The Importance of Self-reflection Assignments Between Essays

Student reads over essay while having laptop on her lap

Each semester I have students complete different writing assignments in my critical thinking and writing course, including two essays: essay 1 (20%) and essay 2 (30%). In between these two essays, students submit a self-reflection of essay 1; assigning this assignment after essay 1 is completed provides students with the opportunity to reflect on what worked and what didn’t work as well as where they should make changes as they complete essay 2.

Completing a self-reflection provides students with several benefits; this practice, which is supported by research, provides students with the opportunity to make sense of and develop from an experience (Purdue University, 2020). As such, students are encouraged to consider what worked for them when they completed essay 1 as well as what changes they can implement for essay 2. By reflecting, students can develop their skills (The Open University, 2020). For example, being asked to reflect on different aspects of an assignment, including the steps taken to complete the assignment, can help students determine a better plan when completing the next assignment.

Guided self-reflections, where students are provided with specific criteria to focus on or specific questions to answer, provide learners with prompts to help get them started on the assignment. The intent of my self-reflection assignment is for students to consider how they will use my feedback, what their strengths are, and how they will ensure they submit the next assignment by the due date.

Not all students take the time to review my feedback on their written assignments. I have found that the self-reflection assignment is a great way to encourage students to review my feedback so they do not repeat the same mistakes on their next essay. Additionally, this assignment can help students restore their confidence from essay 1, especially if their mark was not that great as they are asked to highlight a strength from their current essay (see chart below).

The self-reflection I use consists of three questions. You are more than welcome to use any of these questions as you’d like or to modify the questions so they fit your learning outcomes. In addition to having students respond to the three questions below, I provide other guidelines (word count, paragraph format, topic sentence, etc.) which were assessed in essay 1 and will also be assessed in essay 2.

*Note: Although you may not be able to add a self-reflection to your course at this point in the semester, you may consider providing students with the option to complete the self-reflection or to complete one question for a bonus mark on the final exam/assignment.

QuestionRationale for Question
How do you intend to use the feedback I provided on essay 1 when working on essay 2? You do not need to discuss each piece of feedback; pick one or two pieces of feedback to focus on. If you are unsure on how to locate my feedback, please reach out to me.  This encourages students to look at my feedback with the intent of not repeating the same mistakes on essay 2. This can also facilitate student questions about the feedback I provided, which in turn, can help foster rapport.
What was one or two of your strengths on essay 1? Give yourself a star for something you feel you did well on. Perhaps you feel you organized your time well when working on essay 1, or perhaps you used appropriate transitions throughout essay 1. This is your opportunity to highlight one of your essay 1 strengths, and there were strengths in everyone’s essay 1! 😊  I like this question as it lets the students know that they do not need to change everything when working on essay 2. I think this question is especially important for a student who may not have done as well on essay 1. Last fall, I had some students who were disappointed with their essay 1 marks; a few shared they had nothing to use to respond to this question. After meeting with them one-on-one and looking at their work, we came up with some strengths; for example, attending the class when essay 1 was discussed, trying APA format, or even submitting essay 1 by the due date are strengths that can be used. I like to believe this helped them feel better about starting essay 2 as well.  
What steps will you take to ensure you successfully complete essay 2 (30%) by the assigned due date?Essay 2 is due at the end of the semester (it is the last assignment in the course), and students will be busy studying for exams, working on projects, and completing lab reports. This question may not only help them manage their time for this particular assignment (essay 2), but it might also help them look ahead and see what is due in their other courses, too.

Julia Colella is a communications professor at Lambton College in Sarnia, Ontario. Colella’s PhD is in education, and her research interests include student engagement, online learning, and academic integrity.


Purdue University. (2020). The purpose of reflection. Why is reflection important in the writing classroom?

The Open University. (2020). The Open University and Unison in Partnership.