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Reflective Essays On Learning Experiences That Promote

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Reflection strategies for classroom activities
(Compiled by Professor Diane Sloan, Miami Dade College, and based on the work of Julie Hatcher and Robert Bringle's "Reflection Activities for the College Classroom": Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis )

It is clear that the power in learning is in the action of doing the activity. Reflection provides the same power through the action of articulating thoughts. Reflection is the necessary bridge in the learning process that takes place when a student is involved in a service-learning experience. There are the traditional strategies such as writing in journals, reporting orally in front of the class, or writing an essay describing the experience. The following examples will include and also move ahead of the tried and true, giving the facilitator a variety of other methods that he/she might like to incorporate in the classroom.

1. Personal Journals
2. Dialogue Journals
3. Highlighted Journals
4. Key Phrase Journals
5. Double-entry Journals
6. Critical Incident Journals
7. Three-part Journals
8. Free Association Brainstorming
9. Quotes
10. Quotes in Songs
11. Reflective Essays
12. Directed Writings
13. Experiential Research Paper
14. Service-Learning Contracts and Logs
15. Directed Readings
16. Ethical Case Studies
17. Class Discussion
18. Truth is Stranger than Fiction
19. Student Portfolios
20. It's My Bag
21. It's Your Thing/Express Yourself
22. Small Group Week
23. Email Discussion Groups
24. Class Presentations

( A note about reflection journals: a common tendency is for journal entries to become a mere log of events rather than a reflective activity in which students consider the service experience in the context of learning objectives. Guidance is needed to help students link personal learning with course content.)

1.Personal Journal - Students will write freely about their experience. This is usually done weekly. These personal journals may be submitted periodically to the instructor, or kept as a reference to use at the end of the experience when putting together an academic essay reflecting their experience. (Hatcher 1996)

2.Dialogue Journal - Students submit loose-leaf pages from a dialogue journal bi-weekly (or otherwise at appropriate intervals) for the instructor to read and comment on. While labor intensive for the instructor, this can provide continual feedback to students and prompt new questions for students to consider during the semester. (Goldsmith, 1995)

3.Highlighted Journal - Before students submit the reflective journal, they reread personal entries and, using a highlighter, mark sections of the journal that directly relate to concepts discussed in the text or in class. This makes it easier for the instructor to identify the student to reflect on their experience in light of course content. (Gary Hesser, Augsberg College )

4.Key Phrase Journal - In this type of journal, students are asked to integrate terms and key phrases within their journal entries. The instructor can provide a list of terms at the beginning of the semester or for a certain portion of the text. Students could also create their own list of key phrases to include. Journal entries are written within the framework of the course content and become an observation of how course content is evident in the service experience. (Hatcher 1996)

5.Double-entry Journal - When using a double-entry journal, students are asked to write one-page entries each week: Students describe their personal thoughts and reactions to the service experience on the left page of the journal, and write about key issues from class discussions or readings on the right page of the journal. Students then draw arrows indicating relationships between their personal experiences and course content. This type of journal is a compilation of personal data and a summary of course content in preparation of a more formal reflection paper at the end of the semester. (Angelo and Cross 1993)

6.Critical Incident Journal - This type of journal entry focuses the student on analysis of a particular event that occurred during the week. By answering one of the following sets of prompts, students are asked to consider their thoughts and reactions and articulate the action they plan to take in the future: Describe a significant event that occurred as a part of the service-learning experience. Why was this significant to you? What underlying issues (societal, interpersonal) surfaced as a result of this experience? How will this incident influence your future behavior? Another set of questions for a critical incident journal includes the following prompts: Describe an incident or situation that created a dilemma for you in terms of what to say or do. What is the first thing you thought of to say or do? List three other actions you might have taken. Which of the above seems best to you now and why do you think this is the best response? (Hatcher 1996)

7.Three-part Journal - Students are asked to divide each page of their journal into thirds, and write weekly entries during the semester. In the top section, students describe some aspect of the service experience. In the middle of the page, they are asked to analyze how course content relates to the service experience. And finally, an application section prompts students to comment on how the experience and course content can be applied to their personal or professional life. (Bringle 1996)

