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Introducing reflection as an assignment
Using reflective assignments can be a great way of synthesising learning and challenging the status quo. This page outlines some of the things to keep in mind when posing reflective assignments.
In higher education or professional develop initiatives it is very common to have some sort of assignment. These are typically written but can also take other forms. This page will go through the main considerations for posing reflective assignments.
The main points covered are:
- finding and communicating the purpose of your assignment
- being clear both to yourself and to reflector what you want in the assignment
- the difference between ‘reflection’ and ‘evidence of reflection’
- choosing your criteria
- providing students support and spending time practicing can be valuable as most students are new to reflection.
Back to alignment – find the purpose of the assignment and communicate it
It should be clear to participants or students what the purpose of the assignment is. Why are you asking them to do this particular assignment? You will have had to think about the value of it.
This value can be described in the guidelines of the reflective assignment where you communicate how it will help reflectors either evidence their learning or obtain learning outcomes. From the guidelines it should be clear to students what the value of completing and doing well on the assignment is.
Be clear what you are asking
When posing a reflective assignment it is very important that you know from the beginning exactly what you are asking. Reflective writing/responses can typically take on two distinct forms:
- evidence of reflection.
The distinction between the two is vital when deciding the type of assignment you want to pose. These are outlined below.
Reflection - the actual process of examining thoughts
If you want to see the detailed aspects of reflectors’ thought processes, and want to follow each step in their reasoning, concerns, and learnings, ask the reflectors to submit their actual reflections.
The benefits is that you ensure that reflectors go through the process themselves and you can directly assess the quality. As this is the actual process we want the reflectors to complete, asking for raw reflections is the easiest way to ensure or get evidence that the process is happening.
One challenge when posing this kind of assignment is that some people might find it too personal to share this intimate process – it can become self-disclosure. A personal reflective account can be uncomfortable to show to anyone, and even more so to someone who is in a position of authority.
Evidence of reflection
In contrast, ‘evidence of reflection’ is documenting the effects of reflection, but does not require documenting the process explicitly.
Hence, rather than writing the thoughts and feelings of a situation, the reflector will state the context and what learning they found in the experience. In the purest form, there is no need to document any challenging or self-disclosing feelings. It is more akin to describing the effects of a reflection and rationally, in contrast to emotionally, explaining why the learning is valuable.
The benefit of this is that reflectors are less likely to feel that they are self-disclosing. However, when we are looking at evidence of reflection rather than reflection itself, it is more difficult to assess the reflectors ability to actually reflect. Therefore, good evidence of reflection is when learning is explicitly stated and it is highlighted how the learning will be used in the future.
It is important to be aware that there is a risk, albeit minimal, that a reflector can produce good evidence of reflection, without having done any reflection. For example, a reflector may write that they learned to start assignments earlier and will do so in the future, without actually having engaged with reflection at all – they might just guess that ‘starting assignments earlier’ is a possible conclusion you want to see.
Most assignments are a balance of ‘reflection’ and ‘evidence of reflection’
In reality, very few assignments will be a either pure ‘reflection’ or ‘evidence of reflection’. The goal for you is to find the right balance. Once you know what you want, you should be clear to reflectors about what being successful in the assignment looks like.
The easiest way to demonstrate what good looks like is to provide the reflectors with clear guidelines and examples of the type of reflections you are looking for. You can either write examples yourself or have a look through the Reflectors’ Toolkit, where each of the models have at least one example. You will likely find an example there that can be helpful for you.
List of tools for reflection (in Reflectors’ Toolkit) (LINK)
Reflection is just like any other assignment – avoid vagueness
The need for clear assignment directions is essential in all areas of higher education, however having the discussion specifically for reflection is important. This is because when posing a reflective assignment it can feel easy to consider reflection as ‘special’ and separate from common ‘good academic practice’ and therefore that it does not require the same levels of direction as a general assignment. Reflection should be considered on equal terms with general academic practice and will often require more support as many reflectors are new to the concept.
One reason vague reflection assignments are easy to pose is that they do not seem to restrict the reflectors’ freedom about how to reflect. In contrast, if we provide them with clear requirements and directions it might seem that we do restrict reflection. There is an element of truth in that. If we require as written assignment using a specific model of reflection, we do take some freedom away from the reflectors, at least in how they present their reflections to us. In practice, they can easily produce a private reflection and restructure it according to your question and requirements.
If we do not give the reflectors the structure they need, one challenge is that a high proportion of them might produce reflections not meeting our ideas of sufficient or good.
Posing a reflective assignment saying ‘Reflect on your development and learning in the course in 1000 words’ might seem like a fair question to ask. But compare that to asking them to ‘write an academic essay about the concepts you learned in this course in 1000 words’ and it should be clear why guidelines are important. It is easy to imagine how students would struggle to prioritise and produce an essay with relevant content from the vague essay prompt. This is similar for a vaguely posed reflective assignment without accompanying clear guidelines. How are the reflectors going to guess what we expect from them?
Most people are new to structured reflection
In higher education, most people have an idea of what an essay is supposed to look like because we are taught essay writing from an early age in school. In contrast, most people have never done structured reflection before university, and then are not likely to be thoroughly instructed in how to do or present it. It follows that if we are vague in our instructions we may receive assignments of very varying qualities.
Thus, to be fair to the reflectors and to us as facilitators, be clear and have clear guidelines available. You can ask very broad reflective questions, but you should be ready to support the reflectors and both your criteria and rubrics (if you chose to assess) should be extremely robust.
Providing training/introductions to students is useful
As most people are new to reflection starting in university, when you introduce reflection it can helpful to: provide a thorough written guide of what reflection is, provide people with resources (for example the Reflectors’ Toolkit), and/or spend time in person introducing reflectors to structured reflection and what you expect from reflections.
Find your criteria and your rubric
Once you have a clear assignment, it is important you think about what you want to measure it against, i.e. the criteria. This discussion is also highlighted in the ‘Assessing reflection’ section of the Facilitators’ Toolkit with specific criteria as suggestions.
Moreover, if you decide to use summative assessment for the assignments, you will need to have a clear rubric (criteria broken down into levels of performance). It is good practice to publish both the criteria and rubric to the reflectors prior to assessing them.
To see at what point criteria and rubrics become essential, see ‘Should I assess?’
Assessing reflection (within the Facilitators’ Toolkit)
Should I assess? (within the Facilitators’ Toolkit)
Back to 'How do I introduce reflection?'
What Is Reflective Writing?
Suraj and Simon are two high school students who had to team up for a class project. Within a few…
Suraj and Simon are two high school students who had to team up for a class project. Within a few weeks of working together, both of them realized that they have differing views about the project and can’t collaborate together. They communicate this with their teacher and the teacher asks them to reflect on the past few weeks—identify the challenges and write down the pain points that led them to their decision.
In this scenario, the teacher tries to help both Suraj and Simon out by encouraging them to practice self-reflection. An essential workplace skill, self-reflection is fundamental to our growth and development. Reflective writing is a great way to rewind your life and look at it from a different angle.
Meaning Of Reflective Writing
The process of reflective writing, importance of reflective writing at work.
Before we look at the various meanings and examples of reflective writing, let’s understand what the term ‘reflection’ stands for. At its simplest, reflection refers to a mental process that helps in processing and articulating events from the past. It’s a careful consideration of our thoughts and beliefs as we assess our assumptions and reactions to a certain event. Thanks to reflection, we’re able to process emotions and act and move forward in a thoughtful way.
Reflective writing requires you to analyze, describe and evaluate past situations. By evaluating experiences, you’re able to develop new insights that are instrumental to developing new outlooks. Recollecting instances from your past and writing them down is a fruitful way of examining your response to an event. Thinking about how it affected your life and how you could do things differently are the cornerstones of self-improvement.
Here are a few examples of reflective writing in everyday situations:
Self-review or peer reviews
Feedback about a program, reflective journal or log at work, the process of reflective writing.
As we’ve already established, reflective writing is a mental process involving contemplation and consideration. Before we look at the process involved in reflection, let’s look at the factors that influence your reflective writing style.
Why are you writing it?
Are others going to read it, how do you feel about writing, what are the emotions you’re experiencing, how capable are you of writing reflectively.
Now that you’ve considered multiple factors, let’s look at the important focus areas when it comes to reflective writing.
Provides information about what you’re reflecting on—it can be a personal experience or a topic.
You need to focus on the event, idea or analysis that you feel is most important. For example, identifying whether your previous job experience was good or bad.
Without takeaways, your reflective writing piece remains incomplete. Understand what you’ve learned and what you’re going to focus on, going forward.
