Teaching Reflective Writing

Although many years ago I required composition students to keep writing journals, with mixed results, otherwise I haven’t often made reflective writing a part of the course.  Students might reflect on their writing, their subjects, and their choices in conference with me, or even occassionally in online discussion posts, but before this semester I had not made it an integral part of the course.  One effect of this is that I haven’t had much experience with teaching students how to write reflectively, particularly in an academic setting.  To that end, I’m reading a few articles on reflective writing as a teaching method, starting with Mary Ryan’s “Improving Reflective Writing in Higher Education: A Social Semiotic Perspective.”


Distinguishing academic reflection from the non-academic, Ryan points out that the sort that we compose in academia has a “conscious and stated purpose” and that it makes the learning evident.  For it to be active learning, which is certainly important for me, it needs to be deep and to be critical, in which case the reflection becomes a transformative experience for the writer.  “The social purpose of academic reflection,” Ryan writes, “is to transform practice in some way, whether it is the practice of learning or the practice of the discipline or the profession (103).  For me, this seems to involve teaching them to note as much detail in their observations of themselves and their world as is reasonable, but then to interpret these details in a meaningful way; teaching them to use first person and reflective phrases like “it seems to me,” “I wonder if,” “I think,” or “I would like to know;” and teaching them to recognize their own assumptions and how those affect their perceptions of themselves and the world.


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