8.Free Association Brainstorming - (This reflection session should take place no earlier than the end of the first 1/3 of the project experience.) Give each student 10-20 "postits" and ask them to write down all the feelings they had when they first heard about their service-learning requirement. After they finish the first question, have them write down all of the feelings they had when they experienced their first "field encounter." After finishing question two completely, have them write down all of the feelings they are having "right now" regarding their service-learning experience. Encourage them to write down as many different brainstormed thoughts as possible (one for each card). Have three newsprint papers strategically located and taped to the walls around the classroom. Have one with a large happy face, one with a sad face, and one with a bewildered face. Ask students to now place their words on the newsprint paper that closest fits their brainstormed feelings. Then have them stand next to the newsprint that has most of their feelings. This exercise involves both writing and speaking and is seen as non-threatening in an oral presentation sense. (Sloan 1996)

9.Quotes - Using quotes can be a useful way to initiate reflection because there is an ample supply of them, and they are often brief and inspiring. Here are some quotes as examples you might want to use:

"If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without insight." ---Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"I believe that serving and being served are reciprocal and that one cannot really be one without the other." ---Robert Greenleaf, educator and writer

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." ---Margaret Mead

"Unless you choose to do great things with it, it makes no difference how much you are rewarded, or how much power you have." ---Oprah Winfrey

Quotes may be used in a variety of ways. You might give each student a page of quotes and ask them to pick one that fits his/her feelings about the service-learning project. Then you could ask them to explain why this quote represents his/her feelings. The best results seem to be when the students are given the sheet one session before the reflection class. This gives them time to put their thoughts together. The students could also do it as a one-minute paper that might then be read and explained to the rest of the class. (Diane Sloan, Miami Dade College )

10.Quotes in Songs - Ask the students to find a song where the singer uses lyrics that describe what he/she feels about the service-learning project. Emphasize that it does not need to be a whole song but a lyric in a song. If they have access to the song, tell them to bring it to play at the end of the reflection session. Even if they do not have the song, ask them to "say" the lyric that describes their feelings. This usually proves to be "fun" in a sense that it creates a casual atmosphere and bonds the group together. Many times others will help by trying to sing it with them. Playing the songs usually creates a celebratory atmosphere. You might also bring a bag of Hershey's kisses, or something similar to keep the festive spirit going. (adapted from Prof. Gwen Stewart's song speech, Miami Dade College )

11.Reflective Essays - Reflective essays are a more formal example of journal entries. Essay questions are provided at the beginning of the semester and students are expected to submit two to three essays during the term. Reflective essays can focus on personal development, academic connections to the course content, or ideas and recommendations for future action. As with any essay, criteria can be clearly stated to guide the work of the students. (Chris Koliba, Georgetown University )

12. Directed Writings - Directed writings ask students to consider the service experience within the framework of course content. The instructor identifies a section from the textbook or class readings (i.e., quotes, statistics, concepts) and structures a question for students to answer. For example, "William Gray has identified five stages of a mentor-protégé relationship. At what stage is your mentoring relationship with your protégé at this point in the semester? What evidence do you have to support this statement? In the following weeks, what specific action can you take to facilitate the development of your mentoring relationship to the next stage on Gray's continuum?" A list of directed writings can be provided at the beginning of the semester, or given to students as the semester progresses. Students may also create their own directed writing questions from the text. Directed writings provide opportunity for application and critical analysis of the course content.

13.Experiential Research Paper - An experiential research paper, based on Kolb's experiential learning cycle, is a formal paper that asks students to identify a particular experience at the service site and analyzes that experience within the broader context in order to make recommendations for change. Mid-semester, students are asked to identify an underlying social issue they have encountered at the service site. Students then research the social issue and read three to five articles on the topic. Based on their experience and library research, students make recommendations for future action. This reflection activity is useful in inter-disciplinary courses and provides students flexibility within their disciplinary interests and expertise to pursue issues experienced at the service site. Class presentations of the experiential research paper can culminate semester work. (Julie Hatcher, IUPUI).