Reflecting on work experiences is crucial as it helps us think about the realities of our work environment and where our strengths and weaknesses lie. In addition to identifying personal areas of growth, it helps us develop career ideas. For example, interviewers often ask job seekers questions such as ‘where would you like to see yourself in five years?’ Reflective writing helps in crafting answers and seeking out information that tells us where our interests, passions and values lie.
If you’re preparing for your next job interview, use this reflective writing format as a template.
<Introduction: Talk about why you were part of the event, the daily activities associated with it and the relevant experience you gained.>
<Main Body: Describe your past accomplishments and how your performance made a difference. Provide examples of any new skills or knowledge you acquired. Provide relevant details of how you applied your skills and gained new experiences.>
<Conclusion: End your reflection with an explanation about how the past experience was. Talk about how it helped you and how it contributed to your professional development.>
Everyone has their own style of writing and that’s the best part about it. Having your unique writing style adds flavor, especially when it comes to self-reflection. If you want to sharpen your writing skills and deliver your thoughts with clarity, turn to Harappa’s Writing Proficiently course. This online writing course will help you structure your thoughts, polish your writing style and teach you to write clearly, concisely and compellingly. The Pyramid Principle in particular will help you present key points of messages upfront with supporting evidence. Discover how to tell a story with every communication you draft!
Explore topics such as What are Written Communication Skills, Different Types of Writing Styles , Examples of Descriptive Writing , What is Narrative Writing , Common Persuasive Writing Techniques & The Importance Of Expository Writing and learn to draft well-crafted messages to convey your ideas and intentions.
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A reflection by students on their own experiences, views and suggestions for action in relation to their learning and or work/life experiences (in written or multimedia formats). It can be in the form of a journal, log, blog or diary, and may be incorporated into a collection of evidence in the form of a portfolio .
What can it assess ?
Reflective assignments can assess the extent to which students learn from their experience, as well as the critical thinking and reflective skills that enable them to make sense of information and/or situations that are not straightforward. These tasks can be used to assess students’ ability to reflect on the development of their own learning and self-generate feedback that can be used to improve their performance.
Advantages and Disadvantages
- Supports learning that is personally meaningful
- Students develop the ability to reflect on the progress of their learning and/or practice and identify areas for improvement
- Encourages deep learning as students are required to make sense of material as it relates to their own experience
- Students can be encouraged to incorporate reflection on any formative feedback.
- Reflective writing is unfamiliar to many students who will need support and guidance to help with the task of reflection
- Can be challenging to assess and mark; requires the use of clear and transparent assessment criteria, rubrics and assessment guidance for students
- Issues of trust may arise when assessing personal reflections.
Design and Online Assessment Considerations
When designing reflective writing assessments, consider the following questions:
- How will students be prepared to conduct reflective writing exercises?
- Should reflective writing tasks take place throughout the module or only at specific points in the trimester? What’s the rationale for the chosen approach?
- How will reflective writing assignments be assessed? What criteria will be used?
Be clear about the reasons that reflection is embedded into the module and how it supports learning. Students may be instructed to use specific Reflective Practice Models which can offer guidance on how to structure reflective writing and also support the development of clear assessment criteria for the assignment. Consider using a rubric, or similar, to help clarify your expectations and to support student feedback and/or opportunity for self/ peer review before submission of their work.
Journals and reflective assignments often start off as purely descriptive, however with support students can develop their writing to be more dialogic and critical (Rivera, 2017). It is important that students demonstrate reflective thinking on the development of their learning and/or practice. Sensitive issues related to student trust may arise when writing about personal and/or difficult encounters or situations, as well as issues around privacy and confidentiality if any of the work is shared.
Although Brightspace does not include a specific journaling tool, lecturers can use the VLE to provide students with the opportunity to keep a reflective journal. For example, s tudents could do this very simply online by keeping a word document that they build up over time and then submit at the end. Alternatively, by setting up private groups with restricted discussions using Brightspace’s Groups and discussion forum in Brightspace, students can keep a private journal which may be shared with the lecturer. You can view step-by-step instructions on how to set up reflective journals for students using Private Discussions in Brightspace . Please note that there is an upper limit of 200 groups per group set.
Other tools and technologies to support this assessment type include;
- Video assignment ( supported by Bongo integrated in Brightspace )
- File/text assignment submission in Brightspace .
- Creating a Discussion Forum in Brightspace
It is important to start out with a clear understanding of what you mean by reflection as well as the process involved. Be able to clearly articulate the key elements of a reflective assignment, providing guidance on how students can engage in the reflective process, and set out clear criteria used to assess performance. Keep in mind that reflective writing will be unfamiliar to most students, and it can be helpful to set aside time in a class to enable students to discuss their understanding of reflection as well as the requirements for the assessment. Initially, short and structured reflective activities might help students to become more familiar with the idea of reflection. As students become accustomed to reflective approaches to learning, more complex assignments can be used to deepen their reflective practice.
Clarify your expectations in terms of indicative word count for reflective pieces -this will also be important in terms of lecturer’s grading workload.
The following are some key resources that are currently available if you would like to learn more about this key assessment type.
- Learning Journals and Logs
- Reflective practice models
- UCD IT Services Bongo Video Assignment Setup
- University of Edinburgh Reflection Toolkit
- Bracken, R. C., A. Major, A. Paul and K. Ostherr (2021). " Reflective Writing about Near-Peer Blogs: A Novel Method for Introducing the Medical Humanities in Premedical Education. " Journal of Medical Humanities : 1-35 .
- Moon, J (1999) Reflection in Learning and Professional Development, Kogan Page, London
- Rivera, Roja (2017) The reflective writing continuum: Re-conceptualizing Hatton & Smith’s types of reflective writing International Journal of Research Studies in Education , Volume 6 Number 2, 49-67
Reflective writing: Types of reflective assignments
- What is reflection? Why do it?
- What does reflection involve?
- Reflective questioning
- Reflective writing for academic assessment
Types of reflective assignments
- Differences between discursive and reflective writing
- Sources of evidence for reflective writing assignments
- Linking theory to experience
- Reflective essays
- Portfolios and learning journals, logs and diaries
- Examples of reflective writing
- Video summary
On this page:
“Reflection in a programme of study or professional context is a purposeful activity. It drives learning and change...” Williams et al., Reflective thinking
What do you reflect on as part of assignments?
While you should be reflecting on all of your studies and assignments, the previous page introduced some aspects of courses that often explicitly require reflection. This page will consider what issues you should address when reflecting on each area of your course - especially as part of an assessment.
There are two different kinds of reflection that you may encounter at university and the sections below consider each. If the focus of your assignment is to look at theory in practice, you are likely to be looking at reflection focused on theory and academic evidence . This is often the case for disciplines where reflective practice is an important part of the profession (Social Work, Nursing and Education are good examples). If you are being asked to reflect as part of your learning or as personal development, you are likely to be looking at reflection focused on you and your development . This is also the case for students reflecting as part of their Hull Employability Awards.
Reflection focused on theory and academic evidence
In this kind of reflection, the aim is to relate theory and academic evidence to practice (and vice versa ). This is achieved by comparing your experiences to theory and exploring the relationships between both. This will enable you discuss to what extent they are comparable or not. Theory can also be used to reflectively interpret your experiences. See the video on our Linking theory to experience page for examples of how to do this.
For any kind of reflection, you should consider:
The event or experience
How does the event or experience relate to theory or academic evidence?
Theory and/or academic evidence
What is the relationship between the theory/evidence and your event/experience?
The relationship between
This is the relationship between the event/experience and theory/academic evidence. To what extent are the two comparable? Why is this?
As with all academic writing you must consider evidence. In this context your experiences, reflections and academic evidence can be used.
Can you apply theory or academic evidence to your reflection to increase your understanding of it?
All the ideas in developmental reflection below are often applicable to an academic context. (See below)
Reflection focused on you and your development:
In this kind of reflection, the focus is on you. You need to reflect on your experiences to highlight the learning and development you have achieved. You need to use your experiences as reflective learning points to inform future events.
What you are learning
It's why you are here after all! (In assignments, only a brief description needs to be written about what you are learning as your lecturer knows the topic already.)
- How you are learning it
We do not simply absorb information. Reflect on how you learn best so you can keep doing it
- How you are using what you are learning
Seeing the use and value of what you are learning is a fantastic motivator
- What your strengths and weaknesses in learning are
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses can help you identify areas to focus on. This can be for both improving your weaknesses and maximising your strengths.
- What your learning priorities are
There are many aspects to defining your learning priorities. You may wish to focus on certain areas to achieve your desired grade. You could be matching requirements for your future career goals. Perhaps you're sticking to your strengths or interests?
- How you can improve and build upon your learning process
The more time you put into figuring out how you learn and what works for you - the easier you will find your studies.
