21 Reflecting

Reflection activities require students to consider what and how they have learned and how they will use that information in the future. Reflection should play a role in all active learning and experiential learning activities.


Reflection activities can be timed in different ways to produce different outcomes. Typical approaches include the following:

  • Pre-assessment: Students consider what they might or might not know.
  • Post-assessment: Students consider what went well and what they could improve in future attempts.
  • Retrospective assessment: Students examine change over time and situate their findings within a broader view of their academic or professional trajectory.
  • Weekly reflection: Students monitor their thinking regularly. Brief activities typically culminate in a retrospective assessment.


Reflective activities can focus on different aspects of student experience. Common topics for reflection include the following:


Reflection activities can be completed in a variety of formats. Formats should align with the purpose of the activity and how it will be assessed.

  • Journals and blogs: Journaling allows students to track their thinking over time. Electronic blogs have recently grown in popularity, since they support peer feedback, multimodality, and reflection across courses and programs.
  • Minute papers: Minute papers are short reflections (usually intended to take one to two minutes to complete) that students write at the end of a class session or activity to document their learning, any additional questions, and next steps. Instructors often use these to inform how they approach the class session. Occasionally, they provide students with a template to use. Similar approaches include the muddiest point and exit ticket exercise:
  • Root-cause analysis and fishbone diagrams: Concept mapping can be useful for analyzing problems and understanding critical incidents. Fishbone diagrams are enjoying a comeback in engineering, business, and health care contexts.


Research indicates that students are likely to take reflection more seriously if it contributes to their final grade in some capacity. However, the way in which instructors assess reflections will vary depending on the purpose and nature of the activity. For example, minute papers completed at the end of class are often ungraded, if anonymous, or count toward attendance or participation. More in-depth reflections can be assessed using rubrics based on several well- established models. Below are examples of reflection assessments from the following educational institutions:


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