14.Service-Learning Contracts and Logs - Service-learning contracts formalize the learning and service objectives for the course. Students, in collaboration with their instructor and agency supervisor, identify learning and service objectives and identify the range of tasks to be completed during the service experience. Oftentimes, a service-learning contract cannot be completed until the student is at the agency for a couple of weeks and has a clear idea of how their skills and expertise can be of service. A service log is a continuous summary of specific activities completed and progress towards accomplishing the service-learning goals. The contract and the log can become the basis for reflection when students are asked to assess their progress towards meeting the identified objectives and identify the obstacles and supports that had an impact on their ability to achieve the service-learning objectives. These items can also be submitted in a service-learning portfolio as evidence of the activities completed.

15. Directed Readings - Directed readings are a way to prompt students to consider their service experience within a broader context of social responsibility and civic literacy. Since textbooks rarely challenge students to consider how knowledge within a discipline can be applied to current social needs, additional readings must be added if this is a learning objective of the course. Directed readings can become the basis for class discussion or a directed writing.

16.Ethical Case Studies - Ethical case studies give students the opportunity to analyze a situation and gain practice in ethical decision making as they choose a course of action. This reflection strategy can foster the exploration and clarification of values. Students write a case study of an ethical dilemma they have confronted at the service site, including a description of the context, the individuals involved, and the controversy or event that created an ethical dilemma. Case studies are read in class and students discuss the situation and identify how they would respond. (David Lisman, Colorado College )

17.Structured Class Discussions - Structured reflection sessions can be facilitated during regular class time if all students are involved in service. It is helpful for students to hear stories of success from one another. They can also offer advice and collaborate to identify solutions to problems encountered at the service site. The following exercise is an example of structured reflection discussion: list phrases that describe your senses/feelings at the service site. List phrases that describe your actions at the service site. List phrases that describe your thoughts at the service site. What contradictions did you sense at the service site? What connections can you make between your service and the course content? (Nadinne Cruz, Stanford University )

18.Truth is Stranger than Fiction - (This is an exercise that is best used toward the middle or end of the student's experience). Have the students break into groups of three (no more). Ask them to share the most unusual story that happened to them during their service-learning experience. Some students will be hesitant at first. If they really can't think of one, don't let them off the hook. Tell them to take the assignment home, write it and submit it at the next session. This usually motivates them to think of one rather quickly. In fact, most classes come up with some really interesting stories. Then have the class come together as a whole and share them. It is surprising how animated all of the students get. Even if it's not their own story, they feel some ownership if the person was in their group. Usually everyone ends up sharing a story. As you move through the exercise, even the reticent ones usually find themselves sharing something. Be prepared to prod these students a little. If you happen to have a class that's filled with interesting stories, you might want to save these stories and submit them to the Service-learning Program for future use. (Diane Sloan, Miami Dade College )

19.Student Portfolios - This type of documentation has become a vital way for students to keep records and learn organizational skills. Encourage them to take photographs of themselves doing their project, short explanations (like business reports), time logs, evaluations by supervisors or any other appropriate "proof" which could be used in an interview. Require them to make this professional. Keep reminding them that submitting it at the end of the term is only one reason for doing this. "The real reason is to have documentation to present at future interviews. This could be a major factor in distinguishing them from other candidates." Student portfolios could contain any of the following: service-learning contract, weekly log, personal journal, impact statement, directed writings, photo essay. Also, any products completed during the service experience (i.e., agency brochures, lesson plans, advocacy letters) should be submitted for review. Finally, a written evaluation essay providing a self-assessment of how effectively they met the learning objectives of the course is suggested for the portfolio.

20.It's My Bag - Tell the students to find a bag at home (any bag). Then tell them to fill it with one (or two-depending on time) item(s) that remind them of how they feel about their service-learning project. Tell them to bring this bag with the item(s) to the reflection session, and have them explain their items to the rest of the class. The items that they bring usually turn out to be inspiring visual aids that bring out some great comments. (adapted through a speech exercise provided by Prof. James Wolf 1998)

21.It's Your Thing/Express Yourself - This reflection exercise takes a long time in preparation (probably several weeks, if you want them to use lots of creativity). You can use a solo version or group. Both usually turn out to be very rewarding for the individual performers and the class. Tell the students that they will have the opportunity to create their own version of their feelings toward the service-learning project. Examples could include poetry, visual art, (paintings, drawings, sculptures) music, (rap is a rather popular choice for this exercise), individually created games or puzzles, any form of creative outlet that gives the student the chance to perform or explain in front of the class is what you are looking for. Be sure to require that it must be some kind of individual work that he/she has created. This type of reflection works well if you have each student create something. However, if you are limited for class time, ask them to form groups and give them the same directions explaining that at least one of each group member's feelings must be included in their creation. You will be amazed at the kind of creativity that surfaces either way you do it. (adapted from Multiple Intelligence exercises created by Profs. Michael and Donna Lenaghan, Miami Dade College )

22.Small Group Week - This is a simple alternative to full-class reflection sessions when you really want students to have a maximum amount of time to talk individually. Schedule the reflection sessions so that only a small number of students need to attend. The group should consist of no more than 10-12, if possible. The rest of the class will be scheduled to attend other class periods, using this period for whatever you want them to be doing outside of class. The students will feel more like sharing when you form the group in a small intimate circle and spend the period asking them questions related to their service-learning experience that encourage self-expression. (Prof. Dave Johnson, Miami Dade College )

23 . E-mail Discussion Groups - Through e-mail, students can create a dialogue with the instructor and peers involved in service projects. Students write weekly summaries and identify critical incidents that occurred at the service site. Students can rotate as a moderator of the discussion every two weeks. Instructors can post questions for consideration and topics for directed writings. A log can be printed to provide data about group learnings that occurred from the service experience.

24.Class Presentations - A way for students to share their service-learning experience with peers is to make a class presentation through a video, slide show, bulletin board, panel discussion, or a persuasive speech. This is an opportunity for students to display their work in a public format. A similar presentation can be offered to the community agency as a final recognition of the students' involvement.

“Tasked with the overwhelming burden of writing my first ever reflective essay, I sat as still as a mouse as my fingers shakily hovered over the lifeless buttons of my laptop keyboard. Where would I begin? Where would I end? Thoughts frantically spasmed their way through my mind as I envisaged the treacherous journey on which I was about to embark.”

Reflective essays are those sorts of essays that seem oh so easy, and yet oh so hard to write, all at the same time. To put it simply, reflective essays constitute a critical examination of a life experience and with the right guidance, they aren’t very difficult to put together. A reflective essay is akin to a diary entry, except that others will be reading it so it needs to have a great deal of coherence and a good structure. In that regard, a reflective essay is much like any other essay out there.

In this guide, we explore in detail how to write a great reflective essay, including what makes a good structure and some advice on the writing process. We’ve even thrown in an example reflective essay to inspire you too, making this the ultimate guide for anyone needing reflective essay help.

The format

In a reflective essay, a writer primarily examines his or her life experiences, hence the term ‘reflective’. The purpose of writing a reflective essay is to provide a platform for the author to not only recount a particular life experience, but to also explore how he or she has changed or learned from those experiences. Reflective writing can be presented in various formats, but you’ll most often see it in a learning log format or diary entry. Diary entries in particular are used to convey how the author’s thoughts have developed and evolved over the course of a particular period.

The format of a reflective essay may change depending on the target audience. Reflective essays can be academic, or may feature more broadly as a part of a general piece of writing for a magazine, for instance. For class assignments, while the presentation format can vary, the purpose generally remains the same: tutors aim to inspire students to think deeply and critically about a particular learning experience or set of experiences. Here are some typical examples of reflective essay formats that you may have to write:

A focus on personal growth:
A type of reflective essay often used by tutors as a strategy for helping students to learn how to analyse their personal life experiences to promote emotional growth and development. The essay gives the student a better understanding of both themselves and their behaviours.

A focus on the literature:
This kind of essay requires students to provide a summary of the literature, after which it is applied to the student’s own life experiences.

While the format of a reflective piece of writing may change, there is one element that will mostly remain the same, and that is the structure. You may be relieved to know that, much like any essay, a reflective essay is typically comprised of an introduction, body and conclusion.

What do I write about?