- How well you are working toward your short-, medium- and long-term goals.
There is no point in setting yourself goals if you do not have any checks in place to see if you are succeeding. Use reflection to keep checking on your progress and revise your goals if you need to.
How your reflection can inform future practice
Reflection is all about improving for the future. Use your reflection to inform future practice. This works for all disciplines - from scientists devising a new approach for experimentation to nurses devising ways to improve their patient care.
- What you are learning (only a brief description need be written about this - your lecturer knows the topic already)
Do not forget to also consider:
- your motivation
- your attitudes and ideas, and changes in these
- the skills you need for different components of your study and learning
- if anything is blocking your learning
- the gaps in your knowledge and skills
- how you might address any of these gaps.
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Reflective writing introduction
Develop your writing style
Find out what reflective writing is and how to use it in your assignments.
Reflective assignments are different to standard essays. Here we'll cover some key elements for you to consider when writing reflectively.
There are many models of reflection you can use in an assignment. Here we discuss some basic guidance for reflective writing but you should follow any additional guidelines you've been given on your course or module to meet your course requirements.
What is reflective writing?
- looks back at past experience to perform better in the future
- analyses, explores and explains what happened and why
- usually incorporates models or theory
- uses academic language
- considers strengths, weaknesses, anxieties and errors — you can use personal language such as 'I' and 'we' to talk about observations, emotions and feelings
- is constructively criticising yourself, an event and others
- requires evidence to support what you are saying such as things that have been said or done, their causes and their effects — so you need clear records of the events and your thoughts
Thinking reflectively involves:
- Thinking about what was done. Analyse the event by thinking in depth from different perspectives. Use subject theory, reflective models and personal insight. The critical evaluation you make of your and others’ actions should be applied to future events.
- Thinking about what happened, what did and didn’t work, and what you think about it.
- Critically evaluating what you would do differently in the future and explain why.
Reflective writing structure
Non-academic reflective writing is usually unstructured – such as writing in a personal diary, learning journal, or narrative for design development. You should structure your reflective assignments. There are lots of ways to structure your reflective writing, but we explore one example here.
Reflection usually has the following major components:
- Introduction : the event, incident or topic
- Description and problematisation of the event
- Cause and effect of the critical event — don't write too much description at this stage
- Explain and critique what happened, what are you trying to resolve here, what you have learnt and how you would move forwards
Reflective writing example
This example of basic reflective writing can be split into three parts: description, interpretation and outcome. See how the example paragraph is broken into these three sections below the text. Full example text:
Specific tasks were shared out amongst members of my team. However, the tasks were not seen as equally difficult by all team members. Consequently, the perception of unfairness impacted on our interactions. Social interdependence theory recognises a type of group interaction called “positive interdependence” (Johnson & Johnson, 2008, cited by Maughan & Webb, 2010) and many studies demonstrate that learning can be improved through cooperation (Maughan & Webb, 2010). We did not experience these with the initial task allocation. Nonetheless, we achieved a successful outcome through further negotiation. Therefore, we found that “cooperative learning experiences encourage higher achievement.” (Maughan & Webb, 2010). To improve the process in future, perhaps we could elect a chairperson to help encourage cooperation when tasks are being allocated.
Descriptions tend to be short – they explain what happened and what is being examined. For example:
Specific tasks were shared out amongst members of my team. However, the tasks were not seen as equally difficult by all team members.
Intrepretation can include what is most important, interesting, useful or relevant about the object, event or idea. It could include how it can be explained, such as with theory. For example:
Consequently, the perception of unfairness impacted on our interactions. Social interdependence theory recognises a type of group interaction called “positive interdependence” (Johnson & Johnson, 2008, cited by Maughan & Webb, 2010) and many studies demonstrate that learning can be improved through cooperation (Maughan & Webb, 2010). We did not experience these with the initial task allocation.
The outcome should cover what you've learnt from your experience and what it means for your future. For example:
Nonetheless, we achieved a successful outcome through further negotiation. Therefore, we found that “cooperative learning experiences encourage higher achievement.” (Maughan & Webb, 2010). To improve the process in future, perhaps we could elect a chairperson to help encourage cooperation when tasks are being allocated.
Useful reflective vocabulary
Below are some words and phrases to help improve your reflective writing.
You may need to talk about events, ideas or objects in your reflective writing. You can use a range of vocabulary to describe these items so there isn't any specific vocabulary for this section.
You should use the present tense to describe your idea, theory or model.
You can open personal statements with phrases like: 'For me', 'I found that', 'I felt that', or 'I believe...'. You also need to give your reasoning or evidence.
Interpreting the importance or value of something:
Clarifying the nature of the learning point or points:
Looking back and to referring to development over time:
- at the time
Expressing your personal viewpoint, behaviour or action:
- did not think
- did not feel
- did not notice
- did not question
- did not realise
- did something
- did not do something
- did not expect
Highlighting similarity and difference:
- this is similar to
- differs from
Words and phrases for academic caution:
- this might be
- is probably
- may be seen as
Introducing reasoning or evidence:
- may be explained by
- is related to
Describing the nature of your reflection:
- having read
Explaining what you learnt from your reflection:
Emphasis and the degree of understanding you've gained:.
- most importantly
- I have improved
- I have slightly developed
Expressing what you have gained from the experience:
- knowledge of
Expressing its future value:
- this knowledge, understanding or skill / is, could be, or will be / essential; important; useful / as a learner or practitioner because
- have not yet
- am not yet certain about
- am not yet confident about
- do not yet know
- do not yet understand
Words and phrases for what applying your learning to the future:
- I will now need to
- in a future similar situation, I would
- I need to further develop my knowledge
- my responses would be different
Johnson, D., and Johnson, F. (2008). Joining together: group theory and group skills. New York: Pearson.
Maughan, C., and Webb, J. (2010). Small group learning and teaching. Retrieved from http://188.8.131.52/archive/law/resources/teaching-and-learning-practices/groups/index.html.
Download our reflective writing revision sheet
Download this page as a PDF for your reflective writing notes and to use our vocabulary aid.
Academic writing style
Basic essay structure
Guidance and support
Department of English College of Liberal Arts
The Purpose of Reflection
Why is reflection important in the writing classroom .
Reflection— a process where students describe their learning, how it changed, and how it might relate to future learning experiences (“ Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind ,” 2008) —is a skill that often goes undervalued in classrooms that are packed with content. However, reflection is an important practice for students to make sense of and grow from a learning experience, and it is a practice backed by scholarship (see List of Scholarship below). A 2014 study by Harvard also confirmed that reflecting on one’s work improves job performance. Although often situated in the humanities and social sciences, reflection is an important practice across academic disciplines including nursing, business, the sciences, and more (see WAC Clearinghouse for a list of disciplinary reflection articles). As a result, reflective writing is one great method for students to reflect on their learning experiences in the English 106/108 classroom. Students, therefore, should be exposed to continuous reflective writing practices so that they become “producers” and not “consumers” of knowledge ( Costa and Kallick, 2008 ).
In terms of writing studies, reflection has been tapped as an important skill for students’ abilities to transfer writing skills. Writing transfer, according to forty-five writing researchers from the Elon Research Seminar , is defined as “the phenomenon in which new and unfamiliar writing tasks are approached through the application, remixing or integration of previous knowledge, skills, strategies, and dispositions.” In fact, two enabling practices within the Elon Research Seminar focus specifically on metacognition—i.e., thinking about thinking. Additionally, the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing —a collaboration between the Council of Writing Program Administrators, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Writing Project—further supports the use of reflection as it is one of the eight habits of mind needed for student success.
Reflection is a broad term that includes many different applications . Instructors can assign many different reflective activities, both guided and unguided (e.g., class discussion, journals, interviews, questioning, etc.). Nevertheless, the goal of reflection, according to Yancey (1998) in Reflection in the Writing Classroom , is as follows:
In method, reflection is dialectical, putting multiple perspectives into play with each other in order to produce insight. Procedurally, reflection entails a looking forward to goals we might attain, as well as a casting backward to see where we have been. When we reflect, we thus project and review, often putting the projections and the reviews in dialogue with each other, working dialectically to discover what we know, what we have learned, and what we might understand. (p. 6)
Furthermore, there are two purposes of reflection according to Ryan’s (2013) “The Pedagogical Balancing Act: Teaching Reflection in Higher Education” :
- Reflection allows students to make sense of material/experience in relation to oneself, others, and the conditions that shaped the material/experience;
- Reimagine material/experience for future personal or social benefit (p. 147).
Recurring reflection activities encourage students to think critically about their writing practices and to make sense of and reimagine their experiences for future benefit (see Dyment et. al, 2010 for further discussion).
