What is it?

Reflective writing is an instructional strategy to encourage students to engage on a deeper level with course learning material.

To carry out this strategy, an instructor must select material students are to read and/or watch and identify a goal for the reflection process. Once students cover the material on their own, they are expected to write a short reflective paragraph that can (a) highlight things they are struggling with; (b) indicate any questions they may have; (c) push them to connect ideas with other course concepts; (d) elicit their opinion or view on the topic; or (e) any purpose ...

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Reflective writing is an instructional strategy to encourage students to engage on a deeper level with course learning material.

To carry out this strategy, an instructor must select material students are to read and/or watch and identify a goal for the reflection process. Once students cover the material on their own, they are expected to write a short reflective paragraph that can (a) highlight things they are struggling with; (b) indicate any questions they may have; (c) push them to connect ideas with other course concepts; (d) elicit their opinion or view on the topic; or (e) any purpose you, as the instructor, deem appropriate to the learning goal.

Purpose: It pushes students to move beyond a superficial level of learning as they have an opportunity to reflect on what they have read and reviewed. Furthermore, it allows students to formulate deeper level questions about the material. This strategy is also useful for making students accountable for their own learning and understanding of the course materials. As it pertains to the instructor, the reflections can be used to plan future lessons to address any learning gaps or provide students with individual feedback or accrued toward participation grades.

Note that students must see the value in doing the assignments. Namely, students must see that the instructor is (a) reading their work, (b) addressing their questions (c) responding to their ideas, and (d) using reflective writing assignments to help plan out his/her sessions and to prepare activities.

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When to use it?

Context & Requirements

Level
All Levels
Discipline
All disciplines
Class size
All class sizes
Classroom settings
No specific classroom setting required
Technological requirements
Email and internet connection for students to submit reflections

Skills Promoted

  • Metacognition
  • Knowledge organization
  • Self-regulation

Who’s using it?

SALTISE community members who use this strategy and are willing to share advice and/or resources.

Level College
Institution Dawson College
Discipline Social Sciences
Instructor Daniel Goldsmith
Class size 30-40
Classroom setting Traditional Classroom
Resources used View More
Level College
Institution John Abbott College
Discipline Physics
Instructor Phoebe Jackson
Class size 30-40
Classroom setting Active learning classroom
Resources used View More
Level College
Institution Dawson College
Discipline Physics
Instructor Chris Whittaker
Class size 30-40
Classroom setting Active Learning Classroom
Resources used View More

Why use it?

The main strength is that I get to assess students’ prior knowledge and make the learning activities we do in class more meaningful and efficient. I get to see what they know and what they don’t know. This strategy also primes them to come to class looking for answers. They’re not just coming to class to be fed information, they’re coming to answer their own questions and build their understanding of the material. Finally, reflective writing gives value to the process of asking questions. In fact, students get marks for articulating what they are struggling with – something traditional teaching does not do. Examples of an annotated reflective writing assignment can be found in the resources attached.

(Chris Whittaker, Dawson College)

Doing reflective writing effectively takes time. I don’t review all submitted assignments to ensure the strategy remains manageable. Students are aware of this. The key in getting students to buy in, to make the value of doing the assignments obvious to them. I often start a class period by highlighting a subset of student assignments and building my lecture and class activities from their work. This gives their work value and it normalizes the questioning that goes along with learning. Given that reflective writing work is generally not worth many marks (I never make the total of all reflective ...

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Doing reflective writing effectively takes time. I don’t review all submitted assignments to ensure the strategy remains manageable. Students are aware of this. The key in getting students to buy in, to make the value of doing the assignments obvious to them. I often start a class period by highlighting a subset of student assignments and building my lecture and class activities from their work. This gives their work value and it normalizes the questioning that goes along with learning. Given that reflective writing work is generally not worth many marks (I never make the total of all reflective writing assignments count for more than 5 % of the final grade and each assignment is assessed quickly on a pass-fail basis), students must recognize that I am (a) reading their work and (b) using their thoughts and questions to plan out their lessons and prepare activities. Generally speaking, the number of students submitting reflective writing assignments throughout the semester is consistent (refer to the provided figure), demonstrating that students see the value in completing the write-ups.

(Chris Whittaker, Dawson College)

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Ready to try it out?

Reflective writing is an instructional process that is generally completed out of class. Nonetheless, it provides an instructor with invaluable information he or she can then use to plan in class lecturing and/or activities. Briefly:

STEP 1: Instructor assigns reading or viewing material(s) – section of textbook, video, etc. Specific prompts/questions (promoting self- regulation) are provided to guide this task. Prompts can include either:

  1. (1) what is not understood or unclear, (2) why is it unclear (e.g., the terms and language used, the concepts)
  2. (1) what is understood, (2) how might this understanding relate to what they already know or to other ideas from their course (readings, activities, etc.).

STEP 2: Individually, students review the material with the intention of documenting in writing their understanding using the prompts. .

STEP 3: Students:

  • Reflect on the material, identifying the items they understand and those they are struggling with;
  • Formulate short paragraphs in response to the instructor’s prompts;
  • Submit their writings to the instructor;

STEP 4: Instructor reviews students’ work and uses it to determine the lesson plan, for example:

  • what concepts or topics need further review or explanation;
  • what activities or materials can be used next.
Download Flowchart

Helpful resources

Tech Tools

Visual Classrooms

References

Chretien, K., Goldman, E. and Faselis, C. (2008). The reflective writing class blog: using technology to promote reflection and professional development. Journal of General Internal Medicine..

Kalman, C. (2009). The need to emphasize epistemology in the teaching of science: Use of reflective writing. Science & Education..

Ryan, M. (2011). Improving reflective writing in higher education: A social semiotic perspective. Teaching in Higher Education, Taylor & Francis..

Wald, H. S., Borkan, J. M., Taylor, J. S. and Anthony, D. (2012). Fostering and evaluating reflective capacity in medical education: Developing the REFLECT rubric for assessing reflective writing. Academic Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information..

Wald, H. S. and Reis, S. P. (2010). Beyond the margins: Reflective writing and development of reflective capacity in medical education. Journal of General Internal Medicine..

Winter, R., Buck, A. and Sobiechowska, P. (1999). Professional experience & the investigative imagination: The art of reflective writing. London, UK: Routledge.

Video

Reflective Writing – Skills Team: University of Hull, UK

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For more resources to Articles and Books