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Cornell University

Guiding Student Reflection

Reflection plays a vital role in student learning because it helps facilitate the connection between new and existing knowledge. Research underscores the significance of developing reflective skills, particularly those linked to a growth mindset, sense-making, and self-assessment, for student success in higher education. Despite its importance, many students find the reflective process challenging and rarely dedicate time for reflection on their own. Instructors can support this learning by incorporating routine reflective activities into course deliverables. This raises the question: What makes an effective reflection prompt?

Here are several key attributes that can encourage more thoughtful engagement with your reflection prompts:

  1. Open-ended: Effective prompts steer clear of yes/no or one-word answer possibilities. Instead, they should be open-ended, providing students with opportunity to elaborate on their thoughts and experiences.
  2. Relevance: The reflection prompt should directly align with the context of the course. Overly vague prompts can be perceived as irrelevant or busy work. 
  3. Clear and Concise Language: Clarity is essential in a reflection prompt. The language should be straightforward, avoiding ambiguity to ensure that students understand the expectations and can articulate their thoughts effectively.
  4. Coached: Guide students through the reflective process using a series of reflective questions. This might follow a framework of: describe what happened, analyze/interpret what happened, apply the new knowledge to the future. For instance, structure prompts like this:
    • Describe a specific homework problem when you applied Kirchhoff’s loop rule this past week.
    • What prompted you to choose to use Kirchhoff’s loop rule for the homework problem you described above?
    • What are some of the limitations of Kirchhoff’s laws? Describe a scenario in which neither Kirchhoff’s junction nor loop laws would be effective in analyzing the circuit’s functionality.

The reflective opportunities can be woven into many elements of your courses including homework assignments, in-class pair and shares, Ed discussion posts, or exam questions.


contributed by Alexandra Werth, Assistant Professor, Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering