Mid Semester Reflective Essay Ideas

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How deep is your commitment to reflective practice?

Do you maintain a reflective journal? Do you blog? Do you capture and archive your reflections in a different space?

Do you consistently reserve a bit of time for your own reflective work? Do you help the learners you serve do the same?

I began creating dedicated time and space for reflection toward the end of my classroom teaching career, and the practice has followed me through my work at the WNY Young Writer’s Studio. I’ve found that it can take very little time and yet, the return on our investment has always been significant.

Observations about reflection

  • Reflection makes all of us self-aware. It challenges us to think deeply about how we learn and why and why not.
  • Reflection deepens ownership. When we reflect, we become sensitive to the personal connection that exists between ourselves, our learning, and our work. The more we consider these connections, the deeper they seem to become. Reflection makes things matter more.
  • Reflection helps us get comfortable with uncomfortable. It also helps us fail forward. It’s through reflection that we’ve discovered our greatest power as a writing community: our collective expertise and our willingness to encourage and celebrate risk-taking.
  • Reflection helps us know ourselves better. It helps us sharpen our vision, so we can align our actions to it. Reflection also helps us notice when we’re getting off track.
  • Perhaps most importantly, reflection helps us advocate for ourselves and support others. Taking the time to reflect enables us to identify what we want, what we need, and what we must do to help ourselves. It also helps us realize how our gifts and strengths might be used in service to others.

I find that often, we struggle to find time to support reflective practice. Deadlines drive instruction far too much than they should, forcing learners and teachers to value perfection, products, and grades more than the development of softer and perhaps, more significant skills. Devoting a few moments at the end of class can make a real difference though, particularly when you pitch a few powerful prompts at learners. These are the ten questions that elicit the most powerful responses from the students I work with.

Ten Reflective Questions to Ask at the End of Class

1. Reflect on your thinking, learning, and work today. What were you most proud of?

2. Where did you encounter struggle today, and what did you do to deal with it?

3. What about your thinking, learning, or work today brought you the most satisfaction? Why?

4. What is frustrating you? How do you plan to deal with that frustration?

5. What lessons were learned from failure today?

6. Where did you meet success, and who might benefit most from what you’ve learned along the way? How can you share this with them?

7. What are your next steps? Which of those steps will come easiest? Where will the terrain become rocky? What can you do now to navigate the road ahead with the most success?

8. What made you curious today?

9. How did I help you today? How did I hinder you? What can I do tomorrow to help you more?

10. How did you help the class today? How did you hinder the class today? What can you do tomorrow to help other learners more?

The learners I serve typically capture these reflections in a special section of their notebooks. These entries grow in number over the course of time, and eventually, they revisit them to prepare for conferences.

The influence that asking reflective questions has on the quality of our conferences is incredible. In fact, I hesitate to confer with kids unless they’ve had a chance to pursue purposeful reflection first.

Try it yourself. See how it makes a difference for your students. You can find a set of printable reflective prompts here.

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About The Author

angelastockman

A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

One of the best gifts teachers can give students are the experiences that open their eyes to themselves as learners. Most students don’t think much about how they learn. Mine used to struggle to write a paragraph describing the study approaches they planned to use in my communication courses. However, to be fair, I’m not sure I had a lot of insights about my learning when I was a student. Did you?

Before the semester starts to wind down, now is an apt time for reflection. Here are some pithy (I hope) prompts that might motivate students to consider their beliefs about learning. The prompts ask about learning in a larger, more integrated sense, and also challenge students to analyze the effectiveness of their approach to learning. Some of these are course specific, others about collections of courses, and still others encourage a more holistic look at learning.

  • A friend asks if he/she should take this course. Would you recommend it? What would you say students need to do if they want to do well in the course?
  • If you were to take this course again, would you do anything differently? What and why?
  • Think about your first semester in college (first course in the major, required general education courses, course work in this major, extracurricular activities—lots of possibilities here). Identify the three most important lessons you learned, say how you learned them, and what those lessons will contribute to your success in subsequent courses and in your chosen profession.
  • Which course has been the hardest for you so far? What study strategies did you use that didn’t work? If you were to repeat that course or take another one like it, what other study strategies would you try?
  • How quickly do you give up on something? Say it’s a problem. How long do you work on it before you decide you can’t do it? What strategies do you use when you’re stuck? Take a problem on a recent test (or the homework last night) that you couldn’t do and list all the things you tried. If you could ask three questions about the problem (other than how do you solve it), what would you ask?
  • Say, for example, you don’t think you’re any good at math, or that you can’t write or draw, what happens when you have to do these things? Does what you believe about yourself as a learner have any effect on how you perform?
  • Have you ever learned something you didn’t think you could learn? What? How did you feel once you had learned it?
  • What’s the relationship between natural ability and hard work? Can you still learn things for which you don’t think you have much natural ability? Can hard work overcome natural ability deficits?
  • If someone asked, “What kind of student are you?” How would you answer? “What kind of student would you like to be?” Could you list three specific things you are doing to become the student you want to be? What would you list?
  • You are applying for your dream job. The interviewer says, “I see you’ve taken a course in ____ . What were the most important things you learned in that course?” How would you respond?
  • The interview continues. “Students learn lots of content in college. They also have the chance to develop some important skills. What skills have you developed in college? What courses and experiences contributed to that development?” What would you tell the interviewer?

How could you use these prompts with your students? You could select a couple or let students pick one or two and write a short paper, which they get credit for doing, not for what they end up writing. You could then take selected quotes or themes that emerged from these papers and discuss (even briefly) in class. Or maybe one or two of the prompts simply show up on a PowerPoint at the beginning of class and a bit of silence follows for reflection. You also could post select prompts on the course website and encourage an online discussion around them. Or perhaps incorporate some reflections on learning into course evaluation activities.

If you’ve used prompts or have activities that encourage student reflection on learning, please take a moment to share. Your contributions to this blog so enrich the conversation.

© Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

Posted in Teaching Professor Blog
Tagged with improve student learning, metacognition, reflective learners, student learning, student motivation, student reflection exercises

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