Chapter 6: Thinking and Analyzing Rhetorically
The final assignment in your English 100 or 101 course at Cleveland State University will include a reflective essay in which you describe your growth as a writer over the course of the semester. This activity of reflecting on your growth and performance is what is called a metacognitive activity: one in which you think and write about your learning.
Writing a formal reflective essay may be a new thing for you, so this chapter will provide an overview of why we write reflections on our learning and how to approach a reflection assignment.
How is reflective writing in the academic setting different from journaling or writing in a diary?
If you write in a diary or a journal, recording your thoughts and feelings about what has happened in your life, you are certainly engaging in the act of reflection. Many of us have some experience with this type of writing. In our diaries, journals, or other informal spaces for speaking – or writing- our mind, write to ourselves, for ourselves, in a space that will largely remain private.
Your reflection essay for college courses will contain some of those same features:
- The subject of the reflective essay is you and your experiences
- You can generally use first person in a reflective essay
But writing academic reflections, like the one that is due for the English 100/101 portfolio assignment, is a bit different from journalling or keeping a diary:
|Personal diary/journal||Reflection essay for a course|
|Audience||Only you will read it! (at least, that is often the intention)||Professor, peers, or others will read your essay. A reflective essay is written with the intention of submitting it to someone else|
|Purpose||To record your emotions, thoughts, analysis; to get a sense of release or freedom to express yourself||To convey your thoughts, emotions, analysis about yourself to your audience, while also answering a specific assignment question or set of questions|
|Structure||Free form. No one will be reading or grading your diary or journal, so you get to choose organization and structure; you get to choose whether or not the entries are edited||An essay.The reflection should adhere to the style and content your audience would recognize and expect. These would include traditional paragraph structure, a thesis that conveys your essay’s main points, a well developed body, strong proofreading, and whatever else the assignment requires|
|Development||Since you are only writing for yourself, you can choose how much or how little to elaborate on your ideas||All of the points you make in the essay should be developed and supported using examples or evidence which come from your experiences, your actions, or your work|
What can be gained from metacognitive activities that ask you to reflect on your learning and your performance as a writer?
One of the major goals in any First-Year Writing class is to encourage students’ growth as writers. No one is expected to be a perfect writer at the end of the semester. Your instructor’s hope, however, is that after 16 weeks of reading, writing, and revising several major essays, you are more confident, capable, and aware of yourself as a writer than you were at the beginning of the semester. Reflecting on the process that you go through as you write – even if your writing is not perfect – can help you to identify the behaviors, strategies, and resources that have helped you to be successful or that could support your future success. In short, reflecting on how you write (or how you have written during a particular semester) can be quite powerful in helping you to identify areas where you have grown and areas where you still have room for more growth.
How can I write a reflective essay?
As with any essay, a reflective essay should come with its own assignment sheet. On that assignment sheet, you should be able to identify what the purpose of the reflective essay is and what the scope of the reflection needs to be. Some key elements of the reflective essay that the assignment sheet should answer are:
- What, exactly, the scope of the reflection is. Are you reflecting on one lesson, one assignment, or the whole semester?
- Do you have detailed guidelines, resources, or reference documents for your reflections that must be met?
- Is there a particular structure for the reflection?
- Should the reflection include any outside resources?
If you are struggling to find the answers to these questions, ask your professor!
- What it means to be “academic” or “critical” and at the same time personal and reflective
- How you can achieve focus in a reflective essay
- What “evidence” is in a reflective essay