Benefits of Reflection:
- What Benefits Reflective Writing Might Have for My Students—WAC Colorado State: Discusses the various benefits reflection has for students, and it also contains a list of reflection scholarship in various disciplines.
- Cultivating Reflection and Metacognition—Sweetland Center for Writing : Discusses how and why reflection is beneficial within the classroom. In addition, the website discusses how to incorporate reflection into practice.
- Learning Through Reflection—ASCD : A discussion of reflection’s benefits in K-12 classrooms, but provides scholarship for why reflection is beneficial overall.
- Writing@CSU: The Writing Studio : Colorado State University’s page provides information on the benefits of reflection, how to facilitate reflection, and activities to use within the classroom. This resource is service-learning focused.
- Facilitating Reflection : Contains a plethora of writing and non-writing reflection activities to incorporate into the classroom. Some of these activities are short and others could potentially take an entire class period.
- Digging Deeper : Contains reflection activities from Depaul University that works through the different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
- 15 ways to spark student reflection in your college classroom by Tricia Whenham: As the name foreshadows, Whenham briefly discusses 15 activities that spark reflection in students.
- What Are Some Strategies for Reflection Activities—UMSL Center for Teaching and Learning : Provides a list of reflective activities to include within the classroom.
- Reflective Writing Guide—Auburn University Office of University Writing : This fantastic resource succinctly provides instructions for incorporating reflective activities, how to assess them, and provides examples.
- Reflective Writing in Education—Monash University : An excellent resource that discusses reflection as a whole and how it factors into disciplines outside of writing (e.g., critical incidents in nursing). This source also presents sample assignments that are composed in other disciplines, including trigger warnings when necessary (e.g., law reports).
- Reflective Writing Guide—Dundee and Angus College : Provides an overview of reflection and various methods for incorporating it into your classroom.
- A Short Guide to Reflective Writing—University of Birmingham : Similar to the other guides as it presents examples for reflective writing and how to include it into the classroom.
- John Zubizarreta (2008) The Learning Portfolio: A Powerful Idea for Significant Learning : This article discusses writing portfolios, or learning portfolios as they are termed in the article, and why reflection is critical to its success. In addition, the article argues for reflection to be collaborative, consistent, and guided.
- Kathleen Blake Yancey (1998) Reflection in the Writing Classroom : A pivotal piece on reflection and its use within the writing classroom. This work provides several chapters on reflection in various areas, including the classroom, assessment, and reading.
- Kathleen Blake Yancey (2016) A Rhetoric of Reflection : An edited collection of various writing scholars and how reflection factors into their practice.
- Mary Ryan (2011) Improving Reflective Writing in Higher Education: A Social Semiotic Perspective : This article discusses the various theories of reflection and uses systemic functional linguistics to build a social semiotic model for reflective writing.
- Vankooten (2016) Identifying Components of Meta-Awareness about Composition: Toward a Theory and Methodology for Writing Studies : Works towards a theory of meta-awareness in composition and discusses the four observable areas of metacognition: 1) process, 2) techniques, 3) rhetoric, and 4) intercomparativity.
- Jenson (2011) Promoting Self-Regulation and Critical Reflection through Writing Students’ use of Electronic Portfolio : This empirical study discusses reflection and how its consistent use illustrated a deeper mode of thinking in students.
- Zohar and Dori (2012) Metacognition in Science Education : Discusses research in metacognition and its use within science education.
- Israel, Block, Bauserman, & Kinnucan-Welsch (2006) Metacognition in Literacy Education : This source brings research from education, psychology, linguistics, and reading to illustrate the need for reflection within literacy education.
*Note: This is not an exhaustive list of reflection scholarship and a simple database search will yield more results.
How to Write a Reflection Paper
Why reflective writing, experiential reflection, reading reflection.
- A note on mechanics
Reflection offers you the opportunity to consider how your personal experiences and observations shape your thinking and your acceptance of new ideas. Professors often ask students to write reading reflections. They do this to encourage you to explore your own ideas about a text, to express your opinion rather than summarize the opinions of others. Reflective writing can help you to improve your analytical skills because it requires you to express what you think, and more significantly, how and why you think that way. In addition, reflective analysis asks you to acknowledge that your thoughts are shaped by your assumptions and preconceived ideas; in doing so, you can appreciate the ideas of others, notice how their assumptions and preconceived ideas may have shaped their thoughts, and perhaps recognize how your ideas support or oppose what you read.
Types of Reflective Writing
Popular in professional programs, like business, nursing, social work, forensics and education, reflection is an important part of making connections between theory and practice. When you are asked to reflect upon experience in a placement, you do not only describe your experience, but you evaluate it based on ideas from class. You can assess a theory or approach based on your observations and practice and evaluate your own knowledge and skills within your professional field. This opportunity to take the time to think about your choices, your actions, your successes and your failures is best done within a specific framework, like course themes or work placement objectives. Abstract concepts can become concrete and real to you when considered within your own experiences, and reflection on your experiences allows you to make plans for improvement.
To encourage thoughtful and balanced assessment of readings, many interdisciplinary courses may ask you to submit a reading reflection. Often instructors will indicate to students what they expect of a reflection, but the general purpose is to elicit your informed opinions about ideas presented in the text and to consider how they affect your interpretation. Reading reflections offer an opportunity to recognize – and perhaps break down – your assumptions which may be challenged by the text(s).
Approaches to Reflective Inquiry
You may wonder how your professors assess your reflective writing. What are they looking for? How can my experiences or ideas be right or wrong? Your instructors expect you to critically engage with concepts from your course by making connections between your observations, experiences, and opinions. They expect you to explain and analyse these concepts from your own point of view, eliciting original ideas and encouraging active interest in the course material.
It can be difficult to know where to begin when writing a critical reflection. First, know that – like any other academic piece of writing – a reflection requires a narrow focus and strong analysis. The best approach for identifying a focus and for reflective analysis is interrogation. The following offers suggestions for your line of inquiry when developing a reflective response.
It is best to discuss your experiences in a work placement or practicum within the context of personal or organizational goals; doing so provides important insights and perspective for your own growth in the profession. For reflective writing, it is important to balance reporting or descriptive writing with critical reflection and analysis.
Consider these questions:
- Contextualize your reflection: What are your learning goals? What are the objectives of the organization? How do these goals fit with the themes or concepts from the course?
- Provide important information: What is the name of the host organization? What is their mission? Who do they serve? What was your role? What did you do?
- Analytical Reflection: What did you learn from this experience? About yourself? About working in the field? About society?
- Lessons from reflection: Did your experience fit with the goals or concepts of the course or organization? Why or why not? What are your lessons for the future? What was successful? Why? What would you do differently? Why? How will you prepare for a future experience in the field?
Consider the purpose of reflection: to demonstrate your learning in the course. It is important to actively and directly connect concepts from class to your personal or experiential reflection. The following example shows how a student’s observations from a classroom can be analysed using a theoretical concept and how the experience can help a student to evaluate this concept.
For Example My observations from the classroom demonstrate that the hierarchical structure of Bloom’s Taxonomy is problematic, a concept also explored by Paul (1993). The students often combined activities like application and synthesis or analysis and evaluation to build their knowledge and comprehension of unfamiliar concepts. This challenges my understanding of traditional teaching methods where knowledge is the basis for inquiry. Perhaps higher-order learning strategies like inquiry and evaluation can also be the basis for knowledge and comprehension, which are classified as lower-order skills in Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Critical reflection requires thoughtful and persistent inquiry. Although basic questions like “what is the thesis?” and “what is the evidence?” are important to demonstrate your understanding, you need to interrogate your own assumptions and knowledge to deepen your analysis and focus your assessment of the text.
Assess the text(s):
- What is the main point? How is it developed? Identify the purpose, impact and/or theoretical framework of the text.
- What ideas stood out to me? Why? Were they new or in opposition to existing scholarship?
Develop your ideas:
- What do I know about this topic? Where does my existing knowledge come from? What are the observations or experiences that shape my understanding?
- Do I agree or disagree with this argument? Why?
- How does this text reinforce my existing ideas or assumptions? How does this text challenge my existing ideas or assumptions?
- How does this text help me to better understand this topic or explore this field of study/discipline?
A Note on Mechanics
As with all written assignments or reports, it is important to have a clear focus for your writing. You do not need to discuss every experience or element of your placement. Pick a few that you can explore within the context of your learning. For reflective responses, identify the main arguments or important elements of the text to develop a stronger analysis which integrates relevant ideas from course materials.