As you go about deciding on the content of your essay, you need to keep in mind that a reflective essay is highly personal and aimed at engaging the reader or target audience. And there’s much more to a reflective essay than just recounting a story. You need to be able to reflect (more on this later) on your experience by showing how it influenced your subsequent behaviours and how your life has been particularly changed as a result.

As a starting point, you might want to think about some important experiences in your life that have really impacted you, either positively, negatively, or both. Some typical reflection essay topics include: a real-life experience, an imagined experience, a special object or place, a person who had an influence on you, or something you have watched or read. If you are writing a reflective essay as part of an academic exercise, chances are your tutor will ask you to focus on a particular episode – such as a time when you had to make an important decision – and reflect on what the outcomes were. Note also, that the aftermath of the experience is especially important in a reflective essay; miss this out and you will simply be storytelling.

Reflection

It sounds obvious, but the reflective process forms the core of writing this type of essay, so it’s important you get it right from the outset. You need to really think about how the personal experience you have chosen to focus on impacted or changed you. Use your memories and feelings of the experience to determine the implications for you on a personal level.

Once you’ve chosen the topic of your essay, it’s really important you study it thoroughly and spend a lot of time trying to think about it vividly. Write down everything you can remember about it, describing it as clearly and fully as you can. Keep your five senses in mind as you do this, and be sure to use adjectives to describe your experience. At this stage, you can simply make notes using short phrases, but you need to ensure that you’re recording your responses, perceptions, and your experience of the event(s).

Once you’ve successfully emptied the contents of your memory, you need to start reflecting. A great way to do this is to pick out some reflection questions which will help you think deeper about the impact and lasting effects of your experience. Here are some useful questions that you can consider:

– What have you learned about yourself as a result of the experience?

– Have you developed because of it? How?

– Did it have any positive or negative bearing on your life?

– Looking back, what would you have done differently?

– Why do you think you made the particular choices that you did? Do you think these were the right choices?

– What are your thoughts on the experience in general? Was it a useful learning experience? What specific skills or perspectives did you acquire as a result?

These signpost questions should help kick-start your reflective process. Remember, asking yourself lots of questions is key to ensuring that you think deeply and critically about your experiences – a skill that is at the heart of writing a great reflective essay.

Consider using models of reflection before, during, and after the learning process to ensure that you maintain a high standard of analysis. For example, before you really get stuck into the process, consider questions such as: what might happen (regarding the experience)? Are there any possible challenges to keep in mind? What knowledge is needed to be best prepared to approach the experience? Then, as you’re planning and writing, these questions may be useful: what is happening within the learning process? Is the process working out as expected? Am I dealing with the accompanying challenges successfully? Is there anything that needs to be done additionally to ensure that the learning process is successful? What am I learning from this? By adopting such a framework, you’ll be ensuring that you are keeping tabs on the reflective process that should underpin your work.

The plan

Here’s a very useful tip: although you may feel well prepared with all that time spent reflecting in your arsenal, do not, do NOT start writing your essay until you have worked out a comprehensive, well-rounded plan! Your writing will be so much more coherent, your ideas conveyed with structure and clarity, and your essay will likely achieve higher marks. This is an especially important step when you’re tackling a reflective essay – there can be a tendency for people to get a little ‘lost’ or disorganised as they recount their life experiences in an erratic and often unsystematic manner. But if you develop a thorough outline (this is the same as a ‘plan’) and ensure you stick to it like Christopher Columbus to a map, you should do just fine as you embark on the ultimate step of writing your essay. If you need further convincing on how important planning is, we’ve summarised the key benefits of creating a detailed essay outline below:

  • An outline allows you to establish the basic details that you plan to incorporate into your paper – this is great for helping you pick out any superfluous information, which can be removed entirely to make your essay succinct and to the point.

  • Think of the outline as a map – you plan in advance the points you wish to navigate through and discuss in your writing. Your work will more likely have a clear through line of thought, making it easier for the reader to understand. It’ll also help you avoid missing out any key information, and having to go back at the end and try to fit it in.

