to monitor and regulate their cognition in an effort to improve on various subjects. By understanding their students’ learning process, teachers are then capable of altering instruction to meet students’ needs.

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