“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”
– John Dewey
In any field, reflection is a key component to improving one’s performance. According to the organization Thinking Collaborative, “HEC Paris, Harvard Business School, and the University of North Carolina showed a 23% better performance in groups that reflected after a learning experience than those who had not.”
A 23% gain is significant, and reflective activities can be as short as a few minutes; in that regard, they are instructional time very well spent. Some of the gains of reflective activities noted in The Harvard Business School’s article “Learning By Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance” include:
- improved learning
- a more positive view of the experience afterward
- a building of one’s confidence to achieve a goal
Translating this to writing, the more a student can reflect on his or her own work and process, the better writer that student will become. An additional benefit for teachers is that as students become more proficient in reflection, less feedback is necessary from the instructor. In short: asking students to identify the successes and struggles they are facing enables them to do more of the work for themselves, taking the pressure of having to identify what is wrong off of the teacher and instead allowing the instructor to focus on solutions to these challenges.
As a brief example of this, if a student is asked to identify a weakness in an essay in writing, the teacher does not have to spend the time giving that specific feedback and might instead just agree with the student comment in a single word and focus on guiding instruction to meet that particular weakness now or in the future. The following two resources can be used as tools to gather more reflective data from students.
- This Cover Sheet for Draft Submissions can be used when collecting student drafts and giving formative feedback, or when planning for individual conferences
- This Cover Sheet for Final Essay Submission can be used when collecting essays for a grade. In addition, I have had a lot of success asking for a one-page reflection with the final paper. Here are some possible prompts:
- Describe your research process for this essay. Where did you look for information? How did you decide what to use? What obstacles did you face in the research process? How did you overcome them?
- Describe your writing process for this essay. How many times did you revise and what errors did you find? Who else did you have review your work? What feedback was most helpful to you? How did you use the feedback you were given?
- Describe a challenge you faced when writing this essay. What did you do to address this challenge? What would you do differently next time?
- Describe a success you had when writing this essay. What do you think contributed to your success? How will you build on it the next time you are asked to do a similar task?
- Describe something that surprised you about the writing/research process.
- What did you learn through the process of crafting this piece of writing and engaging in this research?
On a final note, this post is a continuation on the post “Resources for Grading Essays and Giving Effective, Efficient Feedback,” which has many more specific tips on easing the grading load and providing effective feedback to students on essays.