  • It’s a real time-saver! Because the outline essentially serves as the essay’s ‘skeleton’, you’ll save a tremendous amount of time when writing as you’ll be really familiar with what you want to say. As such, you’ll be able to allocate more time to editing the paper and ensuring it’s of a high standard.

Now you’re familiar with the benefits of using an outline for your reflective essay, it is essential that you know how to craft one. It can be considerably different from other typical essay outlines, mostly because of the varying subjects. But what remains the same, is that you need to start your outline by drafting the introduction, body and conclusion. More on this below.

Introduction
As is the case with all essays, your reflective essay must begin within an introduction that contains both a hook and a thesis statement. The point of having a ‘hook’ is to grab the attention of your audience or reader from the very beginning. You must portray the exciting aspects of your story in the initial paragraph so that you stand the best chances of holding your reader’s interest. Refer back to the opening quote of this article – did it grab your attention and encourage you to read more? The thesis statement is a brief summary of the focus of the essay, which in this case is a particular experience that influenced you significantly. Remember to give a quick overview of your experience – don’t give too much information away or you risk your reader becoming disinterested.

Body
Next up is planning the body of your essay. This can be the hardest part of the entire paper; it’s easy to waffle and repeat yourself both in the plan, and in the actual writing. Have you ever tried recounting a story to a friend only for them to tell you to ‘cut the long story short’? They key here is to put plenty of time and effort into planning the body, and you can draw on the following tips to help you do this well:

Try adopting a chronological approach. This means working through everything you want to touch upon as it happened in time. This kind of approach will ensure that your work is systematic and coherent. Keep in mind that a reflective essay doesn’t necessarily have to be linear, but working chronologically will prevent you from providing a haphazard recollection of your experience. Lay out the important elements of your experience in a timeline – this will then help you clearly see how to piece your narrative together.

Ensure the body of your reflective essay is well focused, and contains appropriate critique and reflection. The body should not only summarise your experience, it should explore the impact that the experience has had on your life, as well as the lessons that you have learned as a result. The emphasis should generally be on reflection as opposed to summation. A reflective posture will not only provide readers with insight on your experience, it’ll highlight your personality and your ability to deal with or adapt to particular situations.

Conclusion
In the conclusion of your reflective essay, you should focus on bringing your piece together by providing a summary of both the points made throughout, and what you have learned as a result. Try to include a few points on why and how your attitudes and behaviours have been changed. Consider also how your character and skills have been affected, for example: what conclusions can be drawn about your problem-solving skills? What can be concluded about your approach to specific situations? What might you do differently in similar situations in the future? What steps have you taken to consolidate everything that you have learned from your experience? Keep in mind that your tutor will be looking out for evidence of reflection at a very high standard.

Congratulations – you now have the tools to create a thorough and accurate plan which should put you in good stead for the ultimate phase indeed of any essay, the writing process.

Writing your essay

As with all written assignments, sitting down to put pen to paper (or more likely fingers to keyboard) can be daunting. But if you have put in the time and effort fleshing out a thorough plan, you should be well prepared, which will make the writing process as smooth as possible. The following points should also help ease the writing process:

– To get a feel for the tone and format in which your writing should be, read other typically reflective pieces in magazines and newspapers, for instance.

– Don’t think too much about how to start your first sentence or paragraph; just start writing and you can always come back later to edit anything you’re not keen on. Your first draft won’t necessarily be your best work but it’s important to remember that the earlier you start writing, the more time you will have to keep reworking your paper until it’s perfect. Don’t shy away from using a free-flow method, writing and recording your thoughts and feelings on your experiences as and when they come to mind. But make sure you stick to your plan. Your plan is your roadmap which will ensure your writing doesn’t meander too far off course.

– For every point you make about an experience or event, support it by describing how you were directly impacted, using specific as opposed to vague words to convey exactly how you felt.

– Write using the first-person narrative, ensuring that the tone of your essay is very personal and reflective of your character.

– If you need to, refer back to our notes earlier on creating an outline. As you work through your essay, present your thoughts systematically, remembering to focus on your key learning outcomes.

– Consider starting your introduction with a short anecdote or quote to grasp your readers’ attention, or other engaging techniques such as flashbacks.

