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Reflective Writing Strategies to Show Student Understanding

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  • 0:04 What Is Reflective Writing?
  • 0:53 Using Reflective…
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Teachers can use students' writing for many purposes. One of these, reflective writing, is a great way to get a pulse on student learning. This lesson defines reflective writing and shows how it can be used to reflect student understanding.

What Is Reflective Writing?

You may already be using reflective writing and not even be aware of it. For example, if you've ever kept a diary or journal, or even jotted notes down after you learned something so you remembered it later, you were being reflective. Reflective writing is the practice of writing information down after an event or learning as a means of reflecting on and solidifying newly learned concepts and skills.

Why do we do this? It's your brain that benefits from this practice. Experiencing new material often isn't enough to learn and understand. Without further interaction and thought it may soon be forgotten. Reflecting, in the form of writing, creates new thoughts and feelings that push the learning into long-term memory in the brain. Incorporating reflective writing experiences into every classroom area increases learning and boosts comprehension.

Using Reflective Writing in Class

When we think of writing instruction and usage in classrooms, we typically think of essays, stories, or informational pieces. We consider teaching students the craft of writing, spelling, grammar, and the art of being creative. When we ask students to be reflective writers, we're teaching them to think more deeply about learning and share their experience. How does this look in a classroom?

Teachers can use several techniques to foster reflective writing practices. Let's use an example of Mr. Tyler, a teacher who just finished instruction on events leading up to the Revolutionary War. He has a few choices on how to use reflective writing for this experience:

1. Reflective Journaling

Mr. Tyler may ask students to go back to their seats and write about what they learned in their reflective journals. These notebooks are used only for the purpose of reflecting. Mr. Tyler may ask students to share their thoughts after a ten-minute writing time, or he may take a look at notebooks later. He may provide a prompt, such as ''Which event was the most important leading to the war?'', asking students to defend their thinking with reasons, or allow students to openly reflect and process their learning.

2. What? So What? Now What?

Another popular reflection practice is called What? So what? Now what? Just like it sounds, students are asked to answer these three questions. For example, the 'What?' question asks what students learned about the Revolutionary War. The 'So what?' requires them to write why it matters to them and think about the impact new information had on them. Finally, the 'Now what?' prompts students to predict what new learning may come or to write about what they're going to do with this new knowledge. A student may write ''Now I have a better understanding of why freedom is important. I'll be more aware that people in our country weren't always able to do what they wanted.''

3. Exit Slips

Mr. Tyler may ask his students to complete an exit slip before leaving class. Exit slips are tools teachers use to check in on student learning, typically on an index card or small piece of paper. Teachers give students a problem or question at the end of class and in order to leave the class, the students need to complete the exit slip.

Though exit slips have many purposes and uses, such as determining student comprehension and planning future learning, an exit slip used for reflective purposes should be focused on that specific goal: student reflection. When assigning exit slips as a reflection tool, Mr. Tyler knows to provide a prompt or guiding question so his students can zoom in on the area he's looking for. Today, he wants students to do an eight-minute exit slip answering the question ''Why did freedom matter to early settlers?'' Notice, he didn't ask students to list events or name important players, though he may have used that format to check basic understanding. Exit slips that aim for reflection serve a different purpose than recall. In fact, reflection slips naturally push students to use higher level thinking skills.

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