Example #1: Your reflection should demonstrate engagement with the texts, critical thought (you can be critical about the text itself, but you must argue convincingly), and as much creativity as you want. Reflections should have an extension of three or four paragraphs. You may include direct quotations from the texts discussed. I recommend that you establish connections with other texts, films or images that you have studied in this course or elsewhere. In class, we will discuss two students’ reflections every week.
Example #2: Weekly writing assignments posted on Blackboard Discussion Forum include responses to readings, viewings, and each other’s ideas as well as peer reviews of each other’s essays. Participation in online discussions requires a minimum of two entries.
Example #3: Visit the website of a museum of your choice and then visit a gallery related to what you saw online – how do the two experiences relate to each other? One could visit the MET, the MET Breuer, Whitney, for example.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The first two examples are broader descriptions of the parameters of the assignment, while the third example gives a task that relates more directly to the week’s reading assignments. It should be noted that these professors may have given more specific directions for how reflections / responses were to be completed for their classes. But I put these three descriptions in conversation in order to point out that the term “reflection / response paper” can have different meanings, depending on the context and the audience.
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- To ensure students are keeping up with the course reading.
- To spark conversation and more direct engagement with the ideas in the reading.
- To move students toward more critical reflections on course readings and themes in order to prepare them for larger projects.
- To give the professor an understanding of where there may be “gaps” in understanding.
- (in the case of a final portfolio letter) To reflect and review the student’s understanding of their own learning.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Prominent educational theorists like John Dewey and David Kolb have advocated for the inclusion of the reflection in order to help consolidate learning. Educational psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who developed the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (in which instructors break a complex process into smaller, more manageable parts), provided solid rationale for incorporating reflection / response as a way for students to “practice” the skills that they’ll need to hone in order to tackle larger projects.
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Reflection papers, like seminar conversations, can spark an idea that eventually develops into a research question. If this process is collaborative (i.e. other people read what you write), this possibility is even greater: other people can see connections that you may have missed.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Not all professors require reflection / response papers. Writing one for every week of class might seem like a daunting task if you’re enrolled in more than one seminar. But giving yourself a writing prompt that helps you to synthesize the massive body of information that you’ll eventually have to incorporate in a research paper is a really good strategy for time management and for the development of a research question with an appropriate scope.
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 If you haven’t yet done so, you may also want to take a look at the entry on organizing your reading and reading notes for a strategy on organizing reading reflections.
Common Genres of reflection papers
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Below, I’ve listed a few different types of reflection paper genres with some questions to consider as you write. It’s possible that a reflection / response paper will ask you to do many of these things at the same time. So, as always, defer to your professor for what your reflection should include (or exclude).
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The Critical Analysis
In the prompt example #1 above, the professor invites students to “demonstrate engagement with the texts [and] critical thought.” In the glossary, I describe several features that are commonly involved in a critical analysis such as summary, synthesis, and (the obvious one) analysis.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 A critical analysis generally asks students to briefly summarize a piece of writing in order to break it down into smaller parts and to analyze the way that works. Brown University’s Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning supply these relevant questions to consider while writing a critical analysis:
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- Why is….important?
- What is the difference between….and …?
- What are the implications of….?
- Explain why….? Explain how….?
- What is…analogous to?
- How are…and…similar?
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 As you might notice, the purpose of a critical analysis isn’t necessarily to point out what’s wrong with something (which may be the reason that the prompt cautiously invites students to “be critical” in the more traditional sense of the word).
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Instead, the goal is to explain how (you think) at text works. Pointing out what doesn’t work (methodologically, for example) might or might not be a part of this task.
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Like the critical analysis, the evaluation asks you to (very succinctly!) summarize only the most important themes and ideas of (generally) a book, and then offer an analysis of whether the book fulfills the author’s promises.
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers the following questions to consider as you write a book review:
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- How well does the book fulfill the promises the author makes in the preface and introduction?
- How effective is the book’s methodology?
- How effectively does the book make its arguments?
- How persuasive is the evidence?
- For its audience, what are the book’s strengths?
- How clearly is the book written?
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 In order to answer these questions, it is first necessary to distinguish a main idea from a supporting detail. This can be a difficult task: especially when you write as you’re reading. You might use the section on strategic reading for more ideas about how to read the book’s preface and introduction, which will (generally) contain an outline of the chapters and an idea about the book’s central promises.
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Others (including myself) have asked students to reflect on the writing process itself in order to understand what they’ve improved, what was difficult, what’s working (and what isn’t) in the most current draft, and in what ways the piece of writing “makes good” on the claims in the thesis statement.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Even though I regularly assign personal reflections, I find them tricky (but often rewarding) to write.This guide of 40 questions to consider while writing a personal reflection is especially helpful in the “meta-process” genre of writing. You might also consider these prompting questions from the Literacy Education Online resource offered by St. Cloud State University:
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- How do you feel about what you are reading?
- What do you agree or disagree with?
- Can you identify with the situation?
- What would be the best way to evaluate the story?
additional resources and Samples of reflective writing
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- A resource on interpreting and understanding assignments
- Some response paper prompts for faculty or students who are engaging in independent study from the Writing@CSU blog
- Duke University’s Writing Studio handout on organizing reflective / response writing
- UNSW Australia’s sample reflective writing across the curriculum texts
- An annotated sample response paper from the University of Vermont’s Writing Center