Reflection in the First-Year Writing Classroom

At the end of each semester it’s nice to take a moment to look back and reflect, whether in general or through an assignment like ENGL 1105’s reflection essay. In this post I am going to give a brief overview of reflection and provide some resources for better understanding reflection and bringing it into the classroom.

Reflection refers to the act of looking back on past thoughts, actions, and learning and processing those experiences. In the first-year writing classroom this could mean thinking over the production of a given assignment or reaching back to memories of reading and writing in high school or earlier. As instructors we hope to foster metacognition through reflection, asking students to re-examine their thinking in order to grow as writers. We encourage students to make connections between what they have done before and their new writing challenges as college students.

In Reflection in the Writing Classroom, Kathleen Blake Yancey identifies three main types of reflection:

1. Reflection-in-action: “the process of reviewing and projecting and revising, which takes place within a composing event, and the associated texts.”

2. Constructive Reflection: “the process of developing a cumulative, multi-selved, multi-voiced identity, which takes place between and among composing events, and the associated texts.”

3. Reflection-in-presentation: “the process of articulating the relationships between and among the multiple variable of writing and the writer in a specific context for a specific audience, and the associated texts.” (13)

Reflection can refer to a type of genre of writing or to the act of reflecting within different writing exercises or verbal exchanges. The literacy narrative, for example, is a genre that asks students to engage in reflection-in-presentation. Talking through one’s thinking process with another student during peer review is another form of reflection.

Although reflection is commonly encouraged at the end of each semester, it is also important to ask students to periodically reflect throughout the course. Here are some resources that discuss ways of fostering reflection:

“What Are Some Strategies for Reflection Activities?” UMSL Center for Teaching and Learning

“Activities for Reflection,” Jen O’Brien, DePaul Office for Teaching, Learning & Assessment

The following sources, all of which are available online or through the Virginia Tech library, cover reflection in more detail:

  1. Fiscus, Jaclyn M. “Genre, Reflection, and Multimodality: Capturing Uptake in the Making.” Composition Forum, vol. 37, 2017,
  2. Jankens, Adrienne. “Learning How to Ask Writing Questions with Rhetorical Reflections.” Composition Forum, vol 41, 2019,
  3. Yancey, Kathleen Blake. Reflection in the Writing Classroom. Utah State University Press, 1998. (Available online through Digital Commons)
  4. Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “The Social Life of Reflection: Notes Toward an ePortfolio-Based Model of Reflection.” Teaching Reflective Learning in Higher Education, edited by M. E. Ryan, 2015, pp. 189-202. (eBook available through the library databases)