Empowering Student Learning Through Self-Reflection

shared by acarp on December 14, 2015

Activity Summary:

This in-class activity is designed help instructors facilitate how students learn to complete the reflection assignments in English 150 and English 250. The goal of this activity is to give instructors a plan to introduce and explain the assignment while also giving students the chance to gain understanding about what will be expected for the reflection assignments.


“If I write something, it becomes real. I cannot take it back; I cannot forget it or deny it or pretend it doesn’t exist. I have to acknowledge it, engage with it, account for it, challenge it: explore what it means, to me, to others. That’s reflection.” —Kathleen Blake Yancey – “Portfolio as Genre, Rhetoric as Reflection: Situating Selves, Literacies, and Knowledge” – 58

Self-reflection is a powerful pedagogical tool, wherein students can be empowered to use their own words to remark and reflect upon their own ideas. Writing and speaking are dependent upon the critical thinking skills that can be developed through such acts of self-reflection. But, without exposure to and knowledge of the conventions of thought and practice required by this particular genre, students would have a lesser chance at success. By following the activity I am about to describe, instructors can begin to help students gain the self-critical skills necessary to writing the many reflection assignments they will need to complete in English 150 and English 250.

This activity is designed to give students a more detailed understanding of what the reflection assignments are, thereby empowering each students to explore his or her voice by choosing how they will interact with what they are learning. Building this understanding should improve their chances of doing well on their reflection assignments and in their English 150 or English 250 class as a whole.


  1. Present the reflection assignment by talking about how the students will be expected to look at their experiences from their previous assignment and write down their thoughts concerning how they performed and how they think they could improve. Be sure to point out to your students that they probably have engaged in self-reflective behaviors far more than they might think.
  2. To prove what you say is true, have students watch the TED talk I have included here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1bgdwC_m-Y. In this TED, James Schmidt not only defines self-reflection and gives some every day examples, he also shows how being reflective, thinking about one’s actions and desires, can help transform, improve, and direct one’s future action.
  3. After you are done with the TED talk, say this: I want you all to improve as writers and as communicators, and being able to look at your assignments with a critical eye towards how your work reflects on your abilities will allow you to use what you learn to improve yourselves, in this class and beyond.
  4. Emphasize how, in this course, each student will be expected to complete at least one reflection assignment as part of their major assignments. Encourage them that these are opportunities to improve as a person and as a student, but only if they truly try.
  5. To get an idea for how these reflection activities will go, have them get out a piece of paper and a writing utensil (computers are also fine, depending on your preference). Project the first question of the curriculum’s standard prompts either on the board, through the ELMO, or through a computer. Give them several minutes (up to 10) to try and answer that prompt.
  6. After they’ve written their responses, have each student choose a partner and share their responses with each other. Go around and talk with some of the teams to identify what your students have written the most about.
  7. Now, to help your students learn the genre of reflections, present these expectations to them (either by writing them on the board, projecting them via an ELMO, or projecting them through a computer). Emphasize any they may be missing or any lacking substance.
    1. Responses should be truthful.
    2. Responses should be relevant to your experiences.
    3. Responses should contain useful and thoughtful detail.
    4. Responses should reference learning, whether personal or academic.
  8. Have students work together or by themselves to alter their answers to the prompt to match the above expectations. End the activity by encouraging them to take the same thorough attitude to answering the rest of their reflection questions.


Remember, as an instructor and as a person, you too have the power to reflect upon how you learn from your experiences.