Part 4: Rhetorical Modes

19 Reflections


The final assignment in your English course 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.

Black and white photograph of a woman leaning against a marble wall. Her reflection is mirrored clearly in the wall.Sometimes the process of figuring out who you are as writers requires reflection, a “looking back” to determine what you were thinking and how your thinking changed over time, relative to key experiences. Mature learners set goals and achieve them by charting a course of action and making adjustments along the way when they encounter obstacles. They also build on strengths and seek reinforcement when weaknesses surface. What makes them mature? They’re not afraid to make mistakes (own them even), and they know that struggle can be a rewarding part of the process. By equal measure, mature learners celebrate their strengths and use them strategically. By adopting a reflective position, they can pinpoint areas that work well and areas that require further help—and all of this without losing sight of their goals.

Student reflection about their thinking is such a crucial part of the learning process. You have come to this course with your own writing goals. Now is a good time to think back on your writing practices with reflective writing, also called metacognitive writing. Reflective writing helps you think through and develop your intentions as a writer. Leveraging reflective writing also creates learning habits that extend to any discipline of learning. It’s a set of procedures that helps you step back from the work you have done and ask a series of questions: Is this really what I wanted to do?  Is this really what I wanted to say? Is this the best way to communicate my intentions? Reflective writing helps you authenticate your intentions and start identifying places where you either hit the target or miss the mark. You may find, also, that when you communicate your struggles, you can ask others for help! Reflective writing helps you trace and articulate the patterns you have developed, and it fosters independence from relying too heavily on an instructor to tell you what you are doing.

Throughout this course, you have been working toward an authentic voice in your writing. Your reflection on writing should be equally authentic or honest when you look at your purposes for writing and the strategies you have been leveraging all the while.

Reflective Learning

Reflective thinking is a powerful learning tool. As we have seen throughout this course, proficient readers are reflective readers, constantly stepping back from the learning process to think about their reading. They understand that just as they need to activate prior knowledge at the beginning of a learning task and monitor their progress as they learn, they also need to make time during learning as well as at the end of learning to think about their learning process, to recognize what they have accomplished, how they have accomplished it, and set goals for future learning. This process of “thinking about thinking” is called metacognition. When we think about our thinking—articulating what we now know and how we came to know it—we close the loop in the learning process.

How do we engage in a reflection? Educator Peter Pappas modified Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning to focus on reflection:

A Single Column Table Labeled "A Taxonomy on Reflection." From the bottom up, the cells read "Remembering: What did I do?", "Understanding: What was important about it?", '"Applying: Where could I use this again?", "Evaluating: How well did I do?", and "Creating: What should I do next?" An arrow points from the bottom cell up the list to the top cell.


This “taxonomy of reflection” provides a structure for metacognition. Educator Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano has modified Pappas’s taxonomy into a pyramid and expanded upon his reflection questions:

Drawing of a blue pyramid. On each level of the pyramid, from bottom to top, are the labels "What did I do?", "What was important about what I did? Did I meet my goals?", "When did I do this before? Where could I use this again?", "Do I see any patterns or relationships in what I did?", "How well did I do? What worked? What do I need to improve on?", and "What should I do next? What's my plan/design?"


By making reflection a key component of our work, students realize that learning is not always about facts and details. Rather, learning is about discovery.


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 the 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 journaling 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 Freeform. 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!

Another wonderful resource for writing a reflective essay comes from Writing Commons, in the article “Writing an Academic Reflection Essay”. This article offers great information about the following:

  • 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

Time to Write

Purpose:  This assignment will demonstrate the understanding of how to do a thorough reflection of an experience. Students will write for a target audience reflecting on the English Composition experiences.

Task: This assignment frames your experiences while utilizing rhetorical appeals to target a specific audience.

Write a reflection in the form of a letter to a specific stakeholder.  Consider a parent, a family member, or a student in a future class.


Key Features of a Reflection Letter to a Stakeholder:

  • The audience is identified in both the salutation and throughout the body of the paper
  • The reflection discusses writing habits and processes
  • The reflection discusses challenges
  • The reflection addresses course-specific elements
  • The reflection discusses Peer Editing or Peer Review
  • The letter is in business letter format

Key Grading Considerations


  • Content
    1. A critical self-reflection
    2. Connection to experience
    3. Accurate statements about the course experiences
    4. Clearly expresses ideas using examples
    5. Describes relevant learning experiences throughout the semester
    6. Considers other student’s experiences
    7. Draws conclusions
    8. Discusses personal goals
  • Organization
    1. Transitions
    2. Some Narrative Elements that flow with the paper
    3. Clear introduction, body, and conclusion
  • Language Use, Mechanics & Organization
    1. Limited errors in spelling, grammar, word order, word usage, sentence structure, and punctuation
    2. Good use of academic English
    3. Demonstrates cohesion and flow
  • Fully in Business Letter Format




Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

English 102: Journey Into Open Copyright © 2021 by Christine Jones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book