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”

  1. Reflection allows students to make sense of material/experience in relation to oneself, others, and the conditions that shaped the material/experience;
  2. 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: 

Reflection Activities: 

Teaching Resources:


*Note: This is not an exhaustive list of reflection scholarship and a simple database search will yield more results.