Types of reflective writing assignments
Journal: requires you to write weekly entries throughout a semester. May require you to base your reflection on course content.
Learning diary: similar to a journal, but may require group participation. The diary then becomes a place for you to communicate in writing with other group members.
Log book: often used in disciplines based on experimental work, such as science. You note down or 'log' what you have done. A log gives you an accurate record of a process and helps you reflect on past actions and make better decisions for future actions.
Reflective note: often used in law. A reflective note encourages you to think about your personal reaction to a legal issue raised in a course.
Essay diary: can take the form of an annotated bibliography (where you examine sources of evidence you might include in your essay) and a critique (where you reflect on your own writing and research processes).
Peer review: usually involves students showing their work to their peers for feedback.
Self-assessment: requires you to to comment on your own work.
Some examples of reflective writing
Social Science fieldwork report (methods section)
The field notes were written by hand on lined paper. They consisted of jotted notes and mental triggers (personal notes that would remind me of specific things when it came to writing the notes up). I took some direct observational notes recording what I saw where this was relevant to the research questions and, as I was aiming to get a sense of the culture and working environment, I also made researcher inference notes   .
 I found the notetaking process itself helpful, as it ensured that I listened carefully and decoded information. Not all the information I recorded was relevant, but noting what I found informative contributed to my ability to form an overview on re-reading. However, the reliability of jotted notes alone can be questionable. For example, the notes were not a direct transcription of what the subjects said but consisted of pertinent or interesting information.
Rarely did I have time to transcribe a direct quotation, so relied on my own fairly rapid paraphrasing, which risks changing the meaning. Some technical information was difficult to note down accurately  . A tape recorder would have been a better, more accurate method. However, one student brought a tape recorder and was asked to switch it off by a participant who was uneasy about her comments being directly recorded. It seems that subjects feel differently about being recorded or photographed (as opposed to observers taking notes), so specific consent should be sought before using these technologies  .
1. Description/ explanation of method.
2. Includes discipline-specific language
3. Critical evaluation of method
4. Conclusion and recommendation based on the writer's experience
Engineering Design Report
Question: Discuss at least two things you learnt or discovered – for example about design, or working in groups or the physical world – through participating in the Impromptu Design activities.
Firstly, the most obvious thing that I discovered was the advantage of working as part of a group  . I learned that good teamwork is the key to success in design activities when time and resources are limited. As everyone had their own point of view, many different ideas could be produced and I found the energy of group participation made me feel more energetic about contributing something  .
Secondly I discovered that even the simplest things on earth could be turned into something amazing if we put enough creativity and effort into working on them  . With the Impromptu Design activities  we used some simple materials such as straws, string, and balloons, but were still able to create some 'cool stuff'  . I learned that every design has its weaknesses and strengths and working with a group can help discover what they are. We challenged each other's preconceptions about what would and would not work. We could also see the reality of the way changing a design actually affected its performance.
1. Addresses the assignment question
2. Reflects on direct experiences
3. Direct reference to the course activity
4. The style is relatively informal, yet still uses full sentences.
5. Relating what was learnt.
Learning Journal (weekly reflection)
Last week's lecture presented the idea that science is the most powerful form of evidence  . My position as a student studying both physics and law makes this an important issue for me  and one I was thinking about while watching the 'The New Inventors' television program last Tuesday  . The two 'inventors' (an odd name considering that, as Smith (2002) says, nobody thinks of things in a vacuum) were accompanied by their marketing people. The conversations were quite contrived, but also funny and enlightening. I realised that the marketing people used a certain form of evidence to persuade the viewers (us?) of the value of the inventions  . To them, this value was determined solely by whether something could be bought or sold—in other words, whether something was 'marketable'. In contrast, the inventors seemed quite shy and reluctant to use anything more than technical language, almost as if this was the only evidence required – as if no further explanation was needed.
This difference forced me to reflect on the aims of this course—how communication skills are not generic, but differ according to time and place. Like in the 'Research Methodology' textbook discussed in the first lecture, these communication skills are the result of a form of triangulation,  which I have made into the following diagram:
1. Description of topic encountered in the course
2. The author's voice is clear
3. Introduces 'everyday' life experience
4. The style is relatively informal, yet still uses full sentences
5. Makes an explicit link between 'everyday' life and the topic
Brookfield, S 1987, Developing critical thinkers: challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting, Open University Press, Milton Keynes.
Mezirow, J 1990, Fostering critical reflection in adulthood: a guide to transformative and emancipatory learning, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
Schön, DA 1987, Educating the reflective practitioner, Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.
The Learning Centre thanks the students who permitted us to feature examples of their writing.
Prepared by The Learning Centre, The University of New South Wales © 2008. This guide may be distributed or adapted for educational purposes. Full and proper acknowledgement is required. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Reflective Thinking: RT
| What is RT | Characteristics | RT and middle school kids | KaAMS and RT | Links | Bibliography |
What is reflective thinking?
