Reflection Toolkit

Introducing reflection as an assignment

Using reflective assignments can be a great way of synthesising learning and challenging the status quo. This page outlines some of the things to keep in mind when posing reflective assignments.


In higher education or professional develop initiatives it is very common to have some sort of assignment. These are typically written but can also take other forms. This page will go through the main considerations for posing reflective assignments.

The main points covered are:

  • finding and communicating the purpose of your assignment
  • being clear both to yourself and to reflector what you want in the assignment
  • the difference between ‘reflection’ and ‘evidence of reflection’
  • choosing your criteria
  • providing students support and spending time practicing can be valuable as most students are new to reflection.


Back to alignment – find the purpose of the assignment and communicate it

It should be clear to participants or students what the purpose of the assignment is. Why are you asking them to do this particular assignment? You will have had to think about the value of it.

This value can be described in the guidelines of the reflective assignment where you communicate how it will help reflectors either evidence their learning or obtain learning outcomes. From the guidelines it should be clear to students what the value of completing and doing well on the assignment is.


Be clear what you are asking

When posing a reflective assignment it is very important that you know from the beginning exactly what you are asking. Reflective writing/responses can typically take on two distinct forms:

  • reflection,
  • evidence of reflection.

The distinction between the two is vital when deciding the type of assignment you want to pose. These are outlined below.

Reflection - the actual process of examining thoughts

If you want to see the detailed aspects of reflectors’ thought processes, and want to follow each step in their reasoning, concerns, and learnings, ask the reflectors to submit their actual reflections.

The benefits is that you ensure that reflectors go through the process themselves and you can directly assess the quality. As this is the actual process we want the reflectors to complete, asking for raw reflections is the easiest way to ensure or get evidence that the process is happening.

One challenge when posing this kind of assignment is that some people might find it too personal to share this intimate process – it can become self-disclosure. A personal reflective account can be uncomfortable to show to anyone, and even more so to someone who is in a position of authority.

Evidence of reflection

In contrast, ‘evidence of reflection’ is documenting the effects of reflection, but does not require documenting the process explicitly.

Hence, rather than writing the thoughts and feelings of a situation, the reflector will state the context and what learning they found in the experience. In the purest form, there is no need to document any challenging or self-disclosing feelings. It is more akin to describing the effects of a reflection and rationally, in contrast to emotionally, explaining why the learning is valuable.

The benefit of this is that reflectors are less likely to feel that they are self-disclosing. However, when we are looking at evidence of reflection rather than reflection itself, it is more difficult to assess the reflectors ability to actually reflect. Therefore, good evidence of reflection is when learning is explicitly stated and it is highlighted how the learning will be used in the future.

It is important to be aware that there is a risk, albeit minimal, that a reflector can produce good evidence of reflection, without having done any reflection. For example, a reflector may write that they learned to start assignments earlier and will do so in the future, without actually having engaged with reflection at all – they might just guess that ‘starting assignments earlier’ is a possible conclusion you want to see.

Most assignments are a balance of ‘reflection’ and ‘evidence of reflection’

In reality, very few assignments will be a either pure ‘reflection’ or ‘evidence of reflection’. The goal for you is to find the right balance. Once you know what you want, you should be clear to reflectors about what being successful in the assignment looks like.

The easiest way to demonstrate what good looks like is to provide the reflectors with clear guidelines and examples of the type of reflections you are looking for. You can either write examples yourself or have a look through the Reflectors’ Toolkit, where each of the models have at least one example. You will likely find an example there that can be helpful for you.

List of tools for reflection (in Reflectors’ Toolkit) (LINK)


Reflection is just like any other assignment – avoid vagueness

The need for clear assignment directions is essential in all areas of higher education, however having the discussion specifically for reflection is important. This is because when posing a reflective assignment it can feel easy to consider reflection as ‘special’ and separate from common ‘good academic practice’ and therefore that it does not require the same levels of direction as a general assignment. Reflection should be considered on equal terms with general academic practice and will often require more support as many reflectors are new to the concept.

One reason vague reflection assignments are easy to pose is that they do not seem to restrict the reflectors’ freedom about how to reflect. In contrast, if we provide them with clear requirements and directions it might seem that we do restrict reflection. There is an element of truth in that. If we require as written assignment using a specific model of reflection, we do take some freedom away from the reflectors, at least in how they present their reflections to us. In practice, they can easily produce a private reflection and restructure it according to your question and requirements.

If we do not give the reflectors the structure they need, one challenge is that a high proportion of them might produce reflections not meeting our ideas of sufficient or good.

Posing a reflective assignment saying ‘Reflect on your development and learning in the course in 1000 words’ might seem like a fair question to ask. But compare that to asking them to ‘write an academic essay about the concepts you learned in this course in 1000 words’ and it should be clear why guidelines are important. It is easy to imagine how students would struggle to prioritise and produce an essay with relevant content from the vague essay prompt. This is similar for a vaguely posed reflective assignment without accompanying clear guidelines. How are the reflectors going to guess what we expect from them?

Most people are new to structured reflection

In higher education, most people have an idea of what an essay is supposed to look like because we are taught essay writing from an early age in school. In contrast, most people have never done structured reflection before university, and then are not likely to be thoroughly instructed in how to do or present it. It follows that if we are vague in our instructions we may receive assignments of very varying qualities.

Thus, to be fair to the reflectors and to us as facilitators, be clear and have clear guidelines available. You can ask very broad reflective questions, but you should be ready to support the reflectors and both your criteria and rubrics (if you chose to assess) should be extremely robust.

Providing training/introductions to students is useful

As most people are new to reflection starting in university, when you introduce reflection it can helpful to: provide a thorough written guide of what reflection is, provide people with resources (for example the Reflectors’ Toolkit), and/or spend time in person introducing reflectors to structured reflection and what you expect from reflections.


Find your criteria and your rubric

Once you have a clear assignment, it is important you think about what you want to measure it against, i.e. the criteria. This discussion is also highlighted in the ‘Assessing reflection’ section of the Facilitators’ Toolkit with specific criteria as suggestions.

Moreover, if you decide to use summative assessment for the assignments, you will need to have a clear rubric (criteria broken down into levels of performance). It is good practice to publish both the criteria and rubric to the reflectors prior to assessing them.

To see at what point criteria and rubrics become essential, see ‘Should I assess?’

Assessing reflection (within the Facilitators’ Toolkit)

Should I assess? (within the Facilitators’ Toolkit)


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