Reflective writing outside of class can help students internalize course content and see its connection to their own lives. The role played by reflective writing will of course be different in a poetry class than it will in a physics class, but its powerful instructional value cuts across disciplines. These journals must be an integral part of the class, being turned in, reviewed, and returned regularly. If the teacher does not pay attention to them, the student will quickly realize they are just busy work.
The observation diary is a structured way to engage students in linking course material with their own experiences. For this assignment, students are asked to observe experiences, behavior, events, etc. and then identify a course theory or topic that supports or relates to this observation. Keeping the diary entries short will promote student engagement in this activity. Five or less sentences for each section of the assignment should suffice.
Specifically, instruct students to:
- describe the observation in the assignment
- provide a brief summary of the construct to be applied
- analyze how the theory fit with their observations.
Reflection journals come in many forms and can be used in many ways. UT Professor of Geosciences Chris Bell describes his reflection notebook assignment as an amalgam of a lab notebook, a field notebook, and a personal notebook of thoughts, questions, and comments. Notebook are turned in twice for evaluation. Content and organization will necessarily be individuated, but he is looking for evidence that each student is regularly making a written record of one's thoughts and questions pertaining to the course and the topics explored.
- For assigned readings, use the notebook to jot down discussion ideas, references to track down for further reading, questions to ask in class, or critiques of the article or chapter.
- For class, use the notebook to remember key points or questions for later discussion.
- For labs and field projects, use the notebook for sketches or as a place to attach photographs, and to record observations and experiences.
"We talk to them more in class about our expectations: noting we want them to focus on comments and reflections on how course content is stimulating or exposing the students to new thoughts and perspectives, and whether/how they are discussing or using course content in other settings (e.g., dorm, social groups, over dinner with family, etc.)."