– Choose your vocabulary carefully to properly convey your feelings and emotions. Remember that reflective writing has a descriptive component and so must have a wide range of adjectives to draw from. Avoid vague adjectives such as ‘okay’ or ‘nice’ as they don’t really offer much insight into your feelings and personality. Be more specific – this will make your writing more engaging.

– Be honest with your feelings and opinions. Remember that this is a reflective task, and is the one place you can freely admit – without any repercussions – that you failed at a particular task. When assessing your essay, your tutor will expect a deep level of reflection, not a simple review of your experiences and emotion. Showing deep reflection requires you to move beyond the descriptive. Be extremely critical about your experience and your response to it. In your evaluation and analysis, ensure that you make value judgements, incorporating ideas from outside the experience you had to guide your analysis. Remember that you can be honest about your feelings without writing in a direct way. Use words that work for you and are aligned with your personality.

– Once you’ve finished learning about and reflecting on your experience, consider asking yourself these questions: what did I particularly value from the experience and why? Looking back, how successful has the process been? Think about your opinions immediately after the experience and how they differ now, so that you can evaluate the difference between your immediate and current perceptions. Asking yourself such questions will help you achieve reflective writing effectively and efficiently.

– Don’t shy away from using a variety of punctuation. It helps keeps your writing dynamic! Doesn’t it?

– If you really want to awaken your reader’s imagination, you can use imagery to create a vivid picture of your experiences.

– Ensure that you highlight your turning point, or what we like to call your “Aha!” moment. Without this moment, your resulting feelings and thoughts aren’t as valid and your argument not as strong.

– Don’t forget to keep reiterating the lessons you have learned from your experience.

A further tip – using wider sources

Although a reflective piece of writing is focused on personal experience, it’s important you draw on other sources to demonstrate your understanding of your experience from a theoretical perspective. It’ll show a level of analysis – and a standard of reliability in what you’re claiming – if you’re also able to validate your work against other perspectives that you find. Think about possible sources, like newspapers, surveys, books and even journal articles. Generally, the additional sources you decide to include in your work are highly dependent on your field of study. Analysing a wide range of sources, will show that you have read widely on your subject area, that you have nuanced insight into the available literature on the subject of your essay, and that you have considered the broader implications of the literature for your essay. The incorporation of other sources into your essay also helps to show that you are aware of the multi-dimensional nature of both the learning and problem-solving process.

Example reflective essay

If you want some inspiration for writing, take a look at our example of a short reflective essay, which can serve as a useful starting point for you when you set out to write your own.

Some final notes to remember

To recap, the key to writing a reflective essay is demonstrating what lessons you have taken away from your experiences, and why and how you have been shaped by these lessons.

The reflective thinking process begins with you – you must consciously make an effort to identify and examine your own thoughts in relation to a particular experience. Don’t hesitate to explore any prior knowledge or experience of the topic, which will help you identify why you have formed certain opinions on the subject. Remember that central to reflective essay writing is the examination of your attitudes, assumptions and values, so be upfront about how you feel. Reflective writing can be quite therapeutic, helping you identify and clarify your strengths and weaknesses, particularly in terms of any knowledge gaps that you may have. It’s a pretty good way of improving your critical thinking skills, too. It enables you to adopt an introspective posture in analysing your experiences and how you learn/make sense of them.

If you are still having difficulties with starting the writing process, why not try mind-mapping which will help you to structure your thinking and ideas, enabling you to produce a coherent piece. Creating a mind map will ensure that your argument is written in a very systematic way that will be easy for your tutor to follow. Here’s a recap of the contents of this article, which also serves as a way to create a mind map:

1. Identify the topic you will be writing on.

2. Note down any ideas that are related to the topic and if you want to, try drawing a diagram to link together any topics, theories, and ideas.

3. Allow your ideas to flow freely, knowing that you will always have time to edit your work.

4. Consider how your ideas are connected to each other, then begin the writing process.

And finally, keep in mind that although there are descriptive elements in a reflective essay, we can’t emphasise enough how crucial it is that your work is critical, analytical, and adopts a reflective posture in terms of your experience and the lessons you have learned from it.

Good luck!

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