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Assessing Reflection

Assessing reflection or reflective processes can be particularly challenging. A few examples of this challenge are:

  • If reflection is meant to be a intimately personal experience, do we alter it simply by defining standards for assessment, making it a less personal and externally imposed process?
  • Assessment of reflection depends on written or spoken language. How might this handicap students who are less familiar with conventional and discipline or context-specific linguistic expectations in a manner that has nothing to do with those students’ abilities to engage in refection?
    • For example, will your students who are non-native speakers, or come from backgrounds with less exposure to common academic linguistic forms have a more difficult time demonstrating their ability to reflect well?
Writing with a pen

As there is not just one type of student in your classes/programs, there is not one answer to designing high quality assessment techniques for assessing reflection. You must design your reflection assignments as well as your assessments carefully considering your own context.

A few things to consider when you are designing your assessment strategies are:

  • What is the purpose of the reflection?
    • Are you interested in the process of reflection, the products of reflection or both?
  • How will the assessment task itself promote reflection or reflective practices?
  • How will you make judgements about reflection?
    • How will you make it clear to students what you expect of them in terms of their reflection?

Examples of Models for Assessing Reflection

Hatton and Smith (1995)

Hatton and Smith described four progressive levels of reflection, with each increased level indicating more/better reflective processes.

  1. Descriptive – this is not reflection, but simply describes events that occurred with no attempt to describe ‘why.’
  2. Descriptive Reflection – description includes reasons, but simply reports reasons.
  3. Dialogic Reflection – reflection as a personal dialogue (questioning, considering alternatives).
    1. wonder, what if, perhaps….
  4. Critical Reflection – takes into account context in which events occur, questions assumptions, considers alternatives, thinks about consequences of decisions/actions on others, and engages in reflective skepticism.

Ash and Clayton (2004)

Ash and Clayton describe a guided process for facilitating and assessing reflection. These researchers focus specifically on service learning, but their model could be applied to other types of learning experiences.

  1. Students describe the experience.
  2. Analyze the experience(s) from different categories of  perspectives based on the learning objective:
    1. Personal
    2. Academic 
    3. Civic 
  3. Identify learning in each category
  4. Articulate learning by developing a well-developed statement of learning (articulated learning), using the four guiding questions that structure articulated learning as a guide:
    1. What did I learn?
    2. How, specifically, did I learn it?
    3. Why does this learning matter, or why is it significant?
    4. In what ways will I use this learning?
  5. Analyze/revise articulated learning statements by applying standards of critical thinking through: 
    1. Student self-assessment
    2. Instructor feedback
  6. Finalize the articulated learning statements, aiming to fulfill all learning objectives in each categories and meet standards of critical thinking.
  7. Undertake new learning experiences, including when feasible, taking action on articulated learning statements to test the initial conclusions reached.
  8. Continue the reflection process, articulating additional complexity of the learning in articulated learning statements when possible.
Ash and Clayton recommend several ways instructors may use their framework to assess students’ reflection. One way is to use a rubric; they provide the top level of achievement for the critical thinking rubric they use for assessing articulated learning statements:
Element Description
Mechanics Consistently avoids typographical, spelling and grammatical errors.
Connection to Experience Makes clear the connection(s) between the experience and the dimension being discussed.
Accuracy Makes statements of fact that are accurate and supported with evidence; for academic articulated learning statements, accurately identifies, describes, and applies appropriate academic principle(s).
Clarity Consistently expands on and expresses ideas in alternative ways, provides examples/illustrations.
Relevance Describes learning that is relevant to the articulated learning statement category and keeps the discussion specific to the learning being articulated.
Depth Addresses the complexity of the problem; answers important question(s) that are raised; avoids over-simplifying when making connections.
Breadth Gives meaningful consideration to alternative points of view and interpretations.
Logic Demonstrates a line of reasoning that is logical, with conclusions or goals that follow clearly from it.
Significance Draws conclusions, sets goals that address a (the) major issue(s) raised by the experience.
*Adapted from Ash & Clayton, 2004