Reflective Journals: Raising Students’ Awareness of Their Writing Processes

Reflection as a form of learning is a well-researched concept in second language studies. Through reflection on their own learning styles, the use of strategies, and factors influencing their learning progress, language learners are able to gain a better understanding of their language development. There is so much the teacher can do to help students develop their abilities to reflect on their learning processes. I shared one of such pedagogical tools in one of my previous blogs (“Writing-to-learn Activities”) and demonstrated how simple writing activities can help students monitor their learning processes and be better aware of their learning strategies.

Of course, writing is a skill that requires—at least to a certain degree—self-analysis and reflection, especially when it is performed in a foreign language. In my writing classes, I like to implement a variety of reflective activities, and one of them—Reflective Journal—I would like to share in my today’s blog.

The purpose of Reflective Journal is to provide students with the opportunity to think about and analyze their composing processes. For each draft students write for the course, I give them a prompt to respond to. I ask students to submit their Reflective Journal within 24 hours after the submission of the draft.

The prompts of Reflective Journal are usually related to the material presented in class. For example, if one of my recent lessons was devoted to the use of cohesive devices, I can ask students to reflect on the effectiveness of transition phrases used in the draft they just turned in. Thus, in addition to growing as a writer and developing reflective and analytical skills, students also have the opportunity to apply the material learned in class to their own writing.

The length of each entry of Reflective Journal may depend on the level of language proficiency as well as writing experiences of your students. This semester, my students are required to write at least 250 words per entry

Since students write at least three Reflective Journals for each course project (after their first, second, and final draft), I label each prompt with the number of the course project and the number of the draft. For example, the prompts for the first project would be labeled 1.1; 1.2; 1.3, whereas the prompts for the second project would be labeled 2.1; 2.2; 2.3, and so on. This simple organization of the prompts helps me keep track of students’ submissions

Reflective Journal is not evaluated in terms of grammar and spelling (unless it’s your objective). I normally assess it based on 1) the depth of the analysis and the efforts (5 points), and 2) the appropriate length of the entry (5 points)

Below are the examples of the prompts that I am using this semester in my composition class:

1.1 What did you do to organize your thoughts for your first draft? Was this helpful? What could you have done instead?
1.2 What kind of an introduction did you choose to do for this paper? Why is it the best choice for this topic? Is there possibly a better choice?
1.3 Pretend a magazine was interested in buying your report for $10,000 in order to publish it. What would you do to make your report even better than it is now so that the magazine would be happy to pay that much?
2.1 How did you go about deciding on a topic for your research proposal? What led you to that decision?
2.2 What was the hardest part of writing this draft? Why?
2.3 What do you think will be the most important steps to remember about writing a quality paper in the future when you do not have tutors or a teacher to help you?
3.1 What is the most helpful and important piece of information that you have learned about integrating quotations? How did you use this information as you were working on your first draft?
3.2 You already learned about transition words between sentences and paragraphs. Describe what you did in order to decide where to use transition words and which ones to use in your draft.
3.3 You just completed the third project of this course. What do you think you have improved the most in your writing up to this point? What helped you improve it? How did you notice your improvement?
4.1 How did you decide what sources to put in your paper? What role did your knowledge of the audience play in your decisions? What was the most difficult part of including sources?
4.2 Describe the steps that you took to create an effective conclusion for your paper. Why did you write such a conclusion? What do you think are the strengths of this conclusion?
4.3 What parts of this project (problem-solution paper) were particularly exciting and interesting to you? What made them interesting?

These prompts are also very helpful to the teacher, as they are designed to elicit information on students’ progress in the course. Indeed, reading students’ responses helps the teacher assess how much students are learning, it also helps identify the areas of students’ difficulties, which in turn allows the teacher to adjust the syllabus accordingly.

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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3 Responses to Reflective Journals: Raising Students’ Awareness of Their Writing Processes

  1. I am just about to begin using reflective journals in my Writing IV class (levels are 1-6). Your article and suggestions for writing prompts were very useful for me. I think I will use them! Thank you

  2. Nancy Yi-Cline says:

    Thank you for sharing those prompts. I will certainly start looking into using them with my ESL students. It will definitely teach them to reflect on their writing step by step. Those students who are not so sure about what to reflect on will see the path now! Thank you again!

  3. I am doing a phd on reflective journals and writing in wikis, and I will be interested in contacting Elena. I am based in Barcelona, Spain

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