Furthermore, your writing must be organized. Introduce your topic and the point you plan to make about your experience and learning. Develop your point through body paragraph(s), and conclude your paper by exploring the meaning you derive from your reflection. You may find the questions listed above can help you to develop an outline before you write your paper.
You should maintain a formal tone, but it is acceptable to write in the first person and to use personal pronouns. Note, however, that it is important that you maintain confidentiality and anonymity of clients, patients or students from work or volunteer placements by using pseudonyms and masking identifying factors.
The value of reflection: Critical reflection is a meaningful exercise which can require as much time and work as traditional essays and reports because it asks students to be purposeful and engaged participants, readers, and thinkers.
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Writing reflectively is essential to many academic programmes and also to completing applications for employment. This page considers what reflective writing is and how to do it.
What is reflection?
Reflection is something that we do everyday as part of being human. We plan and undertake actions, then think about whether each was successful or not, and how we might improve next time. We can also feel reflection as emotions, such as satisfaction and regret, or as a need to talk over happenings with friends. See below for an introduction to reflection as a concept.
Reflection in everyday life [Google Slides]
What is reflective writing?
Reflective writing should be thought of as recording reflective thinking. This can be done in an everyday diary entry, or instruction in a recipe book to change a cooking method next time. In academic courses, reflective is more complex and focussed. This section considers the main features of reflective writing.
Reflective writing for employability
When applying for jobs, or further academic study, students are required to think through what they have done in their degrees and translate it into evaluative writing that fulfils the criteria of job descriptions and person specifications. This is a different style of writing, the resource below will enable you to think about how to begin this transition.
There are also lots of resources available through the university's careers service and elsewhere on the Skills Guides. The links below are to pages that can offer further support and guidance.
- Careers and Placements Service resources Lots of resources that relate to all aspects of job applications, including tailored writing styles and techniques.
The language of reflective writing
Reflective academic writing is:
- almost always written in the first person.
- evaluative - you are judging something.
- partly personal, partly based on criteria.
- analytical - you are usually categorising actions and events.
- formal - it is for an academic audience.
- carefully constructed.
Look at the sections below to see specific vocabulary types and sentence constructions that can be useful when writing reflectively.
Language for exploring outcomes
A key element of writing reflectively is being able to explain to the reader what the results of your actions were. This requires careful grading of language to ensure that what you write reflects the evidence of what happened and to convey clearly what you achieved or did not achieve.
Below are some ideas and prompts of how you can write reflectively about outcomes, using clarity and graded language.
Expressing uncertainty when writing about outcomes:
- It is not yet clear that…
- I do not yet (fully) understand...
- It is unclear...
- It is not yet fully clear...
- It is not yet (fully?) known…
- It appears to be the case that…
- It is too soon to tell....
Often, in academic learning, the uncertainty in the outcomes is a key part of the learning and development that you undertake. It is vital therefore that you explain this clearly to the reader using careful choices in your language.
Writing about how the outcome relates to you:
- I gained (xxxx) skills…
- I developed…
- The experience/task/process taught me…
- I achieved…
- I learned that…
- I found that…
In each case you can add in words like, ‘significantly’, ‘greatly’, ‘less importantly’ etc. The use of evaluative adjectives enables you to express to the reader the importance and significance of your learning in terms of the outcomes achieved.
Describing how you reached your outcomes:
- Having read....
- Having completed (xxxx)...
- I analysed…
- I applied…
- I learned…
- I experienced…
- Having reflected…
This gives the reader an idea of the nature of the reflection they are reading. How and why you reach the conclusions and learning that you express in your reflective writing is important so the reader can assess the validity and strength of your reflections.
Projecting your outcomes into the future:
- If I completed a similar task in the future I would…
- Having learned through this process I would…
- Next time I will…
- I will need to develop…. (in light of the outcomes)
- Next time my responses would be different....
When showing the reader how you will use your learning in the future, it is important to be specific and again, to use accurate graded language to show how and why what you choose to highlight matters. Check carefully against task instructions to see what you are expected to reflect into the future about.
When reflecting in academic writing on outcomes, this can mean either the results of the task you have completed, for example, the accuracy of a titration in a Chemistry lab session, or what you have learned/developed within the task, for example, ensuring that an interview question is written clearly enough to produce a response that reflects what you wished to find out.
Language choices are important in ensuring the reader can see what you think in relation to the reflection you have done.
Language for interpretation
When you interpret something you are telling the reader how important it is, or what meaning is attached to it.
You may wish to indicate the value of something:
E.g. 'the accuracy of the transcription was essential to the accuracy of the eventual coding and analysis of the interviews undertaken. The training I undertook was critical to enabling me to transcribe quickly and accurately'
You may wish to show how ideas, actions or some other aspect developed over time:
- in sequence
E.g. 'Before we could produce the final version of the presentation, we had to complete both the research and produce a plan. This was achieved later than expected, leading to subsequent rushing of creating slides, and this contributed to a lower grade'.
You may wish to show your viewpoint or that of others:
- did not think
- did/did not do something
Each of these could be preceded by 'we' or 'I'.
E.g. 'I noticed that the model of the bridge was sagging. I expressed this to the group, and as I did so I noticed that two members did not seem to grasp how serious the problem was. I proposed a break and a meeting, during which I intervened to show the results of inaction.'
There is a huge range of language that can be used for interpretation, the most important thing is to remember your reader and be clear with them about what your interpretation is, so they can see your thinking and agree or disagree with you.
Language for analysis
When reflecting, it is important to show the reader that you have analysed the tasks, outcomes, learning and all other aspects that you are writing about. In most cases, you are using categories to provide structure to your reflection. Some suggestions of language to use when analysing in reflective writing are below:
Signposting that you are breaking down a task or learning into categories:
- An aspect of…
- An element of…
- An example of…
- A key feature of the task was... (e.g. teamwork)
- The task was multifaceted… (then go on to list or describe the facets)
- There were several experiences…
- ‘X’ is related to ‘y’
There may be specific categories that you should consider in your reflection. In teamwork, it could be individual and team performance, in lab work it could be accuracy and the reliability of results. It is important that the reader can see the categories you have used for your analysis.
Analysis by chronology:
- Stage 1 (or other)
In many tasks the order in which they were completed matters. This can be a key part of your reflection, as it is possible that you may learn to do things in a different order next time or that the chronology influenced the outcomes.
Analysis by perspective:
- I considered
These language choices show that you are analysing purely by your own personal perspective. You may provide evidence to support your thinking, but it is your viewpoint that matters.
- What I expected from the reading did not happen…
- The Theory did not appear in our results…
- The predictions made were not fulfilled…
- The outcome was surprising because… (and link to what was expected)
These language choices show that you are analysing by making reference to academic learning (from an academic perspective). This means you have read or otherwise learned something and used it to form expectations, ideas and/or predictions. You can then reflect on what you found vs what you expected. The reader needs to know what has informed our reflections.
- Organisation X should therefore…
- A key recommendation is…
- I now know that organisation x is…
- Theory A can be applied to organisation X
These language choices show that analysis is being completed from a systems perspective. You are telling the reader how your learning links into the bigger picture of systems, for example, what an organisation or entity might do in response to what you have learned.
Analysing is a key element of being reflective. You must think through the task, ideas, or learning you are reflecting on and use categories to provide structure to your thought. This then translates into structure and language choices in your writing, so your reader can see clearly how you have used analysis to provide sense and structure to your reflections.
Language for evaluation
Reflecting is fundamentally an evaluative activity. Writing about reflection is therefore replete with evaluative language. A skillful reflective writer is able to grade their language to match the thinking it is expressing to the reader.
Language to show how significant something is:
- Most importantly
- The principal lesson was…
- In each case the language is quantifying the significance of the element you are describing, telling the reader the product of your evaluative thought.
For example, ‘when team working I initially thought that we would succeed by setting out a plan and then working independently, but in fact, constant communication and collaboration were crucial to success. This was the most significant thing I learned.’
Language to show the strength of relationships:
- X is strongly associated with Y
- A is a consequence of B
- There is a probable relationship between…
- C does not cause D
- A may influence B
- I learn most strongly when doing A
In each case the language used can show how significant and strong the relationship between two factors are.
For example, ‘I learned, as part of my research methods module, that the accuracy of the data gained through surveys is directly related to the quality of the questions. Quality can be improved by reading widely and looking at surveys in existing academic papers to inform making your own questions’
Language to evaluate your viewpoint:
- I was convinced...
- I have developed significantly…
- I learned that...
- The most significant thing that I learned was…
- Next time, I would definitely…
- I am unclear about…
- I was uncertain about…
These language choices show that you are attaching a level of significance to your reflection. This enables the reader to see what you think about the learning you achieved and the level of significance you attach to each reflection.