The description of reflective thinking:
Critical thinking and reflective thinking are often used synonymously. Critical thinking is used to describe:"... the use of those cognitive skills or strategies that increase the probability of a desirable outcome...thinking that is purposeful, reasoned and goal directed - the kind of thinking involved in solving problems, formulating inferences, calculating likelihoods, and making decisions when the thinker is using skills that are thoughtful and effective for the particular context and type of thinking task. Critical thinking is sometimes called directed thinking because it focuses on a desired outcome." Halpern (1996).
Reflective thinking, on the other hand,is a part of the critical thinking process referring specifically to the processes of analyzing and making judgments about what has happened. Dewey (1933) suggests that reflective thinking is an active, persistent, and careful consideration of a belief or supposed form of knowledge, of the grounds that support that knowledge, and the further conclusions to which that knowledge leads. Learners are aware of and control their learning by actively participating in reflective thinking – assessing what they know, what they need to know, and how they bridge that gap – during learning situations.
In summary, critical thinking involves a wide range of thinking skills leading toward desirable outcomes and reflective thinking focuses on the process of making judgments about what has happened. However, reflective thinking is most important in prompting learning during complex problem-solving situations because it provides students with an opportunity to step back and think about how they actually solve problems and how a particular set of problem solving strategies is appropriated for achieving their goal.
Characteristics of environments and activities that prompt and support reflective thinking:
- Provide enough wait-time for students to reflect when responding to inquiries.
- Provide emotionally supportive environments in the classroom encouraging reevaluation of conclusions.
- Prompt reviews of the learning situation, what is known, what is not yet known, and what has been learned.
- Provide authentic tasks involving ill-structured data to encourage reflective thinking during learning activities.
- Prompt students' reflection by asking questions that seek reasons and evidence.
- Provide some explanations to guide students' thought processes during explorations.
- Provide a less-structured learning environment that prompts students to explore what they think is important.
- Provide social-learning environments such as those inherent in peer-group works and small group activities to allow students to see other points of view.
- Provide reflective journal to write down students' positions, give reasons to support what they think, show awareness of opposing positions and the weaknesses of their own positions.
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Why is reflective thinking important?
Modern society is becoming more complex, information is becoming available and changing more rapidly prompting users to constantly rethink, switch directions, and change problem-solving strategies. Thus, it is increasingly important to prompt reflective thinking during learning to help learners develop strategies to apply new knowledge to the complex situations in their day-to-day activities. Reflective thinking helps learners develop higher-order thinking skills by prompting learners to a) relate new knowledge to prior understanding, b) think in both abstract and conceptual terms, c) apply specific strategies in novel tasks, and d) understand their own thinking and learning strategies.
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Reflective thinking and middle school kids:
- How to prompt reflection in middle school kids:
It is important to prompt reflective thinking in middle school children to support them in their transition between childhood and adulthood. During this time period adolescents experience major changes in intellectual, emotional, social, and physical development. They begin to shape their own thought processes and are at an ideal time to begin developing thinking, learning, and metacognitive strategies. Therefore, reflective thinking provides middle level students with the skills to mentally process learning experiences, identify what they learned, modify their understanding based on new information and experiences, and transfer their learning to other situations. Scaffolding strategies should be incorporated into the learning environment to help students develop their ability to reflect on their own learning. For example,
- Teachers should model metacognitive and self-explanation strategies on specific problems to help students build an integrated understanding of the process of reflection.
- Study guides or advance organizer should be integrated into classroom materials to prompt students to reflect on their learning.
- Questioning strategies should be used to prompt reflective thinking, specifically getting students to respond to why, how, and what specific decisions are made.
- Social learning environments should exist that prompt collaborative work with peers, teachers, and experts.
- Learning experiences should be designed to include advice from teachers and co-learners.
- Classroom activities should be relevant to real-world situations and provide integrated experiences.
- Classroom experiences should involve enjoyable, concrete, and physical learning activities whenever possible to ensure proper attention to the unique cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domain development of middle school students.
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How does KaAMSsupport reflective thinking?
KaAMS model of PBL and its relationship to reflective thinking:
KaAMS incorporates prompts and scaffolding suggestions to promote reflective thinking by:
- Structuring lesson plans to support reflective thinking.
- Providing lesson components that prompt inquiry and curiosity.
- Providing resources and hand-on activities to prompt exploration.
- Providing reflective thinking activities that prompt students to think about what they have done, what they learned, and what they still need to do.
- Providing reflection activity worksheets for each lesson plan to prompt students to think about what they know, what they learned, and what they need to know as they progress through their exploration.
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Links to additional information on critical and reflective thinking:
A Selected Reflective Thinking Bibliography:
- Moon, J. A. (1999). Reflection in learning and professional development: Theory and practice. London: Kogan Page.
- Halpern, D. F. (1996). Thought and knowledge: an introduction to critical thinking (3rd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates.
- Lin, X., Hmelo, C., Kinzer, C. K., & Secules, T. J (1999). Designing technology to support reflection, Educational Technology Research & Development, pp. 43-62.
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