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).
Reflection in ICaP:
Because reflection has been backed by scholarship and is a powerful component for success in transfer and postsecondary writing, ICaP seeks to cultivate a culture of reflection in our students. In order to create a culture of reflection, students are required to compose 3-4 smaller reflective journals/logs after each major assignment that focuses on the assignment’s outcomes. The prompts for these small reflections are composed by instructors, but an example is provided in the Instructor’s Guide to the Portfolio. These smaller reflections serve as practice in reflective thinking and writing and provide scaffolding for a larger, final reflective essay. Regular reflection helps students synthesize the learning that they have done and establishes a culture of reflection, which helps students see reflection as a useful practice. Reflection thus becomes a reinforced habit of mind.
Additionally, students are required to compose a final reflective essay that serves as the front matter to a cumulative and process-oriented writing portfolio. This final reflective essay should synthesize all of the learning the student has done throughout the semester, and it should demonstrate how the student has met all six of ICaP’s outcomes. Please refer the student to the Student Guide to the Portfolio for more information.
Besides these two required forms of reflection, reflection can become a pivotal part of the writing classroom in many ways. For example, instructors can require students to compose exit slips in response to a reflection prompt the instructor has given. This assignment is short and should not take students more than 2-3 minutes to complete. Another form of the exit slip is the one-minute paper where instructors ask students to reflect on the most eye-opening moments of that day’s lesson or activities. An instructor could also discuss and ask students to reflect on the threshold concepts of writing as discussed in Adler-Kassner and Wardle’s (2015) Threshold Concepts of Writing (see Derek Sherman’s threshold concepts activity). Besides small writing activities, students could vlog about their experiences in class and what they have learned. Lastly, an important part of any reflective culture is for the instructor to model their reflective habits. Instructors, for instance, could discuss how they take time to reflect on their own academic or professional challenges and achievements, demonstrating how to put what they’ve learned from reflection into practice. Instructors could also discuss how their writing habits and their reflection on these habits have helped them become a better writer.
Below you will find several outside sources on reflection and its implementation in the classroom.
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.