For example, ‘when using systematic sampling of a mixed woodland, I was convinced that method A would be most effective, but in reality, it was clear that method B produced the most accurate results. I learned that assumptions based on reading previous research can lead to inaccurate predictions. This is very important for me as I will be planning a similar sampling activity as part of my fourth year project’
Evaluating is the main element of reflecting. You need to evaluate the outcomes of the activities you have done, your part in them, the learning you achieved and the process/methods you used in your learning, among many other things. It is important that you carefully use language to show the evaluative thinking you have completed to the reader.
Varieties of reflective writing in academic studies
There are a huge variety of reflective writing tasks, which differ between programmes and modules. Some are required by the nature of the subject, like in Education, where reflection is a required standard in teaching.
Some are required by the industry area graduates are training for, such as 'Human Resources Management', where the industry accreditation body require evidence of reflective capabilities in graduates.
In some cases, reflection is about the 'learning to learn' element of degree studies, to help you to become a more effective learner. Below, some of the main reflective writing tasks found in University of York degrees are explored. In each case the advice, guidance and materials do not substitute for those provided within your modules.
Reflective essay writing
Reflective essay tasks vary greatly in what they require of you. The most important thing to do is to read the assessment brief carefully, attend any sessions and read any materials provided as guidance and to allocate time to ensure you can do the task well.
Reflective learning statements
Reflective learning statements are often attached to dissertations and projects, as well as practical activities. They are an opportunity to think about and tell the reader what you have learned, how you will use the learning, what you can do better next time and to link to other areas, such as your intended career.
Making a judgement about academic performance
Think of this type of writing as producing your own feedback. How did you do? Why? What could you improve next time? These activities may be a part of modules, they could be attached to a bigger piece of work like a dissertation or essay, or could be just a part of your module learning.
The four main questions to ask yourself when reflecting on your academic performance.
- Why exactly did you achieve the grade you have been awarded? Look at your feedback, the instructions, the marking scheme and talk to your tutors to find out if you don't know.
- How did your learning behaviours affect your academic performance? This covers aspects such as attendance, reading for lectures/seminars, asking questions, working with peers... the list goes on.
- How did your performance compare to others? Can you identify when others did better or worse? Can you talk to your peers to find out if they are doing something you are not or being more/less effective?
- What can you do differently to improve your performance? In each case, how will you ensure you can do it? Do you need training? Do you need a guide book or resources?
When writing about each of the above, you need to keep in mind the context of how you are being asked to judge your performance and ensure the reader gains the detail they need (and as this is usually a marker, this means they can give you a high grade!).
Writing a learning diary/blog/record
A learning diary or blog has become a very common method of assessing and supporting learning in many degree programmes. The aim is to help you to think through your day-to-day learning and identify what you have and have not learned, why that is and what you can improve as you go along. You are also encouraged to link your learning to bigger thinking, like future careers or your overall degree.
Other support for reflective writing
The general writing pages of this site offer guidance that can be applied to all types of writing, including reflective writing. Also check your department's guidance and VLE sites for tailored resources.
Other useful resources for reflective writing:
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Examples of Reflective Writing
Types of reflective writing assignments.
A journal requires you to write weekly entries throughout a semester. May require you to base your reflection on course content.
A learning diary is similar to a journal, but may require group participation. The diary then becomes a place for you to communicate in writing with other group members.
A logbook is often used in disciplines based on experimental work, such as science. You note down or 'log' what you have done. A log gives you an accurate record of a process and helps you reflect on past actions and make better decisions for future actions.
A reflective note is often used in law. A reflective note encourages you to think about your personal reaction to a legal issue raised in a course.
An essay diary can take the form of an annotated bibliography (where you examine sources of evidence you might include in your essay) and a critique (where you reflect on your own writing and research processes).
a peer review usually involves students showing their work to their peers for feedback.
A self-assessment task requires you to comment on your own work.
Some examples of reflective writing
Social science fieldwork report (methods section), engineering design report, learning journal (weekly reflection).
Brookfield, S 1987, Developing critical thinkers: challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting , Open University Press, Milton Keynes.
Mezirow, J 1990, Fostering critical reflection in adulthood: a guide to transformative and emancipatory learning , Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
Schön, DA 1987, Educating the reflective practitioner , Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.
We thank the students who permitted us to feature examples of their writing.
Prepared by Academic Skills, UNSW. This guide may be distributed or adapted for educational purposes. Full and proper acknowledgement is required.
Essay and assignment writing guide
- Essay writing basics
- Essay and assignment planning
- Answering assignment questions
- Editing checklist
- Writing a critical review
- Annotated bibliography
- How do I write reflectively?
- Examples of reflective writing
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Reflective Learning: Thinking About the Way You Learn
- Reflective learning involves actively monitoring and assessing your knowledge, abilities, and performance during the learning process, in order to improve the process and its associated outcomes.
- For example, if you’re studying for a test, you can engage in reflective learning by asking yourself how well you understand each of the topics that you’re studying, and based on this figure out which topics you need to spend more time on.
Reflective learning can be beneficial in various ways and in various contexts, so it’s often worthwhile to engage in it. As such, in the following article you will learn more about reflective learning, and see how you can engage in it yourself, as well as how you can encourage others to engage in it.
Examples of reflective learning
An example of reflective learning is a person who starts a new hobby, and asks themself how well they’re learning the new information that comes with the hobby, whether there are any gaps in their knowledge, and which learning strategies they enjoy using the most.
Other examples of reflective learning appear in various domains, both in academia and outside of it. For instance:
- A student taking a difficult course can ask themself which parts of the material they struggle with and why, in order to figure out what they should be focusing on, and how they can modify their learning to make it more effective.
- An intern learning to perform various tasks at their new workplace can assess their ability to perform those tasks, so they can know which tasks they need to ask for help with.
- An athlete who’s preparing for a competition can think about which learning strategies aren’t working well for them and why, and then either improve the way they use those strategies, or replacing those strategies with better ones.
The benefits of reflective learning
There are many potential benefits to reflective learning:
- It can help you assess your situation , for example by prompting you to identify gaps in your knowledge and areas where you need to improve.
- It can help you figure out how to improve your learning process , for example by prompting you to figure out which learning techniques work well for you and which ones don’t.
- It can help you understand yourself better , for example by prompting you to consider what kind of assignments or information you struggle with the most.
- It can help you develop your general metacognitive skills , by training you to think critically about how you learn.
- It can increase your feelings of autonomy and control, by making you feel that you’re actively in charge of your learning process.
- It can increase your motivation to learn, by making you feel more in control of the learning process, and by making that process more deliberate and effective.
- It can improve your learning outcomes , both directly, by helping you modify the learning process, as well as indirectly, through the other benefits that it offers, such as increased motivation.
Accordingly, many studies have shown that reflective learning can lead to personal growth and improved learning. For example, one study found that encouraging students to reflect on what they’re learning and how they learn had a positive impact on their learning outcomes, and had additional benefits when it came to their critical thinking skills and their ability to organize their thoughts. Similarly, another study found that reflective learning helped students process the learning material and link it to material that they’ve encountered previously.
Furthermore, in addition to students, instructors can also benefit from the reflective learning that their students engage in. For example, reflective learning can prompt students to generate helpful feedback that instructors can then use to improve their teaching, for instance by identifying areas where students require more thorough explanations, or by identifying teaching methods that need to be modified.
Overall, reflective learning has various potential benefits, including helping learners assess their situation and improve their learning process, helping learners understand themselves and develop their metacognitive skills, and increasing learners’ feelings of autonomy and control, as well as their motivation. Accordingly, the importance of reflective learning is widely recognized in various fields , and it’s an important part of many education, training, and work programs.
How to be reflective in your learning
Being reflective in your learning means thinking about what you’re learning and how you’re learning it, in a way that helps you understand yourself and your learning better. There are several things that you can reflect on:
- Your understanding of the material. For example, how well you understand certain concepts.
- Your understanding of how to implement what you’ve learned. For example, when and how you can use a certain formula.
- Your learning process. For example, how well certain learning strategies work for you.
- Your abilities, preferences, and thoughts. For example, how difficult or enjoyable you find a certain topic.
- Your goals. For example, where and when you plan to implement something that you’ve learned, and what you hope to achieve by doing so.
You can reflect on these things in various ways and to different degrees.
For example, in some cases, you might engage in quick and shallow reflection while you’re studying, by asking yourself “do I really understand this material?”. Alternatively, in other cases, you might want to engage in slower and deeper reflection, by writing down all the key topics that you’ve learned about, and going over this list to identify areas that you don’t understand well.
Similarly, in some cases, you might want to quickly ask yourself “is this learning technique working well for me?”. Alternatively, in other cases, you might decide to write down a list of all the learning techniques that you’re using, and then rank them based on how effective they are for you. Furthermore, if you do this, you can also ask yourself what all the techniques that work well for you have in common.
When doing all this, you can use various questions to guide your reflection, as shown in the examples above, and the following are some specific questions that you might benefit from using:
- Which parts of the material do I understand well? How do I know that I understand this material well?
- Which parts of the material do I struggle with? What specifically am I struggling with, and why?
- Which learning techniques do I feel are helpful? Why do I feel that they are helpful?
- Which learning techniques do I feel are unhelpful? Why do I feel that they are unhelpful?
- Are there any changes that I can make to my learning process to make it better for me?
- Should I ask someone else for help, either with my reflection or with my learning? If so, then what should I ask about, and who is a good person to ask this?
Keep in mind that it’s often more difficult to engage in reflective learning than it is to simply move forward without reflection, especially in the short term. Accordingly, people often avoid reflection, particularly when they’re under time pressure. However, in the long term, reflective learning can be better, both when it comes directly to your learning outcomes, as well as when it comes to related benefits, such as your general ability to learn and your motivation to do so.
Overall, you can reflect on various aspects of your learning, including your understanding of the material, your understanding of how to implement what you’ve learned, your learning process, and your abilities, preferences, thoughts, and goals. You can encourage and guide reflective learning by asking relevant questions, such as “which parts of the material do I struggle with?”, “which learning techniques work well for me?”, and “is there anything I can do to make my learning process more effective?”.
Note : when engaging in reflective learning, you can also benefit from focusing on knowledge-building , an approach to learning and teaching that involves relatively deep engagement with the study material.
Reflective learning as a shared activity
Reflective learning can be something that you do by yourself or together with others. When done as a shared activity, reflective learning can take many forms. For example, it can involve a group of students openly discussing what challenges they faced while studying for a test, or a one-on-one meeting between a student and a tutor, where the tutor asks the student guiding questions about the student’s learning process.
There are advantages and disadvantages to individual reflection and shared reflection, as well as to the various forms of shared reflection. For example, while shared reflection as part of a group exposes people to more perspectives, which can help them identify more issues with their learning than they would be able to identify in a pair or by themselves, this approach can also make the reflection process much more stressful for people who are shy and struggle to work in groups.
Accordingly, when deciding whether and how to make reflective learning a shared activity, it’s important to consider the situation, and take any potential advantages and disadvantages into account.
Note : when it comes to shared reflective learning, an important concept to be aware of is the protégé effect , which is a psychological phenomenon where teaching, pretending to teach, or preparing to teach information to others helps a person learn that information. This is because the protégé effect means that shared reflective learning can help not only the person who is reflecting, but also those who help them do it.
How to encourage reflective learning in others
To encourage reflective learning in others, you can:
- Explain what reflective learning is.
- Explain why reflective learning can be beneficial.
- Explain how people can generally engage in reflective learning, potentially using relevant examples.
- Explain how they specifically can engage in reflective learning, potentially using relevant examples.
- Create an environment that is conducive to reflective learning, for example by giving people enough time to engage in reflection.
- Guide people’s reflection directly, for example by asking them questions that prompt them to think about their learning.
There are many ways in which you can do this. For example, you can give students a worksheet a day after an important exam, which has questions that guide them through the reflective-learning process. Similarly, you can dedicate 10 minutes at the end of class to having discussions in pairs, where students are encouraged to help each other reflect on their studies.
When encouraging reflective learning in others, you should remember that the end goal is to help them develop their skills and improve their learning outcomes. As such, you want to avoid the potential pitfalls of promoting reflective learning in an inappropriate manner. This can happen, for example, if you make the reflection feel like a pointless exercise, if you push learners to share information that they don’t feel comfortable giving, or if you force learners to use reflection techniques that don’t work well for them.
For example, this means that if you generally use reflective writing as a technique for promoting reflection, but someone feels much more comfortable engaging in reflection through sketching and drawing, then you should consider letting them do so, as long as it’s appropriate given the circumstances.
Reflective learning and reflective practice
Reflective practice involves actively analyzing your experiences and actions, in order to help yourself improve and develop.
The terms reflective learning and reflective practice refer to similar concepts, and because their definitions vary and even overlap in some cases , they are sometimes used interchangeably.
Nevertheless, one possible way to differentiate between them is to say that people engage in reflective learning with regard to events where learning is the main goal, and in reflective practice with regard to events where learning is not the main goal. For example, a nursing student might engage in reflective learning when learning how to perform a certain procedure, whereas an experienced nurse might engage in reflective practice while performing the same procedure as part of their everyday routine.
Alternatively, it’s possible to view reflective learning as a notable type of reflective practice, which revolves around improving one’s learning in particular.
Overall, there is no clear distinction between reflective practice and reflective learning, and these terms are sometimes used interchangeably. However, potential distinctions between these terms are generally not important from a practical perspective, since they are unlikely to influence how the underlying concepts are implemented in practice.
Summary and conclusions
- Reflective learning has various potential benefits, including helping learners assess their situation and improve their learning process, helping learners understand themselves and develop their metacognitive skills, and increasing learners’ feelings of autonomy and control, as well as their motivation.
- You can reflect on various aspects of your learning, including your understanding of the material, your understanding of how to implement what you’ve learned, your learning process, and your abilities, preferences, thoughts, and goals.
- You can encourage and guide reflective learning by asking relevant questions, such as “which parts of the material do I struggle with?”, “which learning techniques work well for me?”, and “is there anything I can do to make my learning process more effective?”.
Other articles you may find interesting:
- Knowledge-Telling and Knowledge-Building in Learning and Teaching
- Reflective Practice: Thinking About the Way You Do Things
- The Factors that Determine Success at Learning
Module 1: Success Skills
Reflective writing, learning objectives.
- Examine the components of reflective writing
Reflective writing includes several different components: description, analysis, interpretation, evaluation, and future application. Reflective writers must weave their personal perspectives with evidence of deep, critical thought as they make connections between theory, practice, and learning. The steps below should help you find the appropriate balance among all these factors.
1st Step: Review the assignment
As with any writing situation, the first step in writing a reflective piece is to clarify the task. Reflective assignments can take many forms, so you need to understand exactly what your instructor is asking you to do. Some reflective assignments are short, just a paragraph or two of unpolished writing. Usually the purpose of these reflective pieces is to capture your immediate impressions or perceptions. For example, your instructor might ask you at the end of a class to write quickly about a concept from that day’s lesson. That type of reflection helps you and your instructor gauge your understanding of the concept.
Other reflections are academic essays that can range in length from several paragraphs to several pages. The purpose of these essays is to critically reflect on and support an original claim(s) about a larger experience, such as an event you attended, a project you worked on, or your writing development. These essays require polished writing that conforms to academic conventions, such as articulation of a claim and substantive revision. They might address a larger audience than you and your instructor, including, for example, your classmates, your family, a scholarship committee, etc. It’s important before you begin writing, that you can identify the assignment’s purpose, audience, intended message or content, and requirements.
2nd Step: Generate ideas for content
As you generate ideas for your reflection, you might consider things like:
- Recollections of an experience, assignment, or course
- Ideas or observations made during that event
- Questions, challenges, or areas of doubt
- Strategies employed to solve problems
- A-ha moments linking theory to practice or learning something new
- Connections between this learning and prior learning
- New questions that arise as a result of the learning or experience
- New actions taken as a result of the learning or experience
3rd Step: Organize content
Researchers have developed several different frameworks or models for how reflective writing can be structured. For example, one method has you consider the “What?” “So what?” and “Now what?” of a situation in order to become more reflective. First, you assess what happened and describe the event, then you explain why it was significant, and then you use that information to inform your future practice.   Similarly, the DIEP framework can help you consider how to organize your content when writing a reflective piece. Using this method, you describe what happened or what you did, interpret what it means, evaluate its value or impact, and plan steps for improving or changing for the future.
The DIEP Model of reflective writing
The DIEP model (Boud, Keogh & Walker, 1985) organizes the reflection into four different components:
Figure 1 . The DIEP model for reflective thinking and writing has you first describe the situation, interpret it, evaluate it, then plan what to do with that new information.
Remember, your goal is to make an interpretive or evaluative claim, or series of claims, that moves beyond obvious statements (such as, “I really enjoyed this project”) and demonstrates you have come to a deeper understanding of what you have learned and how you will use that learning.
