As teachers, we ask students to reflect so that they can practice critical thinking, see connections between different lessons, and synthesize information with their futures after college. Reflective writing (about lessons, experiences, and assignments) fosters students’ awareness of their habits of thinking and helps them to develop and solidify productive ways of approaching problems (in school and beyond). Students are typically able to describe their experiences, but they need guidance from experienced thinkers — their teachers — to achieve deeper reflection.
Guiding students through reflective writing assignments
- Make the stakes low.
Give students the confidence to write reflectively by starting with something they already know, whether it is a common class experience, a past assignment, or their own backgrounds. Low stakes practice with reflection doesn’t mean that everything has to be read with the same level of attention or weight in the grading.
- Build a more significant assignment.
Reflective writing practice can also be linked to another (sometimes larger) assignment. Create opportunities for students to condense and transform their reflections for new audiences. For example, reflections on academic experiences can become part of an ePortfolio or reflections on reading assignments can be combined into a position statement or literature review.
- Supply a prompt.
Provide students with prompts that move students from description to connection to synthesis, application, and evaluation. For examples, see our reference that explains levels of reflective writing.
- Provide feedback.
Encourage deeper critical thinking by providing feedback on students’ reflections. For example, you may pose questions that challenge and deepen their thinking on a topic. Without feedback, students may never deepen their thinking beyond simplistic descriptions or clichéd conclusions.