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Scaffolding reflective writing for undergraduate students

1 November 2023

2 minutes to read

Scaffolding reflective writing for undergraduate students

Reflective writing can be a powerful tool to improve student learning outcomes in university courses. However, many first-year students lack the skills to write reflectively. This post outlines an approach taken by Dr Rossana Guttilla to scaffold reflective writing for first-year management students.

First-year management students often struggle with reflective writing assignments. Reasons include:

  • Students are unfamiliar with reflective writing and don’t know how to structure it.
  • Students only reflect on one aspect, like academic theories, rather than a range of skills.
  • Students are reluctant to admit mistakes or areas for improvement.

To address these challenges, Rossana introduced a reflective portfolio assignment with the following features:

  • Students reflect on academic learning, teamwork skills, and presentation skills. This extends reflection across multiple aspects of the course.
  • Students are given reflective templates and prompts to scaffold their writing. This includes reflective cycles like “What, So What, Now What”.
  • Students practice reflective writing in class and receive formative feedback. This builds their skills prior to summative assessment.
  • Students record team meetings and interactions. This provides evidence to draw from when reflecting on teamwork.
  • Marking links student reflections to course learning outcomes and UN Sustainable Development Goals. This emphasises the wider impact of their reflections.

The scaffolded approach helped students construct more meaningful reflective writing. Students appreciated the structured templates and opportunities to practice reflective writing in class.

However, some first-year students still struggled to engage with all the reflective activities due to being in their first term away from home. More follow-up may be needed to encourage ongoing reflection.

Key Takeaways

  • Scaffold reflective writing by providing templates, prompts and examples.
  • Build reflection into classroom activities and formative assessment.
  • Get students to reflect on a wide range of skills and experiences.
  • Emphasize how reflection links to real-world skills and impacts.

Challenges popped up, like first-years often struggling to engage. But with continuous encouragement, scaffolding and support, reflective writing can become a game-changer for their development.

Guiding students to reflect well takes work. But it’s so worth it. Reflection builds critical thinking, problem-solving, and readiness for future careers. By scaffolding the process, we set them up for success. Small steps today, big strides tomorrow.

This blog post was developed by Jo Sutherst following an interview with Dr. Rossana Guttilla.



Dr. Rossana Guttila
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