In the example below, notice how the writer reflects on her initial ambitions and planning, the a-ha! moment, and then her decision to limit the scope of a project. She was assigned a multimodal (more than just writing) project, in which she made a video, and then reflected on the experience:
Keeping a central focus in mind applies to multimodal compositions as well as written essays. A prime example of this was in my remix. When storyboarding for the video, I wanted to appeal to all college students in general. Within my compressed time limit of three minutes, I had planned to showcase numerous large points. It was too much. I decided to limit the scope of the topic to emphasize how digitally “addicted” college students are, and that really changed the project in significant ways.
4th Step: Draft, Revise, Edit, Repeat
A single, unpolished draft may suffice for short, in-the-moment reflections, but you may be asked to produce a longer academic reflection essay. This longer reflection will require significant drafting, revising, and editing. Whatever the length of the assignment, keep this reflective cycle in mind:
- briefly describe the event or action;
- analyze and interpret events and actions, using evidence for support;
- demonstrate relevance in the present and the future.
The following video, produced by the Hull University Skills Team, provides a great overview of reflective writing. Even if you aren’t assigned a specific reflection writing task in your classes, it’s a good idea to reflect anyway, as reflection results in better learning.
You can view the transcript for “Reflective Writing” here (opens in new window) .
Check your understanding of reflective writing and the things you learned in the video with these quick practice questions:
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- Driscoll J (1994) Reflective practice for practise - a framework of structured reflection for clinical areas. Senior Nurse 14 (1):47–50 ↵
- Ash, S.L, Clayton, P.H., & Moses, M.G. (2009). Learning through critical reflection: A tutorial for service-learning students (instructor version). Raleigh, NC. ↵
- Process of Reflective Writing. Authored by : Karen Forgette. Provided by : University of Mississippi. License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
- Reflective Writing. Provided by : SkillsTeamHullUni. Located at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoI67VeE3ds&feature=emb_logo . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
- Frameworks for Reflective Writing. Authored by : Karen Forgette. Provided by : University of Mississippi. License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
How to Write a Reflective Essay: Easy Guide with Pro Tips 2023
Defining What is a Reflective Essay: Purpose + Importance
Being present is a cornerstone of mindfulness and meditation. You must have often heard that staying in the moment helps you appreciate your surroundings, connects you with people and nature, and allows you to feel whatever emotions you must feel without anxiety. While this is helpful advice as you become more focused and avoid getting lost in thought, how can you truly appreciate the present without reflecting on your past experiences that have led you to the current moment?
We don't say that you should dwell on the past and get carried away with a constant thought process, but hey, hear us out - practice reflective thinking! Think back on your previous life events, paint a true picture of history, and make connections to your present self. This requires you to get a bit analytical and creative. So you might as well document your critical reflection on a piece of paper and give direction to your personal observations. That's when the need for reflective essays steps in!
In a reflective essay, you open up about your thoughts and emotions to uncover your mindset, personality, traits of character, and background. Your reflective essay should include a description of the experience/literature piece as well as explanations of your thoughts, feelings, and reactions. In this article, our essay writer service will share our ultimate guide on how to write a reflective essay with a clear format and reflective essay examples that will inspire you.
How to Write a Reflective Essay with a Proper Reflective Essay Outline
To give you a clear idea of structuring a reflective essay template, we broke down the essential steps below. Primarily, the organization of a reflective essay is very similar to other types of papers. However, our custom writers got more specific with the reflective essay outline to ease your writing process.
Reflective Essay Introduction
When wondering how to start a reflective essay, it is no surprise that you should begin writing your paper with an introductory paragraph. So, what's new and different with the reflection essay introduction? Let's dissect:
- Open your intro with an attention-seizing hook that engages your audience into reflective thinking with you. It can be something like: 'As I was sitting on my bed with my notebook placed on my shaky lap waiting for the letter of acceptance, I could not help but reflect, was enrolling in college the path I wanted to take in the future?'
- Provide context with a quick overview of the reflective essay topic. Don't reveal too much information at the start to prevent your audience from becoming discouraged to continue reading.
- Make a claim with a strong reflective essay thesis statement. It should be a simple explanation of the essay's main point, in this example, a specific event that had a big impact on you.
Reflective Essay Body Paragraphs
The next step is to develop the body of your essay. This section of the paper may be the most challenging because it's simple to ramble and replicate yourself both in the outline and the actual writing. Planning the body properly requires a lot of time and work, and the following advice can assist you in doing this effectively:
- Consider using a sequential strategy. This entails reviewing everything you wish to discuss in the order it occurred. This method ensures that your work is structured and cohesive.
- Make sure the body paragraph is well-rounded and employs the right amount of analysis. The body should go into the effects of the event on your life and the insights you've gained as a consequence.
- Prioritize reflecting rather than summarizing your points. In addition to giving readers insight into your personal experience, a reflective stance will also show off your personality and demonstrate your ability to handle certain challenges.
Reflective Essay Conclusion
The goal of your reflective essay conclusion should be to tie everything together by summarizing the key ideas raised throughout, as well as the lessons you were able to take away from experience.
- Don't forget to include the reasons for and the methods used to improve your beliefs and actions. Think about how your personality and skills have changed as well.
- What conclusions can you draw about your behavior in particular circumstances? What could you do differently if the conditions were the same in the future?
Remember that your instructor will be searching for clear signs of reflection.
Understanding a Reflection Paper Format
The format of reflective essay greatly differs from an argumentative or research paper. A reflective essay is more of a well-structured story or a diary entry rife with insight and reflection. You might be required to arrange your essay using the APA style or the MLA format.
And the typical reflection paper length varies between 300 and 700 words, but ask your instructor about the word length if it was assigned to you. Even though this essay is about you, try to avoid too much informal language.
If your instructor asks you to use an APA or MLA style format for reflective essay, here are a few shortcuts:
Reflective Essay in MLA Format
- Times New Roman 12pt font double spaced;
- 1" margins;
- The top right includes the last name and page number on every page;
- Titles are centered;
- The header should include your name, your professor's name, course number, and the date (dd/mm/yy);
- The last page includes a Works Cited.
Reflective Essay in APA Style
- Include a page header on the top of every page;
- Insert page number on the right;
- Your reflective essay should be divided into four parts: Title Page, Abstract, Main Body, and References.
Reflective Essay Writing Tips
You may think we've armed you with enough tips and pointers for reflective writing, but it doesn't stop here. Below we gathered some expert-approved tips for constructing uncontested reflection papers.
- Be as detailed as possible while writing. To make your reflective essay writing come to life, you should employ several tactics such as symbolism, sentence patterns, etc.
- Keep your audience in mind. The reader will become frustrated if you continue writing in the first person without taking a moment to convey something more important, even though you will likely speak about something from your own perspective.
- Put forth the effort to allow the reader to feel the situation or emotion you are attempting to explain.
- Don't preach; demonstrate. Instead of just reporting what happened, use description appropriately to paint a clear picture of the event or sensation.
- Plan the wording and structure of your reflective essay around a central emotion or subject, such as joy, pleasure, fear, or grief.
- Avoid adding dull elements that can lessen the effect of your work. Why include it if it won't enhance the emotion or understanding you wish to convey?
- There must be a constant sense of progression. Consider whether the event has transformed you or others around you.
- Remember to double-check your grammar, syntax, and spelling.
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Reflective Essay Topic Ideas
As a reflective essay should be about your own views and experiences, you generally can't use someone else's ideas. But to help you get started, here are some suggestions for writing topics:
- An experience you will never forget.
- The moment you overcame a fear.
- The most difficult choice you had to make.
- A time your beliefs were challenged.
- A time something changed your life.
- The happiest or most frightening moment of your life so far.
- Ways you think you or people can make the world a better place.
- A time you felt lost.
- An introspective look at your choices or a time you made the wrong choice.
- A moment in your life you would like to relive.
You may find it convenient to create a chart or table to keep track of your ideas. Split your chart into three parts:
- In the first column, write key experiences or your main points. You can arrange them from most important to least important.
- In the second column, list your response to the points you stated in the first column.
- In the third column, write what, from your response, you would like to share in the essay.
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Reflective Essay Sample
Referring to reflective essay examples can help you a lot. A reflective essay sample can provide you with useful insight into how your essay should look like. You can also buy an essay online if you need one customized to your specific requirements.
How to Conclude a Reflective Essay
As we come to an end, it's only logical to reflect on the main points discussed above in the article. By now, you should clearly understand what is a reflective essay and that the key to writing a reflective essay is demonstrating what lessons you have taken away from your experiences and why and how these lessons have shaped you. It should also have a clear reflective essay format, with an opening, development of ideas, and resolution.
Now that you have the tools to create a thorough and accurate reflective paper, you might want to hand over other tasks like writing definition essay examples to our experienced writers. In this case, feel free to buy an essay online on our platform and reflect on your past events without worrying about future assignments!
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